Levi B. Downs papers  1861-1888
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Biography

Downs, Levi B., 1839-1884

Rank : Pvt.; Lieut. (1864 July 9)

Regiment : 1st Connecticut Artillery Regiment (Heavy). Battery I (1861-1865)
107th United States Infantry Regiment (Colored). Co. B (1864-1866)

Service : 1861 May 23-1866 November

In May, 1861, Levi B. Downs, a mechanic from Cheshire, Conn., enlisted in the 4th Connecticut Infantry Regiment, which was designated the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery the following January. After a quiet winter performing garrison duty at Fort Richardson, Va., the 1st Heavy Artillery was attached to the Army of the Potomac for the Peninsular Campaign, engaging in siege duties at Yorktown and participating in several engagements through the month of July. By September, they had returned again to garrison duty, serving at Fort Scott in Arlington Heights.

Downs, who had periodically had health problems while in the service, became gravely ill in July, 1863, with a condition that resulted in aural suppuration and a disfiguration of his face. Hospitalized for more than two months, he was slow to recover his strength but managed to keep his finances in order by running a small sutler's shop. In May, 1864, after the 1st Conn. Heavy Artillery were called into action at Drewry's Bluff and during the opening stages of the Petersburg Campaign, Downs received a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 107th United States Colored Troops and was ordered to Louisville, Ky., to recruit. He served briefly with the 109th U.S.C.T. while his own regiment was being organized and was then posted at Louisa and Louisville, Ky., before being returned to Virginia in October.

The 107th U.S.C.T. took part in the Battle of Fair Oaks on October 27th-28th and in a major skirmish near Dutch Gap Canal in December, 1864, and in both engagements acquitted themselves well under heavy fire. In March, 1865, they were ordered to North Carolina to cover the rear of Sherman's army as they advanced northward, but when the remnants of the Army of Tennessee finally capitulated, the regiment was assigned to occupation duty in eastern North Carolina. There Downs met and married a young Unionist woman from Plymouth, N.C. whose family had fallen on hard times. After the regiment's reassignment in December, 1865, to guard duty at a Freedmen's village near Arlington, Va., he made numerous attempts, all unsuccessful, to resign his commission, citing the cessation of hostilities. Nevertheless he remained with his regiment until ordered to return to Lexington, Ky., to be mustered out in November, 1866.

The economic opportunities available to a northerner in early Reconstruction North Carolina appealed to Downs, but he was never fully able to capitalize on them. For over a year beginning in September, 1868, he was employed as a Clerk in the Claims Division of the Freedmen's Bureau at Plymouth, N.C., working mainly under the director of John M. Foote, processing claims for back pay and bounties filed by African-American veterans. Thereafter, Downs attempted to establish himself as a trader in fish (1870), as a collector of customs at the port of Plymouth, and every year, he continued to try, always unsuccessfully, to make a living at farming. Downs' crops seldom came up to expectations and his attempt at letting his farms out for share cropping also seems to have failed. Each year, too, his wife, Fannie, and their children battled disease. Two of the Downs' first four children died in their infancy, and Fannie herself succumbed in about 1880. Leaving North Carolina and his dead wife behind, Levi Downs returned to Connecticut with his surviving sons, Charlie (b. 1869) and David (b. 1874), and possibly a third, younger son in tow.

Downs was active in veterans' organizations, including the G.A.R. and the organization of veterans of Batteries I and B of the 1st Conn. Heavy Artillery, and he kept in touch with some of his fellow soldiers in the 107th U.S.C.T. From one of his fellow veterans, E.T. Lamberton, he learned that additional pay was owed him for his service in the 107th, and he was in the process of applying for this pay when he became seriously ill, and after spending seven months in the Veterans Hospital in Hartford, Conn., he died on December 12th, 1884. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery, Waterbury, Conn.