Prologue
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Prologue 3 It is now November 1862. Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a flourishing town of a thousand people, has grown around a depot of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. About a mile from the railroad depot in Summit Township, Gilbert and Esther Claflin live with their two sons and Gilbert’s mother on a forty-acre farm, and Esther has both parents and numerous siblings nearby. In addition , most of Gilbert and Esther’s friends are from farming families in the area, a number having moved from New York State. Oconomowoc is like many small towns along the railroad. It has a number of businesses: insurance agencies, tailor shops, pharmacies, lumberyards , meat markets, livery stables, footwear establishments, and, of course, places that sell “goods.” The railroad cars stop here twice a day carrying passengers and mail, and twice more carrying freight: eastbound in the morning , westbound in the evening.1 Recent issues of the local paper, the Free Press, give a flavor of Oconomowoc . A reader might see in the latest edition the following: train and post oªce schedules; a list of letters remaining at the post oªce; notices of local meetings in churches and halls, including serious war meetings to encourage enlistment and temperance meetings to promote abstinence; and reports of the meetings after they have happened. In addition, articles on matters from across the state and around the world, like the full text of a lengthy address by Governor Salomon, war news, and news from Europe— with opinions from the editors strongly put forth, yet thinly disguised as news articles—would be featured. Someone might also find a poem or two (“The Home of My Heart,” “A Mountain Stream,” “Advance of Our Army into Virginia”), a column of short news items in no particular order, and advertisements. In August, however, the paper stopped publishing when the editor and publisher left to join the army. Because the bustling town of Oconomowoc serves a larger farming community that includes both Summit and Oconomowoc Townships, the newspaper also features ads focusing on farmers’ needs, such as ads for “Farmers Utensils & Harvesting Tools” and others that promise “The highest price paid for WHEAT in exchange for Goods.” In addition there are articles giving the formula for a “Wash for Fruit Trees” or the current market prices for wheat (five di¤erent kinds), barley, corn, oats, rye, beans, potatoes, pork, butter, eggs, hides (green and dry), sheep pelts, timothy, clover, salt, as well as mink, raccoon, and muskrat furs. Both Gilbert and Esther Claflin come from very old New England families . All four of their parents had ancestors from England who moved to Massachusetts in the mid-seventeenth century and, with the exception of a couple of short sojourns to Ohio, stayed in New England for the next two hundred years. Gilbert Claflin has been a farmer for as long as he can remember. Just past his fortieth birthday, he now lives with his wife, thirty-two-year-old Esther, and their two sons, fifteen-year-old Elton and thirteen-year-old Price. Gilbert was born in Sandisfield in southwestern Massachusetts. He was the only child of Joshua and Achsah Claflin. Esther was born in LeRoy, Ohio, the fifth of ten children born to James and Abigail Colby. In the middle of 1844, both the Colby and Claflin families moved to Summit Township in Wisconsin. Gilbert Claflin and Esther’s father, James Colby, each bought forty-acre farms in adjacent sections in far northern Summit. The Colbys’ eldest daughter, Emily, was nineteen to Gilbert’s twenty-two years, but it was fourteen-year-old Esther who stole Gilbert’s heart. A year and a half later, Gilbert and Esther were married. An important member of the family is Gilbert’s widowed mother, Achsah Maria Kibbie Claflin; her husband Joshua died at the age of twenty-five when Gilbert, their only child, was just a year old. She moved to Wisconsin with him when they left her brother’s farm in Massachusetts. At sixty-one she is a quiet and productive presence. About a year ago, Esther’s parents, James and Abigail, sold their farm and separated. Both live nearby and help their children as much as they can. 4 Prologue Esther is one of eight surviving adult children. They are all based in Wisconsin , though four of her five brothers are now serving in the Union army. James Colby (64 years old in...


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Subject Headings

  • Claflin, Gilbert -- Correspondence.
  • Claflin, Esther -- Correspondence.
  • Claflin family -- Correspondence.
  • Soldiers -- Wisconsin -- Oconomowoc -- Correspondence.
  • Wisconsin -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives.
  • Oconomowoc (Wis.) -- History.
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