The woman left behind when her husband went off to war had quite a responsibility, especially if there were children. She did all her own chores as well as his. She worried but kept a good face for those children and other of her soldier’s relatives. She responded to his needs when he asked for things, she wept when he was hurt and worried that it was worse than he was telling her, protecting her from the bad, bad news. She was brave and faithful.
Such a Fairview woman during the Civil War was Emily Carver Ferguson. Her husband was Capt. Oliver Hazard Perry Ferguson. (His father was Hance; it appears that the teen-aged Hance was quite taken with the young commander of the lake fleet during the Battle of Lake Erie and gave his son this mighty name.)
OHP Ferguson responded to President Lincoln’s call for three-year volunteers and on November 3, 1861, he joined C Company 111th Regiment PA Vol. which organized in Erie. He was highly regarded by the men from Fairview who volunteered with him and he quickly rose in rank. On May 1, 1862 he was promoted to first lieutenant. By 1863 he had been promoted to the rank of captain.
When OHP went off to war the Fergusons had two children, Harry and Willie, ages five and one, respectively. He was a prolific letter writer, which must have meant a great deal to Emily, for she kept his letters.
Theirs must have been a good marriage, for he seemed to reveal his feelings openly to her. Fine for him, but Emily bore the weight of her loneliness as well as his. She worried with him about his physical aches, his concerns about his men, his concerns about the war, the needs of his company, his feelings about battle, a description of the countryside he passed through and even his sleeping quarters – some good, some not – and more.
In June of 1863 he wrote to her of three Union soldiers who were shot for desertion. It didn’t seem right to him that men were shot, and not by the enemy, but it was the law. “O God, when will this war end?” he anguished.
More than once he expressed his approval of “Fighting Joe Hooker.” He thought he was a good commander, but the man lived up to his name and took his men into battle too often. In fact, the various companies of the 111th fought in a great many battles.
OHP gave Emily frequent instructions about seeing other people and passing on messages. “Give my love to Mrs. Long. Tell her I think she might write to a feller who is away from home and friends and expects to get killed every battle he goes into once in a while.” And by the way, he wanted a likeness of Emily and the boys. Months later he asked her to get another one taken “without the bonet.”
She sent the pants he requested “I was almost naked and the pants came just in time,” he wrote. But then his boots were bad and his feet were wet all the time. As the winter of 1863/64 commenced, he asked her to get enough flannel to make him four shirts. Or at least two. And stockings; he was out.
To encourage reenlistment, companies of the 111th were offered a bounty of $402 and a one-month furlough beginning from the time they reached home. Nearly every man in OHP’s company signed up and they arrived in Erie on January 14, 1864. The city was ready and erupted in a grand celebration.
No doubt Emily put all her effort into making this month perfect for her husband. On his return to duty he wrote, “I thought I had staid at home long enough but after I got away I then began to wish I could stay longer for I enjoyed myself so well when I was at home. It was hard to leave a wife and children not knowing whether I should ever see them again or not.” After the men return to duty they were renamed the 111th Regt. PA Veteran Volunteers.
OHP often mentioned the name of a Fairview man whom he had just seen. Among others they were Samuel Weidler, serving in the I Co. 111th Regiment PA Vol., whose reproduced Civil War Diary is in the FAHS bookstore; and Andrew Swan who first joined the 6th Cavalry and later was transferred into the 16th Cavalry. He was brevetted on the field and came home a Lieutenant Colonel.
Even from a distance OHP tried to remain in charge of the family. He sent money home and told Emily who to give it to for safe keeping. She expressed a desire to stay with a friend for awhile and his response was “I think that you had not better for the reason as there is no body to attend to the things while you are absent…” However, he relented a bit and ended with the words “You do as you think best.”
In late April 1864 his company was in Alabama and the rumor was that General Hooker was going to move them into battle. “It is possible that before this reaches you that some of us may be gone to our long homes…” In his next letter he repeated the rumor and his talk of death. “If I am killed I cannot die in a better cause if it is my luck to fall,” but he reassured her that he felt he would be safe. He mentioned here that he still had not received that photograph he wanted.
Meanwhile, Emily wrote of things familiar to him. In August 1864 he reacted to her mention of the corn in her kitchen garden, and how big the chickens were growing. She also included occasional bad news, for she mentioned the death of a neighbor boy from an illness circulating in the community. He responded with concern and cautions about his own sons.
There were occasional periods when a week or two went by without a letter from Emily. He was deeply affected by this, telling her how depressed that made him. He thought she might have heard that he was dead. He assured her he was not. Emily too had occasional long periods without word, but knowing it was troop movements, poor mail service and more that prevented his letters from getting to her.
By late March of 1865 he was waiting to be mustered out and return home. Once home he became the postmaster at the Fairview Station, serving from October 17, 1865 to July 22, 1872. He was listed as a shoemaker in the 1880 census and by then he and Emily had added three more children to their family. He became active in the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic, an important Union veterans’ group). During the war he had grown close to the men in his company and continued to work with them after the war, helping them prepare various papers, pension applications, etc.
OHP died in 1903 at 76 years of age. Emily survived him to 1922, at 85 years of age (the date of death listed in the cemetery book although her gravestone states 1911). Those last years alone she may have read and reread his letters, cherishing them as a reminder of his devotion to his wife and children.
Those letters were always addressed to “My Dear Wife,” and he often signed them as “I am with all love your Affectionate husband.”
Note: The trunk shown here traveled with Captain Ferguson during the Civil War and is on display in the Sturgeon House.