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    "There was a young girl between 16 & 18 years old dressed in soldiers close . . . She was a reb spy"

    Union Private William A. Clark Letter Archive and Carte de Visite Album. William Clark wrote these fifty letters, all dated between September 27, 1862, and March 15, 1865, to family members during his service as a soldier in the 17th Connecticut Infantry, Company "C". During this time, he was wounded and sent to Washington, where he eventually became a partial invalid serving as a nurse in the 19th Infantry Veteran Reserve Corps, Company "D". As a young soldier, he often leaves out punctuation and includes misspellings in his letters, but he has a skill for giving full details of what he did and saw as a soldier and hospital patient. Organized and well preserved, the letters exhibit the expected minor soiling and age toning. The fine leather carte de visite album consists of over eighteen cartes de visite, plus four tintypes, featuring members of the Webb and Clark families. One CDV features William Clark in uniform (notations on the card say that the image was "taken in Wash. D.C. for Phoebe Webb" [the future wife of Clark]). The album is elaborately embossed and decorated. Light wear.

    William Clark enlisted in the 17th Connecticut Infantry, Company "C", part of the Army of the Potomac, on August 8, 1862. In his first letter in this collection, Clark writes from defenses near Baltimore at Fort Marshall on September 27, 1862. From there, the young soldier records some of his earliest (and unfavorable) impressions of Southerners: "There was 1100 Secesh prisoners went through the city of Baltimore the other day they was the ragedest dirty [coarsest?] looking set of men that you or any other man or woman saw you tell any body that wants to stick up for Secesh just come to this city and they will soon alter their mind. I tell you the Secesh around here are about starved." The 17th Connecticut soon left Baltimore and marched outside of Washington to build Fort Kearney. From there, Clark reported on October 29, 1862, that "The general opinion is that the warr will soon be settled." The regiment then marched with the Army of the Potomac into Virginia. Clark was unimpressed with the Southern state: "I would not give 4 cents fore all of the State of Virginia" (November 22, 1862, Chantilly, Virginia). A week later from Chantilly, he reports seeing one of Confederate General George H. Steuart's slaves, "an old darkey that was 108 years old so the people says that are around here he is very old you can sea by his looks he is almost bald and he is just like a small childe. . . . he belonged to the rebel General Stuart and is now living on the farm where he has all ways been the house of his masters is General Statts Headquarters now."

    From Chantilly on December 26, 1862, Clark writes a short account of runaway slaves turning on Confederates by giving information about troop movements, though they appeared to be wrong: "Thare was quite a sture in camp on the first of this month thare was some niggars came in to camp at 1 clock on Monday morning and sead that the Reabbels ware at a place called Alde and ware coming in this Direction. . . . But it was nothing." Also in that letter, Clark records fascinating news about the capture of a female teenage Rebel spy: "The Cavelry came across this reb some where between here and thoroughfare Gap two or 3 days ago there was a young girl between 16 & 18 years old dressed in soldiers close taken by the Cavelry and brought to General Stalls head quarters She was a reb spy after being examined she was taken to General [Franz] Siegel [Sigel] to do what he thought best with her when she started from Gen Stalls head quarters she jumped on to the horse to got to Siegels a great many soldiers looking at her she told them to kiss her and the great many other things that was not desent for a man to say. She was a pretty fare specimen of the women they are all of the lowest grade of human beings the white girls are very ignorant as far as the boys there is none left."

    Clark was ill and recuperating at the hospital at Brooks Station, Virginia (about eighteen miles from Chancellorsville) during the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), but he still had news about the battle. In his letter dated May 3, he notes the large Union troop movements ("about 150,000 soldiers on a march") before recording that the hospital was preparing for a barrage of wounded: "this afternoon it has started there was 3 men came in to the ospital that had been wounded in the forefinger they say that the boys are fighting like every thing we have had orders to prepair for the wounded to day so I must hurry and write." Clark then records various bits of more news as he hears it throughout the day. Later in his letter dated June 8, 1863, while still at "Camp near Brookes Station," the young soldier records fighting near Fredericksburg after "our troops moved their siege guns down close to the river then commenced laying the pontoons down came the rebs on a double quick from the hights into the brest works close by but the first Comm artillery commenced fireing and the rebs retreated back into the rifle pits." The battle continued, even as many Rebels were taken prisoner.

    After remaining at Brooks Station for some time, the 17th Connecticut moved with the Army of the Potomac toward General Lee's northward advance into Pennsylvania. Clark's next letter is written from Washington on July 25, 1863 three weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, in which he and his regiment participated. At the battle, thirty-nine men in the regiment were killed. Clark survived but was apparently wounded. According to his July 25 letter, he was not sure when he began his journey by ambulance to a Washington hospital ("the[y] say the 18th"). He remained at Carver Hospital in Washington until the middle of December 1863. In his letter dated October 21, 1863, he discusses the doctors creating painful blisters "over his brest and side the size was 6 x 4 inches" to drain toxins from his body.

