Levi B. Downs papers (1861-1888)

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection
Collection processed and finding aid created by Rob S. Cox, 1994
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Levi B. Downs papers
Creator: Downs, Levi B., 1839-1884
Inclusive dates: 1861-1888
Extent: 230 items
Abstract:
The Downs papers include documents relating to Levi Downs' military service with the 107th United States Colored Troops, materials from Downs' work as clerk to the Claims Agent for the Plymouth, N.C branch of the Freedmen's Bureau, and family correspondence from and to Downs.
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

Acquisition Information

1992. M-2800.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copyright

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation

Levi B. Downs Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan

Arrangement

The collection is arranged chronologically.

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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Downs papers include three sorts of materials: first, correspondence between Levi Downs and his sisters Louisa, Mary, Nancy, and Ann (Mrs. E.W. Frost); second, materials relating to claims for bounty money and pay in arrears, all handled by Downs as clerk to the Claims Agent for the local branch of the Freedmen's Bureau between December, 1868 and December, 1869; and finally, documents relating to Downs' military service, including commissions and returns. Downs' diary includes only very sporadic entries during 1864, and these very brief. They do include notes on both Drewry's Bluff and Cold Harbor-Petersburg.

Downs' letters to his sisters provide comparatively little information on the military side of the war, although there are some good letters written while he was serving with the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery describing the siege at Yorktown, and some descriptions of life on the Richmond front when with the 107th U.S.C.T. His post-war letters provide a case study of the attempts of a Union veteran to establish himself in tough economic times by taking advantage of business opportunities in the occupied south. His record, unfortunately, is one of very limited success. An excellent and very long letter from another officer in the 107th U.S.C.T., E.T. Lamberton (1882 August 17-25), suggests that Downs' economic hardships and inability to capitalize on the Reconstruction economy were not unique. Lamberton details his own efforts at making a living and relates news he has heard from of the hard times faced by several other of their fellow officers.

The series of bounty claims and claims for arrears in pay, dated between December, 1868 and December, 1869, includes letters written by and on behalf of veterans of "Colored" regiments, including the 14th Heavy Artillery, the 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th U.S.C.T. (all but the 38th raised in North Carolina), and the 1st and 2nd U.S. Colored Cavalry. The majority of these letters are routine inquiries written on behalf of former soldiers by pension agents, friends or surviving relatives, though several letters addressed to Oliver Otis Howard (and forwarded) appear to have been written by the veterans themselves. One letter, from Marcus Hamilton, a Private in Downs' Company during the war, is a request for support in an application for a pension for having been wounded at Fair Oaks in October, 1864. Downs complied.

An unusual assortment of materials is associated with the Downs papers. Included are a pair of Down's spectacles, his sword as an officer of the 107th U.S.C.T., a Civil War-era gutta percha ball, which may have been the core to an early baseball, his military belt buckle, a match case, a $20 Confederate bill and $2 bill from the Citizen's bank of Waterbury, and reunion ribbons for the 14th and 15th annual reunions of Companies I and B of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (1884 and 1885). These have all been transferred to the Graphics Division for storage. There are two photographs of Downs, a small one on a calling card with the notation, 4th Conn. Vols., and an outstanding daguerreotype in an oval thermoplastic cameo case, taken while an officer in the 107th U.S.C.T. These have also been transferred to the Graphics Division.

Subject Terms

Subjects:
  • Agriculture--North Carolina--History.
  • Drewrys Bluff, Battle of, Va., 1864.
  • Peninsular Campaign, 1862.
  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877)--North Carolina.
  • United States. Army--African-American troops.
  • United States. Army. Infantry Regiment, 107th.
  • United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African-American.
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Veterans.
  • Yorktown (Va.)--History--Siege, 1862.
Subjects - Visual Materials:
  • Downs, Levi B., 1839-1884.
Genre Terms:
  • Daguerreotypes (photographs)
  • Diaries.
  • Military records.
  • Paper money.

