1862: Isaac Hills Hazelton to Parents

Though this letter is only signed “Ike,” the content is sufficient for me to safely attribute its authorship to Isaac (“Ike”) Hills Hazelton (1838-1929). Isaac was born in Province House Court in Boston on May 17, 1838 to Isaac Hills Hazelton (1805-1863) and Susan Chism Pickard (1814-1912). He attended Boston Latin School, entered Harvard with the class of 1860 (left due to his father’s illness) and later became an honorary member of the class of 1860. He later graduated from Harvard Medical School. He was appointed Assistant Physician at the New Hampshire Asylum for the Insane in April 1861. He was commissioned Assistant Surgeon in the United States Navy on December 17, 1861, and was ordered to the receiving ship U.S.S. Ohio at the Charlestown Navy Yard. He was ordered to the U.S.S. Vermont January 20, 1862 and remained on the U.S.S. Vermont until January 1, 1863 when he was ordered to the U.S.S. Paul Jones. While onboard the U.S.S. Vermont he was caught in a storm in February 1862 and was presumed dead. On July 10, 1865 he resigned from the Navy and became Assistant Physician at the McLean Asylum for the Insane on September 11, 1865. After his marriage he conducted a private sanitarium in Milton, practiced Medicine for a few years in Boston, and then moved to Wellesley Hills. In Wellesley the family lived first at 162 Washington Street and then at 319 Washington Street starting in 1884. Isaac Hills Hazelton practiced medicine in Wellesley Hills and also served as the medical examiner. He was an invalid living with his three daughters for at least the last four years of his life. After his death in 1929 he was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Ike’s living siblings included, Annette (b. 1836), Frank (b. 1845), Emma (b. 1850), Clara (b. 1853), and Alice (b. 1857)—all of whom are mentioned in the final paragraph of the letter.

ussvermontThe Vermont was one of nine 74-gun warships authorized by Congress on 29 April 1816. She was laid down at the Boston Navy Yard in September 1818; finished about 1825; and kept on the stocks until finally launched at Boston on 15 September 1848 in the interest of both space and fire safety considerations. However, Vermont was not commissioned at this time. Instead, the already aged ship of the line remained in ordinary at Boston until the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. At this time, the cavernous hull of the vessel was badly needed as a store and receiving ship at Port Royal, S.C., and she was commissioned at Boston on 30 January 1862, Comdr. Augustus S. Baldwin in command. She received orders to sail for Port Royal for duty with Rear Admiral Samuel F. Du Font’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron on 17 February and left Boston on 24 February under tow by the steamer Kensington.

That evening, a violent northwest gale accompanied by snow struck the vessels while off Cape Cod Light, Mass. Kensington let go the tow lines, but Vermont refused to obey her helm, broached, and had all her sails and most of her boats blown and torn away. The gale raged for 50 hours; and, by the morning of the 26th, Vermont was drifting eastward with no rudder, her berth deck flooded, and much of the interior of the vessel destroyed. Later, on the 26th, Vermont sighted the schooner Flying Mist, hailed her, put a man on board and persuaded her captain to return to the east coast and report the helpless condition of the ship to naval authorities. Rescue vessels began to reach the stricken warship on 7 March and enabled Vermont to sail into Port Royal under her own power on 12 April. Vermont remained anchored at Port Royal, where she served the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron as an ordnance, hospital, receiving, and store ship and drew praise from Rear Admiral Du Pont. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles ordered the vessel to return to New York for “public service” on 25 July 1864. She left Port Royal on 2 August and was replaced there by her sister ship-of-the-line New Hampshire. Vermont remained at New York for the next 37 years, serving both as a store and receiving ship. She was condemned and struck from the Navy list on 19 December 1901 and was sold at New York on 17 April 1902.


Lat. 37º 36′ N–Long. 63º 25′ W
U. S. Ship Vermont
Wednesday, March 12th 1862

Dear father and mother,

Mr. Law, our 1st Lieutenant, just called me into his room and told me if I wanted to write to my friends I had better do so tonight and then gave me a wink which meant there would be a chance to send it tomorrow or next day. So here I am in my little room at work writing to the loved ones at home.

