Charles F. Tew papers  1837-1905
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles F. Tew papers (493 items) contain letters and documents related to Union officer Charles Tew and his family (1837-1905). The collection is comprised of 448 letters, 2 diaries, 19 military documents (including orders, supply notes, commissions, and furloughs), 1 roll call notebook, 1 subpoena, 9 financial records (receipts), 3 printed items, and 11 items of ephemera.

The letters begin in 1841, during Tew's early career in the United States Navy, and were written to and from Tew, his mother, and his brother. Tew's letters detail his experiences as a young sailor aboard the Columbus , and include descriptions of ship life. In one letter, Tew complained to his mother that they begin scrubbing the deck early in the morning, and that "if you go below the mate will lick you with out mercy…I am sick of a sailor's life" (September 16, 1841). Several letters deal with his attempts to obtain a discharge. He explained to his mother that if he is not released from service he will simply run away again: "I will never consent to stay here five years on any account whatever I had rather they would throw me overboard with a forty two pound shot tied to my neck" (January 17, 1842). Soon after, the navy agreed to discharge Tew.

Most of the 1850-1860 items are incoming letters to Tew from friends and family, dealing with daily life, town gossip and scandals (such as an illegitimate birth (January 9 and 10, 1851)), firefighting, and cockfighting. Of note is a letter discussing "spirit rappings" (February 22, 1850), and a letter about newly instated fugitive slave laws (November 28, 1850).

The Civil War letters begin on November 5, 1861, when Tew wrote that he and his regiment had reached Annapolis, Maryland. The majority of the letters from this period are from Tew to his wife and family, with some letters addressed to either Tew or Amelia from other friends and family members. The letters indicate that, though Tew missed his family greatly, he was proud of his service for his country: "I am winning an inheritance for my children, and for them a name and a country that they may never be ashamed of" (November 28, 1861). Tew often exhibited frustration at the men who did not enlist, as he believed their reluctance to join the cause only lengthened the war. Tew suggested that their civilian pay should be cut in order to encourage them to enlist (November 21, 1863). Though the collection does not include Amelia's letters to Tew, his responses indicate that she was often frustrated by his absence. Tew's letters contain vivid descriptions of army and officer life, battles and expeditions, and his illnesses and injuries. Tew described his part in the capture of New Bern and the ensuing skirmishes (March 16, 1862), Drewry's Bluff (May 22, 1864), Cold Harbor (June 5, 1864), and the siege of Petersburg (June 12-August 11, 1864). Tew wrote that many of his men had grown hard and accustomed to battle: "They are without fear as you may say, heardened to the sight of blood…O Wife you know not what it is to meat death face to face, yet I fear it not…" (April 9, [1862]). Beyond the battlefield, Tew discussed his impressions of and dealings with Southern civilians. He described commandeering houses and burning the homes of those who gave information to the Confederate Army (June 15, 1862). He noted the capture of several Confederate prisoners, mentioning that he wished he could have killed them in revenge for the death of Union soldiers (July 30, 1862). African Americans and slaves are also a frequent topic of discussion, and Tew claimed that, though the people in Maryland have slaves do all of their work, "they cannot be as happy as we are at home with our wives and daughters to do our work so neat for us" (November 1861). Tew occasionally discussed his views of African American troops.

Tew resigned from the service in August 1864, but reenlisted in 1865, to the consternation of his wife. In a letter from March 18, 1865, Tew defended his actions, claiming that he was not a bad husband, nor was he deserting his family. After his reenlistement, Tew felt unwelcome in his new regiment (March 23, 1865). The letters from this period contain a discussion of Lincoln's assassination (April 26, 1865), as well as a first-hand account of the execution of the assassination conspirators (July 10, 1865).

After the war, the collection consists primarily of family letters, including several from Charles F. Tew, Jr (1877-1880), who traveled around the United States working odd jobs, including painting, piano tuning, and picking cotton, until he died suddenly in Colorado of an illness. His last letter is dated February 21, 1880, and is followed by a payment for transporting his body back to Massachusetts, and a letter from the hospital containing information on his death (May 17, 1880). Family letters, written primarily by Amelia, Charles, and their children, continue through the next few decades, providing accounts of late 19th century family life. Topics include illnesses, romances and marriages (accounts of Mabel Tew's wedding are provided in letters from January 8 and 15, 1888), work, births, vacations, and general family events.

Also included in the collection are several printed documents, including a navy broadside (1837); a pamphlet providing "Instructions for Officers on outpost and patrol duty" (March 25, 1862); and a subpoena to appear at a court martial for men who had gone AWOL (October 19, 1865). Also present are three bound volumes: Tew's roll call notebook for the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment (1862-1865), and two diaries from 1862 and 1865 that contain occasional brief entries.

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