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Barstow, Nathaniel Saltonstall
NATHANIEL SALTONSTALL BARSTOW. Second Lieutenant 24th Mass. Vols. (Infantry), September 2, 1861; First Lieutenant, December 28, 1862; died at Newbern, N. C., May 22, 1864. NATHANIEL SALTONSTALL BARSTOW, son of Gideon and Nancy (Forrester) Barstow, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on the 28th of July, 1839. He was the youngest of a large family, which remained in Salem but a few years after his birth, and then went to Detroit, Michigan, where they remained several years. The family returned at length to Massachusetts, and resided for some time at Dedham, where he attended the school of Mr. C. J. Capen. He was a bright, sensitive boy, easily ruled through his reason and affections. He was quick at his books, and fond of reading, especially of poetry and ballads. His memory was ready and retentive, and the cultivation it received in childhood made it quite remarkable in after years. He was fitted for college, together with his friend Caspar Crowninshield, by the Rev. Mr. Tenney, at Northfield, and entered in July, 1856. He remained at the University until January i9th, 1858, when he took up his connections and received an honorable discharge. He soon after studied some months at Stockbridge, with the Rev. S. P. Parker, having some intention of rejoining the University, which purpose he never carried out. At college he took no high standing, but imbibed a taste for historical, philosophical, and even theological reading which was somewhat remarkable for a youth of his years. He had some fondness for the classics, but little for mathematics and the more precise studies. He also excelled in physical exercises, and was a good boxer, rower, and walker. In 1860 he entered the law office of Charles F. Blake, Esq., in the city of Boston. His mind was logical and well fitted for the study of the law; and this quality, united to his great power of memory, rendered this pursuit easy and agreeable to him, and gave earnest of future success at the bar. He was thus occupied when the war broke out, - not twenty-two years of age, in many ways young even for those years, but full of promise for the future. Barstow's temperament was not easily fired by the promptings of ambition or the dreams of military glory. He coolly reasoned to himself with that clear logical habit of mind which had always marked him, - a boy in so many other respects, - that it was a part of his duty as a citizen of the Republic to defend those principles which were now assailed. "I go," he said to his mother, "of my own free will, not because I am ashamed to stay at home, but others have gone to defend my rights, and I think I ought to go." His sole military education had been a month's garrison duty at Fort Independence that spring, in the Fourth Battalion of Massachusetts Infantry, commanded by Major Thomas G. Stevenson, who afterwards was Colonel of the Twventy-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and fell a Brigadier-General in the battle of the Wilderness. Serving with Barstow at the fort were many of those who were afterwards among the bravest and brightest soldiers whom their State or their College produced. Among them were some of his most intimate friends and classmates, - names whose fuller history in this volume forbids more than a mention in this place. There were his classmates Henry Abbott, Charles Mudge, Henry Russell, and Caspar Crowninshield, his dear friend Tom Robeson, Wendell Holmes, and a host of others. Living together in this little fort, hearing the daily beat of drums and rattle of arms within, and the rumors of war from without, each one's thought found a quick response in some other breast. Many, eagerly grasping at the first opportunity for duty, came up to town, while the battalion was still at the fort,' and joined the Second Massachusetts. Among them Barstow would fain have been. He would gladly have followed his friends Mudge and Robeson. He even obtained the promise of a commission, and came to Boston for the purpose of joining them, but found on arriving that his mother, through the absence of his brothers Simon and George, who had already joined the army, would be left entirely by herself. It was a sad disappointment to him to surrender his commission; but he saw his duty clearly, and beheld with regret the Second pass on its way in the path of duty and honor which he so fervently yearned to tread with them. A summer passed, and at its close his old commander and friend Colonel Stevenson began to, raise the Twentyfourth Regiment. Affairs at home were changed, and Barstow was one of the first applicants for a commission, and was (September 2, 1861) appointed Second Lieutenant in Company C, then commanded by his friend Captain Robert H. Stevenson, afterwards Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment. During the recruiting season Lieutenant Barstow was chiefly in the western portion of the State, where he had lived and studied, and whence he brought many good men into the ranks of the regiment. After