Hussey-Wadsworth family papers  1830-1945
full text File Size: 72 K bytes | Add this to my bookbag

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Hussey-Wadsworth papers fall into two main categories, documenting the involvement of two well-to-do families in the Civil War, Spanish-American War and, less intensively, in the two World Wars. While military involvement forms the core of the collection, there is also interesting material relating to the social and educational lives of upper class New Yorkers, business affairs, and of particular note, the Reconstruction period in Georgia. The collection centers around three main figures: George Tuttle Hussey, his son, George Alexander Hussey, and Andrew S. Wadsworth.

Highly educated and a gifted writer, George Alexander Hussey's letters are uniformly interesting and enjoyable. One of the most remarkable of his letters is a 61 page description of his tour through Bavaria and Switzerland, written in November, 1860. With room to spare, Hussey lavished attention on the sites in Munich, Zürich, and Dachsen, where he marveled at the waterfalls, and he was captivated by everything from the sublime mountains to a cheese maker's simple house, the Freiburg Bridge, and European power politics. Hussey's appreciation of the landscape, architecture and high culture, however, did not extend to the "ignorant" masses whom he observed groveling in prayer to a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Shortly after returning from Europe, Hussey became a Union soldier and began relating his experiences to his father. A common complaint in his correspondence was his desire for a commission. Believing that influence and money purchased rank, Hussey told his father that both were necessary if he wished to become a first lieutenant and then a captain, and when his father did not respond with the alacrity which Hussey felt due, he scolded him. The delay, he insisted, had cost him one hundred dollars (67). Ambitious, young Hussey did finally achieve the rank of captain. He was discharged in November, 1863, reenlisted the following May, and again, almost immediately began his pursuit of a commission, this time, though, through the help of his friends rather than his father (81).

Tensions between George Alexander Hussey and his father extended deeper than the simple matter of assistance in obtaining a commission. The animosity may have stemmed from the length of time it took the younger Hussey to repay a debt he had incurred during his European tour. In December 1860, George IV borrowed forty dollars from K. Grossgebauer, a resident of Gotha, Germany (47, 53). George III apparently accused his son of lying about the debt, and in response, George IV complained that his father treated him like a child (53). By May, 1864, Private Hussey had paid off the debt, but the ill feelings continued to grow (80). As a result, he began directing his letters to his mother and sister.

George Alexander's letters also reflect some of the problems facing Union officers. In June, 1862, he wrote that ten officers of the 83rd Regiment had resigned in two months and that many more would have done the same had their resignations been accepted. Apparently, the officers did not get along well with the regiment's colonel, who was said to be "a perfect idol of gold and silver" (37). In March, 1863, eight more officers tendered their resignations, followed by seven more in June. This tumult in the officers' ranks was matched by ill discipline, and arrests were not uncommon. In July, 1863, for example, eight officers were under arrest, and in July, 1865, after some "unknown" soldiers "played a Yankee trick" on a general at Morris Island, the entire 165th Regiment was disarmed and sent as prisoners to Fort Sumter. Even the officers were placed under arrest, though according to Hussey, they had done nothing wrong (121).

Although the 165th Regiment was said to have a good reputation, in Hussey's opinion, it was a poor organization. While traveling on the Victor, the soldiers threw food valued at $1,000 overboard, some men were known thieves while in the service, and more than one hundred of the regiment's soldiers served time in correctional institutions, with about the same number listed as deserters (85). While at Hart's Island, two soldiers even tried to escape in a general's boat (80).

In addition to a fine description of the activities of the 165th Regiment, the Hussey-Wadsworth Papers includes a number of references to white opinions of African American civilians and soldiers and the general rise in racial tensions during early Reconstruction. In June, 1865, for example, Hussey reported that Black civilians were in control of the South Carolina rice plantations and he was impressed with their industriousness. Nevertheless, Black and white soldiers were involved in a number of altercations in Charleston, including one particularly violent incident in which African Americans were accused of using brickbats on the whites (121). Some white soldiers who refused to mount guard with Black soldiers were imprisoned at Fort Pulaski (121).

When not fighting or quarreling with each other, the Union soldiers spent some of their time battling Confederates. Hussey's letters include accounts of several skirmishes, most notably of the Siege of Suffolk in May, 1863, which left forty Union privates and four officers wounded, including Hussey (61). Among Hussey's other duties was escorting Confederate prisoners to camps and forts. In September, 1864, he accompanied 150 prisoners to Camp Chase, Ohio. Along the way, Confederate sympathizers tried to give the prisoners money, food, and clothing (92), and given the strength of this sentiment, it is not surprising that a month later, when leading 200 Confederate officers to Fort Delaware, Hussey wrote that they were all "secessionists to the backbone" (93).

During the presidential election in 1864, Hussey appears to have been in the minority of his regiment in supporting Lincoln. Four-fifths of the 165th Regiment, he wrote, favored McClellan (94), though all of the soldiers of the 165th mourned the president's death (112).

Andrew S. Wadsworth's letters also provide valuable documentation of military experience, focused on the period of the American intervention in the Philippines. His letters provide several accounts of skirmishes with Filipino insurgents, including a vivid description of the skirmish in which he was wounded and a quartermaster sergeant was killed. The letters are equally important in documenting an average soldier's attitudes toward the enemy in one of America's first imperial wars. Wadsworth had few kind words for the insurgents, whom he frequently referred to by racial epithets, and commented not only on their primitive weapons -- mostly bows, arrows and shields, but also on their tactics. By Wadsworth's reckoning, the insurgents battled American soldiers two or three times a week, and were known to jump out of trees in ambush (173).

In other letters, Wadsworth turned his eye to the battered Spanish gunboats in Manila Bay (158), the American victory at Manila (160), Filipino civilians (158, 159, 160), and Chinese laborers engaged in the novelty trade (160, 161), and whom the Filipinos hated (161). Referring to Manila, Andrew wrote that it was "behind the times," but that it had the finest electric lighting he had ever seen. He asserted, however, that the Filipinos were not concerned with cleanliness: people suffering from either smallpox or leprosy walked the streets of Cavite openly, and Filipino civilians removed the clothes of dead Spanish soldiers and resold them. Andrew himself bought a pair of pants and a shirt.

The Hussey-Wadsworth Papers also provide a brief but interesting description of trenches and bombing during the First World War (210), and there is brief commentary on censorship, the German retreat, and the determination of American soldiers (208, 210). One letter refers to the bombing of London during Word War II (232) and to war rationing in both the United States and Great Britain (231, 232).

According to Mekeel's Weekly Stamp News, George Tuttle Hussey sold stamps to collectors and issued bronze pennies. Examples of these stamps and coins, dated 1863, are housed in the Postal History Collection.

Show all series level scope and content notes