Friday, July 28, 2017

"Dear Ma. . ." The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Curtis C. Pollock To Be Published. . .

Lieutenant Curtis C. Pollock
Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Infantry
{Hoptak Collection} 
As I have noted many, many times before in posts about the discovery of letters or documents or photographs or what-have-you pertaining to the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry as well as to the oftentimes peculiar timing of such discoveries, sometimes strange things happen; very strange things; things so strange that it is difficult to attribute them to pure and simple coincidence. And very early this year, another of those strange things happened, something that pertained to a young lieutenant who served in the 48th Pennsylvania and to the letters he wrote home while in uniform. . .

. . .his name was Curtis Clay Pollock and he just happened to be born on this date—July 28—175 years ago today, in 1842.

He was the first child born to William and Emily Pollock and he grew up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, the seat of government for Schuylkill County. He came from a rather well-to-do family—his father owned and operated a lumber yard—and a rather large family, too, as his mother would give birth to six more children over the course of the eighteen years following Curtis's birth. Curtis was a young man with seemingly high ambitions but whatever hopes or dreams he may have held for his future were interrupted with the outbreak of civil war in April 1861. By then eighteen years of age, Curtis Pollock was among the very first to respond to Abraham Lincoln’s call-to-arms, coming in response to the firing upon Fort Sumter and the commencement of war. He volunteered to serve as a private in the Washington Artillery, a Pottsville militia company of long-standing, which, on the evening of April 18, arrived in the nation’s capital along with four other companies of Pennsylvania volunteers, some 475 men in all. These were the very first northern volunteers to reach Washington following the outbreak of war and for this, these soldiers would earn the proud distinction of being First Defenders.

Pollock and his fellow First Defenders would spend much of the entirety of their ninety-day term of service stationed at various posts around the capital, performing various duties. They would see no combat, however, yet, upon their discharge in late July 1861, nearly all of them would enlist to serve in any number of new regiments being recruited and organized, regiments that were being raised to serve for “three years or the course of the war,” whichever would come first. In early September 1861, Curtis Pollock, now nineteen, would sign up to serve in what became Company G, 48th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and with this regiment he would serve until his death in late June 1864.
An early war image of Pollock, likely taken in the spring of 1861
{Courtesy of Ronn Palm and the Museum of Civil War Images] 

Entering Company G, 48th PA, as a corporal, Pollock would pine and lobby for an officer’s commission. His efforts eventually paid off, for in the Spring of 1862, Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania commissioned him a lieutenant. His promotion over the heads of so many other non-commissioned officers, however, set off a great controversy within the regiment; one that nearly resulted in Pollock resigning. Yet he persisted and stubbornly clung to his new rank. Despite the controversy over his promotion, the men would come to respect Pollock—and he would prove, as Captain Oliver Bosbyshell later wrote, “absolutely fearless” in battle. With the 48th, Pollock campaigned and saw action in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Emerging unscathed from such sanguinary fights as 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, Pollock was mortally wounded on June 17, 1864, during the regiment’s successful attack on Battery 15, a Confederate stronghold east of Petersburg. He passed away six days later, on June 23, and his remains were buried in Pottsville’s Charles Baber Cemetery.

The Officers of Company G, Spring 1863
Captain Bosybshell (seated)
Lt. Pollock (standing left); Lt. Henry C. Jackson
{Hoptak Collection} 

Curtis Pollock spent more than 1,100 days of his short life in the uniform of the United States, and during his time in service, he wrote many letters home--indeed, over 150 of them. Fortunately, these letters were later transcribed and copies were given to both the Historical Society of Schuylkill County in Pottsville and to the United States Army’s Military History and Education Center in Carlisle. For more than two decades, and with such an interest in the First Defenders and especially the 48th Pennsylvania, I have repeatedly used the Pollock letters to help better understand the wartime histories of both of these units.   Pollock’s letters home—most of them written to his “Dear Ma,” Emily—represent one of the largest known collections of letters written by any single member of either of these units and the idea of "one day" editing and annotating his letters for publication was a thought that never strayed too far from my mind. And, in fact, over the past fifteen or so years, I had been chipping away at such an undertaking…editing and annotating the letters, here and there.
            And now, today, on the 175th Anniversary of Curtis Pollock’s birthday, I am happy to say that his letters home will soon be published. Sunbury Press, a local company, will be publishing it.

            So. . .what, then, is so strange about all of this you might ask?

Well, this book almost never happened. As noted, this work was a long time in the making. When I first happened upon and read through copies of Pollock's letters many, many years ago, I thought that they should "one day" be edited and annotated for publication. And so I worked on it, here and there, for quite a long time. I would work on the Pollock letters' project even while completing other books, such as my history of the First Defenders in 2004 or my histories of the Battles of South Mountain and Gettysburg, published by the History Press, respectively, in 2011 and 2012. After completing those projects, I would return periodically to the Pollock letters and, finally, in early 2014 (yes, three years ago), I wrapped things up, finishing this many years' long endeavor.  Yet when I submitted the manuscript to a number of publishing companies, it was repeatedly turned down. The market is already saturated with such works, I was told, and the interest in traditional soldier accounts and letters' collections is just not there anymore. It was picked up for publication as part of the “Voices of The Civil War Series,” published by the University of Tennessee Press, only to have it later pulled. Indeed, I had received so many rejections that I decided on New Year's Day, 2017, that I would simply put this manuscript to rest. . .and that I would move on to a new project.

But that was when that strange—and rather remarkable thing happened. . .

            It happened on January 2, 2017, the day after I decided to put the Pollock project to rest. When I checked my email that Monday morning, I discovered a message from a friend of mine named Nick Picerno. Nick is a fellow student of the Civil War and a collector of items pertaining to the 10th and 29th Maine Infantry Regiments. Knowing of my interest in the 48th Pennsylvania, Nick sent along a link to an auction listing he had happened upon, which included a portrait of and the Civil War sword belonging to an officer in the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry. Nick's message was brief--simply, "This sword and image may be of interest"--but when I clicked on the link, I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
            The sword up for auction was the sword carried by none other than Lieutenant Curtis Clay Pollock, and the portrait, beautifully framed, was of him as well. I sat there, shaking my head in utter disbelief. Of all the more than two million soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War, I thought, and of all of those who had served in the 48th Pennsylvania, here before me was a portrait of Pollock, previously unknown to me and the one pictured above, as well as the sword once held and wielded by the young lieutenant. Of course, I could interpret this in no way other than that of a sign that I needed to try, at least one more time, to get Pollock's letters published. How can I not? I also felt that, somehow, I needed to win that auction and am happy to report that I did. As I write, the sword and portrait adorn a wall in my home. I later came to discover that they had been passed down through the generations of Pollock family descendants and that the consignor of the items is a great-grandnephew of Curtis who was looking he said to "downsize." The portrait and sword, I assured him, had found a good new home. Incidentally, and as I found out, not only were the sword and portrait passed down through the Pollock descendants, but so was the name. The gentleman's name who consigned the items was Curtis.

And, so, I am now happy to say that the Pollock letters' project have found a publisher and that the book will (hopefully) hit the shelves within the next 6-12 months. Considering the sword and portrait that just so happened to come up for auction the day after I decided not to move forward with the manuscript, well, I would like to think that Lieutenant Pollock would be happy with this.

I hope so at least.

I will post updates about the manuscript as they develop.

A Portrait of Pollock and his service sword at his grave in Pottville