his company was filled, it was sent with three others to Fort Warren to guard prisoners of war. There it remained until the early days of December, when, with the rest of the regiment, it took the field, and was encamped at Annapolis with the other regiments of what was afterwards known as the "Burnside Expedition." While the Twenty-fourth was at Annapolis, Barstow's old friend Lieutenant Tom Robeson of the Second Massachusetts, then an officer of the Signal Corps, was sent thither for the purpose of instructing certain officers of the Burnside expedition in the duties of that corps. Two officers were required of the Twenty-fourth. A quick wit, a retentive memory, and a ready command of language were requisite. All these Lieutenant' Barstow possessed in an eminent degree. There was something fascinating, too, in the new system of communicating by the waving of colored flags, imparted only under solemn oath of secrecy. There were the best and swiftest horses supplied by the government to carry the messages of the generals; the two orderlies, with their bundles of flags and posts and field-glasses; and, above all, there was the companionship of his friend Robeson. Lieutenant Barstow at once obtained the detail. Singularly well fitted for his new position, he at once mastered all the minutiae of the secret art, and sailed in the early winter in a little schooner called the Colonel Patterly, with some dozen companions, -the entire corps of signal officers of the expedition,- their destination hidden in a sealed packet which their skipper was forbidden to break until he should be many leagues from shore. It is needless to narrate the storms, the gales, and the miseries of the expedition off those perilous and shifting sands of Hatteras in the depth of winter. When the majority of those tempest-tossed vessels, which the providence of God, and not the design of man, preserved from utter destruction, had at length assembled within the narrow sand-spit, - and men, recovering from the apprehension of their own danger, began to question as to the fate of their comrades, - the little coasting schooner containing that half-score of signal officers was nowhere to be seen. Great anxiety was felt for them, but it was not until a week had passed that the little craft at length cast anchor among her consorts. She had been driven out to sea by the violence of the wind, and had just beat back. The storm had not, however, chilled the spirits of her inmates, and it seemed as if they had come, not from the bleak ocean, but from some pleasant garden, to cheer their disheartened friends among the sands. Barstow's spirits were always buoyant, and he related the perils of the passage with as much gusto as though he were describing a yachting voyage. Though the mast might go by the board at any minute, he had still an eye for the ludicrous, and a cheeriness which nothing could discourage. He was at once transferred to the flag-ship of Commodore Goldsborough, commanding the naval forces in the Sounds, to afford the means of communication between the land and naval forces, - a distinction which shows how fully he had mastered his difficult art. Let him now speak for himself. "OFF ROANOKE ISLAND, NORTH CAROLINA, February 9. "MY DEAR MOTHER,- My last letter left me on board the schooner Colonel Patterly, having just arrived in Hatteras Inlet. From thence I was transferred on board Commodore Goldsborough's flag-ship, to act as signal officer on his staff. I cannot describe to you the change from the dirty quarters and short rations of the schooner to the elegant cabin and table of the Commodore. Our mess consists of the flag-officer, Captain Case, and three naval officers. The day after we came on board, the expedition sailed: the weather was fine, and the fleet, as it steamed up the Sound, presented a grand sight. Towards night we anchored within ten or fifteen miles of Roanoke Island, waiting for morning, to commence the fight. Captain Case ordered Tom Robeson, who is also on the Commodore's staff, to be ready to go on board the gunboat Southfield at daybreak. I went to bed, and about twelve o'clock the flagofficer's servant awakened me to go on deck and signal to General Burnside. Early in the morning we got up, and went on board the Southfield. The day proved stormy, and we were unable to engage the enemy; but the next day proving fine, we stood in, the Southfield leading the way. At half past ten the action commenced, the force of the enemy consisting of eight steam gunboats, supported by two forts and a battery. At first I felt as though my last hour had come, for I was stationed on the roof of the pilot-house. Every minute I expected to be hit; but in quarter of an hour it all passed off, and I paid no more attention to the shell. All day the firing continued, the transports remaining in the rear. At five o'clock the flag-officer signalled to Burnside to land, we covering the landing; and before dark most of the troops were ashore. The Commodore then ordered the fleet to close with the batteries. Then the firing was tremendous; the shell were