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    Union Brevet Brigadier General William Henry Noble Archive of Letters and Personal Items. The archive consists of approximately 200 letters and documents, with over 150 letters from Noble to his family, and official correspondence related to his service in the war. The group also buttons from his uniform, his GAR medal, and albumen of Andersonville, an engraving plate, and his union armband.

    Noble was born in 1813 in Newton, Connecticut, the son of an Episcopal minister and educator. He graduated from Yale in 1832 and was admitted to the bar in 1836. He served as county clerk of Fairfield County and later as state's attorney from 1846. The 1850s found him developing the East Bridgeport land that he inherited from his father. At the outbreak of the Civil War Noble, a Democrat, felt very strongly that the Union must be preserved and worked to organize the Union movement in Connecticut. In strong contrast to his party, Noble believed Lincoln was the nation's best chance to preserve the Union. Much of his commentary about senior officers and politics is within the context of their loyalty to the Union cause and the complete abolition of slavery.

    On July 22, 1862, William Noble was commissioned as colonel of the 17th Connecticut Volunteers. It became known as the "Fairfield County Regiment" and was the only regiment from the state to be recruited from one county. Though a lawyer with no experience as a soldier, he served throughout the war with bravery, efficiency, and distinction. At Chancellorsville against Stonewall Jackson, his horse was killed from under him and Noble was wounded in the arm and leg. He returned to Bridgeport to recover, but left his sick bed to command his troops at Gettysburg where he lost 206 men. He was then sent to Fort Wagner in South Carolina, and later to Florida where, on Christmas Eve of 1864, he was captured by Confederate scouts and sent to the notorious Andersonville Prison. He was the highest ranking Union officer confined there. Later in his life, he would refer to that infamous place as a snakepit, often shuddering and cursing as he talked about it. He was paroled from there on April 8, 1865, having been recently brevetted a brigadier general in the Union Army by U.S. Grant for his meritorious service on March 13th. Noble mustered out on July 19, 1865 with his troops and returned home in impaired health.

    Noble was a prodigious letter writer, and the majority of his letters are four pages or longer. In many instances, the bifolia are stitched together with thread. His letter home are highly detailed, describing his surroundings and the changes brought on by the war on the very landscape. Of particular interest are his letters leading up to Gettysburg, and the ensuing chase as Rebel forces retreated.

    This is an extensive archive, and we can only offer a small selection of highlights.

    In a twelve page letter home dated January 7, 1863, Noble comments on the Emancipation Proclamation and draws a comparison between John Fremont's emancipation during the early months of the Civil War, and Lincoln's decree which had taken effect on the first of the year: "This brings me to speak of the Administration. It has made many blunders, but in my opinion these have been of a military & not of a civic character. Fremont's appointment was part of both indeed, but it was a military blunder... But though I think the administration culpable & guilty of these blunders, when travelling out of it particular... Yet its civil policy meets my hearty approval. I even think the very blunders of the administration have been the instruments under God of delaying our success to a period when success means no reconstruction of the Union as it was, with perpetual Slavery recognized as one of its institutions & shielded under the Constitution by national protection. - When by the proclamation of the President Slavery is in all its... no longer a national taint & blot & cannot be patched up by the speed of surrender of the Rebels. Slavery as an American institution is done gone friend & mark my words from this day forward success allows our arms till Rebellion no longer raises her bloody hand in this fair county of ours. I think Mr. Lincoln is a better man for the times in all respects than Old Hickory would have been..."

    Noble arrived in Washington D.C. in late June, returning from Bridgeport where he was recuperating from wounds suffered at Chancellorsville. In a letter (3 pages) to his wife he describes meeting Edwin Stanton: "Washington, D.C. June 27th 1863... I found Lieut. Hayes [Hanford N. Hayes, resigned on July 18, 1863] here who will go with me to the Regt. unless to unwell. He is feeble & heart sick. I went to the President with him. The President sent me to Secy of War with and order to him to be for Hayes what & should ask. The brutal self-important & boy... ... trying to be a very great man about a very small matter upset the whole & sent him back to go through a long tar crusted tape process that will have neither ending or accomplishment. Some day this act & conduct of that Secretary shall appear to him... I am utterly disgusted with Stanton. No man can act as he does who is equal to his situation...

    Noble's anxiety about joining his regiment at Gettysburg is evident in his next letter: "Washington D.C. June 28th 65... I am still here and do not see but I must remain. I have got my horse and for the moment I have to be just as well off without him, for I cannot try him now with safety attempt to reach my Regiment. I made arrangements to send him this morning by a train to Frederick city whilst I proceed to Baltimore... The story is that Hooker is relieved & Meade appointed. Why I do not know only Hooker has left open the defenses of Washington & permitted the enemy to get in his rear & cut off his supplies... My arm I think after a while is going to regain its strength though slowly..." Noble was finally able to reach his regiment at Gettysburg in the midst of battle. They lost 206 men.

