Edward Barker journals  1855, 1865
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Biography

Barker, Edward, b. ca. 1823

Rank : Chaplain

Regiment : 40th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (1862-1865)

Service : 1864 November 5-1865 June 16

In the winter of 1854-55, Edward Barker made the difficult decision to emigrate from Birmingham, England, to Monson, Massachusetts. An educated man blessed with many talents, Barker had been a teacher in a boys' school, but finding himself with four young children to support and ruined finances, he decided to join his brother, Jacob -- who had emigrated in 1840 -- to attempt to work his way out of his troubles. His decision to emigrate was made all the more difficult by being forced to leave behind his wife, Lydia, two sons and a daughter for want of money, bringing with him only the eldest son, Edward (Teddy). Further, he suffered under the embarrassment of financial failure: "Though I never lost a day's wages during the seven years I was there [in Birmingham]," he wrote, "still I not only left in poverty, but I'm sorry to say in debt."

On March 29th, having borrowed money from Jacob for steerage passage to Boston, Barker and son traveled to Berkinhead to await the emigrant ship, Oliver Putnam . While the ship sat in harbor for nearly three weeks, apparently to maximize profit for the captain, Barker and son were subjected to miserable living conditions and poor food, and at this time, too, Barker learned that his sisters had been tormenting his wife, telling her that he never intended to send for her and the children to join him in America. Nor did his luck improve during the passage. Almost from the time of departure on April 16th, the voyage was alternately violently stormy and becalmed, and toward the end, the ship was beset with strong headwinds. Worse, Barker was incapacitated with seasickness for much of the time.

When not too ill, Barker taught classes for the betterment of other passengers, and delivered lectures on such topics as Columbus' discovery of America. His sense of morality, though, does not seem to have been shared by other passengers or the crew. Barker often professed to be shocked by the crudeness and moral laxity of others on board, and he displayed an unforgiving attitude. Of one young man who was immigrating to Canada after leaving three (unmarried) women pregnant, Barker wrote: "I said at the time that he deserved hanging. But no, I think solitary confinement for three years would do him good" (1855 April 28). He wrote the "country people" berthed with him "have no other feeling in this world than that of stuffing and gourmandizing" (1855 May 4), and he grew concerned that Ted's association with the country boys was corrupting.

Once arrived in Massachusetts, Barker apparently received formal religious training, perhaps at the Meadville Theological School, and he later served as a minister at Charlestown, N.H. The Civil War interrupted his ministry when, in October, 1862, he enlisted as a private in the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry. He served with the Cavalry only until the following July when he received an appointment as Chaplain of the 91st New York Infantry. One year later, he resigned, but reenlisted as Chaplain of the 40th Massachusetts Infantry in November to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Augustus Haskell in May.

Shortly after Barker joined the 40th Regiment, it was assigned to 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, XXIV Corps on the Richmond front. For a short time in March, 1865, the regiment did provost duty at Fredericksburg and assisted in destroying the railway line to Richmond near Hamilton's Crossing, but they returned to Signal Hill above Richmond on March 26th. The 40th was one of the first regiments to enter the Confederate capital after its fall on the morning of April 3rd, and they camped at various places in and around Richmond for the next five weeks, including on Mayo's Plantation and on the Benson estate near Manchester. As Chaplain, Barker had considerably greater mobility than the average soldier and fewer constraints on his time. As a result, he was able to move about the city more or less at will, and he visited a number of well-known sights and battlefields. The 40th Regiment mustered out of the service on June 17th.