By summer 1864, it was no secret that Confederate prisons were particularly bad. Agnes must have worried when she heard about Bartlett’s capture after the Battle of the Crater. Perhaps the messages he wrote to her on scraps of paper arrived, perhaps they did not. She would have known that his health was already precarious and that he regularly had difficulties with his leg stump, but Agnes must have been shocked when she saw Bartlett again in person; the physical effects of his prison experience would have been evident, he was still unable to eat properly, and doctors had already predicted a six month recovery period.
They met in New York City at the beginning of September, days after his exchange and release from Libby Prison. The details of their meeting in the “little dining room” are vague, but her greeting “repays one for the misery and pain” wrote General Bartlett. The next day Agnes came again, but Bartlett could not leave his bed. She sat at his bedside throughout the day and evening, but there was little conversation since there was “too much to think of to talk much.”[i]
Agnes traveled rather frequently in the autumn of 1864, probably visiting friends or possibly continuing to volunteer for the war effort on the homefront. She wrote to Bartlett, and he replied with “long letters.” Her fiancé stayed at his family home where she sent him a bookcase and desk for his room, the desk “just what I wanted.”[ii] Bartlett’s recovery proceeded slowly hampered by his weakness, chronic dysentery, and uncured pain from past wounds. He continued to get extensions of his medical leave and did not return to active military service, though he did command an encamped division during the summer of 1865 and received permission to tour Europe as a U.S. officer.
Agnes married her general on October 14, 1865. Four days after the wedding, the couple embarked on a voyage to Europe and toured Britain and the Continent for eight months. Agnes wrote a postscript to one of her husband’s letters, bragging about how Bartlett walked steadily on his prosthetic leg while on the ship, and adding: “We are enjoying every moment. I think it would be hard to find two happier people than Frank and myself anywhere in Christendom.”[iii] During their European trip, Agnes went along in the carriages to the military reviews and wandered through the galleries and churches from London to Paris to Genoa and Florence. She described her husband as “a sort of general guidebook” with his detailed information about places they toured and his fluency in foreign languages.[iv]
Agnes fell ill while in Naples, but recovered her health when they arrived in Venice. Bartlett blamed the bad air, but it could have been another cause. She was pregnant with their first child. The couple returned to the United States in June 1866 and settled in Pittsfield. Bartlett mustered out of the army and looked for employment. Their first child was born in September, and “Agnes has got through so nicely, and has such a strong, healthy, and pretty baby.”[v] Over the next ten years, they had six children.
Eleven years of marriage was all that Agnes Pomeroy Bartlett had. By September 1876, the war was finally killing her husband before her eyes. She wrote about his health, his failing appetite, and different treatments the doctors prescribed. Lingering illnesses and chronic pain had been part of his life since his imprisonment; it had made it difficult for him to care for his family, though he had worked every possible minute managing ironworks in Massachusetts and Virginia until his health gave out completely. About the same time that Bartlett’s physical weakness made him bedridden, Agnes gave birth to their last child, a little girl who would never know her father. Once recovered from her baby’s birth, Agnes returned to her husband’s bedside, caring for him with “untiring devotion.”
“In all these days, as his strength permitted, he talked freely and unreservedly with his beloved wife about the future, and told her what he wished done about many things. Hard as all this was, he told his wife that it would be an inexpressible comfort to her afterwards, and she was brave and firm enough to go through with it. He told her that if he should be spared…no harm was done that they had talked of his going, and that if he went soon, he was sure she would never regret what then seemed so very hard to bear.”[vi]
Word spread that Bartlett was dying and that his finances would create difficulties for his wife and young children. Friends and war veterans from his regiments rallied, and before he died, Bartlett knew that his wife and children would be cared for financially. On December 17, 1876, Agnes said her last goodbye and watch her husband succumb to war-induced illnesses and injuries.
Agnes raised their children, and Union veterans watched over the family, making sure they had enough money to get through each year. Agnes eventually moved away from the home that her husband had built, and in 1887 took residence in an eight-room cottage that a Union colonel built for her.
Though interested in all aspects of her husband’s military service, she particularly valued the stories and the veterans of the 49th Massachusetts, the regiment that had formed in her hometown and brought the captain to her. The veterans honored her with the title “Mother of the 49th.” Agnes supported Union veteran gatherings, and the veterans looked after her. She also actively worked with local charities and joined various social organizations. A few years before her death in 1909, Agnes saw her grandchildren unveil her husband’s statue in Harvard’s Memorial Hall.[vii]
The Civil War changed Agnes Pomeroy Bartlett’s life for better and worse. It brought a tall captain swinging on crutches into her town. But lingering disease from the war also took her husband from her, albeit twelve years after the actual fighting had ended. Still, the war gave her the veterans who stepped up to help her care for and raise her family, proving that the bonds formed on the battlefield did indeed extend to the post-war homefront. The war shaped and defined Agnes Bartlett’s life, but she met the joys and trials of life as “a most charming and amiable woman,” leaving small glimpse of her life within the writings about her husband’s military service. [viii]
[i] Francis W. Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, (1878) 145. Accessed through Google Books.
[ii] Ibid., Page 145.
[iii] Ibid., Page 160.
[iv] Ibid., Page 190.
[v] Ibid., Page 201.
[vi] Ibid., Page 293-294.
[vii] Richard A. Sauers and Martin H. Sable, William Francis Bartlett: Biography of a Union General in the Civil War (Jefferson: McFarland, 2009). Page 176-181.
[viii] Francis W. Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, (1878) 159. Accessed through Google Books.