Massachusetts

Stephen Minot Weld Writes to His Sister Hannah About His Civil War Camp

On March 26, 1862, 19-year-old Stephen Minot Weld wrote to his sister to tell her about the camp his regiment had just set up near Newport News, Va.

When the Civil War broke out. Stephen Minot Weld, Jr., was studying law at Harvard. A member of the prominent Weld family of Massachusetts, he had no love for the school. He called it “a boarding school” and viewed the faculty as oppressors. His cousin, George Walker Weld, attended Harvard at the same time, and the two got into mischief together.  George later co-founded the Boston Athletic Association and paid for the Weld Boathouse on the Charles River.

Weld Boathouse

Stephen Minot Weld

Weld joined the 18th Massachusetts Regiment as a second lieutenant in January 1862.  He fought in the Second Battle of Bull RunAntietam, and Gettysburg. The Confederates captured him twice and once shot his horse out from under him. He won a series of promotions, ultimately to colonel in May 1864. After the war he received the honorary promotion to brevet general for “gallant and meritorious service.”

Weld endured a series of setbacks — his father died suddenly, a mill he inherited failed, another got swept away in a flood. But then he started S.M. Weld & Co., a cotton brokerage company, and got rich. His uncle, William Fletcher Weld, financed Weld Hall at Harvard in memory of Stephen’s father.

Weld Hall

Fascinated by horticulture, he built an elaborate 52-acre estate in Dedham, Mass. Frederick Law Olmsted helped design it. Weld planned his rock garden, one of the finest in the world, and filled it with specimens from around the world. An heir to a shoemaking fortune later bought the estate, tore down the house and rebuilt it. MIT now owns the property, called Endicott House.

Weld bought hundreds of acres of shorefront along Buzzards Bay, selling lots to his wealthy friends at cost. He also established a family compound on Indian Neck in Wareham, Mass.

Stephen Weld died in Florida in 1920. His descendants include the actress Tuesday Weld.

Stephen Minot Weld, Soldier

In 1862, the scion of the rich and illustrious Weld family sat on the ground around a campfire on a grassy plot three miles from Newport News. He described the scene to his sister Hannah in a letter dated March 26.

Civil War camp

He tells Hannah they have situated themselves comfortably, and describes scenes from camp life as queer and beautiful. And then he tells a story.

 

Stephen Minot Weld

Stephen Minot Weld

We have a large fire kept burning outside our tents all the time, around which we all of us frequently gather. Tonight about 7 o’clock we were all around the fire in various attitudes, some sitting, others standing, etc., generals, colonels, etc., in fact all grades down to privates were represented. A guard brought in two negroes from Yorktown, they having made their way up to our lines.

As soon as they had been questioned by the general, some one gave them some crackers, and down they dumped themselves on a pile of wood close by the blazing fire. It was a scene worth witnessing. The officers and servants, some mounted and some not, scattered around in every way imaginable, and these two contrabands, the picture of perfect contentment, notwithstanding the sufferings they had just gone through. Footsore, famished, and their clothes in tatters, they had escaped from Yorktown where they had been working on fortifications, with a band of seven others. Two were shot by the rebels and one wounded. Two are now wandering in the woods, and two have arrived here.


Image: Weld Boathouse By The original uploader was HouseOfScandal at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2415600. Weld Hall PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2621078. This story updated in 2022.

 

 

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