Cousin Calvin's Story


Peering out from a fading tintype is the grimly determined face of a 19 year old Civil War soldier, Calvin Tibbits Chamberlain. His story, like that of so many of his companions, is equally grim and sad.

Calvin was born March 29, 1843 to William and Emily (Wilcox) Chamberlain, their eldest child and only son. His enlistment papers describe him as being 5'7" tall, having a dark complexion, black hair and eyes, occupation farmer. William farmed a few stony acres and Calvin soon lent his young strength as his father's health failed.

Calvin also hired out to neighbors to contribute to the family purse. Mother Emily wove cloth and rugs to add her little bit. When the war broke out, Calvin was not far behind his maternal uncles (see Letters from Uncle Gus) in joining the army. On August 29, 1862, he enlisted at Great Valley, New York, in Co. H, 154th N.Y. Regt. Leaving his parents and four sisters, Sally aged 15, Mary aged 9, Lucy aged 5, and Emily aged 2, Calvin set off to the induction camp in Jamestown, N.Y.

It is possibly from there that the following undated letter was sent:

Dear father
I did not inlist Soon enuf to get only fifty dolars. i wil send ten dollars to you by Mister Corman. I gess that it will be safe in his hands. you try to get my town bounty. i think that i ant to have it. i have sined ten dollars pr month for you. i will send my profile (the tintype) to you all before long.
I have not mutch time to rite. write soon and let me no whether you get it or not. good by from C. T. C.

An unspecified illness sent Calvin to the hospital at Fairfax, Va. in December of 1862 and then to Carver Hospital in Washington, DC. The Company record shows that he received had no pay as yet. As of April 10, 1863 he was listed as present for duty. The only other surviving letter is dated Febuary 9, 1863, and was probably written at Carver Hospital.

dear Father
i received your kind letter yesterday. i was glad to hear that you was well but very sory to hear that you had lost the last cow. you keep easy and i will try to help you before long. i will go to the pay mster Janerls (Paymaster General) and get some mony. i will go as son (soon) as i get mony enough to pay (my) way down on the street car and back for fear that some thing mite happen that i could not get it on the acount of it being crowded. thar is a great meny thare every day. wall i must bring my long letter to a clous. write and tell me how your fodder houlds out.
this from your son
Calvin T. Chamberlain
to
Wm. A Chamberlain & Emily Chamberlain
good by
write soon

[Both these letters were found in Calvin's file at the National Archives and sent to me by Mark Dunkelman, Historian of the 154th NY Regt.]

The 154th was engaged in the battle at Gettysburg in July, 1863, where Calvin was captured on the first day. He is recorded as confined at Richmond, Va. July 25, having refused to give his parole probably because he thought it treason to do so. Calvin passed his 21st birthday in prison, his only crime having been, as he saw it, being a loyal soldier and citizen of his country.

Sent to Andersonville Prison March 19, 1864, he was admitted to the hospital August 4th with "Scorbutus", and died August 16th of Chronic Diahhrea. In other words, he starved to death.

With Calvin's death, indeed with his capture, the allotment paid to his family ceased. They struggled on, no doubt with aid from family and friends in their small community. In March of 1885, William and Emily applied for a pension on the strength of Calvin's service.

There are depositions from family, friends, and the local doctor, supporting the claim. Two ladies, Lucy E. Whitehead and Betsey Wood, swore to having been at the marriage of William and Emily and at Calvin's birth. (He was delivered by his grandmother, Sally Chamberlain.)

Mr S.N.Thomas deposed that Calvin had worked for him and that he knew Calvin's earnings went toward the familys support.

A June 28, 1886 deposition for Proof of Dependence by Harrison H. Lewis and Niles Markham states: "that they have known Emily 25 years, known Calvin to partially support his mother. That Emily posses a life lease of a "certain piece of land containing about 50 acres with only 8 or 10 improved, affording inadequate means of support, value $500, total annual value $25. That she has no income and is incapable of earning by reason of old age,..... that William Chamberlain is an invalid not able to support himself and wife since AD1861.
That (Emily) has labored as best she could to support herself and husband, that (Calvin) had supported his mother for at least 10 years prior to his decease
That his contributions prior to his said enlistment were as follows: he worked at home and for his neighbors and all his wages were brought home for the support of the family, so no record was kept of his earning, no accounts, dates or amounts can be given but we are sure that all his earnings at home and away were contributed for the support of applicant and family.
That during his enlistment the soldier, the said Calvin T. Chamberlain, entered into an arrangement through which the claimant, his mother, received ten dollars per month from his wages as a soldier toward her maintainance, this amount was received by her husband, William A. Chamberlain, and herself for her support and continued to the time of her son's being taken a prisoner of war."

August 18,1886. Calvin's uncle Melbourn Wilcox made the following affidavit:
That he had know the above applicant (William A. Chamberlain) for 30 years, that in 1864 (Emily and William) lived in the town of Great Valley, state of New York, on a piece of land containing about 50 acres and about 10 to 12 acres which was tillable, the rest being a barren side hill and a swamp below.
That at no time since 1863 has this land been worth more than $450.
That (Emily) worked for the past 30 years at weaving cloth and carpets and in this way helped to support herself and family.
That the personal property of claimant and her husband in the year 1864 and every year since has been one horse, one cow, a few chickens, and a hog or two worth in all perhaps $100.
That William A Chamberlain was not in 1864 neither has he been since, able to earn his living on account of sickness which his Doctor called some kind of heart disease.
That the above named soldier was never married and left no children nor widow.

Also on August 18, 1886, Dr N.F.Marble made this affidavit:
Wm. Chamberlain suffers neuralgic pain in the region of the Hart also at times affecting his head.
Emily, "a very hard working woman" has Syatic Rumatism and abdominal Dropsy.
"(I) do not always charge them as I consider them unable to pay me."

A pension was granted, probably not amounting to more than 8 or 10 dollars a month.
William died in 1892, aged 73.
Emily died in 1894, aged 70.