Abbot discusses book, family history at Wilton library

WILTON – The Abbot family was one of the earliest to settle in Wilton. Their homestead is on Abbott Hill Road which is named for them, although now misspelled. Two of those earlytownspeople designed and operated the starch mill in Mason, now part of the Russell-Abbott State Forest. The homestead remained in the family until after World War II.

Quincy S. Abbot, of West Hartford, Conn., a member of that family discussed his book, “From Schoolboy to Soldier: The correspondence and journal of Edward Stanley Abbot, 1853-1863” at the Wilton Public-Gregg Free Library on Aug. 20, one of the many events in town during Old Home Week.

He discussed the history of the family and described how he had come to write the book.

“We are old Yankees predisposed to not throwing anything away.” All family letters were kept in “somebody’s attic,” and many are now in various college libraries, and some at the Library of Congress.

His talk was interspersed with selections from Stanley Abbot’s writing.

Known by his middle name, Stanley Abbot was born in Boston in 1841 and spent several summers in Wilton at the home of his grandparents, Ezra and Rebecca Hale Abbot. He attended Exeter Academy for a semester to prepare for Harvard, which he attended for a year and a half, and later Norwich University in Vermont for military classes.

Abbot began keeping a journal in 1853, in which he wrote off and on until shortly before his death at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. He also wrote letters to family members, including his parents, sister, brother Edwin, and his third cousin Mattie Steele with whom he seemed to be developing a romantic relationship.

Quincy Abbot had grown up knowing about Stanley’s letters and journals, but a basement flooded by Hurricane Agnes brought many papers to his home in Connecticut to dry out.

After his retirement, Abbot returned to the papers and decided to compile them into a narrative. The letters and journals are hand written, and poor ink and a lack of paper sometimes crowded the end of the letters, making deciphering a challenge. However, Abbot notes, except for adding punctuation and putting in logical paragraph breaks, all quoted material is as Stanley wrote it.

Stanley tried several jobs, not of which suited him. His family had a military tradition and, with the Civil War imminent, he decided on that as a career, thinking that, following the war when things were quieter he would have the time to write, his true ambition. He joined the regular army as a private in 17th U.S. Infantry at Ft. Preble, Maine in 1862, and received his commission as a second lieutenant a few months later. He was brevetted captain at Gettysburg.

He served with the Army of the Potomac in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, both in Virginia, before marching to Gettysburg. He was wounded by a minie ball near Little Round Top and died in a field hospital. His brother Edwin brought his body back to the family plot in Beverly, Mass.

Stanley’s writing is insightful. He notes in a letter to Mattie in June 1863, “You asked me, what were my feelings before, in and after the battle at Chancellorsville. Very unromantic, I assure you. When we were marching into the open space on May Day, my chief attention was devoted to a “hardtack” biscuit which had constituted my breakfast.”

From a bivouac in Virginia he notes the many kinds of insects which “creep, fly, crawl, bite, buzz and sting.” He adds, “I feel I can meet the rebels with a firm heart and hand but spiders. Ugh!”

With the 150th anniversary of what Stanley considered to be a war to preserve the Union in mind, I compiled this record of his life in the hope that his dream of becoming an acknowledged writer will be realized through these journals and letters. Indeed, he may have anticipated such posthumous recognition. The second item in Stanley’s copybook reads: “I care not whether my work be read now or by posterity. I can afford to wait a century for readers when God himself has waited a thousand years for an observer. Kepler.”