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War Through the Eyes of a Young Sailor

This slideshow contains 34 items
1
Capt. John Griffin Dillingham, Freeport, ca. 1861

Capt. John Griffin Dillingham, Freeport, ca. 1861

Item 19255 info
Freeport Historical Society

Freeport was typical of mid nineteenth century coastal Maine towns where fishing, shipbuilding and deepwater sailors, both crew and officers, were dominant.

Among the families sending men to sea were the Dillinghams.

John G. Dillingham (1808-1869) was at sea young enough that by the 1830s he was commanding vessels.


2
Margaret Dennison Dillingham, Freeport, ca. 1870

Margaret Dennison Dillingham, Freeport, ca. 1870

Item 19257 info
Freeport Historical Society

About 1839 he started corresponding with Margaret Dennison (1818-1878) and they were married in 1841.

Unlike many local wives, Margaret did not go to sea with her husband.

Instead, she continued to correspond with him, the letters often not reaching her husband for months.

He wrote to her frequently whenever he was in port, no matter where in the world.


3
Dillingham-Pinkham House, Freeport, 1936

Dillingham-Pinkham House, Freeport, 1936

Item 19254 info
Freeport Historical Society

While almost none of Margaret's letters have survived, she saved many of John's letters.

John longs to know what is happening at home and in his town.

He tries to micromanage the household from the other side of the world and discusses gifts he is purchasing and money he is sending home.

His letters are filled with the every day details of life at sea. He comments on visiting with other Freeporters he encounters in the various ports where his ships stop.


4
John Monroe Dillingham, Freeport, ca. 1861

John Monroe Dillingham, Freeport, ca. 1861

Item 19256 info
Freeport Historical Society

Their oldest child was John Monroe Dillingham (1844-1864).

Mon, as he is called, appears never to have been interested in schoolwork and was at sea by the age of 13 or 14.

After a few voyages on other ships, he sailed with his father, although it is unclear whether he was a common sailor or was studying to be an officer.

He, too, frequently wrote home to his mother Margaret, always sending hugs and kisses to his little sister, Bertie.


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John G. Dillingham letter to wife, May 9, 1861

John G. Dillingham letter to wife, May 9, 1861

Item 19269 info
Freeport Historical Society

Returning from a voyage to San Francisco in early 1861 Capt. Dillingham and Monroe stopped at the Chinchas Islands (Peru) to load guano for transport to Europe.

There they first learn that an American civil war is imminent. On December 20, 1860, South Carolina had seceeded from the Union, the first state to take that step.

John writes: "You seem to be quite war like on your side it is as quiet as can be on this and I hope the war will be all over before I get round Cape Horn although I have but little fears that the Southerners will trouble us."


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Letter written by John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, May 24, 1861

Letter written by John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, May 24, 1861

Item 19268 info
Freeport Historical Society

Mon writes to his mother about the long layover in the Chinchas Islands while their ship is waiting to get a full load of guano.

Toward the end of the letter, he, too, mentions the political problems in the U.S.

He writes: "tell Bill to take my gun and shoot every man he sees that is in favor of the secession of the southern states no matter if it is murder it is no harm in my way thinking."


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Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife, June 27, 1861

Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife, June 27, 1861

Item 19267 info
Freeport Historical Society

As the Dillingham ship is preparing to leave the Chinchas for Ireland, John Dillingham again mentions the Civil War in a letter to his wife in Freeport.

He writes: "I expect they have got to fighting in earnest by this time I hope they will get through before we get on the other side but I am afraid they will not."


8
John G. Dillingham letter to his wife, October 20, 1861

John G. Dillingham letter to his wife, October 20, 1861

Item 19266 info
Freeport Historical Society

From Queenstown, Ireland, John Dillingham discusses Freeport news and family business with his wife, Margaret.

He then comments on his son's feelings about the Southern secessionists:

"Monroe is so awful wrathy with the Southerners I don't know but he will go home in the Steamer to try his old gun on them I do not think there is any fear of his turning secessionist we passed a Ship that shew the secession flag Oh he was awful mad I never I heard him utter such an oath before."

Monroe, age 17, was eager to stand up for his beliefs.


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J. M. Dillingham letter to mother, October 1861

J. M. Dillingham letter to mother, October 1861

Item 22416 info
Freeport Historical Society

From Queenstown, Ireland, 112 days out from Peru around Cape Horn, young Monroe writes to his mother back in Freeport about his anger at seeing a ship on the high seas flying the Confederate flag.


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Letter written by Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife Margaret, November 21, 1861

Letter written by Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife Margaret, November 21, 1861

Item 19264 info
Freeport Historical Society

By November, 1861, with his ship in Germany, John Dillingham had more to say about the war. He wondered if any of the "boys" were away at war and commented again that his own son, Monroe, got "wrathy" about the war.