Contents List

Container / Location Title
 
Levi B. Downs papers [series]
Box   57, Schoff Civil War Collection  
 1861 -1868
Box   58, Schoff Civil War Collection  
 1869-1888, and  undated
Box   11, Schoff Civil War Diaries and Journals  
Levi B. Downs diary,  1864 [series]
 
Realia [series]
Box   1: Graphics Division  
Levi B. Downs Realia     For more information, please see Additional Descriptive Data. 
Box   2: Graphics Division  
Levi B. Downs Sword     Located in remote storage. Please ask in advance. 

Additional Descriptive Data

Alternate Locations

Miscellaneous items: Down's spectacles, his sword as an officer of the 107th U.S.C.T., a Civil War-era gutta percha ball, his military belt buckle, a match case, a $20 Confederate bill and $2 bill from the Citizen's bank of Waterbury, and reunion ribbons for the 14th and 15th annual reunions of Companies I and B of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (1884 and 1885). Transferred to Graphics Division.

Daguerreotype image of Downs in uniform. Transferred to Graphics Division.

Small image of Downs on a calling card. Transferred to Graphics Division.

Related Materials

Oliver Otis Howard Reports, William L. Clements Library. Letters from Howard are included in the Downs papers from Downs' time with the Freedman's Bureau.

Bibliography

Taylor, John C. History of the First Connecticut artillery and of the siege trains of the armies operating against Richmond, 1862-1865 (Hartford, 1893).

Walker, Edward A. Our first year of army life ... (New Haven, 1862).

