“I wonder where everybody is of those I love. Agnes is at home. The rest of the family must have returned from Swampscott….” Wrote Union General William Francis Bartlett in his pocket diary from the confines of Libby Prison on September 3, 1864.
Miss Mary Agnes Pomeroy’s name begins to appear in Bartlett’s writing frequently in 1864. He thought about her when he went into battle in the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. He thought about her on Sundays, wondering if she prayed for him at church. He wrote her “a few lines on a scrap of paper” from prison in Danville before his arrive at Richmond’s Libby Prison. In August 1864, after nearly dying of severe stomach and intestinal illness that further weakened his body which was already compromised by three years of war wounds, including the loss of his left leg, he wrote: “I wish I could relieve their anxiety at home. And Agnes, I fear she worries. I am glad they have not known the worst. They think I am safe and comfortably off, I expect.”[ii]
When twenty-four-year-old Bartlett was finally exchanged and returned to Union lines, he anticipated meeting Agnes in person. Three letters from the young lady waited for him, and then, in New York, he saw her in-person again. “Wednesday, [September] 28th. Long, weary, trying ride to New York. I thought I should have to give it up at Philadelphia, but we are well through…. Agnes came in the evening. I saw her in the little dining-room. It almost repays one for the misery and pain, this meeting. Can it be possible that I am here again? ….It is too good to be true.”[iii]
Who was Agnes? Bartlett’s early biographer did not explain the young woman’s identity until after the Civil War ended and the general married her. But she clearly had a place in his thoughts during his war service.
Mary Agnes Pomeroy was born on June 18, 1841, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Her parents, Robert and Mary Pomeroy, were part of the family which owned Pomeroy Iron Works and other industrial mills, and they could afford to send their daughter to several schools. Agnes studied at Miss Well’s school and Pittsfield Young Ladies’ Institute and then went to New York City for further education, though she returned home to Massachusetts in 1861, around the beginning of the Civil War.[iv] She volunteered with her aunt at Pittsfield’s soldier hospitals and took an interest in the welfare of the Union soldiers rallying or passing through her hometown.
In September 1862, a new regiment — the 49th Massachusetts — mustered in Pittsfield. Around the 20th of that month, a new captain arrived in town. Recently graduated from Harvard, Captain William Francis Bartlett, called Frank by friends and family, had already seen combat with the 20th Massachusetts at Ball’s Bluff and on the Virginia Peninsula. He had been seriously wounded near Yorktown in April 1862 and lost his left leg. Bartlett arrived at Camp Briggs near Pittsfield and went to work drilling the new regiment. Supporting himself on crutches and quickly recognized as a leader, the captain attracted the attention of the new recruits and likely the impressionable civilians, too.
In the words of one private describing Bartlett in the autumn of 1862, “He looks the soldier. Though quiet, there is an air of command about him that would make obedience to his orders almost involuntary.”[v] The same soldier also noted: “His appearance denotes much of intelligent energy, and his gentlemanly manner, his soldierly bearing (for he looks the soldier even on crutches), and our sympathy with him in his great loss have made him a universal favorite.”[vi] While the soldiers approved of their drillmaster and openly talked about wanting him to become colonel and lead the regiment, Bartlett also caught the attention of the local civilians.
Exactly when, where, and how Miss Agnes Pomeroy met Captain Bartlett is unknown. Possibly, they could have been introduced through their mutual acquaintance, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. But they did meet, and by the time, Bartlett and the 49th Massachusetts left in November, the two had agreed to correspond.
Presumably, Agnes would have received word of Bartlett’s promotion to colonel and the news of his wounding at Port Hudson, Louisiana. She likely would have been present when the 49th Massachusetts came home to Pittsfield on August 22, 1863. Bartlett rode at the head of his regiment “with his wounded arm in a box-sling, in the procession which escorted it from the railway station, through the streets of the town in which it was formed.”[vii]
If Agnes thought the colonel would stay in Massachusetts, she was disappointed and had new reasons to worry as he insisted on going back to war. Exactly when Frank Bartlett proposed to Agnes Pomeroy is a little mystery. According to one of the general’s early biographers, they were engaged to be married in April 1864, but their families did not make a public announcement of their engagement until January 1865.[viii] A modern biography gives the impression that the couple’s engagement took place in the autumn of 1864.[ix] Culturally, it seems most likely that the “secret engagement” took place in the spring of 1864, with their families’ blessings since Agnes seems to have corresponded and visited with the Bartlett family. The frequency that Agnes’s name appears in Bartlett’s pocket diary and correspondence in 1864 suggests a strong and understood relationship before he returned to campaigning; her presence in his sick room in the autumn for long hours at a time also points to a relationship deeper than a friendship.
Agnes saw Bartlett sometime around early July 1864 at “the homestead,” probably her family’s home in Massachusetts.[x] Away from the army on medical leave following a head injury during the Battle of The Wilderness and on-going pain from his leg stump, the battered young colonel did bring good news Pittsfield that summer. He had been promoted to brigadier general at the end of June. Agnes may have given him a photograph around this time; a few weeks later, Bartlett referenced “the little red velvet case” and assured her that it was “all safe.”[xi] Their parting was hard, according to the general’s pocket diary notes.[xii]
To be continued…
[ii] Francis W. Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, (1878) 127-128. Accessed through Google Books.
[iii] Ibid., Page 144.
[iv] Find A Grave, Mary Agnes Pomeroy Bartlett.
[v] Richard A. Sauers and Martin H. Sable, William Francis Bartlett: Biography of a Union General in the Civil War (Jefferson: McFarland, 2009). Page 51.
[vi] Ibid., Page 49.
[vii] Francis W. Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, (1878) 90. Accessed through Google Books.
[viii] Ibid., Pages 91, 148.
[ix] Richard A. Sauers and Martin H. Sable, William Francis Bartlett: Biography of a Union General in the Civil War (Jefferson: McFarland, 2009). Page 144.
[x] Francis W. Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, (1878) 129. Accessed through Google Books.
[xi] Palfrey 123
[xii] Palfrey 145