October 1864: "Men cannot be soldiers without being free..."

By Joan Fink, Volunteer

Letter from Fanny Hooper to Lilian Clark, 12 October 1814

Letter from Fanny Hooper to Lilian Clark, 12 October 1814

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    “Men cannot be soldiers without being free, and to ask a black man to fight to sustain slavery was out of the question,” opines Fanny Chapin Hooper, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, in this 12 October 1864 letter to Lilian Freeman Clarke. Fanny formulated her views after reading a series of Richmond Enquirer articles, reprinted in the New York Times, endorsing the arming of the slaves for the Confederate Army.

    The letter’s author, Fanny Chapin Hooper, was born on 27 October 1844 in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Nathaniel and Harriet Chapin. On 6 July 1864, she married Captain Edward W. Hooper. Fanny and Edward spent the early years of their marriage between the Chapin family’s home in Brookline, Massachusetts and New York City, where Edward was serving as aide-de-camp to Major General John Adams Dix. Dix was commander of the Department of the East, which included New York, New Jersey, and the New England states. After the war’s end, the couple returned to Massachusetts and subsequently had five daughters.

    Lilian Freeman Clarke, the letter’s recipient, was born in Boston in 1842, the daughter of Reverend James Freeman Clarke and Anna Huidekoper. Her uncle, Abraham Clarke married Susan Fisher, a maternal aunt of Fanny Hooper. Fanny and Lilian became close confidantes, corresponding regularly through the war years sharing thoughts on politics, humanitarian efforts, the progress of the war, and local and family gossip.

    Demonstrating her own interest in politics, Fanny happily recounts to Lilian the results of the gubernatorial election in Indiana, in which Republican candidate Oliver Morton defeated Democrat Joseph McDonald, 53% to 46% (page 1). She also tells of her eager anticipation to learn the results of the Pennsylvania Congressional elections that occurred on 10 October 1864. Her interest stems in part from the Pennsylvania legislature’s passage of a controversial measure earlier that summer that allowed soldiers to vote in statewide elections, regardless of where they were stationed. With an ostensible morale boost provided by General Sherman’s successful campaign in Atlanta in September of 1864, the Republicans gained three congressional seats in the Pennsylvania election, giving them a 15 to 9 lead over the Democrats.

    Fanny’s husband Edward shared bits of information about his work that appear in this letter. Displaying a sense of outrage over the treatment of Union soldiers imprisoned in Andersonville, Fanny writes of an officer who returned from Andersonville almost “insane” as a result of lack of medical treatment (page 3). Fanny then adds that after receiving proper medical care in Annapolis, Maryland, this same officer came to General Dix and asked to reenlist. When the General responded that the officer was not strong enough, as enlistment required a four year commitment, the officer replied “Four years or the war, so help me God.” She concludes the anecdote stating the officer subsequently left for Kentucky to raise a regiment for the Union Army.

    Fanny relays a second story gathered from Edward when she reports that Sarah Forbes expected her son Will “home by every steamer” (page 3). Forbes’s son, Major William Hathaway Forbes, a member of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry, was taken prisoner by Confederate troops in July 1864. Forbes was captured near Aldie, Virginia, when he and his men were caught off-guard by Confederate troops while monitoring the movement of the notorious “Gray Ghost” John S. Mosby. Unfortunately, Sarah Forbes still had a long time to wait, as William, who was held at both Libby Prison and Columbia, was not paroled until early December.

    After the war, Lilian Freeman Clarke volunteered helping young mothers and babies who lacked the financial resources to receive adequate medical care. She wrote “The Story of An Invisible Institution,” an article that recounted her forty years helping young women and their families. It was published in Outlook on 15 December 1906. She died in Boston in 1921.

    Fanny Chapin Hooper died on 25 February 1881, leaving Edward and five young daughters behind. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Sources for Further Reading:

    The featured letter is one of many letters exchanged between Hooper and Clarke held in the Sturgis Hooper Family Papers (197496) recently acquired by the MHS. Only the letters of Fanny Hooper are present. The location of Clarke’s letters is currently unknown. The lively correspondence includes a heartbreaking series of letters about the death of Charles Russell Lowell, the husband of Hooper’s distant cousin Josephine Shaw Lowell.