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Abbott, Edward Garner
EDWARD GARDNER ABBOTT. Captain 2d Mass. Vols. (Infantry), May 24, 1861; Brevet Major, August 9, 1862; killed at Cedar Mountain, Va., August 9, 1862. EDWARD GARDNER ABBOTT, eldest son of Hon. Josiah Gardner and Caroline (Livermore) Abbott, was born at Lowell, Massachusetts, on the 29th of September, 1840, and was the eighth in descent from George Abbott, who, forced by religious scruples and the troubles of the times, emigrated from Yorkshire, England, in 1643, and settled in Andover, Massachusetts. Edward's mother was the daughter of Edmund St. Loe Livermore, Judge of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. Judge Livermore was several times a member of Congress from Massachusetts, and was the son of Hon. Samuel Livermore, King's Attorney in New Hampshire before the Revolution, and afterwards first United States Senator from that State. As a boy Edward was active, sprightly, and high-spirited, of quick intellect, full of playfulness and life, and early manifested a more than usual fondness for all muscular sports and exercises. "His activity," says one who knew him from infancy to manhood, "suggested the idea of perpetual motion, and was the occasion to him of frequent bruises and broken limbs." With this exuberant vivacity and this passion for muscular superiority, there was united a great love of reading, especially works of imaginative literature and biography, which was fostered and gratified by the large miscellaneous library of his father. Before he was ten years old he had read through all the novels of Sir Walter Scott, besides the standard juvenile romances. He was fitted for college at the Lowell High School, and the principal, C. C. Chase, Esq., thus writes concerning him - " He left his mark upon my mind. He was a boy of great independence of character, of generous and honorable impulses, and of a high and chivalrous sense of honor. He was naturally impulsive, and fonder of being a leader than of being led, yet he possessed so much native manliness and so nice a sense of what it is to be a true gentleman, that his name holds an enviable place upon the records of our school. He was a diligent as well as a very ambitious scholar. He entered Harvard College without condition in 1856." One of Abbott's schoolmates, J. Davis, Esq., writes:" As a boy he was always gentlemanly, and I do not recollect a mean act ever attributed to him by his schoolmates. While fitting for college he was very ambitious to stand well in his class..... I remember an incident illustrating his fortitude under physical suffering. We had in our school-house yard a tree with a limb broken off near its body, on which we used to swing by the arms and take flying leaps. Abbott soon excelled in this. One day he unluckily fell and broke his arm. It seemed but a day or two before he was back again at school, looking a little pale and with his arm in a sling, yet cheerful as ever, and in a day or two more, with his arm still in the sling, he was back upon the old limb again, showing what could be done with one hand. The arm was afterwards fractured a second time, yet not in the same manner." Besides these two instances, he broke his arm again, making three fractures within the same six months. These childish mishaps developed a contempt for danger, and a personal courage which amounted almost to rashness. This was well illustrated by an accident which occurred just before he was fifteen years of age. His parents had gone to the sea-shore for a few days, leaving Edward, his sister, and one of his younger brothers in charge of the house. It being warm summer weather, Edward slept on a lounge in one of the upper rooms, and carried up with him every night in a small basket the silver-ware in daily use. This basket he placed on the floor by the side of the lounge. A burglar, aware probably of the absence of Edward's parents, entered the lower part of the house through a window which he managed to raise. After ransacking various other rooms, he entered the one where Edward was sleeping, and took he basket of plate and also Edward's watch, which was suspended from a chair. With these he went into the lower part of the house again. In his movements the thief dislodged some small article from the place where it rested, and the slight noise caused by its falling upon the floor was sufficient to wake Edward. He immediately missed the basket of plate; and, getting up, proceeded, without putting on any clothing, down stairs, where he found the robber engaged, by the light of a small lamp, in examining the pockets of some clothes which he had brought together from various closets for this purpose. The burglar saw the boy at the same instant, and, seizing the basket of plate, jumped through the window, which he had left open to facilitate his escape. Without a moment's hesitation, Edward sprang after him, and