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Saranac Lake life, war — 1863

May 5, 2012
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

This is the third column about Milo Miller and Henry Wells who left Saranac Lake in Sept. 1863 to serve in the Civil War.

This information was contained in papers given to me by John Derby, who retrieved them from a desk once owned by historian John Duquette.

Milo returned from the war to become a well-known businessman and big land owner; this story then, is more about Henry, who suffered a non-fatal gunshot wound in the shoulder but as it was healing he came down with typhoid fever and died that October. His wife, Polly, had a 3-month-old baby girl and a short while before Henry's death their 3-year-old boy choked to death on a button.

Polly later remarried and the little girl, Adeline, became a teacher at Wawbeek when she was 17. She became engaged to a guide there by the name of Eugene Allen, described as a "handsome, reddish blonde" and they were married at St. Luke's Church on Nov. 21, 1880.

It is not clear from the 30 pages of notes transposed by a relative of John Derby's who actually wrote the original letters but the following are disconnected excerpts about the life and times of the summer and fall of 1863.


The post office

"The post office which was established in 1854 was a meeting place for the townspeople and news was always enjoyed by all. It was too far for Polly to go and leave the children alone. When her mother-in-law [from Keene] was with them, she enjoyed the walk and an exchange of news with friends."


Army life

"He [Henry] wrote that they had been transferred to Malone to fill out a regiment. His letters began to show signs of fatigue, tired and weary after hours of training and rifle practice. They were looking forward to being shipped south.

"They arrived at Hart's Island in the East River. Food was not too bad. Plenty of black coffee, soup at noon with dark bread. No sugar, milk, cream or butter. . She could address him, 'Co. C - 2nd Battalion, New York Volunteers, Hart's Island, N.Y."

"A short note came from Harper's Ferry where they had spent the night, on their way, only God knew where to. The farther away they went the lonelier and lonesome Polly was. Then a letter arrived from City Point, Virginia on Sept. 31.

"Henry was very thankful he had no brothers for his parent's sake. He never realized a man could travel so far and be so leg weary. His experiences in the woods guiding had helped a lot, he had traveled many miles on foot and spent many a night on the forest floor for a bed that was no hardship compared with Army life.

"Everywhere he looked he could see men, some no more than boys, with the same lonely, lonesome look. Many were married, like himself, dreaming of better times."

"Milo had a very close call when he slipped through the enemy lines going home when a sniper shot at him. The bullet went through his coat and into a letter he was carrying from Henry to Polly. He was not hurt and returned to camp safe and sound and gave a very interesting report of the news at home."


Closer to home

"A few slaves had snuck into the North. Lib and Alex had settled on the River Road in Bloomingdale. Everyone liked them. They were good, hard working colored people."

"The garden was good and Polly had all the work she could do as a seamstress with her nimble fingers and sewing machine she was always in demand. Her work was the finest. Ladies came from all directions to have skirts and blouses made, quilted petticoats, leg o'mutton sleeves and hoop skirts were the style."

"Apples and berries were plentiful and many were dried. When containers were to be had, jams and jellies were made and dried apple pie was especially good. Henry was very fond of hardtack and soft sugar or cheese. Hardtack was later called Plattsburgh crackers. Milk was plentiful and was churned into butter at least twice a week. Cheese required much more time and labor before it was properly aged but was an enjoyable change."


The mill

Milo Miller who was married to Katherine Finegan was the son of Pliny Miller, the first supervisor of the town of Harrietstown.

Pliny built a dam and a saw mill pretty much where the dam is today but Lake Flower was then just a river. There is an interesting mention of the mill in these 1863 letters.

"Lumber was plentiful and on long winter days when the snow was too deep to work in the woods and the saw mill was not running, many of the men went to the mill to work on small household articles. Henry had made a cradle for their first baby at the mill.

"In spring logs were sent down stream to a pulp mill. Only logs for lumber and building materials were saved at Pliny's mill. Many booms were always visible in the river above the dam."

Thanks again to John Derby for supplying the information for this unique chapter in Saranac Lake history.


New information

Pat (Hesseltine) Finn called me after my April 28 column to tell me that Polly Wells maiden name was Moody. Polly married Henry Wells who died in the Civil War. Polly's father was Harvey Moody, Pat's great-great grandfather. Harvey had a son named Robert who married Alice Paye. They had a daughter named Carrie Moody who married Jud Kelly who had the farm on the Trudeau Road where Pat lives today. Pat's mother was named for her own mother who died giving birth to her. Pat's mother married Maurice Hesseltine who died at age 54.


Kitty Peightal, who volunteers in the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, gave me this information after reading the April 28 column. The following records are from the 'Old Moody Burial Ground' in the Pine Ridge Cemetery. Polly Moody Wells whose husband Henry died in the Civil War later married James Philbrooks and had two sons who died at age 20 and age 17. Her daughter Adeline Wells (1864-1938) married Eugene Allen (1856-1936). They had one son, Richard who died in 1893. Adeline was named for her grandmother, Adeline B. Moody (1810-1862); wife of Harvey Moody (1808-1880).



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