“Sojourner Truth, The Granite State, and the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon” – as told from Inside Camp Gilmore in Concord, New Hampshire

Abe Lincoln and Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth with Abe Lincoln

By the time John H. Mathews left Point Lookout Prison in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, most of the remaining Confederate prisoners had been shipped out and sent home. The war was over, but Mathews had not yet mustered out of the Veteran Reserve Corps. Company “B” had been given orders to go to Camp Gilmore in Concord, New Hampshire. The final months of his military service would take him deep into rocky New England, a part of the country he had never seen before. It would become his last posting as a soldier during the Civil War.

In those early days after the war, the country was only beginning to grapple with the difficult postwar transition. It was during this critical period that Mathews and his regiment journeyed north to the Granite State. After passing through Baltimore they arrived in Philadelphia, where they stopped off at the famous Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, a place where soldiers were provided with washing facilities, plentiful food, stamps for their letters home, and quality medical care – all for free. These “rest stops” could be found in many of the northern cities during the war, enthusiastically sponsored and operated by the local citizens.

From there it was on to Worcester, Massachusetts, where they were also welcomed with open arms. During his only night in Worcester, Mathews attended a talk by an unnamed woman who may have been abolitionist Sojourner Truth. She gave an inspiring talk about the state of the Union and the necessity of freeing the slaves – in fact, it was not until December of that year that the 13th Amendment would be ratified.

Finally, he arrived at Camp Gilmore in the capital city of Concord, N.H. It was from the relative comfort of the camp barracks that John H. Mathews wrote his final Civil War letter, nearly three years after his difficult and historic journey began.

–Clifford B. Davids

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Cooper Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon in Philadelphia, PA-Interior View

Cooper Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-Interior View

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Camp Gilmore, Concord, New Hampshire

May 29th /1865

Dear Brother

I am well, and it has been two hours since I landed and already I have enjoyed some refreshments. We landed in this city at 10 a.m. and have lodging in good and comfortable barracks with the promise of having them fixed up just to our wishes in a day or two.

You will be surprised to hear my of whereabouts, but not more surprised than I when we learned the fact that we were really coming to New Hampshire. At first we fairly hooted at the idea, but soon the disturbance was settled as to whether we would stay or leave Point Lookout. This was settled on the 25th right or wrong–I don’t know which way, nor do I care. At 2 o’clock on the 25th we were ordered to pack up which we done and got on board the steamer Kent and left at 10 o’clock the same night.

We landed in Baltimore at 7 o’clock and lay over till the one o’clock train, when we then set out for Philadelphia. This was the gayest piece of traveling we have done since we have been in the service. The girls and ladies were waving their pocket handkerchiefs as to beckon us home from the fields of carnage. We arrived in the “City of Brotherly Love” at 8 o’clock in the evening where we met the most welcoming reception that we have had in the east.

We were received and made welcome at what is called the “Soldiers Rest Cooper Saloon” where we found plenty and to spare for a hungry and fatigued soldier of the nicest kind of victuals. It is true as said–Philadelphia is the socialest state in the Union. All of the people there seemed pleased to see soldiers coming home from the war.

John H. Mathews

John H. Mathews

We crossed the Delaware River and took the cars for New York City. We ran all that night, and Saturday morning got to Amboy Railroad Station and then took the boat again to New York at 6 o’clock in the morning–and landed in the Empire City at 11 a.m. We got dinner and lay over til the 3 o’clock train. Then we got on board of another boat and shipped for New London, Conn. We landed in that place at 12 o’clock Saturday night. We disembarked and again got on board of the cars and run through to the city of Worcester, MA where we landed Sunday morning daylight.

We came unexpected to the people of that city, but we were well treated with plenty of grand victuals. We stopped there all day on Sunday and ate four meals with them. They were glad to have us stay with them and we went away with a good opinion of the city. This place numbers about 80,000 inhabitants with 16 churches. And for the first time since I have been in service we found people that would not run cars on the Sabbath except in case of an emergency. We were not in a hurry, and of course we lay over for the day.

It is the greatest city I have been in on Sunday since I have been in the army. I went to one of the Baptist churches in the morning, and to cap the climax I went to hear a colored woman speak in the evening on “The Cause of the War.” This lecture put the cap and sheath on any speech that I have ever heard east or west, north or south. She made a regular dictating speech to the government telling it what it ought to do in the future in regard to the colored population, and to my surprise the Massachusetts listeners endorsed the speech “head and heels.” I am seeing a great deal, and learning more then I see.

We took breakfast early and left the city of Worcester at 6:30 this morning and landed in the capital of New Hampshire at 11 a.m. and marched through the city to the barracks in the suburbs on the south side of town.

They are good barracks, all fitted up with bunks and this will be very comfortable for soldiers. They are two Companies of the 13th Regiment here, and they have nothing to do but play soldier. Why we were ordered here I can’t imagine. There is no more use for us here then they are for us in Peoria, Ills. I heard the report from someplace that we were going to do duty here till the New Hampshire troops are mustered out of service.

I like the looks of the cities here, the best of any of my travels. The country looks well but the land is poor and stones are the chief crop–stones on the hills, stones in the hollows, and every place I saw. They are very little in timber, and what they have is very small–what we call a sapling in Illinois.

The 11th Regiment is all broken up into little spreads. The Headquarters of the regiment is in Albany, New York and four companies are at that place–two more in Providence, Rd. Island, two at Boston, Mass, and “A” and “B” are here at Concord. This has made a general breaking up of the Regiment, for which no one is sorry.

Whoever dreamt of me getting into Massachusetts or New Hampshire–I never did. I think all the government needs to do now to fill the program is to send us home by way of California when they can’t find anywhere else to route us through.

They are expecting to have a grand time here on Thursday the 1st of June, the “National Fast Day.” I guess that we will be put through on that day.

I am ever your Brother Very Truly

J.H. Mathews

(Address: Co. “B” 11th Regiment, Veteran Reserve Corps, Camp Gilmore, Concord, New Hampshire)

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4 Responses to “Sojourner Truth, The Granite State, and the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon” – as told from Inside Camp Gilmore in Concord, New Hampshire

  1. Robin Richardson Gilbert says:

    Thank you, Cliff, for seeing the importance of this last letter. The pressure of the war is over and the soldiers can move on to more enjoyable duties. “I am seeing a great deal, and learning more then I see”. This letter from John Mathews shows us even more facets of his personality. We know from his previous letters that he is always bettering himself, studying grammar, attending prayer meetings and visiting the sites and museums of Washington, D.C. Now, to his amazement, he glimpses a bit of the future: a lecture being given in Worcester, MA on freeing the slaves by “a colored woman.”

    Ever the humorous farmer, he notices upon arrival in New Hampshire that stones seem to be it’s chief crop. He is no longer just a young, innocent man of the soil from the plains of Illinois–he has been to war, traveled to places he never he thought he’d go, and witnessed a great deal more than he ever could have imagined.

    I want to thank you again for writing these thoughtful articles. We all know the American Civil War was bloody and violent, as all wars are. We have all heard the names of the generals, the battles, the cities–we know about the victories and defeats. The historic battles we read about would never have happened without the everyday soldier in the trenches. The bearded, stony faces of the men in uniform staring back at the camera 150 years ago seem so different from our camouflaged service men of today. The soldiers from both eras have their own individual stories to tell, and each is important. Thank you for bringing this story to your readers.

  2. Cliff, in eloquent fashion you bring substance to history. I am impressed by the depth of research you have obviously taken and am honoured to circulate these to our wider membership as recommended reading! Thank you again!

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