seizing him before he had gone more than a few steps from the house, a fierce struggle ensued. The boy was unusually strong and active for his age, and unencumbered by clothing, and clung to the man with resolute determination, shouting all the while for help. The latter was more anxious to flee than to engage in a contest with the boy, and finally managed to break away from him and escape, but without taking with him any of his plunder, which in the struggle was scattered all over the lawn. In college Abbott took a very active interest in boating, and in his Junior year became a member of the University crew. In this and the following year he rowed in seven different races, being victorious in all but one. The training to which the crew subjected themselves during both of these seasons was very severe. The abstinence from wine, spirits, tobacco, soda-water, tea, coffee, and almost from water itself, the Spartan diet, the return to childhood's bedtime, the long walks, the two-mile runs for "improvement of the wind," the daily pull of six miles on the Charles, under the merciless criticism of the bow oar (Harvard racing crews carry no cockswain), are trials and tortures for the impatient spirits of youth from which most students shrink, especially in the midsummer of the Senior year, when the pleasures of Class Day and the festivities accompanying the close of the college course hold out such strong temptations for self-indulgence. No one underwent this severe training with more cheerfulness or pursued it more rigidly than Abbott. There was no fear that he would surreptitiously indulge in anything forbidden by the rules regulating diet and regimen. The only thing to be apprehended in his case was that he would overdo and "train " too much. He never spared himself, but threw his whole soul into the work. His example did much to infuse the same spirit into the others, and contributed in no small degree to their victories. A majority of the University crew, in both these years, were subsequently in the Union army, and to Henry W. Camp and Edward Abbott, who occupied corresponding positions in the Yale and Harvard boats in the College Regatta in 1859, was reserved the glory of dying for their country. Notwithstanding his devotion to boating and muscular exercise, Abbott was a diligent student and held a good rank as a scholar, standing one year in the first quarter of his Class. His early love of reading he still retained, and few had so good a knowledge of general literature. He was fond of argument and extremely tenacious of his opinions. In fact, one of the most striking traits of his character, and one concerning which it is almost impossible to speak too strongly, was the persistency with which he adhered to every opinion or undertaking which he had embraced or begun. Immediately after graduation he began the study of law in the office of Samuel A. Brown, Esq. Some idea of the energy and ardor with which he entered on the new pursuit may be gathered from the following extract of a letter from Mr. Brown:" Edward entered my office in Lowell as a student at law in the month of August, 1860. He was then about twenty years of age. I had known him from infancy, but had never seen enough of him to enable me to form a very decided opinion of his abilities. While he was in my office he devoted himself with the greatest industry to the task of mastering what he intended should be his future profession. He secluded himself very much from society, and applied himself to hard and laborious study. From my present recollection, he was in the office from ten to twelve hours a day on an average. He was determined to excel in his profession; and the assiduity with which he devoted himself to his books was sure evidence that he would have succeeded. No medium or average position at the bar would have satisfied him. He had fixed his eye on the topmost round of the ladder of professional eminence, and was determined to reach it. He was self-reliant, had industry, perseverance, energy, and patience. He knew no such word as fail in anything he undertook. His judgment was very mature for a youth of twenty years in age. His mind seemed to be peculiarly adapted to unravelling [sic] intricate questions of law, and applying principles to cases. I considered him a very good lawyer when he had been in my office six months." But from these quiet pursuits he was aroused by the call to arms. Even before graduation he had expressed to a classmate and intimate friend from Mississippi, who subsequently became a captain in the Confederate service, his intention, in case hostilities should ever break out between North and South, to take part in the struggle. When, therefore, the Rebellion was formally begun, this resolve was put into immediate execution. He was not actuated in so doing by any distinctively antislavery feeling or sentiment. His father was a prominent member of that wing of the