The Calvin Shedd Papers > Biography


Calvin Shedd was born in Tewksbury, Massachusetts in 1826. A devoted husband and father, Shedd enlisted in the New Hampshire Volunteers, Seventh Regiment in 1861, at the age of thirty-five, and served with conviction and dedication for two years. Shedd mustered into service as a private with Company C, on November 6, 1861. He was appointed sergeant on November 15, 1861, and achieved the rank of first sergeant on July 4, 1862. Shedd was promoted to second lieutenant, Company A, on July 23, 1862, and discharged with a disability on December 31, 1863. Shedd returned to New England and then traveled to Illinois and Indiana to support his family in the years after the Civil War. He eventually returned to New England and died in Tewksbury, Massachusetts on June 11, 1891 at the age of sixty-five. Much of Shedd's life remains a mystery. For two brief periods, from 1861-1863 and 1865-1869, surviving letters and documents paint a fascinating portrait. Many questions remain, however. What of Shedd's life prior to 1861? What did he do between his discharge from the Union Army in 1863 and his travels in Indiana and Illinois? How did Shedd and his family spend the final twenty years of his life?

Lighthouse built in 1856 on Loggerhead Key
Fort Jefferson, Grand Tortugas
Courtesy of the National Park Service

Shedd’s personal feelings for his wife and family are prevalent in his letters. He writes with an almost poetic flair to his family, "my first and last love were centered in you & our children" (June 14, 1862). His love for and devotion to his three daughters is obvious from his personal notes to them. On several occasions Shedd also mentions that he has mailed separate letters to each of his daughters. Unfortunately, only the letters addressed to his wife seem to have survived the passage of time. In short notes to his children found extant within these letters, Shedd describes things that he knows will delight his daughters. He talks of collecting shells, watching birds and porpoises, and describes the plants, animals and other children that he sees and meets in his travels. He mentions birthdays and tells his wife to give each daughter twenty-five cents as a New Year’s gift (December 6, 1862). Shedd’s love and great pain at being separated from his wife are illustrated in many of his letters. He writes, "I want to see you extremely a greater desire than you might naturaly suppose from my cold commonplace way of writing" (January 25, 1863).

Throughout his letters, Shedd demonstrates great concern for his family and its financial condition. Pay to soldiers and aid to families was sporadic throughout the war. Shedd’s travels west after the war are likely an effort to further provide for his family. In his initial letters of 1862, Shedd includes a great deal of advice to his wife about the farm, planting to be done, animals to care for, and other domestic matters. In one letter, dated April 2, 1862, Shedd advises his wife to go to his father for help if necessary. "If I dont send you money in season to get a cow just give him a hint of it and perhaps he will help you providing you want to keep one also look out for a pig." Shedd’s worries about money follow him throughout his military service. When Shedd is promoted to 2nd Lieutenant he has to borrow money in order to be fitted with items of a uniform (October 10; October 12, 1862). These letters clearly indicate that Shedd’s family is in a serious financial condition. He writes, "[a]bout the House and Fixings I can hardly make up my mind but I had think we had best let it go" (October 12, 1862). Shedd proceeds to advise his wife about what she should sell and what she should keep. Shedd asks her to tell people that he had to go into debt to purchase his uniform and that is why he cannot provide fully for the family. In a heartbreaking set of letters written from South Carolina, Shedd agonizes over the loss of their property in Enfield, New Hampshire. He laments that it may have been his greatest error to build the house and advises his wife to move the family out of the area so that people will not look down on them.

Shedd’s letters reveal a great deal about the feelings of one Civil War soldier and his station in the army. Shedd, throughout his two years of service, was an extremely patriotic man, though at times he felt poorly used by the army and its officers. Shedd and the Seventh New Hampshire saw little or no action in the war for the first eighteen months of service. The regiment was first stationed at Fort Jefferson, Florida, to garrison the fort, which Shedd describes as "the extreme Southern end of Dixie away from everything and everybody" (March 26, 1862). He adds, "we dont seem to be doing the Country much service, but I suppose it is just as necessary to keep this Fort well defended as any other, but I want to see a rebel before I am discharged" (April 2, 1862). His patriotism is re-stated in almost every letter he writes, but one of the most colorful examples appears on December 6, 1862. Shedd comments about some soldiers that had returned home sick and adds, "I would Fight till the last Dollar & man at the north is played out and then lay on top of the ground and rot and Stink them to Death." Shedd’s biggest complaint about his regiment is reserved for the officers. He writes that many of the officers are hated by the men and viewed as incompetent. He also adds that he would not want to trade places with any of them and lose the good will of the men in his company. Later, when promoted to lieutenant, Shedd writes that he will strive to be a good officer and retain the respect of those serving under him.

There are many more illustrations of Shedd’s personal and patriotic feelings to be found in these letters. Reading these unique documents provides a vivid and realistic image of what it was like to be a soldier, far from home, at times enduring tedious drills and no action, and at other times having to witness great pain and death. Shedd was one of many average men thrown into a savage fight that at times seemed to have no end. He, and many others, had to fight disease, physical hardships, and starving conditions, while striving to send every penny possible home to support a family. Shedd was one of the lucky soldiers that survived the war and we today are fortunate that his letters are with us today.