1865: William Johnson Dale to Albert H. Blanchard

This letter was written by Dr. William Johnson Dale. Born in 1815, he was sent to North Andover, Massachusetts—his mother’s ancestral home—for schooling at Franklin Academy. He later went to Andover and graduated from Harvard in 1837 and then Harvard Medical School. He married Sarah Frances Adams. A physician in Boston, he was significantly wealthy by 1860 when he was practicing medicine in Boston. During the Civil War, he joined the service, rising to the rank of Brigadier General where he served as Asst. Surgeon General of the US, and following the War, became Surgeon General of Massachusetts. For these services he held the title of General for his lifetime. After the war, he returned to his ancestral roots of North Andover, purchasing the old Johnson farm, which had been in his family since 1637. Here he developed a model farm specializing in milk production.

William Johnson Dale

Dr. Dale wrote the letter to Dr. Albert H. Blanchard of Sherborn, Massachusetts.

The letter pertains to an apparent attempt by Abbie M. (Leland) Taber (1839-1926) of Sherborn, Massachusetts, to obtain a widow’s pension for the service of her husband, Thomas Taber (1835-1864), a corporal in Co. E, 16th Massachusetts Infantry when he was taken a prisoner-of-war on 26 November 1863 during the Battle of Mine Run. . The pension file shows evidence that Thomas enlisted as a private on 13 July 1861 and that he died at Andersonville Prison on or about the 9th of October, 1864 from “scurvey and want of food and proper treatment” while in the hands of the Rebels. Abie was married to Thomas on 18 October 1858 at Sherborn and together they had two children, Frank (b. 1859) and Willie (b. 1861).

Thomas’s death seems to have been confirmed by a statement given by a comrade who was confined in Andersonville Prison named Michael Brady. His sworn testimony is presented beneath the transcribed letter in the event anyone is interested in the details of Thomas’s death.

This short note to the Pension Office which was included in Abbie’s application hints at the frustration, anxiety and anguish she must have experienced in the long silence from her husband: “It may not be necessary but I will add this statement—that my husband Thomas Taber volunteered for three years in August 1861 (in 16th Mass. Regt). He was a prisoner of war eleven months—the last five of which he was at Andersonville, dying there October 10 or 11, 1864, about three months after the regiment was mustered out. For the last seven months, I knew nothing of him.” [Widows Pension File]


Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Office of Surgeon General, Boston
January 7, 1865

A. H. Blanchard, Esq.
Sherborn, Massachusetts
Dear Sir,

I have the honor to inform you in answer to your communication of December 14, 1864, a memo of which we put on file, that we have a report of the death in Rebel Prison at Andersonville, George, of Thomas Tarbox, Co. E, 16th Mass. Vols. October 19, 1864. We have examined the muster in rolls of Co. E, 16th Regiment on file in the Adjutant General’s Office and find that there is no such name as Tarbox on those rolls. we regret to inform you that in our opinion this name is wrongly reported by the exchanged prisoners who furnished our agents with the information and we think the report may mean Thomas Taber instead of Tarbox.

we asked the Editor & Reporters of the Boston Herald (which paper published an account of Taber’s death) where they obtained the information but were unable to ascertain that fact. We would recommend that you address Lieut. Col. Gardiner Tufts, Mass. Agent at Washington D. C. who perhaps mat be able to furnish you with some additional information.

Very respectfully your obedient servant, — Wm. J. Dale, Surgeon Gen. Massachusetts

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