Democratic party which had supported Mr. Douglas for the Presidency in 1860; and Edward, though not old enough to vote, entertained the same political convictions, and had taken a warm interest in the Presidential campaign. Throwing aside, however, all partisan feeling, he applied himself with such energy to recruiting a company, that before the end of April he had obtained the requisite number of men. This company, called, after his father, who contributed largely to its equipment, the Abbott Grays, was composed of excellent material. It is worth mentioning, that, at one of their preliminary meetings, a stranger came in slightly intoxicated, and began to be very noisy and Create quite a disturbance. Abbott ordered him to be put out; but the man being of rough and powerful aspect, the others hung back and hesitated a little. Abbott immediately left the platform where he was presiding, came down to the offender, and summarily ejected him. The confidence of his men was gained at once. They saw that their leader would ask them to do nothing that he did not dare do himself. This company was mustered into service for three years, and assigned to the Second Massachusetts Volunteers (Infantry). They went into camp at Brook Farm, West Roxbury, on May 11th, eight days after the President's first call for three years' volunteers. This company being the first to arrive, Captain Abbott took command of the camp. A brother officer writes, that "at that early day Abbott had his company completely in hand. He was accurate and precise in all his orders and in the details of his duties. His company then was clean, neat, orderly, and soldierly in appearance." The next company that arrived, coming, perhaps, from too indulgent friends at home, were disposed to chafe at the rigorous camp restrictions which they found already established. The new-comers had also some disturbances among themselves, and the two matters combined caused much disorder and confusion on the first night. Most commanders, with no more experience than Abbott, would have temporized, separated the two companies for that night, and remedied the matter next day by orders. But Captain Abbott did not hesitate an instant. He strengthened his guard and gave still stricter orders to the sentinels. He put some of the more turbulent offenders under arrest; and, not content with the representations of the captain of the company that the men had no small arms about them, caused a thorough inspection to be made, that he might satisfy himself that such was the case. The officer from whom the foregoing account was derived says, "This, my first and still lasting impression of him was, that he was a firm, unflinching, thorough, exact, and persistent man, without a particle of compromise in his nature, when he was satisfied that he was right." Concerning the strictness of his discipline the same officer says: "He tolerated no departure, not even of a hair's breadth, from his exact and literal orders, on the part of those under him. He expected the same treatment from his superiors, and he always obeyed in that spirit. He was just as rigid to himself in all the duties he owed to his command, as he compelled his command to be in all their duties to him, and that was to the very extent of both spirit and letter. I can say with absolute certainty, that, during my constant connection with him for fifteen months, he never neglected one military duty or act that he owed to his company that was possible to be performed; and, on the other hand, I do not think that any member of his company ever neglected a military duty without being punished for it." Abbott's commission as Captain was dated May 24, 1861; and he was one of the very first volunteer officers of that rank in the United States sworn into the national service for three years. Three of Abbott's classmates, R. G. Shaw, H. S. Russell, and C. R. Mudge, were lieutenants in this regiment, while it was in camp at Brook Farm, and four more were subsequently connected with it. Of the eight, one half were killed, or died from the immediate effect of wounds received in battle. On July 12, 1861, the regiment joined the command of General Patterson at Martinsburg, but was soon after transferred to that of General Banks. In October, Captain Abbott was ordered home to obtain recruits. While here the news from Virginia was such as to indicate an impending battle, in which it was probable that his regiment would be engaged. He was very much excited at the thought of being away at such a time. He chafed so much and his impatience became so strong, that his father, fearing that he would go back to the field without waiting for orders, and perhaps thereby involve himself in difficulty, went to Major-General Butler, who was at that time in Boston, and obtained from him a military order commanding Captain Abbott to return to the field. He went back taking with him forty recruits, and arrived