No matter how close a “deployed” soldier is, he is still not at home every night with his wife or mother or sister or his friends. During the Civil War, although the men were still within the bounds of the United States and might possibly be reached by train, their women knew they were inaccessible. They watched them march off with their units to the railroad depots, often with bands playing lively tunes. The men climbed aboard and were whisked away, sometimes never to return. Every person left behind has experienced this feeling of fear, emptiness and also of pride.
Sometimes if a wounded soldier were assigned to a hospital near enough, a relative could visit or even stay to help care for him. It was during this war that Clara Barton created the beginnings of the American Red Cross by organizing women to help care for the wounded in the hospitals around Washington, D.C.
One woman who has an extraordinary history and will reappear in a future story of special women was Helen Marion Daggett. She was born in Girard in 1840, one of 10 children of Austin and Elvina Daggett. (Although born in Girard, her full story is important to Fairview.)
It is amazing how young people met in those days. Perhaps it was a church event. Or it might have been through relatives, but somehow she met Samuel Bates Pollay, from Dryden , New York, near Ithaca. She was 17 years old as was Samuel. After they married they traveled east to Rochester, New York and lived with Samuel’s brother William and sister-in-law Esther. Samuel worked as a cigar maker.
Helen and Samuel had been married five years and as yet had no children when President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 volunteers to enlist with the northern forces for three years. Samuel responded and joined the 108th New York Infantry Regiment on July 28, 1862. The first battle he participated in was the Battle of Antietam that September. It was also his last. He died on September 17, 1862, just 22 years old. He was one of 4,000 soldiers who died that day.
Now Helen was a young widow of the Civil War. In her grief she wrote a poem, the first two stanzas are:
Bravely, nobly did he answer
To his country’s earnest call;
When the clouds of doom and sadness
Hung above us like a pall.
Sacrificing all he cherished,
Leaving friends and home to go
Where he knew his duty called him,
Midst the scenes of strife and woe.
Being a war widow takes a special kind of courage. Lives together are cut short. Memories together are fewer than they should be. Where there are children, the wives must hold everyday life together for the sake of the children.
And current customs must be followed. For the first year she wore all black, including a widow’s veil when she was out and away from home. Her activities were limited to church-related events or close family events. During the second half of the second year of mourning a widow at that time could begin to add a bit of colored trim to her clothing. And she no longer needed to wear the veil. As a childless woman, it would have been acceptable for her to marry again after two years of mourning.
Helen married again after five years. Her story will continue in a later post.