Discoveries from the Vault

A Civil War soldier’s letters: “Save them if it cost the farm”

Ambrotype of Libby, Leon, Georgina and Lucy Tillotson, ca. 1862 (The Gilder Lehr

George Tillotson from Greene, New York, enlisted with the 89th New York Infantry in November of 1861. This ambrotype (photograph made on glass) and a series of letters from the summer of 1862 remind us that soldiers and their families faced hardships on the home front as well as on the battlefield. George had been in the army for five months and was stationed at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, when his wife, Libby, sent him the photograph featured here. The photograph was damaged in the mail and began a heartbreaking series of correspondence. 

Women in the Civil War: Vivandieres

Vivandiere from the 12th Regiment, ca. 1861-1865. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Vivandieres, sometimes known as cantinieres, were women who followed the army to provide support for the troops. Ideally, a vivandiere would have been a young woman—the daughter of an officer or wife of a non-commissioned officer—who wore a uniform and braved battles to provide care for wounded soldiers on the battlefield. 

Romeo Smith: Slave, Soldier, Freeman

Henry Knox, Certification of Romeo Smith as a freeman, January 9,1784. (Gilder L

Born a slave, Romeo Smith of Windham, Maine, entered the Continental Army with the promise of freedom in exchange for military service. He served in the 7th Massachusetts for three years and was supposedly manumitted. Yet in January 1784, the threat of being reclaimed as a slave surfaced and Romeo sought the assistance of General Henry Knox. The document featured here is Knox’s retained draft certifying Smith’s freedom.

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