in Washington just after the battle of Ball's Bluff, in which, however, his regiment was not engaged. The Twentieth, with which his brother Henry was connected, suffered severely in this engagement; and the following letter from Edward to his father, written in the most hurried manner and with great drops and splashes of ink, rendering it in places almost illegible, exhibits in a striking manner the warmth of his brotherly love and his intense eagerness for the battle. "WASHINGTON, October 24, 1861. "We arrived here last night, just twenty-four hours after leaving Boston. I hope to be able to get transportation by canal, so as to join my regiment to-morrow night. The men behaved excellently throughout the entire journey, and gave me but slight trouble.... I am fearfully worried about Henry and the Twentieth. The papers said to-night that the wounded would be brought in by the canal-boat, and for the last half-hour I have been riding in a hack vainly endeavoring to find whether they have come or not. All think that Colonel Lee has been taken prisoner, and not killed; and I think it is so. But I am so nervous! What if anything should have happened to Henry! The thought drives me almost crazy. He may be here in this city and I not looking after him. I could never forgive myself if he were. He ought not to have gone to the war. If he did go, he should have gone with me. What is the matter with me? I never felt so nervous before in my life. It is too bad for me to worry you about it, but then I can't help it. If anything has happened, I promise you you shall hear of it before you get this letter; but nothing can have happened, I believe. I never knew how much I loved Henry until to-night. Please don't show this letter to mamma and Carrie, because it will worry them too much. I ought not to write to you, but I can't help it. Give my love to mamma and Carrie and the rest, and tell them I was terribly out of sorts when I went away, because I was afraid our regiment had been fighting and I was not there. I ask them to excuse it." Another letter of Abbott's to a friend written May 8, 1862, exhibits also his intense longing for battle. "0, we have hard luck! We shall never see a fight. But we have travelled miles upon miles, bivouacked, passed night after night sleepless, been cold, hungry, thirsty, and wet; and yet we are condemned to ceaseless inactivity for the rest of the summer, and are never to meet the foe." But the time was nearer at hand than the young soldier supposed. In General Banks's retreat from the Shenandoah Valley, May 24 and 25, 1862, the Second Regiment formed the rear-guard, and marched in good order sixty-two miles in thirty-two hours, skirmishing with the enemy a great deal of the time. Abbott was in command of the two rear companies, and took part in the various engagements of the two days. At nightfall of the first day the regiment, setting fire to the abandoned wagons, left Newtown, followed closely by the enemy's cavalry. Abbott's company had stopped to rest and had taken off their knapsacks, when, by the light of the burning wagons, the enemy's cavalry were descried at some distance charging down upon them, the clattering of the horses' hoofs upon the hard road making them seem much nearer than they really were. Abbott drew up his company in line by the side of the road down which the enemy were galloping, and made his men bring their pieces to the "aim." All, with the nervous excitement natural to troops for the first time in action, waited with intense eagerness for the subsequent command. But Abbott, seeing that the enemy were not near enough yet, ordered his men to bring their pieces back to the "ready." Again they brought their pieces to the "aim," and again were ordered back to the "ready," and it was not until the third time, and when the enemy were directly opposite them, that the command to " fire" was given. By this time the coolness of the Captain had infused itself into the men, and so simultaneous was the discharge of their pieces that it seemed like a single report. It was effectual in checking the advance of the enemy; and though their officers could be heard endeavoring to urge on the men, they could not be brought to another attack. At Bartonsville, some miles beyond, they made another attack, and were again repulsed by the companies of Captains Abbott, Cogswell, and Underwood. At Kernstown the same companies repulsed an attack by infantry. At Williamsport, where they arrived about nine, P. M., May 25th, Captain Abbott was put in command of five companies, to hold the Virginia bank until the wagons and all the debris of the army had been put across the river. Although they met no enemy here, the disposition of his command to hold his position and repel any attack that might be made, was spoken of in terms of high praise by officers under and above him who never before or afterwards were brought in contact with him. Concerning