Amherst’s Civil War Widows
By Katrina Holman
What happened to Amherst’s Civil War widows? There were eight married men among the 25 men listed on Amherst’s Civil War monument. Four of the married soldiers died of disease: Samuel Corliss in Virginia, aged 41 (buried National Cemetery); Wm Few in Rhode Island, aged 42 (interred Amherst); Eli S. Gutterson who was discharged at Falmouth and lingered for a few months before dying at home, aged 44; and Joseph F. Johnson in Mississippi, aged almost 43. Two of them died accidentally: John L. Kendall drowned on way home in steamer collision (buried near where washed ashore), aged 36; and George A. McCluer was killed by friendly fire in camp in Virginia, aged 32 (buried National Cemetery). One of the married men died in action: Charles A. Damon (interred at Gettysburg battle field), almost 40. One of them died of starvation and/or disease as a POW: Robert Gray aged one month shy of 38, at Salisbury, N.C. An old story – but still heartbreaking.
It gets sadder. Together they left behind 21 minor children, two of whom were physically handicapped (a deaf boy and a disabled girl).
Their widows were:
Martha Ann (Sargent) Corliss, age 43 – 7 children (6 daughters and 1 son).
Mary (Low) Damon, age 39 – 5 children ranging from 6 to 16.
Mary (Walsham) Few, milliner from England, age 41 – 12-year-old daughter.
Olive Ann (Holt) Gray, age 36 – 7-year-old daughter.
Lucinda R. (Wheeler) Gutterson, age 46 – teenage son & 9-year-old daughter.
Ann Mary (Kidder) Johnson, age 35 – 2 stepdaughters aged 12 & 7, 3-year-old daughter, and 5-month-old son.
Christiana (Lovejoy) Kendall, age 35 – no children.
Lucy W. (Melendy) McCluer, age 28 – baby daughter.
Widow Martha (Sargent) Corliss
Martha A. Sargent (1820-1910) and her husband Samuel W. Corliss were both born in Vermont, married there, and their first two children were born there. They moved to Milford, N.H. around 1848, where four of their children were born, and to Amherst in 1860, where the final child, Lillie was born in Feb. 1862. Sam was a farm laborer. The Corliss family lived in the first house on the west side at the foot of Mack Hill Road (now gone), renting. Samuel, father of seven minor children, enlisted in Sep. 1862 and died in August 1863. Their eldest, 24-year-old Laura, died at Amherst in 1868. The next disaster struck in 1870, but in the same year there was also a heart-warming event for the handicapped youngest.
“FIRE. The venerable Henchman house, at the northeast of the village, owned by Elijah Putnam and Ephraim Ellinwood, and occupied
by the latter and Widow Corliss, was totally destroyed by fire on Tuesday afternoon. … The house was one of the oldest in town, and was in the early days of the settlement used as a garrison, being lined up with brick. It was much decayed, of little value and uninsured. Mrs. Corliss lost much of her furniture. …” (Farmers’ Cabinet, 20 Oct. 1870.)
“COMMENDABLE LIBERALITY. Post Lull, GAR, Milford, at a meeting Friday evening, voted a donation of $10 to Mrs. Corliss, of this place [Amherst], who suffered so severely by the fire of Tuesday. Mrs. C’s husband, Samuel Corliss, was a member of Co. H, 10th N.H.V., and died in the service.” (Farmers’ Cabinet, 27 Oct. 1870.)
“A very pretty scene was witnessed on the plain last Friday morning in the reception given to Lilla Corliss aged eight years, as, accompanied by her teacher, Miss Alice M. Kingsbury, and surrounded by her little schoolmates, she was wheeled along toward the school-house [the Brick School]. A defect in the spine having deprived her from birth of the use of her legs, as a partial alleviation, an invalid chair costing over $30 has been procured from New York, in which she can propel herself with her hands. Her teacher and the village Superintendent of schools, E. S. Cutter Esq., aided by the contributions of about twenty of our citizens are the donors. To see the pleasure and relief thus afforded to this little invalid is in itself a sufficient recompense.” (Farmers’ Cabinet, 24 Nov. 1870.) Lillie would die in 1872, aged 10.
Widow Martha worked to support herself & family. She is listed in the 1866 directory of Manchester (occupation not named) but was back in Amherst by 1870; she worked as a nurse while living alone in an apartment in the former Second County Courthouse at 5 Foundry Street (1880) and as matron (while living in Merrimack in 1898). Her only son, who had gone to Minnesota, returned to farm in Merrimack and married at age 50. Martha’s final years were spent with married daughters, 5 of her 8 children being still alive. She died in Vermont, but is buried at Meaddowview with her young daughters.
Widow Mary (Low) Damon
Miss Mary Low (1823-1894), who had arrived in Amherst as a teen, wed Charles A. Damon (1823-1863), who was born in Amherst, in 1845; he opened a carriage manufactory and wheelwright business in Amherst Village in 1847; and they moved to Bedford in 1849 so Charles could join his brother in a lumber business while continuing as a wheelwright. The older two of their five children were born in Amherst and the younger three in Bedford. Their son Frank became deaf at the age of 18 months from sores in his ears and was admitted to the Asylum for Deaf & Dumb in Hartford, Connecticut in 1861 at age 10, where he received 7 years of instruction, supported by the State of New Hampshire.
When Damon enlisted in the War of the Rebellion, he was credited to his hometown of Amherst. Damon was killed at age 39 in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 (the same time and place as the unmarried Charles Phelps, younger by two decades), leaving his widow and five children “without means.”
Widow Mary Damon was a resident “of Reading, Massachusetts” in 1869 when she bought the house at 3 Davis Lane with the help of her family. Mary was 43 when she wed widower Edson Davis, 49, a carpenter and veteran who had served in the same company and regiment as her first husband, but had been discharged early due to disease. Edson was from Vermont, and happened to be living in Amherst for about a year when the Civil War broke out, but settled in Nashua when he returned.
Her obituary said: “Mrs. Davis literally gave her life for others, serving as nurse for years, far and near. She was of a quiet, but even and lovable disposition, and was unselfish in every way. For several years she has been a sufferer from an internal malady, and two years ago underwent an operation, which for a time gave relief.”
Mary (Low) Davis House (built 1846 or 1847) at 3 Davis Lane (labeled D. P. Low on 1858 Village map as is house next door). This Greek Revival vernacular house was built by David Perkins Low (1816-1894), joiner and carpenter. In 1869, his sister, Civil War widow Mary (Low) Damon (1823-1894), bought the place from their mother, and one day later Mary wed Civil War veteran Edson Davis. The blended Davis family lived here only briefly before moving to Nashua for several years, using the house as rental income. The couple returned around 1874 and lived here until her death. Mary’s four surviving adult children inherited it; and it remained under Damon family ownership until 1923.
Widow Mary (Walsham) Few
Mr. & Mrs. Few and their baby daughter, all born in England, had arrived in Amherst in 1852, where Mrs. Mary W. Few (c. 1821-1900) set up a millinery business (bonnets, dress-making, fancy goods), initially for Hazen Z. Ellis with shop located at 6 Courthouse Road. In 1854, William Few (1821-1863), laborer, purchased 8 Main Street in Amherst Village for $500 as their home and millinery shop. In Sep. 1860, Wm Few bought a dwelling on Cottage St. in Nashua for $1400, for which Wm & Mary took out mortgage of $900 and later that same month they took out a further mortgage against 8 Main Street in Amherst for $400. Before he mustered, William made out a will (dated Oct.