rained into the fort, but the men stood to their guns like heroes. Then it was I had the luckiest escape of the day. Several times the shell came very near us. I was standing on the pilot-house, when a round shot from the fort struck at my feet within six inches of me. An old man-of-war'sman fell with a splinter in his head; and he remarked, as he put his hand up to his temple, that it was a 'Damn good shot, sir.' It now being night, we drew off, and I assure you we felt quite gloomy; we had silenced none of their batteries, and all our gunboats had been hit, some of them disabled, and many lives had been lost. We had indeed landed the army without losing a single man; but we knew that on the next day a battle on shore would have to be fought for the possession of the island. Early in the morning we stood in and engaged the strongest battery; but we drew off soon, for fear of hitting our own men. As we lay at anchor, we heard the roll of musketry and report of field-pieces. But towards night we saw the United States flag run up on their batteries. Then the blue-jackets gave three cheers, and the Commodore ordered an extra allowance of grog all round. In the evening we learned that Burnside was completely successful, having captured two thousand prisoners and fourteen cannon." Lieutenant Barstow was also engaged in the brilliant affair of destroying the enemy's fleet by Captain Rowan. Of this he says: — "1 We had the other day a short but desperate affair at Elizabeth City; the fighting was mainly hand to hand, and little quarter was given or asked. One boat-load of Southern sailors was pulling towards the shore, when one of our gunboats exploded a nine-inch shrapnel amongst them, and only one man escaped out of the twenty or thirty in the boat. ".... It is pleasant to hear the Captain talk about his home and his children, and how glad he shall be to see them when the war is over, and what a pride he takes in them all. The old sailors say it is worth five dollars to hear the Captain's voice in a fight. To show how considerate he is during the battle: I was standing near him, and a shell came whistling over our heads. I nodded, but the Captain didn't budge an inch. Seeing that I felt rather ashamed, he turned to me and said, 'No man can help dodging,; I dodge myself.' I watched him through the action, and he was the only man that did not dodge." From Roanoke Island General Burnside and the fleet turned to Newbern, which was captured after a brisk engagement. Lieutenant Barstow was during this action with Captain Rowan, who had succeeded Commodore Goldsborough in command of the Sound Squadron. He continued in his duties as signal officer for about a year, serving in all the active operations of the army in North Carolina with energy and bravery. Upon the Goldsborough expedition he served as signal officer upon the staff of his friend General Stevenson. During this time the exposure to the damps, chills, and heats of the insidious marshes of North Carolina was by degrees undermining a naturally strong constitution. He often had attacks of fever, and could no longer take the vigorous exercise of which, especially in the saddle, he was very fond. When duty called he was careless, or rather utterly neglectful, of his own health. The seeds of the disease which finally overcame him were taking root. In the spring of 1863 a small redoubt on the side of the Neuse, opposite Newbern, garrisoned by some hundred men, was attacked by an overwhelming force of the Rebels, who poured upon it a whirlwind of grape and canister, literally tearing to shreds the canvas of the tents and riddling the barracks. Lieutenant Barstow was then signal officer of this outpost; and while all others were crouching behind the works, shielding themselves from the force of the tempest, it was his duty to signal by his flags to the main forces on the other side of the river. The coolness and bravery with which he performed this difficult undertaking won him great praise. With the exception of two or three short visits at home, he continued in and near Newbern until that fatal disease, which had already taken strong hold on his constitution, finally overcame him. As the duties of a signal officer were now more severe than he was able to perform, he resigned that position, and was appointed Assistant Commissary of Musters. At about the same time he was commissioned First Lieutenant. Higher rank he might have attained by returning to his regiment; but he felt himself better suited for staff duty, and preferred serving where he could be of most use, even at a sacrifice of rank. At one time he was detailed at Little Washington, first as Judge-Advocate, afterwards as Assistant Engineer. "I am at present," he writes, May 15, 1863, "putting up two earthworks, one to mount a hundred-pounder Parrott and three long thirty-twos, and the other a Itte-de-pont on the redan principle. It makes one brush up the mathematics." He became attached to North Carolina, and, although offered positions at other places, continued at Newbern, fated soon to become a city of the dead