this retreat Colonel Cogswell, who was then a captain with Abbott, writes as follows: "Captain Abbott's company and my own were deployed as skirmishers, and moved back and through Newtown under some little fire of artillery and cavalry, which we had just there met. I remember perfectly how regularly and coolly Captain Abbott deployed his company, insisting even at that time upon the exact movements as prescribed by the tactics; and though there was some considerable excitement, gave his orders and conducted the movements of his skirmish line in the exact phraseology and according to the exact directions of the book.....We reached Winchester about two, A. M. Captain Abbott's company was skirmishing in retreat; and during that whole night, - with the enemy pressing thicker and faster and closer upon him, having to retreat very slowly and stubbornly in order to gain time for the passage of troops and wagons (the wagon train was seven miles long), - and this, too, being his first engagement, an important trust being devolved upon him, and having been on the march since sunrise of the preceding day, - no one would have known, except by the shots and the unseasonable hours, but that Captain Abbott and his company were on drill." In the battle of Cedar Mountain (August 9, 1862), where Abbott fell, his company had been deployed to act as skirmishers to precede the regiment. The chaplain of the regiment said that he should never forget the firm voice of Abbott, as he said, "Fall in, men," and the alacrity with which they responded. The company kept on before the regiment until they reached an opening by the side of an orchard, where General Gordon first made a stand and planted his artillery. They afterwards went forward across a valley and up a steep ascent into the woods adjoining the wheat-field where General Crawford's brigade had been badly cut up. Abbott's company, still acting as skirmishers, dashed through the woods, and were immediately engaged in a most animated and dangerous contest. The men would lie down and get behind the wheatstacks and advance from time to time, firing as a good opportunity tempted them, or as their captain gave the command, but mostly in obedience to commands. Here it was that both captain and men showed to the best advantage. Abbott, though requiring his men to lie down after firing and after each advance, sought no shelter for himself, but was always on his feet, a conspicuous mark for the enemy's fire. Now he ordered his men to rush forward with three cheers for the Second Regiment, - then to fire, - then to lie down; and thus he passed two thirds across the field. At last he ordered the company to fall back slowly and in order. This was done. While this was going on the regiment had formed in the field at the edge of the woods, but remained there only a short time, again seeking the shelter of the woods. The Lowell company fell back to the regiment. The hardest fight seems to have been when the regiment reached the woods, and there it was that Abbott fell, shot directly through the neck. One of his company, a man named Page, seeing him fall, went to him and asked, " Captain, are you wounded?" Abbott, with difficulty, replied, "Yes." Page then inquired: " Can I do anything for you?" But Abbott was unable to reply, and in a few moments he was dead. Page said he could have lain down and died beside him. At the time of graduation and when he entered the army, Abbott was a model of manly strength and beauty. He was about five feet eleven inches in height, lithe, erect, and straight. There was an elasticity and springiness in his gait, as he walked, that indicated a superabundance of physical energy. As he was not naturally broad-chested, but of rather a slender make, the great development of the muscles of his arm and chest resulting from his protracted training had not had the effect, as is sometimes the case, of giving an appearance of clumsiness to the upper part of his body. There was but little superfluous flesh about him, and he combined strength and activity in unusual proportion. In his countenance there was a severe gravity, which gave him the appearance of being older than he really was. Though not in the least misanthropic, he seldom laughed or smiled. There was a certain dignity in his manner, which, while it inspired respect, forbade any undue familiarity, and his intimate friends were comparatively few. He had a high idea of the military virtue of subordination, and was always obedient and respectful to his superiors in command; but this deference was purely of a soldierly character. As a man, he felt himself the equal of any one. He could not rest satisfied with anything done indifferently or even moderately well, but always aimed at perfection. For this he spared himself no labor or pains. It was incomprehensible to some how he could devote himself with such energy and become so completely absorbed in matters