He also writes, "I dont know but I think it is a doubt if we get away from here before spring for I expect nothing else but to get froze up and perhaps it will be all for the best if we do for I am in hopes the war will be settled by that time."

At the end of his letter, he writes: "Now Wife you must make yourself just as comfortable as possible in these war times I dont think the Southerners will dare to go down to the State of Maine."


11
John M. Dillingham letter to mother, November 21, 1861

John M. Dillingham letter to mother, November 21, 1861

Item 19263 info
Freeport Historical Society

Monroe tells his mother in a letter written the same day that the weather is cold and while he does not want to be stuck in Germany the whole winter, he also does not want to go out into the North Sea.

Writing about the weather, Monroe says, "I tell you what it is when I get up in the morning and look out it makes me shake but when I think of those d md secesionists it get my temper up and I get warmed up with it."


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Letter written by Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife Margaret, December 2, 1861

Letter written by Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife Margaret, December 2, 1861

Item 19262 info
Freeport Historical Society

With uneasiness about what the Civil War will do to the shipping business and the effect it will have at home, as well, John Dillingham is eager to return to the U.S.

He is concerned about traveling in the winter. He writes to Margaret, "But I shall have one thing to comfort me that we shall be homeward bound and if we are fortunate enough to keep clear of the Pirates so much the better."

The "Pirates" he referred to might have been Confederates or Confederate sympathizers trying to outsmart the Union blockade of Southern ports.


13
John G. Dillingham to Margaret Dillingham, December 14, 1861

John G. Dillingham to Margaret Dillingham, December 14, 1861

Item 19261 info
Freeport Historical Society

Still in Germany awaiting departure, John Dillingham responds to a letter from his wife, Margaret, who is at the family home in Freeport.

He comments on the enlistment in the Union Army of one brother-in-law and asks about the others. He writes:

"You say Emerson has enlisted but you dont say a word about Lewis or Horace whether they are home or abroad I expect Monroe will be enlisting if his old gun is in order and he has got another so you see is prepared for fighting."

Monroe Dillingham's expressed passions about the Southern secession will lead, his father is certain, to his son's enlistment when they return to Northern soil.


14
Capt. John G. Dillingham letter to wife, December 21, 1861

Capt. John G. Dillingham letter to wife, December 21, 1861

Item 19260 info
Freeport Historical Society

John Dillingham's letters to his wife in Freeport frequently mention the war, although it is not generally the main focus of his letters.

On Dec. 21, 1861, Dillingham writes: "I am in hopes to get home before the war breaks out between England and our Country if we must have a war but I am in hopes it will be all talk some of the English papers are very warlike but John Bull like they like to make a great bustle and blow awfully but I do not think they will frighten any body at any rate I hope not But if the two can settle it without a war I shall be very glad."

Queen Victoria had declared neutrality for Britain on May 13, 1861. After several Union victories in 1862 and 1863 and President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, England would not even consider support of the Confederacy.


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Susan H. Dillingham letter to sister, January 14, 1862

Susan H. Dillingham letter to sister, January 14, 1862

Item 19259 info
Freeport Historical Society

The war is a frequent topic in letters. Here, Susan Dillingham, sister of Margaret Dennison Dillingham, wrote from Portland, discussing their brother's enlistment.

"In regard to Emerson, I think he has done the best thing he could do in enlisting, I hardly think they will evr be called into actual service; if I realy thought they would I suppose I should feel very bad, if he should ever come home agan after this war is over it will be a lifelong theme for him."

Susan Dillingham is optimistic that enlistment does not equate with service, but is realistic enough to know that all soldiers do not survive.


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Letter written by John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, August 22, 1862

Letter written by John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, August 22, 1862

Item 19258 info
Freeport Historical Society

Within a year of his return from sea, Monroe Dillingham is in the Navy. He and his friend, John Angier Hyde, also of Freeport, enlisted together.

Monroe writes to his mother from Boston.

"Anger and my self was drafted on board the Housatonic yesterday and the Leiutenant give us our station Angers is at a hundred pound rifle gun mounted on the forecastle and mine at a 11 inch pivot gun carring a 220 pound shot and it is my opinion that if any secesh gets that in size of his head it will be apt to knock him twice his length."

Monroe Dillingham, age 18, remains enthusiastic and optimistic about the war and his role in it.


17
John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, August 31, 1862

John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, August 31, 1862

Item 19251 info
Freeport Historical Society

Shortly after his last letter to his mother, Monroe Dillingham writes again, saying little about the war beyond speculating where his ship will go when it leaves Boston.


