Discussion Last Boy in Blue (at least in New Hampshire and I believe of Gettysburg)

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NH Civil War Gal

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By John Clayton, originally written in 1998 and now in his book “Remembering Manchester, Towering Titans and Unsung Heroes”

I have this book, but I also heard this talk in September 2019 when the Manchester Historical Association had a one day Civil War reenactment and John Clayton gave a talk about James Lurvey, using this story he wrote in 1998.



Given the annual hoopla surrounding Independence Day, you can understand why the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg—it ran from July 1 through July 3 in 1863— might go unnoticed by all but a handful of Civil War scholars.

And maybe, just maybe, by those who remember James Marion Lurvey.

Lurvey was the last survivor of Gettysburg. He was there as a drummer boy attached to the Union Army of the Potomac, and when he died in 1950 at the age of 102, he had outlived every one of New Hampshire’s 33,937 Civil War veterans.

He’s buried in Londonderry, just down the road from the home in the Goffe’s Falls area of Manchester where he spent the last sixty years of his life.

The most important year of that life, however, was 1863.

The events of that year—more specifically, James Lurvey’s role in those events—have long consumed Jay S. Hoar, a professor of English at the University of Maine in Farmington. He has invested forty years of research into the Civil War service of New Hampshire’s “Last Boy in Blue.”

“It’s ruled my life,” Professor Hoar said of Lurvey’s story. “I was sixteen years old when I met him. It was 1949. I’d never been away from hom, but when I saw his picture in Life magazine, I knew I had to meet him.”

Hoar hitched a ride from his Maine home to Plymouth, New Hampshire and then hopped a train to Manchester. After a night in the Floyd Hotel—“It was three dollars a night,” he said—he took a city bus to James Lurvey’s home at 2915 Brown Avenue. (Still there).

The details of Hoar’s visit make for a story unto themselves, but the story that Lurvey told Hoar qualifies as pure Americana.

James Lurvey was just fourteen years old when he enlisted in the Union army. His mother allowed it simply because he was going to serve with his father, Lieutenant James T. Lurvey, then thirty-six, who was commander of Company A of the Fortieth Massachusetts.

“I remember Grampa once told me that when people asked why he wanted to join the fighting, he said ‘For the Negroes,’’’ his granddaughter recalled. “Then he went on to explain that he had never seen a Negro.”

The frail boy hadn’t seen much at all, really. Certainly nothing that could prepare him for the horrors he was to witness.

Hoar’s research found both father and son at Dumfries, Virginia, in December 1862, when Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart tried to disrupt Union supply lines. While his father went on to further battle at the Siege of Suffolk in April and May 1863, young James—weak and sickly—went on to Campbell Hospital in Washington.

“It was mainly so he could gain strength and return to duty,” Hoar said.

When young James was released from the so-called Invalid Corps, he was ordered north to Pennsylvania, where, in Hoar’s words, “the Confederate invasion promised an impending battle of unknown magnitude.”

At Gettysburg, that battle was joined on July 1st. Young James did not arrive until the next day.

“But July 3—and very probably July 4—if he could have eliminated any two days of the 37,554 that he lived, surely they would have been these,” Hoar said.

These are some of Lurvey’s recollections:

I never fired a shot. At Gettysburg, I was still a drummer boy (but) during much of that battle I served in the Medical Corps. Shot and shell and the screams of dying men and boys filled the humid air. A non-com told me to put away my drum. He tied a red rag around my left arm and told I was now in the Medical Corps.

I told him I was not big enough to lift my end of a stretcher, so he assigned me to a field tent. It was stifling inside. I thought I’d keel over when they told me my assignment. Wish then I could have hefted a stretcher.

I was to stand by and carry out the soldier’s arms and legs as the doctor amputated them. I guess that was the day I grew up and left boyhood forever. And I wasn’t yet sixteen.

His daughter, Cora (Lurvey) Smith, died in Londonderry ten years ago at the age of hundred, but she too, was fascinated by her father’s stories of Gettysburg.

I recall his saying that one hot day, he crawled into a pup tent in the shade and went to sleep. Soon after, someone pulled him out by the feet and told him a soldier had just died of smallpox in that tent. Luckily, he didn’t contract it.