not of the highest importance. This intense, grave earnestness with which he threw his whole soul into every work that he undertook gained for him among some of his companions of the Harvard crew the sobriquet of " Crazy Abbott." But his madness was that which inspires heroic souls, and stimulates them to great actions. He could do nothing by indirection, but proceeded to everything in the most direct and straightforward manner. He was born to command by sheer force of nature, and not by any arts of conciliation. He never sought popularity. He was of an ardent, impetuous nature, with strong likes and dislikes; but he abhorred deceit of every kind, and was somewhat fastidious in his tastes. Moreover, he was absorbed in his own pursuits, and self-relying to a remarkable degree. In the last letter he ever wrote to his father, just a week before his death, he thus concludes: " I wish to tell you how deeply affected I feel by your kindness in this and all other matters; and I promise you that, with God's help, I will never do anything to cause you to be sorry for it or ashamed of me." These words indicate the thorough manliness of his nature and show his principle of action. The testimony of Abbott's superior officers is full and explicit as to his excellent soldierly qualities. General Gordon, the first colonel of his regiment, says: - " His military history was without a blemish, from his first manly interview with me in my office in Boston until I looked upon his dead body upon the fatal field of Cedar Mountain. Of the fourteen officers killed, wounded, and prisoners out of this single regiment in this action, none behaved with more conspicuous gallantry than Captain Abbott..... He died as a true soldier should, with his armor upon him. I saw him when he fell. I was proud that I had done something to educate him to the profession he so much, so peculiarly adorned." General Andrews, the successor of General Gordon in the command of the regiment, says that " His voice in giving his commands to his men in the thickest of the fight was as cheerful and calm as if on parade. From the commencement of his connection with the regiment, he ever showed himself prompt, efficient, and remarkably faithful in the discharge of his duty. His company was distinguished for its neat, soldierly appearance, and was in every respect fully equal to any that I have seen in the volunteer service." Colonel Russell, then a captain in the same regiment, says, "that in drill, discipline, neat and soldierly appearance, and in esprit de corps, Abbott's company was the best in the regiment." His men, too, in their turn, respected and were proud of him; and when they saw that the strictness of his discipline was not merely arbitrary, but aimed to make them a model company, and that he was rigidly conscientious towards them, —when they knew that his whole pay and more too was spent for their benefit, - and when they witnessed his coolness and bravery in action, - then respect and admiration ripened into a warmer feeling; and had he survived the battle of Cedar Mountain, there is nothing that they would not have suffered or dared for him. For the profession of arms Abbott seemed peculiarly adapted; and had he escaped the bullets of the foe, would have achieved high military distinction. As one of his friends wrote of him, "He was a born commander, cool, intrepid, self-reliant, indomitable, and took to the leadership of affairs as naturally as an eagle takes to the air." He had a physical frame inured to hardship, with a courage equal to the leadership of a forlorn hope, a resolute will, and a tireless tenacity. Few have fallen in the war of greater promise. But his " leaf has perished in the green." It was less than thirteen months from the time that the regiment left Brook Farm to his death. Excepting the skirmishes in Banks's retreat, the battle of Cedar Mountain was the second in which he was engaged; and at the time of his death he was not yet twenty-two. "He only lived but till he was a man; The which no sooner had his prowess confirmed, In the unshrinking station where he fought, But like a man he died." Two days after the battle Abbott's body was recovered; and his face, even in death, wore a singularly placid expression. At the request of many citizens and friends in Lowell, his parents, who before the breaking out of the war had removed to Boston, waived their preference for Mount Auburn as the place of his interment, and it took place at Lowell. The same hand that sprinkled the waters of baptism upon his infant face committed his body to the earth. A monument, inscribed with his name and a brief record of his services, and bearing also the names of the soldiers of his company from Lowell who fell with him, marks his last resting-place. By his side lies the body of his brother Henry; schoolmates, classmates, fellow-martyrs, and loving brothers, - even in death they are not dissevered.