The doctor wrote about the patients he was treating in Washington, D.C., soldiers felled by “Rebels” during the Civil War.

“There is no doubt very near by 26,000 perhaps more, sick and wounded Soldiers, here within 5 miles of the Great White House,” Fortin wrote.

The doctor’s letter is part of a growing collection of letters owned by Jerry Poulin of Auburn, a retired shoeshop worker who collects historical artifacts.

Poulin began his Civil War letter collection more than 15 years ago, and estimates he now has between 25 and 30 letters, all in their original mailing envelopes and all written by Mainers to family members back home during the war.

After auctioneer Leon Michaud was murdered, Poulin said he purchased some of Michaud’s property and, among the items, were several of these letters, many written by Fortin to his mother. After reading them, Poulin said he was fascinated with the descriptions of war and politics of the time, and has since scoured estates in Maine for more letters.

He likes to purchase estate items that have been stored in barns, he said, because people tend to stash letters and other important papers and forget about them. In his experience, Poulin said, the most interesting paperwork is “usually in a wooden box, covered with rat turds and some hay.”

The letters Poulin has found are weathered, some written on small pieces of embossed stationery and others on large sheets with text scrawling diagonally across the center and up along the outer edges of the sheets.

Fortin, who wrote to his mother just two weeks after going to Washington to “give my service for a short time to the sick and wounded Soldiers of Uncle Sam’s Army,” explained to her that he felt a duty to serve. His cursive is delicate but cramped and each letter is folded into a small square.

“Our army,” he wrote, “has been cut up in the most terrible manner by the Rebels, yet more far more have fallen from disease than from the sword or the ball.”

He writes of the thousands who are suffering, and tries to describe to his mother what war must be like for these young men. “Think of it,” he wrote, “Men enough to make a solid column of eight abreast standing within three feet of each other from your house to Belfast,” lamenting the suffering and sacrifice of brothers, fathers and sons.

“The Rebels are few comparatively, but mighty in purpose hence our defeats, our losses, our disgrace. … Stonewall Jackson with a half starved and nearly naked army of 100,000 has and will continue to whip our well fed well clothed army of 250,000.”

Fortin had some definite views on slavery, expressing a wish that slave ships had been sunk before landing ashore. “But, so long as the Negro is here among us he must be kept in bondage or the Nation is ruined.”

The states must either “… be cursed with Slavery or we must rid the country of the black race,” he wrote.

He goes on to write about the politics of Washington, including references to Lincoln, his cabinet, Gen. George B. McClellan and New York Tribune editor and anti-slavery activist Horace Greeley, suggesting that Lincoln appears to be “a good, honest well meaning man … surrounded by political devils.”

This particular letter, Poulin said, is considered valuable and he once turned down a $500 offer to sell the brittle document and its envelope.

In another of Poulin’s letters, written by Bert Walter to a friend he addresses as Mother Carter in Strong, Walter assures Carter on Nov. 26, 1862, “that I am yet alive.” He also reports that his family is well, but there is less than half a crop of oats and corn wheat for their food.

Walter also reveals deep resentment of the slaves, putting off a visit home “now that the whites are enslaved and the Negroes are free and we have got to be taxed to feed and clothe them.” He expressed a real fear of traveling and mob violence. “I tell you this is freedom with a vengeance.”

In addition to the Civil War letters, Poulin has a collection of historic photos of Mount Katahdin, a variety of shoeshop items and a great number of items that once belonged to Winfield Scott Libbey Sr., who owned the Libbey Mill in Lewiston. The collection includes company checks Libbey wrote to himself to cash.

Poulin also has an original real estate transfer document signed by Hiram Ricker, founder of the Poland Spring water company.

Poulin said he adds to these collections for his own enjoyment, aware that what may have been routine photos, letters and business paperwork in their time now offer a glimpse of the thoughts and expressions of Mainers’ ancestors.

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In recognition of this significant point in American history, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office has compiled a collection of personal tales of Mainers who marched off to war, taking up arms to preserve these united states. 

Maine sent more troops per capita than any other New England state, and suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any state in the Union during the five-year Civil War.

The soldiers were young and old, rich and poor, and came from large and small towns from across Maine.

Each Monday, starting today, we will feature some of these stories in our Newspapers in Education series that appears on the back page of the newspaper. We invite you to read the 20-week series about Maine during the Civil War.

For the entire collection, go to: http://maine.gov/sos/arc/sesquicent/civilwarwk.shtml.


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