He said many times when crossing a river or pond, some big strong soldier would take him across on his back. Many times water to drink was scarce and after a rain, the men were glad to drink from pools made by cavalry hooves.


It’s hard to guage the aftereffects of such psychological trauma on a boy, but three months later, young James was discharged at Portsmouth. The documents state: “By reason of youth; age fifteen; not robust.”

“During the next ten months,” Hoar said, “he recuperated, added stature and strength and decided to try and improve on what he may have felt was an unimpressive military record.”

To do so, he reenlisted. It was during this second tour of duty, while at Monson Hill Camp near Falls Church, Virginia, that he first set eyes on the man whose integrity had called him to duty.

“He used to visit us in camp,” young James said of President Abraham Lincoln. “He was no great sight—tall and awkward—but he had a great mind. He used to talk with us for the sake of cheering us up, I think.”

Two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lurvey was discharged from the Union army. After working in the mica mines and traveling the world on a merchant marine clipper ship, he fell in love with schoolteacher Sarah McConnell of Haverhill, New Hampshire. They married in 1874.

Raising four daughters in Goffe’s Falls should have provided his remaining years with all the excitement he needed, but the legend of James M. Lurvey was not yet complete. In 1902, that legend took on even more mythical proportions when, at the age of fifty-five, he was accused of robbing an American Express payroll-like Butch Cassidy—from the Goffe’s Falls train station, payroll that was bound for the local Devonshire Mill.

Although he constantly proclaimed his innocence, he was convicted. The jury asked leniency, citing his war record, but he was sentenced to serve six to ten years in prison. When he was released, he seemed none the worse for the wear. He even managed to attend the 50th anniversary gathering in Gettysburg in 1913.

The neighborhood children still remember him well (in 1998) - “We all knew who he was, that he had been in the Civil War.” “I can still remember walking to school in the morning. He’d be sitting on the porch and he’d always wave to us.”

He did that until well past his one hundredth birthday. He told friends that one of his proudest possessions was the congratulatory letter he had received from President Harry S Truman on that special occasion.

And as to the cause of his longevity?

Well, Lurvey always attributed that to his sturdy ancestors and his “fortified” breakfast, a daily dose of coffee spiked with a shot of brandy that he called his morning “Oh Be Joyful.”

That fornula worked until June 1949 when he was moved, reluctantly, to a Veterans Hospital. “Gettysburg was tough,” he told Hoar, “but old age is even worse. I’m older now than I ever wished to be. Nobody realizes old age is a hard life till they get there.”

That hard life ended on September 17, 1950, but thanks to Professor Jay Hoar, the legend of New Hampshire’s “Last Boy in Blue” still lives on.
 

Kyle Kalasnik

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I really enjoy reading and learning about the average rank and file veterans, and not just the Civil War, but any war / conflict for that matter.

I also find it interesting when an individual lived well into the 20th century. I could not imagine the changes they witnessed, let alone their service and experiences in the Civil War.
 
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NH Civil War Gal

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In September at the talk I went to, John Clayton was asked if he thought the payroll robbery really happened since Lurvey maintained his innocence and he said he believed he was guilty. He went through all the paperwork of the time and Lurvey and accomplice didn't even bother to really disguise themselves or anything. It was pretty clear cut. Then his friends pleaded his CW service to the judge and the judge said, "that was nice, guilty" and that was that. Basically, Clayton said he just wasn't earning enough money. He was one of thousands of vets that had gone into the war as unskilled labor or manual labor that was valued but times changed and he didn't have the skills to keep up with changing work conditions and he was aging and he had 4 daughters, which unfortunately were not bringing in money.

Interestingly, I didn't know I drive past this veteran's house each time I fly south. It is now on the road to the local airport about 12 miles from me. Urbanization has set in, down in his area quite badly but his house is still there! But children don't walk to school in that area anymore, believe me. Reading about his after life and his poverty, I am surprised he didn't try to work for the Amoskeag Mills or even one of the smaller mills in the area. As a man he would have made more money than a woman and maybe even become a supervisor.

It was an incredibly interesting Saturday I spent listening to John Clayton talk about this rank and file veteran.

I wish I could put the picture up of Lurvey with his drum. The drum is almost bigger than he is! But the picture is privately owned and I don't dare post it here after all the copyright issues. He was a skinny and small little boy. There is also a private picture of him in his 80s or 90s and he is an upright, skinny vet!
 