    Noble led his troops in pursuit of General Lee and his men. He wrote several letters to his wife during this time including the following one from Hagerstown, Maryland: "July 12, 1863... I believe the enemy have escaped us. It has not seemed to me that we have pursued up his retreat with sufficient vigor. While stopped at the river we should have attacked him boldly & with all our force, but I am satisfied he has been holding us in check while we have pushed forward very slowly for two or 3 days. It is true the advance was much retarded by the want of... but there it seems to me experience enough & where provisions to reach the troops immediately after our march to Gettysburg. It is known to all military men that such marches wear out shoes thoroughly it was forced through near a fortnight. Yet the shoes only reached us after some 50 miles march back to the vicinity of Middleton...

    He continues in pursuit of the retreating Confederates, and writes again from Beaulieu, Virginia a few days later: "July 16 1863... On this you have fully learnt that we have been in no great Danger & have fought no Battle. The nearest to it was the advance of our corps & reconnaissance by our Division into Gettysburgh [sic] and the skirmishing of our regiment with the push of lines at the west of the town. A few [illegible] directed balls and us [illegible] was all that this amounted to. The Rebels evacuated in a hurry & we took some 20 prisoners principally cavalry. So it seems my first impression that we should have no fight was the correct one. Lee has escaped us and I fear in much better plight than one would judge him by the newspaper stories. The ... of them in many particulars is well shown by the fact that one had us ... not choose to choose to attack him here in ... them in entrenchments... He made no attack on us. did not .. us. Only kept out his pickets & replied apparently reluctantly to our... I think he should have been attacked. At any rate we should have known of his movement escape the moment it veered..." This is the opening of an eight-page letter in which Noble brings his wife up to date on everything that had transpired since Gettysburg.

    The 17th Connecticut moved to Folly Island, South Carolina; and after serving in several operations and expeditions in that state, they were ordered to Florida. Noble was captured on Christmas Eve of 1864 by Confederate Scouts and transferred to Andersonville. While on route to Andersonville he wrote of his capture to a friend: "Dec 26 '64... You doubtless know on this that I was captured with Capt. Rice about ten o'clock on Saturday last while proceeding from Jacksonville to [illegible]... We had to walk that night about 10 miles. Had about two hours sleep...That left leg again gave out but in a new place at the knee This became so stiff that I can't hardly walk...Had nothing to eat from Saturday morning till about one yesterday. I drank nothing so I hardly suffered at all. Have been kindly treated so far..."

    During his imprisonment at Andersonville he formed a relationship with the camp's commander, George C. Gibbs, who attempted to make Noble as comfortable as possible during his stay. The group includes two letters from Gibbs, one to Noble, and a second for the purpose of easing Noble's transport when he was paroled. Gibbs' letter reads: "Camp Sumter / Andersonville March 10. 65... Dear Fred, Col. Noble...is now on his way to Vicksburg for exchange. Mr. Carr, Miss Anna D. and several others have informed me of his extreme kindness to one poor townsman. Carr authorizes me to pay him some money. There is none at this port. Not a dollar to be had and I write this to ask you to lend Col Noble $300 if he needs it. I will become responsible for the amount. Truly Yours, Geo C Gibbs." Toned with mail folds. Slight creasing in places and paper loss along edge.

    This group also includes the following items:
    GAR membership badge. Silk ribbon is torn slightly but overall in good condition.
    Four Large Union General Staff Buttons. 22mm, high convex brass, "D. EVANS & CO. / ATTLEBORO, MASS" backmark. Four Small Union General Staff Buttons. 15mm, high convex brass, ""D. EVANS & CO. / EXTRA" backmark. Good condition
    Albumen of Andersonville. 7.25" x 5" matted to the overall size of 10" x 7.75". Written in an unknown hand is a caption "Officer's Prison Andersonville, GA/showing stockade, fence, sentries, etc". Dampstaining and toning. Six small holes on the matting, probably from hanging.
    Engraving Plate of William H. Noble. 7.25" x 10", "John Sellers & Sons, 51 Arundel Street, Sheffield" backmark. Small scratches in places, residue from envelope can be wiped off.
    Union Armband.
    10.25" x 3.75", burlap material base has red cotton letters stitched reading "UNION". Good condition.
    Obituary Folio
    relating to William H. Noble. 8.25" x 10.25", white leather bound, "In Memoriam". Includes a letter from Harriett J. Noble and documents from Bridgeport Democratic Association Committee. Good condition.
    <<blockquote>RCondition: The archive is housed in eight legal sized file folders. Overall the condition of the items in the archive range from good to near fine. Some letters that have prominent folds, occasionally show weakness along the mail folds. Letters range from slight to heavy toning with some foxing. Usual stains or signs of wear on some letters.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2017
    19th Thursday
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