1863: William Russell Dunham to Warren Snow Barrows

This letter was written by William Russell Dunham (1833-1911), the son of Ira Dunham (1806-1878) and Savona Prentice (1810-1878) of Chesterfield, Cheshire county, N. H. He attended lectures at the Berkshire Medical college and at Harvard University were he graduated in 1865. He then practiced Allopathic Medicine in Westmoreland and then Keen, New Hampshire. In 1858, William was married to Mary Ann Prentice (1832-1871).

William’s wife, Mary Ann, was the daughter of Bradley Prentice (1811-1888) and Sally Barrows (1809-1897). Sally was a younger sister of Warren Barrows (1800-1868)—the father of the recipient of this letter, Warren Snow Barrows (1824-1888). Hence, the correspondents were cousins by marriage. Warren was married to Maria L. Walker (1828-1919).

William’s letter provides the first indication of a second Northern invasion by Lee’s army. New York and Baltimore papers were reporting as early as 30 May 1863 (the day before this letter was written) that, “the rebel army is evidently moving” on a “probably commencement of offensive operations.” Gen. Lee was reported to have issued an order to his troops “that they are to have long and rapid marches through a country without railroads.” [Baltimore Sun, 30 May 1863]

Curiously, after the letter was penned, William affixed a lithographic image of John Charles Frémont to the letterhead. Of course Frémont was an outspoken abolitionist and was the first nominee of the Republican Party and his name was still being touted as a possible nominee for President in 1864. Did William do this to spite his cousin whom he must have known was an anti-war Democrat?

[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Greg Herr and was transcribed and published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Addressed to W. S. Barrows, Hinsdale, New Hampshire

May 31, 1863

Cousin Barrows,

I have been writing a few letters today & thinking that you deserved one, I pen a few lies. We are keeping house but shall not live in this only until fall. I have a nice garden, easy hoeing, although the land has not been manured much for the last five years. It gives me an advantage—weeds die easy.

In the way of mosquitoes we have a splendid assortment—music all day long and part of the night. You would think Gabriel was blowing his trumpet when they get their pipes all tuned. I have a mosquito net 12 x 15 feet that protects me nights. When the insects journey on, I wish you and family to come and see us.

I have nineteen kinds of fruit—apples, pears, peaches, cherries, currants artichokes, carroway, barberries, coriander, rhubarb, [ ], Cape gooseberry, &c. &c.

I hear from G—- 1 occasionally. He is a doing well, I think, I suppose we shall meet on the banks of the Potomac with bayonets set, according to the present indications of army requirements. What are you a going to do? Fight or travel? Mary Ann wants to have them draft. She thinks it will be a fine thing. What do you say, Maria? Mary Ann & I send our respects to wife & children. Please write soon all the news.

Yours, — W. R. Dunham

I would fight here before I would go one step. —Mary Ann

I am afraid you cannot read the address, Warren. — M. A. D.

1 I can’t be certain who William refers to as “G—–” but my hunch is that it was his younger brother German Dunham. German enlisted in Co. A, 14th New Hampshire Infantry in August 1862 but according to company records, he deserted at Poolesville, Maryland, on 23 February 1863—possibly defecting to the Confederate army.

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