1861: Salmon Allen to Louisa (Johnson) Allen

“The North have got mad and the devil can’t stop her.” So wrote 51 year-old Salmon Allen (1810-1887) to his wife from New Britain, Connecticut, on 21 April 1861 as he observed the patriotic frenzy erupt in the days following the firing on Fort Sumter.

Salmon was married to Louisa Johnson (1811-1881) on 11 May 1834 in Bolton, Tolland, CT. Notices of Salmon’s name in Connecticut newspapers inform us that he was a Democrat of long-standing who favored the re-election of Martin Van Buren in the heavily contested campaign of 1840. In the 1860 US Census, Louisa Allen was enumerated in Vernon with her 72 year-old mother, Electa Johnson, and her two daughters Louisa (b. 1836) and Harriet (b. 1839)—both daughters identified as teachers. Salmon’s absence reveals that he lived apart from his family working, no doubt, at Mr. John B. Talcott’s woolen mills in New Britain, a few miles southwest of Hartford.

Allen’s letter contains the news of a dispatch stating that the “Seventh” Massachusetts regiment was attacked as it attempted to change railroad cars in Baltimore—resulting in the first bloodshed of the war. The regiment involved was actually the 6th Massachusetts and the bloodshed was not nearly so extensive as suggested.

The 6th Massachusetts troops are attacked by rebel sympathizers in Baltimore, 19 April 1861 (Harper’s Weekly)

Addressed to Mrs. Louise Allen, Vernon Depot, Connecticut
Postmarked New Britain, CT

New Britain [Connecticut]
April 21, 1861

Dear Wife,

Yours received. I am well as usual. About coming home, I saw Talcott yesterday. He said he wished I wait a day or two, then he thought I could go and he would let me know Monday. He said he had so much on his mind he didn’t know what to do. First, I think they depend on keeping me here whether the mill runs or not. Our mill runs all the time but they don’t run any machinery but two days in a week. But the run the scouring of goods ¹ all the time. They have three months work on hand to scour.

There is so much excitement tonight. Talcott just called to the gate and told me to let the mill stand in the morning and not build any fires. There is 7 thousand troops gone through Hartford to Washington since three o’clock this morning—Sunday.

We had a dispatch here tonight that the Seventh [Massachusetts] Regiment that started from New York yesterday morning was stopped in Baltimore by the rebels. They got out of the cars and killed 6 hundred rebels and lost sixty out of their company and went on to Washington. Baltimore will be burnt today Monday. Orders from Gen. Scott, seven regiments start from New York this morning Monday. 8 hundred volunteers came down from Canada ² yesterday to Boston to help the North and went down today—all young men.

Today has been a day of excitement here. There has been more than a thousand men in the street all day Sunday. Bells ringing, drums beating, marching and re-marching, flags flying, from one end of the street to the other. One hundred troops leave here this morning. One hundred more will leave here Wednesday morning. Gen. Scott sent a dispatch to New York this morning that if the rebels didn’t get to Washington today, they never could get there. The North have got mad and the devil can’t stop her. God bless them.

Tell Mr. Parker to keep the pig till I come home and I will pay him for his trouble. I shall be at home some day this week or next Monday. Mother has got the same disorder that I had. It is going the rounds this spring everywhere.

It is one o’clock and they has 6 trains of cars gone down on the other road tonight since dark.

Excuse me for tonight. I will do the best I can. Good night. — Your husband

P. S. Ex-President Pierce ³ went down this morning  3 o’clock with a train of 60 cars, drawn by 3 engines—30 cars loaded with troops and 30 cars loaded with horses and 36 cannon. Every man was armed with revolvers and Bowie knives.

¹ Freshly cropped wool is known as “greasy wool” because it contains grease and other contaminants such as dirt, dust, and sand. By the mid 19th Century, chemical processes had been developed for “scouring” the wool to remove these contaminants—a process which took several days.

² About 40,000 Canadians and Maritimers served in the war. Despite sympathies for the Confederacy, most fought for the North. Some were working in the United States when the war began and volunteered with local regiments. Others left Canada to enlist.

³ Franklin Pierce may have been on his way to Washington to participate in a meeting with the four other Ex-Presidents (Buchanan, Van Buren, Fillmore, and Tyler) to discuss a peaceful settlement of the impending conflict. Only Pierce and Buchanan supported the idea, however, and the meeting never materialized. I cannot confirm Pierce’s presence on the train as it passed through Connecticut—only that he gave a speech at Concord on 20 April in which he spoke in favor of “sustaining the flag and the Union at all hazards.”


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