Manuscripts Division William L. Clements Library University of Michigan
Finding aid for Doctor Tarbell and Mary Conant Papers, 1864-1881
James S. Schoff Civil War Collection
Finding aid created by Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, July 2004; Philip Heslip, June 2010
Title: Doctor Tarbell and Mary Conant papers Creator: Tarbell, Doctor, 1838-1895 and Conant, Mary, 1838-1899 Inclusive dates: 1864-1881 Bulk dates: 1864-1865 Extent: 113 items Abstract:
This collection consists of 113 letters, written primarily between Union soldier Doctor Tarbell and his fiancée, and later, wife, Mary Lucy Conant. Doctor served as a Sergeant in New York's 32nd Infantry, Co. A, and as a Lieutenant, Captain, and Brevet Major in the Commissary Regiment, U.S. Volunteers.
Language: The material is in English Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave. The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190 Phone: 734-764-2347 Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown
Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.
Doctor Tarbell and Mary Conant Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
This collection is organized chronologically.
Rank : Maj.
Regiment : 32nd New York Infantry Regiment. Co. A (1861-1863)
Service : 1861 May 1-1865 July 27
Doctor Tarbell (1838-1895) was born in Groton, New York, to Thomas B. Tarbell and Lydia Miller. On May 1, 1861, he enlisted as a sergeant in the New York 32nd Infantry, Company A. He was promoted to full commissary sergeant and transferred to Company S of the same regiment two months later. He was transferred back to Company A on June 23, 1862, and promoted to first lieutenant. He rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Volunteers and saw action at Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. While stationed near Winchester, Virginia, he was captured by Confederate cavalry on September 21, 1864, and taken to Libby Prison. On October 2, 1864, the Confederates transferred Tarbell, along with the other officers at Libby, to Salisbury, North Carolina, and then to Danville Prison in Virginia two weeks later. On February 18, 1865, he was transferred back to Libby and paroled just a few days later. He was granted 30 days leave to return to Peruville, New York, to marry his longtime sweetheart Mary Lucy Conant on March 14, 1865. Shortly after his wedding, Tarbell traveled to Washington to return to his company. He was made a brevet major on July 10, 1865, and was honorably mustered out of service on July 27, 1865. After the war, Tarbell was elected clerk of Tompkins County and worked in the life insurance business. He died in 1895.
Mary Conant (1838-1899) was born in Charlton, Massachusetts, and was raised by her aunt and uncle, Sylvanus and Silence Larned, in Groton and Peruville, New York. Doctor and Mary had three children: George Schuyler, born July 15, 1868, in Peruville; Bertha Mary, born December 15, 1872, in Ithaca, New York; and Clarence D., born May 5, 1878, in Ithaca. Doctor Tarbell died before December 1897, when Mary applied for a widow’s pension based on his Civil War service.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Doctor Tarbell and Mary Conant papers are comprised of 112 letters, written primarily between Union soldier Doctor Tarbell and his fiancée (and later wife), Mary Lucy Conant, and one genealogical document. Doctor served as a sergeant in the New York 32nd Infantry, Co. A, and as a lieutenant, captain, and brevet major in the U.S. Volunteers. The collection covers Doctor’s war-time service in the Union Army and some of his post-war career. The Civil War letters form a remarkably dense series that highlights the intimate relationship of Tarbell and his fiancée Mary. The collection contains 35 letters from Doctor to Mary, and 46 letters from Mary to Doctor, mainly during 1864 and 1865. Additionally, Doctor wrote one letter to his parents T. B. and Lydia Tarbell, and received two letters from them and two from his siblings. The remaining 29 letters are either from relatives of Mary or they pertain to post-war activities of the Tarbells.
Both Tarbell and his fiancée wrote in an educated and literary style; their letters reveal an affectionate relationship. Between January and February 1864, both Tarbell and Conant wrote almost exclusively about their relationship. However, as the Army of the Potomac moved south, both writers began to focus more on the progress of the war and to assume a more fervently patriotic tone. Many of Mary's letters contain political asides ("Does the Army weary of Gen. Meade, or is it politicians & aspirants that wish to oust him?" March 13, 1864); references to life at home during wartime; and several extended lyrical passages and pro-Union sentiments. Tarbell's responses, which were also substantive and descriptive, often referred to military matters, his work as a commissary, and army morale.
At times, Tarbell's patriotism and pride in his commission shine through, as during his company's inspection by General Ulysses S. Grant (April 18, 1864). Tarbell described the journey down to Richmond, his regiment's movements, what he knew of the progress of the war, the actions of the 6th Cavalry Corps, and his encounters with southern civilians. He wrote to both Mary and his parents from Danville Military Prison, expressing his hopes that an exchange of officers was imminent (October 22, 1864, and November 20, 1864). After his release, he recounted the parades in Washington, D.C. following the ending of the war, and the review of General Sherman’s Army (May 25, 1865). On July 28, 1865, he mentioned his promotion to brevet major.
The 5 letters written to Mary during Tarbell's imprisonment are filled with sympathy and encouragement, along with family news. In a letter from Mary's young niece, Hattie Carpenter, she described the return of soldiers to Iowa (January 15, 1865). Mary A. E. Wages wrote to Miss Hardy requesting funds to establish a freedman's high school in Richmond: "The black people of Richmond are the only loyal people in the whole city...They not only need help, but are worthy objects of it" (Nov. 18, 1866).
The 13 letters from 1881 suggest that the Tarbells were in some unspecified financial difficulty, and that Doctor had been employed as a typewriter agent. The remaining 10 letters were written by Tarbell or Conant relatives and friends.
This collection also contains one genealogical document that lists the birth and marriage dates for members of the Conant and Tarbell families (1793-1884). Included is a list of Doctor and Mary Tarbell's children. This document is undated and unattributed.