The Hardwick (Mass.) Historical Society is home to an outstanding collection of more than fifty letters penned by James Brainerd Taylor Tupper of the 31st Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The letters, most of which are quite lengthy and detailed, cover a period from December 24, 1861 at Camp Seward in Pittsfield to August 14, 1863, when Tupper was discharged to take a position in the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. During most of Tupper’s service, he was an assistant in the Quartermaster’s office, so we sometimes get a “peek behind the curtain” of the inner workings of the regiment. One such tidbit was recorded on 24 December 1861 from Camp Seward:
“There was a little row in camp last night — a deserter had been taken & confined in the guard house & a crowd went to rescue him. The Quartermaster came rushing in & loaded his revolver & the Col. dispersed the crowd & the supposed ringleader was tied hand & foot & stowed away in one of the store rooms…Anderson, the deserter, has been in the guard house ever since he was taken, with a log chained to his foot & a guard over him. They thought it was most too hard for the guard to have them in so cold a place, so they brought the prisoner into our office. He sits on the bench by the fire quietly & two soldiers with their rifles to guard him. He will be court-martialed.”
Although a native of East Longmeadow, Mass., Tupper was the son of the Rev. Martyn Tupper, pastor of a church at Hardwick for many years. James was a graduate of Williams College, class of 1861. Most of the letters are written by James to his father. In his letters, Tupper often gives updates on other Hardwick volunteers: Stone, Southwick, Ruggles, Richmond, and Richardson. He records the life, sickness, and death of his friend and bunk-mate, Franklin S. Knight, who died in January of 1863. In all, about nineteen Hardwick men served in the 31st Regiment.
Thanks are due to Anne Barnes and Emily M. Bancroft of the Hardwick Historical Society for sharing this material and making it available to this project. We will try to post some of Tupper’s letters on this website.
Incidentally, James B. T. Tupper gave a speech before the Grand Army of the Republic Post in Washington, D.C. on 9 May 1917 about his reminiscences of the capture and occupation of New Orleans by the 31st Massachusetts Regiment. This speech was subsequently published as a short booklet, which is now available on the internet. A link to it is here.