1863: Joseph B. Frost to Henry Martin Lowe

An unidentified seaman from the collection of Ron Field

The following letter was written by Joseph B. Frost (1839-1872) of Marblehead, Massachusetts who entered the US Navy in December 1861 at the age of 22 and held the rank of Ordinary Seaman (OS). He was described as standing 5’9″ tall with brown hair and blueish gray eyes. We know from this letter as well as official records that Joseph served aboard the USS gunboat Penobscot. The next notice of him in Naval Records indicates that he was admitted into the Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, Virginia, in July 1863 suffering from periostitis (shin splints). He was discharged from the hospital on 21 August 1863 and I believe discharged from the Navy at or about the same time. An assistant surgeon named William Longshaw, Jr. 1 who served aboard the USS Penobscot form May-July 1863, treated Frost with the following comments: “Has been under treatment for ulcer affecting right leg. This patient manifests a scrofulous diathesis and has before been treated for indolent ulcer. Treatment has been…local stimulants with iodine externally and idiod. internally. Was sent to army hospital in Beaufort, N. C. on 19 July 1863 and discharged 27 July 1863 for passage to Hampton Roads.” From this description, my interpretation is that Joseph may have been suffering from syphilis which was commonly treated with potassium iodine.

Curiously, Joseph’s hospital admission record at Portsmouth suggests that Joseph was incapable of signing his own name with anything other than an “X” (his mark). If so, he must have had someone else on board the gunboat to write the following letter on his behalf.

Frost wrote the letter to his friend, Henry “Martin” Lowe (1840-1907), who served with him aboard the US Gunboat Penobscot. Martin was the son of Henry Thurston Lowe (1806-1888) and Rachel Pool (1816-1897), and the husband of Louisa Foster Blatchford (1841-1910) of Rockport, Essex county, Massachusetts. Martin and Louisa were married on 21 April 1860 at Newburyport and in the 1860 US Census, they were enumerated as newlyweds in her parents home—William and Mary (Gott) Blatchford of Rockport. At that time, Martin was employed as a clerk. One of some forty-one men from the fishing port of Rockport, Massachusetts who served in the Navy during the Civil War, Martin Lowe was a Paymaster’s Steward aboard the U.S.S. Penobscot. He entered the service in early February 1862 and was discharged in March 1864. [See 1862-64: Henry Martin Lowe to his Family]

1 Dr. William Longshaw Jr., Acting Assistant Surgeon, U.S. Navy, was killed on 15 January 1865 at the Battle of Fort Fisher. “A sailor, too severely wounded to help himself, had fallen close to the water’s edge and with the rising tide would have drowned. Dr. Longshaw, at the peril of his life, went to his assistance and dragged him beyond the incoming tide. At this moment he heard a cry from a wounded marine, one of a small group who, behind a little hillock of sand close to the parapet, kept up a fire upon the enemy. Longshaw ran to his assistance and while attending to his wounds was shot dead.”


Addressed to Mr. Henry Lowe, Rockport, Massachusetts

U. S. S. Penobscot
Off Wilmington, N. C.
May 1, [1863]

Friend Henry,

It is with pleasure that I now address you from the old and familiar spot Rollingville and a gay place it is. There is now 23 steamers on the blockade and vessels can run in and out just as they please without anyone troubling them.

And now for our trip down here. We arrived at Fort Monroe on the next Monday after we left Washington and then steamed up to report to the flag ship and he sent a steamboat down to the store ship and got our crew and the next day the Captain made the petty officers and give the rest of the men their station and old Snow and the carpenter still hold their rates and all the rest are new men and there is any amount of dissatisfaction amongst them. I can tell you, Henry, she is not the ship she used to be. It is like a going on board of a new vessel as there is all new rules and regulations in regard of all things.

And now Henry, I hope you will pardon me for opening two letters which I got the next day after we arrived for I had no envelopes large enough to get them into and so I had to open them and fold them over to forward them to you. And now I will ask you to send me some papers as they will be very receptive as you know yourself when you were with us.

And now Henry, I will bring this to a close as the mail is all ready to go on board the Florida. This is from your friend and well wisher. — Joseph B. Frost

Direct as before.

P. S. Henry I want you to send me your wife’s and baby’s picture for I have already got yours and when I get them, I shall keep them in remembrance of you and your family. And by sending them, you will greatly oblige old — Hob

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