Partial Subject Index

African-American women.
  • 1863 March 2
Ambulances.
  • 1863 March 2
Armisted, Abraham.
  • 1869 April 30
Blankets.
  • 1861 November 13
Cartwright, Benjamin.
  • 1869 August 7
Cartwright, Mark.
  • 1869 March 6
Chickens.
  • 1872 April 22
Childbirth.
  • 1869 July 26
Christmas.
  • 1864 December 25
Cold Harbor, Battle of, 1864.
  • Diary
Confederate States of America. Army of Tennessee--Surrender.
  • 1865 April 24
  • 1865 April 28
Cook, James.
  • 1866 December 24
Courts-martial and courts of inquiry.
  • 1865 June 23
Dismath, Cain.
  • 1869 July 10
Dogs.
  • 1863 October 3
Drewry's Bluff, Battle of, 1864.
  • 1864 May 17
  • 1864 May 31
  • Diary
Duggan, Simon.
  • 1869 January 4
Dutch Gap Canal (Va.)
  • 1864 November 30
Dutch Gap Canal (Va.), Skirmish near, 1864.
  • 1864 December 14
Fair Oaks, Battle of, 1864.
  • 1864 October 27
  • 1882 October 16
Farming--North Carolina.
  • 1870 March 28
  • 1871 August 23
  • 1874 February 23
Finance, Personal.
  • 1865 May 7
Fires--North Carolina--Plymouth.
  • 1881 April 4
Fourth of July celebrations.
  • 1869 July 6
Fraud.
  • 1866 December 24
Freedmen--Education.
  • 1869 February 3
Freedmen--Virginia.
  • 1865 December 17
Frost, Henry, d. 1864.
  • 1864 October 4
Funeral rites and ceremonies.
  • 1863 August 22
Galvanized Yankees.
  • 1864 October 4
Garrison duty--Virginia.
  • 1862 October 5
Godfrey, Hannibal.
  • 1868 December 14
Godfrey, Taft.
  • 1869 March 19
Grand Army of the Republic.
  • n.d.
Gregory, Ransom.
  • 1869 May 21
Hamilton, Marcus.
  • 1882 October
Harvey, William.
  • 1869 August 7
Holliday, Jeremiah.
  • 1866 December 24
Hughes, Allen.
  • 1869 January 18
Hunting.
  • 1869 August 20
Jenkins, Daniel.
  • 1869 July 15, 20
Jordan, Wilson.
  • 1869 July 10
Lamar, Ransom.
  • 1869 February 22
  • 1869 March 8
Lamb, John.
  • 1869 September 15
  • 1869 September 15
Lee, David.
  • 1869 May 27
  • 1869 June 7
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Assassination.
  • 1865 April 24
Lloyd, Alexander.
  • 1869 February 22
Madre, Andrew.
  • 1869 April 14
  • 1869 May 4
Mann, Allen.
  • 1869 November 22
Marriage.
  • 1865 August 22
McDowell, Irwin, 1815-1885.
  • 1862 September 16
Mercer, Henry.
  • 1869 July 10
  • 1869 August 6
  • 1869 October 12
  • 1869 October 18
Midget, Fields.
  • 1869 October 18
Midget, Riley.
  • 1869 October 18
  • 1869 October 22
Miles, Nelson Appleton, 1839-1925.
  • 1869 January 26
Military discharge.
  • 1864 December 22
Morgan, Aaron.
  • 1869 March 24
  • 1869 April 5
Morgan, Arthur.
  • 1869 May 21
Mourning, Barry.
  • 1869 January 4
Murder.
  • 1865 April 24
Nixon, Constant.
  • 1868 December 21
Nixon, Joseph.
  • 1869 April 24, 27
Owens, Isaac.
  • 1869 March 22
Peninsular Campaign, 1862.
  • 1862 March 31
  • 1862 July 5
  • 1862 August 14
Petersburg, Battle of, 1864.
  • 1864 July 10
  • Diary
Picott, Holloway.
  • 1869 March 18
Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
  • 1864 November 8
Prices--Virginia.
  • 1863 February 22
Reconstruction--North Carolina.
  • 1865 May 7
  • 1865 September 17-18
  • 1867 March 31
  • 1869 March 10
  • 1869 July 26
Reconstruction--Virginia.
  • 1882 August 17-25
Redding, Adolphus.
  • 1869 February 15
Reed, Everett.
  • 1869 May 27
  • 1869 June 7
Rhodes, Daniel.
  • 1869 May 21
Robinson, Stephen.
  • 1869 April 27
Scurvy.
  • 1866 July 7
Sharecropping--North Carolina.
  • 1871 August 23
  • 1872 April 22
Skinner, Albert.
  • 1869 April 24, 27
Skinner, Frank.
  • 1869 May 27
Skinner, Samuel.
  • 1869 May 21
Slavery--Emancipation--District of Columbia.
  • 1866 April 16
Soldiers' bodies, Disposition of.
  • 1862 February 8
  • 1864 December 14
Spellman, Damon.
  • 1869 March 4
  • 1869 March 23
Stealing.
  • 1862 January 7
Sutlers.
  • 1864 March 14
  • 1864 March 14
Swift, Allen.
  • 1869 September 10
Toms, Jack.
  • 1869 June 7
United States. Army--African-American troops--Officers.
  • 1864 October 27
  • 1864 November 8
United States. Army--African-American troops--Officers--Examinations.
  • 1864 January 22
United States. Army--African-American troops.
  • 1864 December 14
United States. Army--Appointments and retirements.
  • 1865 May 31
  • 1865 June 1
United States. Army--Infantry Regiment (Colored), 107th--Officers.
  • 1882 August 17-25
United States. Army--Pay, allowances, etc.
  • 1875 November 18
United States. Freedmen's Bureau--Corrupt practices.
  • 1869 January 23
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--African-Americans.
  • 1863 March 2
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Hospitals.
  • 1863 August 22
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
  • 1861 June 18
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African-American.
  • 1864 December 14
  • 1865 April 24
  • 1865 April 28
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Veterans.
  • 1879 September 1
  • 1881 September 14
  • 1882 August 17-25
  • 1883 September 5
  • 1884 August 18
Vines, Benjamin.
  • 1869 July 15, 20
Virginia--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Destruction.
  • 1862 May 2
Washington's birthday.
  • 1862 February 22
White, John.
  • 1869 August 7
Wiggins, Edward.
  • 1869 February 22
Women--North Carolina.
  • 1869 July 6
Wood, Ruffin.
  • 1869 March 24
  • 1869 April 5
  • 1869 April 9
  • 1869 April 23
  • 1869 May 12
Woodward, John.
  • 1869 February 26
  • 1869 February 18
Wright, William.
  • 1869 December 6
Yorktown (Va.)--History--Siege, 1862.
  • 1862 April 19
  • 1862 April 20
  • 1862 May 2
  • 1862 May 3