18
 John M. Dillingham to his mother, September 5, 1862

John M. Dillingham to his mother, September 5, 1862

Item 19250 info
Freeport Historical Society

Still in Boston in early September 1862, Monroe Dillingham comments on sea trials and training exercises.

Away from the fighting and the reality of the war, Monroe sees the exercises as a game. He writes:

"tell Bill he should have been here to see us go thorough that boarding drill it was as much as I could keep frome laughing it put me in mind of little boys playing."


19
John M. Dillingham letter to his mother, October 26, 1862

John M. Dillingham letter to his mother, October 26, 1862

Item 19249 info
Freeport Historical Society

Within a month, Monroe and his friend Angier are aboard the sloop of war Housatonic off Charleston, South Carolina, as part of the Union blockade of Southern ports.

Monroe writes to his mother that it is "awful dull laying of here with noting for excitement."

He adds that a "steamer run the blockade last Wednesday night and we were called out to quarters. the gunboat flombeer fired at her but she run in shoal water and got in safe and a steamer was captured last night by the gunboat Brenvill she has on board fifteen thousand stand of arms as yet I have not learned her name."

News of ships trying to get past the blockade and Union ships, including his, trying to stop them would be the content of much of Monroe's letters to his mother.


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John M. Dillingham letter to mother, November 30, 1862

John M. Dillingham letter to mother, November 30, 1862

Item 19248 info
Freeport Historical Society

The Housatonic sailed to Port Royal, South Carolina, at the end of November to load coal.

Some of the anticipated excitement of war was beginning to wear off.

Monroe Dillingham wrote to his mother, "we came here last thursday after coal and I suppose we shall have to work rather hard for a day or two but when it is over we shan't have it to dredd it is a job we all dislike but it don't happen only evry two months and then we have something for a change so we are paid for it in a measure."


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John M. Dillingham letter to mother, December 28, 1862

John M. Dillingham letter to mother, December 28, 1862

Item 19247 info
Freeport Historical Society

Monroe Dillingham often writes of what newspapers are reporting, what is accurate, and what might be rumor, mostly relating to the blockade rather than ground battles.

At the end of December, Monroe writes: "we have been up here three weeks and nothing has attempted to run the blockade this time everything is quiet here as the papers say of the army of the Potomac an english frigate has paid us one or two visits bus has left now we have news here that str Vanderbilt has taken the Alabama. I hope it is true but I fear it is to good news to be true."


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J. Monroe Dillingham to Margaret Dillingham, January 25, 1863

J. Monroe Dillingham to Margaret Dillingham, January 25, 1863

Item 19246 info
Freeport Historical Society

Monroe Dillingham's reported boredom about blockade duty ends in January 1863, when he tells his mother about a possible Union attack on Charleston.

"there is great excitement in the fleet here and in Port Royal in prospect of a speedy attack on Charleston three of the iron clads arrived at Port Royal when we do make the attack there will be some fun."


23
John M. Dillingham to mother, March 1, 1863

John M. Dillingham to mother, March 1, 1863

Item 19245 info
Freeport Historical Society

Three months after President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, Monroe Dillingham, 18, a sailor aboard the Housatonic, part of the blockade of Charleston Harbor, writes home to his mother in Freeport, expressing his dismay at the document.

"there is one thing I cant get over Lincoln's d---d nigger proclamation that sties me," he writes.

His patriotism for the Union cause did not equate with a feeling that slaves should be freed.


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John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, April 14, 1863

John M. Dillingham to his mother Margaret, April 14, 1863

Item 19244 info
Freeport Historical Society

Monroe Dillingham's passions about the Union cause come through again in April 1863. He is upset that a Union attack on Charleston's defenses, attempted on April 7, 1863, was unsuccessful.

He writes, "I wrote a letter last sunday but got so worked up to think we got repulsed in the attack on Charleston that I hove the letter overboard."


25
John M. Dillingham to his mother, May 15, 1863

John M. Dillingham to his mother, May 15, 1863

Item 19243 info
Freeport Historical Society

The excitement of the failed attack over, Monroe and his fellow shipmates return to routine blockade duty.

He writes: "there is the same sing song life here. wash down decks clean brass work and the drill which takes up most of the forenoon in the afternoon they generaly have us humbuging at something."

Monroe also predicts that he won't see any more battles among ships in Charleston Harbor.

He writes to his mother, Margaret, in Freeport, "I do not think there will be any more fighting here in my time (unless the rams come out) our iron clads are at Edisto but there is no appearance of them making an attack."


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John M. Dillingham to his mother, June 12, 1863

John M. Dillingham to his mother, June 12, 1863

Item 19242 info
Freeport Historical Society

Always eager for war news, Dillingham and his shipmates get some from Confederate deserters.