under the terrible scourge of the yellow fever. Although this disease was not recognized at the time of his death, his weakened constitution rendered him an easy prey before the plague had approached any other. He was ill for about ten days, and died on the 22d of May, 1864. His disease was then thought jaundice; "complicated with typhoid fever," wrote his friend Colonel Thomas J. C. Amory, so soon to follow him in death." He breathed his last, not on the battle-field nor from the scathe of shell or bullet, but through the hostile malaria of that unwonted climate, more deadly to him than any lead or steel. It is not difficult to imagine that, with his almost romantic attachment to the heroes of the past, and his love of the ballads of old times, full of deeds of bravery and deaths of knights on the battle-plain, he might well have desired that another kind of death might have been his. Yet, however this may be, his friends will remember that his life was as much a sacrifice, his death as noble and as honorable, as that of those who fell when the artillery was roaring and the bullets singing their requiem. In Lieutenant Barstow's character was to be found an agreeable and rather peculiar intermixture of the boy and the man. In many things his mind exhibited great maturity, while in others it had all the characteristics of early youth. He was especially fond of historical and philosophical reading. His knowledge of history, particularly of English. history, was extensive and accurate. His powers of reasoning were excellent. His memory was extraordinary; he was not only able to repeat long ballads, of which he was very fond, but could even recite pages of prose which he had not seen for years. Macaulay was his fav6rite author; and it was his delight to deliver from memory his long and finished periods, with an emphasis which no one who has heard him can forget. His comrades of the mess-room will long remember how he enlivened the dulness of many a winter evening by reciting Thackeray's " Ballad of the Drum," or some stirring lay of Aytoun. Napoleon was his favorite hero. When a boy of ten, he would carry about a life of the Emperor under his arm, and read and reread it, and refuse to part from it. Among the volumes of a deserted library at Newbern he came upon Napier's " Peninsular War," and he was wont to descant to his friends on the strategy of the campaigns in Spain and the greatness of the hero of Austerlitz. He was a delightful companion. Many a time it has been the fortune of the present writer to sit with him long into the small hours of the morning, listening to his pleasant and genial voice. Yet of worldly affairs he was singularly ignorant. He had little experience of men. He was without ambition almost to a fault. About making or keeping money he had very little idea. He spent readily what he had, and waited impatiently for the next pay-day or the next remittance from home. His friend and kinsman Governor Andrew writes of him - " I used to be struck with the cheer, the friendship, the fresh and lively feeling with which on his visits home he talked of the army, of his life in the service, of his favorite friends, of his own regiment, and of its rival the Tenth Connecticut, of his commander, his duties, and his pursuits. He was very communicative, always gave us, when he called, many personal anecdotes amusing and jocose, but never ill-natured or critical. Being attached to the Signal Corps, very soon after his regiment marched, in which there was little chance for promotion, he thereby lost the chances of his own regiment, according to the rule always observed among Massachusetts Volunteers. He was one of quite a number of men from Massachusetts whose very fitness, by education and ability, to do staff duty, and work requiring a certain superiority of general training and a certain quickness and expertness of mind, hand, and eye, and a certain faculty of independent work, stood in the way of their lineal advance..... In a certain sense he was younger than his years, as it seemed to me, when compared with many of his Companions. And he showed that feature in ways which made him attractive and interesting. I thought he had qualities which, as he matured in age, would have developed in him more of a man than would be found in many others who developed decidedly earlier in some of the ways of the world. I always found him quick to perceive, ready to observe and to comprehend, exhibiting a bright, reliable, and active intelligence. He was one of the boys who went out in the Massachusetts service whom I really loved." His young, open, and generous nature won him the love not merely of the Governor of Massachusetts, and his officers, but of many others less known and honored. The writer has seen the tears running down the cheek of an old negro-woman, with whom he sometimes lodged in Newbern, as she told of him and his ways. He had scarcely entered on the path of life; but those steps which he had trodden showed him full of generous promise, when he was cut off by a cruel disease in a dangerous and inhospitable land.