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By John Clayton, originally written in 1998 and now in his book “Remembering Manchester, Towering Titans and Unsung Heroes”

I have this book, but I also heard this talk in September 2019 when the Manchester Historical Association had a one day Civil War reenactment and John Clayton gave a talk about James Lurvey, using this story he wrote in 1998.



Given the annual hoopla surrounding Independence Day, you can understand why the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg—it ran from July 1 through July 3 in 1863— might go unnoticed by all but a handful of Civil War scholars.

And maybe, just maybe, by those who remember James Marion Lurvey.

Lurvey was the last survivor of Gettysburg. He was there as a drummer boy attached to the Union Army of the Potomac, and when he died in 1950 at the age of 102, he had outlived every one of New Hampshire’s 33,937 Civil War veterans.

He’s buried in Londonderry, just down the road from the home in the Goffe’s Falls area of Manchester where he spent the last sixty years of his life.

The most important year of that life, however, was 1863.

The events of that year—more specifically, James Lurvey’s role in those events—have long consumed Jay S. Hoar, a professor of English at the University of Maine in Farmington. He has invested forty years of research into the Civil War service of New Hampshire’s “Last Boy in Blue.”

“It’s ruled my life,” Professor Hoar said of Lurvey’s story. “I was sixteen years old when I met him. It was 1949. I’d never been away from hom, but when I saw his picture in Life magazine, I knew I had to meet him.”

Hoar hitched a ride from his Maine home to Plymouth, New Hampshire and then hopped a train to Manchester. After a night in the Floyd Hotel—“It was three dollars a night,” he said—he took a city bus to James Lurvey’s home at 2915 Brown Avenue. (Still there).

The details of Hoar’s visit make for a story unto themselves, but the story that Lurvey told Hoar qualifies as pure Americana.

James Lurvey was just fourteen years old when he enlisted in the Union army. His mother allowed it simply because he was going to serve with his father, Lieutenant James T. Lurvey, then thirty-six, who was commander of Company A of the Fortieth Massachusetts.

“I remember Grampa once told me that when people asked why he wanted to join the fighting, he said ‘For the Negroes,’’’ his granddaughter recalled. “Then he went on to explain that he had never seen a Negro.”

The frail boy hadn’t seen much at all, really. Certainly nothing that could prepare him for the horrors he was to witness.

Hoar’s research found both father and son at Dumfries, Virginia, in December 1862, when Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart tried to disrupt Union supply lines. While his father went on to further battle at the Siege of Suffolk in April and May 1863, young James—weak and sickly—went on to Campbell Hospital in Washington.

“It was mainly so he could gain strength and return to duty,” Hoar said.

When young James was released from the so-called Invalid Corps, he was ordered north to Pennsylvania, where, in Hoar’s words, “the Confederate invasion promised an impending battle of unknown magnitude.”

At Gettysburg, that battle was joined on July 1st. Young James did not arrive until the next day.

“But July 3—and very probably July 4—if he could have eliminated any two days of the 37,554 that he lived, surely they would have been these,” Hoar said.

These are some of Lurvey’s recollections:

I never fired a shot. At Gettysburg, I was still a drummer boy (but) during much of that battle I served in the Medical Corps. Shot and shell and the screams of dying men and boys filled the humid air. A non-com told me to put away my drum. He tied a red rag around my left arm and told I was now in the Medical Corps.

I told him I was not big enough to lift my end of a stretcher, so he assigned me to a field tent. It was stifling inside. I thought I’d keel over when they told me my assignment. Wish then I could have hefted a stretcher.

I was to stand by and carry out the soldier’s arms and legs as the doctor amputated them. I guess that was the day I grew up and left boyhood forever. And I wasn’t yet sixteen.


His daughter, Cora (Lurvey) Smith, died in Londonderry ten years ago at the age of hundred, but she too, was fascinated by her father’s stories of Gettysburg.

I recall his saying that one hot day, he crawled into a pup tent in the shade and went to sleep. Soon after, someone pulled him out by the feet and told him a soldier had just died of smallpox in that tent. Luckily, he didn’t contract it.

He said many times when crossing a river or pond, some big strong soldier would take him across on his back. Many times water to drink was scarce and after a rain, the men were glad to drink from pools made by cavalry hooves.


