Eugene Henry Todd
1842 - 1863

In recognition of Memorial Day 2015, the Topsfield Historical Society presents the story of Eugene Henry Todd. The Society particularly extends its gratitude to Mr. Bryan Alfier who, in April 2015, provided us with a copy of Pvt. Todd's May 7, 1862 letter home.

"Kiss Clara and Sam Preston for me."

On a hot Wednesday afternoon, May 7, 1862, in the early summer heat of New Orleans, a 19 year old Union cavalry soldier, sweating in his wool uniform in the Custom House where he was quartered, took pen and ink and a sheet of paper to write a letter to his mother. Six months earlier, he had been boarding the steamer Constitution in the cold of Boston winter. Only six months before that, he'd been recovering from frostbite in a Quebec hospital after running away from home on a whaling ship. Sixteen months after sending off his letter, and just 100 miles further up the Mississippi, he would die from dysentery, at the tender age of 21.

We do not know much about Eugene Henry Todd other than what he wrote in the few letters from him that have survived. We do know something about his extended family in Topsfield, especially his father. We know something about the family members who survived him well into the twentieth century. From these bits and from the letters, diaries and memoirs written by his fellow soldiers and regimental officers, we can sketch out some of the details of his short life, its impact on those who loved him and what he was experiencing as he sweated over his letter in the New Orleans heat.

"I suppose you have heard..."

Private Todd is not as informative in his letter about his surroundings and his experiences as we might wish he had been. Most likely his mother thought so too. He is serving in the Third Unattached Company of the Massachusetts Cavalry under the command of Capt. Henry A. Durivage. He was mustered in during late December. The three companies trained together at Camp Chase which was set up in the then Lowell Fairgrounds (see map). On January 13, 1862, they sailed south on the steamer transport, Constitution, arriving one month later at Ship Island, Mississippi. The three companies organized into an unattached battalion under Captain Read and very uncomfortably settled in to wait for the expected battle for New Orleans.

"We have left Ship Island at last."

Pvt. Todd's battalion was not the first to arrive on Ship Island. In September 1861, six weeks after the Union loss at Bull Run, Major General Benjamin F. Butler was given the command to "raise, organize, arm, uniform, and equip a volunteer force for the war in the New England States." The Confederates had abandoned Ship Island and Butler had determined to use it as a base for an eventual attack on New Orleans. The first units he organized arrived, via the Constitution in December 1861; Eugene was on the second arrival. By April 1861, there were 15,000 men on Ship Island.

Other letter writers, more verbose than Eugene, described Ship Island as, "The island is a low stretch of sand, almost as white as snow, with no discernible vegetation (Captain John William DeForest, 12th Connecticut, March 8, 1862)" or, more colorfully, "the Sand drifts like Snow it filled my eyes and ears full[.] it was very warm hear yesterday but it is coal this morning[.] it Seems like october[.] i got wet to the skin last knight for there was a havy shower before we got back[.] (Private James F. Stoddard, 7th Vermont, April 1862)". Andrew Sherman, 23rd Connecticut , July 1863 wrote, "In this sand our tents are pitched, and on this sand, with a mere blanket for a bed, we lie, and sleep as best we can, with the various insects that minister to our discomfort. Our shoes are never free from the irritating presence of this sand."

"...inside it was a perfect ruin."

Between the Union Forces and the port of New Orleans were Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philip, one on each bank of the Mississippi, a boom strung across the river between them. They were the major defense for New Orleans, the Queen of the South. It took a week of bombardment and a heavy battle but Union Flag Officer David Farragut got 17 ships past their defense. New Orleans surrendered without a fight on April 25, 1862. The two forts, however, were in ruins.

In Eugene's own words, "The outside walls were not hurt very much but inside it is a perfect ruin. They had plenty of everything but some of their men Mutinied and the walls were coming down over them."

Three Topsfield men sailed on those ships past the forts up to New Orleans. In addition to Eugene, John William Rea, 18 years old, also in Company M and George W Peabody, in Reed's Company. Private Peabody, 23 years old, died the day after the surrender.

Learn more about it

"The Citizens seem very civil."

The Union had only occupied New Orleans for twelve days when Pvt. Todd wrote home to his mother. It's said that each soldier experiences his own war; the same may be true of military occupation. It was reported then and historians say now that the citizens of New Orleans were not very accepting of the presence of Union soldiers in their midst. Farragut's officers had had to walk through a drunken, threatening mob to get to the Mayor's office to formally accept the city's surrender. It was said that Farragut himself had a chamber pot's contents nearly dumped on his head as he walked through the city. General Butler concerned about controlling the city with his relatively few troops issued several draconian orders almost immediately. He had a William Mumford, a local gambler, hung for hauling down the U.S. flag. And one week after Eugene wrote his letter, General Butler issued his infamous General Orders No. 28, declaring:

HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF New Orleans, May 15, 1862. As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation. By command of Major-General Butler: GEO. C. STRONG, Assistant Adjutant-General and Chief of Staff.

"I hope to be back before a great while."

