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Saranac Lake: The Civil War, 1863

April 28, 2012
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

This is the second column about Milo Miller and Henry Wells going off to join the Army in the summer of 1863. They reported to Plattsburgh, a two-day stage trip, went through a formal enlistment ceremony and received $300 sign up pay; then they were given 10 days leave to go home and take care of any unfinished business.

This information is contained in letters written at that time; the author is not named but the documents were found in a desk once owned by the late John Duquette. The letters were transposed by Mildred Derby, whose husband Fred was related to John Derby. John Derby gave me copies.

The story until now Milo and Fred had talked about enlisting for months but Fred promised his wife, Polly, he would wait until the birth of their second child. That birth was on July 4, 1863, a girl they named Adeline. Their first child was a boy, then age 3, named LeGrande.

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Henry was wounded in battle but as he was healing he came down with typhoid fever and died Oct. 31. He had said goodbye to his family on Sept. 3. There is no information about his location when he was wounded. His last letter to Polly said he was in City Point, Va. An earlier letter said that he was happy he and Milo were together and that they had arrived at Hart's Island in the East River.


A tragedy at home

"Sept. 28 - It was a bright, sunny day. Polly was washing and the baby fast asleep in her cradle when she heard a queer noise coming from the living room. Going to investigate she found LeGrande on the floor chocking. She knew it was serious as his face was almost purple. No matter how much she shook or slapped him on the back it did no good. She knew her efforts were useless, he had been playing with the button box and one had lodged in his throat.

"Clasping the child in her arms she ran to Blood's Store. [Blood's Store was probably near the beginning of Main Street and it seems that Polly lived somewhere near the Pine Ridge cemetery.] It was some distance down the hill and upon arrival there, her greatest fears were confirmed. No effort could revive her son. Her baby daughter was still asleep when she returned to her house. What had she done to deserve this terrible sorrow? She wondered how she could tell her husband of this day. [Her husband did receive her letter about the boy's death and replied he was sure she was blameless and that it was God's will. In her letter to him she had blamed herself.]

"He was laid to rest in Pine Ridge in ground his great grandfather had once owned and had set aside for a cemetery."


Polly's family

The letters in hand never reveal Polly's maiden name. It seems that it was Moody. One piece says her grandfather was Jacob, "the first white settler in town" so we know he was Jacob Moody. But was he her mother's father or her father's father?

"Polly's father, Harvey [no last name mentioned] was a carpenter and guide. He could not do the fine work he had once done, due to the loss of part of his left hand in an accident in the woods. He felt he was lucky to have so much work with such a large family, seven sons and one daughter. Polly's mother died when she was small and her father remarried. Two sons were born to that union."

[Polly as a war widow was left quite well off for that time in history. They owned the cabin where they lived and had purchased 40 acres of land from Newell Reynolds using part of Henry's $300 enlistment money. She also received $30 a month pension and $25 a month for the baby.]

"Polly traveled a great deal. Adeline stayed with the Hassard family for seven years and then went to live with her Uncle Simeon Moody in Tupper Lake where she went to school in the little red school house on Stetson Road.

"Polly met a handsome English man, and married him, James Philbroaks. [or Philbrooks] After Adeline finished grade school in Tupper she went to Elizabethtown to High School. She was just past 16 when she finished there and got to teach at Wawbeek earning $3 a week with room and board. A lot of children around the lake and in the immediate area came there.

"Eugene Allen was guiding there at the time, a handsome reddish blonde. In the fall Eugene went to New York City with the Peltz family. He also visited the Saks and Roberson's.

"When he came home be bought Addie a lovely ring, that caped the climax. They were the second couple to be married in St. Luke's, November 21, 1880."


This column will be continued next week.



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