It’s hard to guage the aftereffects of such psychological trauma on a boy, but three months later, young James was discharged at Portsmouth. The documents state: “By reason of youth; age fifteen; not robust.”

“During the next ten months,” Hoar said, “he recuperated, added stature and strength and decided to try and improve on what he may have felt was an unimpressive military record.”

To do so, he reenlisted. It was during this second tour of duty, while at Monson Hill Camp near Falls Church, Virginia, that he first set eyes on the man whose integrity had called him to duty.

“He used to visit us in camp,” young James said of President Abraham Lincoln. “He was no great sight—tall and awkward—but he had a great mind. He used to talk with us for the sake of cheering us up, I think.”

Two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lurvey was discharged from the Union army. After working in the mica mines and traveling the world on a merchant marine clipper ship, he fell in love with schoolteacher Sarah McConnell of Haverhill, New Hampshire. They married in 1874.

Raising four daughters in Goffe’s Falls should have provided his remaining years with all the excitement he needed, but the legend of James M. Lurvey was not yet complete. In 1902, that legend took on even more mythical proportions when, at the age of fifty-five, he was accused of robbing an American Express payroll-like Butch Cassidy—from the Goffe’s Falls train station, payroll that was bound for the local Devonshire Mill.

Although he constantly proclaimed his innocence, he was convicted. The jury asked leniency, citing his war record, but he was sentenced to serve six to ten years in prison. When he was released, he seemed none the worse for the wear. He even managed to attend the 50th anniversary gathering in Gettysburg in 1913.

The neighborhood children still remember him well (in 1998) - “We all knew who he was, that he had been in the Civil War.” “I can still remember walking to school in the morning. He’d be sitting on the porch and he’d always wave to us.”

He did that until well past his one hundredth birthday. He told friends that one of his proudest possessions was the congratulatory letter he had received from President Harry S Truman on that special occasion.

And as to the cause of his longevity?

Well, Lurvey always attributed that to his sturdy ancestors and his “fortified” breakfast, a daily dose of coffee spiked with a shot of brandy that he called his morning “Oh Be Joyful.”

That fornula worked until June 1949 when he was moved, reluctantly, to a Veterans Hospital. “Gettysburg was tough,” he told Hoar, “but old age is even worse. I’m older now than I ever wished to be. Nobody realizes old age is a hard life till they get there.”

That hard life ended on September 17, 1950, but thanks to Professor Jay Hoar, the legend of New Hampshire’s “Last Boy in Blue” still lives on.
 
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Fairfield

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In September at the talk I went to, John Clayton was asked if he thought the payroll robbery really happened since Lurvey maintained his innocence and he said he believed he was guilty. He went through all the paperwork of the time and Lurvey and accomplice didn't even bother to really disguise themselves or anything. It was pretty clear cut. Then his friends pleaded his CW service to the judge and the judge said, "that was nice, guilty" and that was that. Basically, Clayton said he just wasn't earning enough money. He was one of thousands of vets that had gone into the war as unskilled labor or manual labor that was valued but times changed and he didn't have the skills to keep up with changing work conditions and he was aging and he had 4 daughters, which unfortunately were not bringing in money.

Interestingly, I didn't know I drive past this veteran's house each time I fly south. It is now on the road to the local airport about 12 miles from me. Urbanization has set in, down in his area quite badly but his house is still there! But children don't walk to school in that area anymore, believe me. Reading about his after life and his poverty, I am surprised he didn't try to work for the Amoskeag Mills or even one of the smaller mills in the area. As a man he would have made more money than a woman and maybe even become a supervisor.

It was an incredibly interesting Saturday I spent listening to John Clayton talk about this rank and file veteran.

I wish I could put the picture up of Lurvey with his drum. The drum is almost bigger than he is! But the picture is privately owned and I don't dare post it here after all the copyright issues. He was a skinny and small little boy. There is also a private picture of him in his 80s or 90s and he is an upright, skinny vet!
 

Fairfield

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I'm not a lawyer but I believe that, if the picture was taken before 1924, it is in the public domain. In any case, ownership of a photograph (with one exception that doesn't apply here) is with the person who took the photograph--not with the subject. Its probably ok to post it but I suspect that it is sensitivity to the wishes of the family that you are respecting. 🙂
 
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