1862: David Vining Lovell to Hattie N. Walker and Mary (Walker) Lovell

This letter was written by 36 year-old David Vining Lovell (1826-1901) of North Yarmouth, Cumberland County, Maine. He was the son of David Lovell (1786-1866) and Dorothy A. Littlefield (1798-1891). He was married first to Mary Walker (d. 1869) and second (in 1870) to Emma F. Pulsifen (1831-1895). He had several children—George C. Lovell (1853-Aft1898), Irving Albion Lovell (1857-1917), Adda S. Lovell (1859-Aft1898), Horace D. Lovell (1866-1938), and William Lester Lovell (1867-1942).

Prior to the Civil War, David earned his living as a ship’s captain. In January 1856, we have notice in the Charleston Courier (S. C.) of his serving as the Captain of the ship Naples after having rescued eleven members of the crew of the packet ship St. Dennis that went down in a gale, carrying a load of cotton bales, wheat, timber, copper, rice, potatoes, hams, and tobacco. The St. Dennis was bound for Havre de Grace. In the years before the war, there were mail notices for Capt. Lovell posted in newspapers of various U. S. ports between New Orleans and Boston. It is believed that Bath, Maine, was the home port of the Naples.

During the Civil War, Lovell entered the service as a private in Co. E, 17th Maine Infantry on 18 August 1862. From this letter and other roster annotations we learn that he was frequently on detached duty while serving in this regiment, fulfilling roles as a cook or a teamster. He appears to have been with his regiment at Fredericksburg, however, for the battlefield—as he put it—“once seen, can never be forgotten. The cries of the wounded and the dying is more than humanity can bare—some crying for help—some for water—some for their friends to come and get them and not leave them there to die. It is awful.”  In that battle, the 17th Maine was part of Birney’s Division that failed to respond to Meade’s cries for support and once engaged, proved unequal to the task due to ineffective leadership.

According to military records, Lovell was transferred from the 17th Maine to the U. S. Navy in mid April 1864 where he was assigned duty as the Chief Quartermaster aboard the U.S.S. Governor Buckingham from 21 April 1864 to June 9, 1865. The Buckingham performed blockade duty off the coast of Wilmington, North Carolina, until after the capture of Fort Fisher at which time the ship put into the Norfolk Navy Yard for three months, then later at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When he was discharged, Lovell complained of eye trouble that formed the basis for subsequent pension claims in his later years. In short, his weakened and blurry eyesight, caused by pterygia, prevented him from pursuing his former occupation as a “ship master.” Twelve years after leaving the service he was nearly blind, his capacity to “perform manual labor equivalent to the loss of a foot.”

David wrote the first part of this letter to Harriet (“Hattie” or “Hatt”) N. Walker (1838-1883). She married Orrin W. Brackett (1841-1900) of Yarmouth, Cumberland county, Maine. The second part was addressed to his his wife Mary.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Jim Doncaster as is published by express consent.]

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Addressed to Miss Hattie N. Walker, Yarmouth, Maine. [Handcarried through] Politeness of Mrs. D. H. B.


Camp near Falmouth [Virginia]
December 19th 1862

Sister Hattie,

I thought as I had a few moments to spare I would write you a few lines to let you know that Dave come out of the fight all right. It was a hard fight but our boys stood up to it like men. There was but 2 killed out of our regiment but some of the other regiments got cut up awfully. A battlefield is an awful place—if once seen, can never be forgotten. The cries of the wounded and the dying is more than humanity can bare—some crying for help—some for water—some for their friends to come and get them and not leave them there to die. It is awful.

Fredericksburg was a fine little place before the fight but is about all burned now. There was 4 churches and a lot of stores. It is about 6 times as big [as] Yarmouth, but our force threw shot and shell into it all day before we went over to the fight and then after we went over the bridge the Rebs began to throw shell into it. So between the two, they have just about stove it all to pieces.

I had a letter from Mary yesterday and one from Timothy and Lewis. They [were] all well. Timothy is sick of the sham. He don’t know anything about it yet. Let him go into one fight and be under fire for 60 hours in the very front in the mud, 3 or 4 inches deep, and nothing to eat but hard bread and raw pork—and not enough of that—and then he will know something about war. I wish it was at an end for I have seen all I wanted to see but we have got to see more before long. I think there will be another fight before long but there may not be another fight for some time.

Write to me, Hatt, as soon as you get this. Yours truly, — David V. Lovell

Mary—I thought as I was writing to Hatt, I would just write a word to you about the cooking. All the regiments have to do just as ours do that is in the front. Each man has his grub given to him, his bread and coffee and everything, and each man has to cook his grub. But if we go into winter quarters, then I shall go to cooking again. There has been times since we have been on the tramp that I have not seem the regiment for days. There is no blame on me for every man in the company would be glad to have it so that I could cook for them again. We have had to heave away about all our pots because it is such hard going [that] we could not haul them for they wanted the teams to haul grub.

As for rum, it has been so long since I tasted any that I don’t know how it would taste. But I thought when we was lying in the mud and water, I should like to have a little just to warm a poor devil.

Kiss my darling baby and tell her I have not forgotten her yet and never shall for I have had too many good times with her. Tell Irvine he is my little man. I want you to write often. We have not been paid off yet and don’t know when we shall. Give love to all friends and take a large share yourself.

Yours with love, — David V. Lovell

P. S. Marston is getting along first rate. I saw him yesterday. He is out round. I had balls go so near me as to blow my hair. You could hear them sing all around but the shell bursting over our heads and our batteries behind us firing over us about 6 feet above our heads as we lay on the ground was music quite different from what you have at home. — Dave L.

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Capt. Lovell’s Pension File Summary and photograph of his headstone in Yarmouth, Maine

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