The nation's early hopes, both North and South, that the war would be over quickly were gone by the time Private Todd wrote his letter in May 1862. It was more an expression of longing when he wrote that he hoped "to be back before a great while." Instead he spent the next sixteen months on scouting and outpost duty as the Union forces, now under General Banks, moved up the Mississippi while General Grant's forces moved down towards Vicksburg. General Banks' troops fought at Baton Rouge and, in May and June 1863, held a 48 day siege of Port Hudson. The siege might have gone on much longer had not the news of Grant's victory at Vicksburg proved that the Confederates no longer had any hope of holding the Mississippi. The Port Hudson garrison surrendered on July 9, 1863.

During the siege, on June 17, 1863, the three Massachusetts unattached cavalry companies, in which Pvt. Todd was serving, merged with the 41st Massachusetts Mounted Infantry and were known, from then on, as the 3rd Regiment Massachusetts Voluntary Cavalry. Private Todd's company was designated "M". The Third Regiment was under the command of Colonel Chickering who, after the surrender, became Port Hudson's Provost Marshall. The Massachusetts Third Regiment camped just north at the Plains Store crossroads, doing scouting and outpost duty. And it was there, on September 30, 1863, that Eugene Henry Todd, 21 years old, died of chronic diarrhea.

" love to all."

We do not know how his family learned of his death. There were no official notification procedures by the government during the Civil War and, except for burying bodies where they fell, no official arrangements for returning bodies to families. The Todd family, though, was prosperous and, at the end of the war, wealthy families could make private arrangements to retrieve and re-inter their dead. Eugene's family brought his remains back and interred them in Pine Grove Cemetery on March 24, 1865 (as did the Bradstreet family who brought back the remains of their son, John, who had died in Dec. 1863 in New Orleans.)

In time, national, state and local governments developed ways of memorializing the fallen soldiers. In 1879, Congress passed legislation for the government to purchase and install gravestones for all Union soldiers buried in private cemeteries as well as the new national ones. Private manufacturers received contracts for tens of thousands. Eugene's headstone was created by F.S.Gross on September 28, 1886.

"Kiss Clara and Sam Preston for me."

Who were Clara and Sam Preston? Eugene came from a large extended family. He was the only boy sandwiched in between an older and younger sister. For almost a year, when Eugene was twelve, he had had a baby brother, John Wallace Todd, but John Wallace died before his first birthday. A year later, Eugene's last sibling, Clara, was born. When Eugene went off to war, his baby sister Clara was just six years old. Two years before, his older sister, Susan Chase Todd, had married William Preston Dodge, a trader. The couple lived in the Todd family home and, while Eugene was away on his whaling adventure, Susan gave birth to a son, Samuel Preston Dodge.

It was a large extended family. Eugene's father, Samuel Todd, had ten brothers and sisters, most of whom lived in town. His mother, Lydia Chase Todd, had five brothers and sisters living nearby in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Samuel Todd was a prosperous farmer who had inherited much of his father's property, some of which he sold to the town after the war to extend Pine Grove Cemetery. Samuel Todd was an intelligent, intellectually curious man who served in several town positions, including selectman during the war. From the insightfulness and humor of Eugene's letter, it seems likely he had inherited much of his father's personality. When news of his death arrived, surely the whole town must have heard.

"Your son, Eugene H. Todd"

Eugene H. Todd was remembered by his extended family and by his town for a long time. His name was engraved on the marble plaque in Town Hall along with the other Topsfield soldiers who died. The GAR placed bronze plaques on each Civil War soldier's grave in 1890 and each year flags are placed by veterans' graves on Memorial Day.

Eugene's extended family were long-lived people. Most of his aunts and uncles, his father's mother and his parents, lived until the 1880's and 1890's. His sisters lived into the early twentieth century. Sam Preston Dodge, a lifelong bachelor, lived his whole life in the Todd family home which still exists at the corner of Ipswich and Haverhill Roads. Sam Preston Dodge died there in 1959.

At 24, Clara married a prosperous Danvers merchant, Frank Melvin Spofford, and lived the rest of her life on 8 Cherry St, Danvers. She and Frank owned property in both Danvers and Topsfield and the Topsfield Historical Society archives have pictures of their summer home on Hood pond. They had two children, Frank and Mabel. Frank married, moved around the corner to Putnam Street, had six children and lived there until he died in 1949. His descendants live in the same house today on Putnam Street.

Mabel did not marry; she became a highly respected art teacher in the Gloucester Public Schools. She lived in Gloucester for some years but moved back to 8 Cherry Street to live with her widowed mother in the 1930s. Clara died in 1936 at the age of 81.

Mabel must have absorbed Clara's stories about the adventurous older brother who died in the Civil War. In 1939, Mabel had a granite monument erected to her Todd ancestors in Pine Grove Cemetery and left a legacy for the upkeep of their graves. When she died in 1981, Eugene's Civil War letters to his family, as well as his letter about his whaling adventure, were amongst her effects. They were donated to the Danvers Archive Center.