    Clark remained in Washington for the rest of the war. For the next ten months, he convalesced, which allowed him time to see the sights in the capital city: the Smithsonian Castle, the patent office, and Capital, and more. On December 13 he reported that "Congress is in now in Session and now the capitol is in full Blast I shall try and go down to the city on Tuesday and sea the Big Heads." Washington was a perfect place to receive news (and rumors) of the war. On March 12, 1864, while still in Washington, he notes that "Lieutenant General Grant was here yesterday and left the City last night for Tenesee he is agoing to have an active summer campaign by all appearances." Clark often passed the capital where he would "set down and view the Building and also the men at work on the yard and on the Dome or top of the Capital whitch is nearly done." In his May 14, 1864, letter, he reported some false rumors: "the best nuse that could be wished for to night the paper says the Rebel General Longstreet was dead also General Lee was badly Wounded in the sholder. Liute. General Grant is shoveing the rebles at all points our armie has advanced over 30 miles in seven days and fought every day."

    On May 17, Clark was transferred into the 19th Infantry Veteran Reserve Corps, Company "D". The Veteran Reserve Corps, originally known as the Invalid Corps, was a reserve organization which allowed partially disabled soldiers to work light duty. Still stationed at Washington on June 1, 1864, he writes home the news that "General Grant is now within seven miles of Richmond on the north and east and has made a junction with Butler or rather Smith he is now in command of the troops at that point and Butler is now Military Governor of Verginia and North Carolina the armie in Georgia is drawing the Rebles before them as yet and the nuse from all points is as well as could be wished."

    In June 1864, Clark was acting as a nurse at the U.S. Arsenal Hospital in Washington when he received news of the explosion at the Washington Arsenal, which killed several, mostly women. In his letter home dated June 21, 1864, he explains, "There was a very sad accident here a few days ago the foreman in charge of the room where they make cartrages was making some signals for the armie called stars and had them on copper pans and while standing in the sun by the side of the Building they caught on fire and commenced going off and some flew into the Building and there being near 5 Barrels of loos pow der it caught on fire and in a moment the Building was in flames and in five minutes the building was tore to pieces the number of ladies employed in the Build when all there was 160 but on this day there was only about 125 there and out of that number there was 19 burned a live and a bout 20 wounded some so severe that death soon releaved them of their suffering." The explosion occurred on June 17, killing nineteen working girls. By the time Clark wrote this letter, four days after the horrific tragedy, there was "but one left in this Hospital this one is a clerk in the building that was exploded and is very badly burned his hands and also his head and face. . . . It is late and this man has called for me to come and stay with him."

    On July 24, 1864, Clark reports that "ther is Glorious nuse from General Sherman he has marched over 500 miles has whiped the enemy in every engagement and is now within 2 miles of the Capitol of Georgia." In addition to war news, Clark also reported on political news. Writing two months before the 1864 presidential election, he writes on the soldiers' preference for the incumbent: "There is a considerable talk here of the Comeing Campaign the General opinion is tht Abraham Lincoln will be the next President. there wer a great many here in the City six months ago that would have voted for McClellan but are very strong against him the soldiers almost every one of them will vote for Lincoln."

    On December 7, 1864, he informed his family that "Sherman has marched across the state of Georgia and is now holding Communication with our force near Savania Grant has made another Raid. . . ." Twenty days later Clark writes that "we had the nuse of the Capture of Savanna by Sherman with no fighting of any amount he captured 33,000 bails of cotton 150 heavy guns 800 prisoners. . . . the cotton alone is estimated at $2,000,000." On January 25, 1865, the private passed on the good news that "General Sherman is on the March from Savannah to Charleston." Further good news was of the "pretty strong talk of Peace in the Reble Congress . . . opinion is here that the Rebelion is near its death strugle." That positive news was dampened with reports of the fire at the Smithsonian Castle, home of the Smithsonian Museum: "We had a very large Fire here yesterday the Smith Sonean Building was about 3 oclock P.M. Discovered to be on fire and in a short time there wer a large crowd gathered to sea and help put it out. . . . many came just for plunder this building was a museum gathered from all parts of the world the building was nearly destroyed it is supposed to be the work of an incendiary."

    While in Washington, he saw many important military and political figures. On February 9, 1965, "By the way I was up to the City yesterday I went to the Capitol to sea the Electorial vote cast for President & Vice President for the comeing fore years connencing on the fourth March 1865 and ending March forth 1869. The senators assembled in the House of Representatives at one oclock they marched in by twos headed by Honable Hamlin now vice President and at 1 oclock the house was called to order then the vice President broke the seals and open each vote or rather each state and handed them to one of the senators. . . . Abraham Lincoln of Illinois Received 212 also Andrew Johnson of Tenesee Recived 212 and George B. McClelan of New Jersey Rec 21." Private William Clark was discharged on August 19, 1865.

    Also included are three letters from Pheebe Clark, the young wife of William, all dated July or August 1865, and a pay receipt issued to Clark dated March 26, 1865.


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    Auction Dates
    October, 2014
    8th-9th Wednesday-Thursday
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