He writes, "Two deserters came off to our ship last sunday morning they say things look blue in Dixie they have been in the Confederate service 18 Months and were in sumpter the time of the attack they say the fort was badly damaged three of the shot having gone through and that the fort was on the point of surrendering. Beauregard has gone to Vicksburg to reinforce Pemberton and the rebels are sending there heavy guns there."

It is the most detail he provides about activities beyond the blockades.


27
John M. Dillingham letter to mother, July 21, 1863

John M. Dillingham letter to mother, July 21, 1863

Item 19241 info
Freeport Historical Society

In the summer of 1863, continued battles surround Monroe Dillingham and his ship as the Union forces try to subdue Charleston.

In letters home, Dillingham tries to reassure his mother.

He also comments directly about his waning enthusiasm for war. In July 1863, he writes, "how is Dixie is he as patriotic as he was a year ago if he has been drilled as much as we have it would have worked some of it out I know it has me."

He adds, referring to his younger sister, "you can tell Bertha that I like war first rate a long ways of."


28
Woodbury S. Purinton on capture of John M. Dillingham, 1863

Woodbury S. Purinton on capture of John M. Dillingham, 1863

Item 19240 info
Freeport Historical Society

Several months after noting that he like war if it was "a long ways off," John Dillingham and his friend John Angier Hyde are taken prisoner.

The two had volunteered during another assault on Fort Sumter on Sept. 8, 1863. The suprise attack failed and Monroe and Angier were among the sailors taken prisoner.

The company commander reports to Dillingham's father:

"It is with sorrow that I seat myself to inform you of the situation of your son Johny and likewise John Hid they are both in the hands of the enemy ...

"we hail the fort and demaned its surrender it was refused we attempted to land and scale the batterd walls but were repulse with the loss 6 boats & 100 men I was fortunate enough to escape in my boat poor Johny & Hide were made prisoners."


29
 John M. Dillingham letter to mother, 1863

John M. Dillingham letter to mother, 1863

Item 19239 info
Freeport Historical Society

The romance of war has ended. Monroe Dillingham and Angier Hyde are being held Columbia, South Carolina. He asks his mother for money and reports:

"the hopes of a speedy tour through Dixie prevented me. Angier and myself are both well. both of us having shared the same fate. The Captain in charge here does evrything in his power to make us contented so do not trouble yourself about us."


30
Andersonville Prison, J.B. Walker, lithograph

Andersonville Prison, J.B. Walker, lithograph

Item 19252 info
Freeport Historical Society

Conditions in Confederate prisons in Richmond were difficult. Food was short in supply and most prisoners lived in tents.

To relieve overcrowding, the Confederacy opened a new prison, Camp Sumter, in Andersonville, Georgia.

The first prisoners arrived in February 1864. Little food, clothing, shelter, or water was available.


31
John M. Dillingham letter to father, January 13, 1864

John M. Dillingham letter to father, January 13, 1864

Item 19238 info
Freeport Historical Society

Held at a Confederate prison in Richmond, Monroe Dillingham asks his father to send him food.

In his last letter home, Dillingham writes, "I want you to send me a box of grub. put in a ham bolana sausages [ ? ] and fill it up with bread and stuff that will keep for two or three weeks send a big one."


32
Andersonville Prison Hospital and Stockade, Felix de la Baume, ca. 1864

Andersonville Prison Hospital and Stockade, Felix de la Baume, ca. 1864

Item 19253 info
Freeport Historical Society

Some 12,877 Union troops died at the prison known as Andersonville in a short period of time between February 1864 and the end of the Civil War in April 1865.

John Monroe Dillingham, 20, died in prison in 1864.


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Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife, 1865

Capt. John G. Dillingham to his wife, 1865

Item 19237 info
Freeport Historical Society

John G. and Margaret Dennison Dillingham continued to grieve their son's death.

Writing from Baltimore to his wife in Freeport, Capt. Dillingham reports on efforts to find and thank the people who sent food to their son in prison.

"I have acertained who some of the givers of that Barrel that was sent to our poor Boy I told them I never should be able to repay them I understood the names of quite a number of the Prisoners was sent to Baltimore to Kelsey & Gray and they got up a subscrip tion and sent quite a number of Barrels to different ones and one to our poor Boy. I have not seen Kelsey yet to thank him but if nothing happens I shall tomorrow."


34
John G. Dillingham to wife, September 28, 1865

John G. Dillingham to wife, September 28, 1865

Item 19236 info
Freeport Historical Society

In September 1865, John G. Dillingham expresses the concern of many parents and relatives about their children lost in war.

He writes to his wife, Margaret Dillingham in Freeport, "Oh Why could not Monroes life been spared it is so hard But he must be better off for he was such a good Boy We must try to think it is right It is all I can do to think so."


This slideshow contains 34 items