May 1862: "I had a fair view of 'Old Abe' as he rode by..."

By Joan Fink, Volunteer

Letter (extract) from Charles Barnard Fox to Ruth Ann Prouty, 24 May 1862

Letter (extract) from Charles Barnard Fox to Ruth Ann Prouty,  24 May 1862

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    In this 24 May 1862 letter to Ruth Ann Prouty, Charles Barnard Fox, a lieutenant in the Thirteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, describes for his future wife an encounter with "Old Abe." On 23 May 1862, President Lincoln reviewed the First Corps of the Army of the Potomac, which at that time included the Thirteenth Massachusetts. Lincoln routinely reviewed the army in order to inspect the troops, in addition to boosting morale and demonstrating his appreciation for their sacrifice. Lieutenant Fox, in a candid moment of levity, opines that President Lincoln was "not likely to be hung for his beauty." However, he notes that Lincoln had a "good honest face" and appeared to be a man that would "do his duty as he sees it, to the best of his ability."

    Charles Barnard Fox was born in 1833 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the eldest son of Reverend Thomas Bayley Fox, a Unitarian minister, and Feroline Walley (Pierce) Fox. While he was in his teens, the family moved to Dorchester, Massachusetts, where Charles was educated and then began a career as a civil engineer. After the start of the Civil War he received a commission as a lieutenant in Company K of the Thirteenth Massachusetts, and departed Boston with that regiment on 29 July 1861.

    The Thirteenth spent much of 1861 on guard duty in Maryland. After spending the winter months at Williamsport, Maryland, the regiment crossed the Potomac River on 1 March 1862, and began reconnoitering in Northern Virginia. After the review by President Lincoln, who was joined by secretaries Edwin M. Stanton and William H. Seward, the Thirteenth continued maneuvering in Virginia, eventually engaging in a series of movements that culminated in the Second Battle of Bull Run. One of the more esoteric but nonetheless interesting facts about the Thirteenth Massachusetts was that it had a reputation for cleanliness in camp. This may have contributed to its record for the smallest number of deaths from accidents or disease of any three-year regiment recruited out of Massachusetts.

    In January 1863 Fox briefly transferred to the Second Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry. In May 1863 he was promoted to the rank of major and was transferred to the Fifty-Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the second regiment of free black soldiers to be formed in Massachusetts. Fox was promoted to lieutenant colonel of that regiment in November 1863, and was instrumental in leading the Fifty-Fifth as it courageously served in several campaigns including those in Newbern, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and Olustee, Florida. After the war, Fox remained in the South for several years, returning to Massachusetts in 1868. At that time he joined his brother John A. Fox and acquaintance Silas Holbrook, at the real estate and land auction house of Holbrook & Fox. Fox enjoyed success in his new venture and remained a partner in Holbrook & Fox throughout the rest of his life. Charles Barnard Fox died in 1895 and was buried in Boston's Forest Hill Cemetery.

    Sources for Further Reading:

    This letter extract is taken from the second of five volumes contained in the Charles Barnard Fox Papers held by the MHS. Those volumes contain manuscript copies of extracts from letters written to his wife, Ruth, during his war service. In this volume, copied in 1881, Fox notes that in copying the extracts from the original letters "omissions of private matters have been made but no alterations."

    Additional Civil War Era material created by Charles B. Fox can be found in the Fox Family Papers.

    Davis, Charles E., Jr. Three Years in the Army: The Story of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers from July 16, 1861, to August 1, 1864. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1894.