The evening after I wrote to you the schooner J. M. Chapman, Capt. A. J. Chapman, left us and stood in for the land. The Captain was a first-rate, honest soul and I liked him very much. We all sent letters by him. I presume he got in Saturday or Sunday and if so according as he went into Philadelphia or New York, you got my letter day before yesterday or yesterday. Well, the next morning after breakfast, I was down in the sick bay attending to the sick and one of my nurses came to me with a joyful face and said there was a steamer in sight. I knew that there must be something as they had been firing guns for some minutes. I did not seem to take much notice of it but hurried through and went on deck and sure enough, there was not only a steamer but two sail in sight. I could distinguish the two masts and the smoke stack. I went into the ward room and was writing my binnacle list ¹ when I heard the order given to shot all the guns on the starboard side and have the decks ready for action. Two or three of the officers were feeling very gay indeed—or at least pretended so. I must say, however, I did not as I knew how helpless we would be if a steamer should engage us. However, I managed to do a good deal of writing and not make a mistake. Some were under the impression that the steamer was either the [CSS] Sumter or the [CSS] Nashville.

I went out on deck and heard someone say it was one of the new gunboats and when I got a good sight of it about three miles, I told them I thought it must be either the Aroostook or the Chocura. In a short time she answered our signals and proved to be the first of the above boats. The Captain—-[Lt. John C.] Beaumont, came aboard of our ship and I was sent off in one of our cutters to her to obtain some medicines. I found Jack Homans ², Dr. [John] Homans’ son, was the Asst. Surgeon and a Mr. [William George] Buehler was the Chief Engineer. I was introduced to him a short time after I got out from my [f____]. Well I obtained some medicines, spent a pleasant half hour aboard, and would have remained longer but the sea was somewhat high and the wind was increasing so I jumped into our cutter and although when we shoved off we were right a beam of the Vermont, it was half an hour before I got aboard—the ship was going so fast.

The USS Aroostook

I went down into the ward room [and] was introduced to Capt. Beaumont. That evening we had a genuine southeaster and we were making right for New York when the ship went on the other tack and we headed for the Gulf stream. All the next day—Saturday—it blew very strong and so on Sunday, the Aroostook lost her smoke stack and main top mast and afterwards lost her fore top mast. We sustained no loss except, I believe, one sail.

Monday we had a very passable day and received the officers aboard in the evening. Tuesday we had a good warm rain from the southwest which cleared up in the afternoon and left us a most beautiful evening. But this morning surpassed all. The sky was quite clear and became entirely so in the afternoon. We are in the Gulf stream. The weather is quite mild and the air most beautiful and clear. The water is 63 to 66º in temperature, the air 50º. So you can judge how pleasant it has been.

But oh! the sunset this evening! The sky was perfectly clear except some clouds way down in the northwest horizon, which, as the sun went down were lighted up with a most beautiful golden crimson. It was a sight worth seeing. And now that it is night, the ship lays like a duck in the sea which is moderately calm and the sky a little overcast. Yet it is quite light and very pleasant.

We hope with divine help to get a rudder which we have made into position tomorrow morning and if we do—and it works well and all the judges say it will—we will make for either Port Royal or New York which I don’t know as the Captain keeps that to himself. We can judge when we see which may he steers. You see that a Divine Providence has watched over and preserved me thus far and I have faith to believe He will to the end.

Excuse the haste as I write a great deal and get tired. Besides, I have the entire charge of the sick—some 30—as the Surgeon is one of my patients. I enjoy first rate health and good spirits. The ship does not leak and we hope to be in some port Providence permitting in the course of two weeks. Give love to all—Grandmother, Frank, Emma, Clara, Alice, and all enquiring friends. Send this to Annette. Lots of love to all.

From Ike

¹ The “binnacle list” is the naval term for “sick list.” It was customary for the surgeon to leave the list on the “binnacle”—a waist-high case or stand on the deck of the ship where the navigational instruments were placed. The list was then picked up there by the officer of the day who took it to the captain.

² John (“Jack”) Homans was an 1858 graduate of Harvard and an 1862 graduate of the Harvard Medical School. In January 1862 he was commissioned an asst. surgeon in the US Navy and served on the gunboat Aroostook during the search for the disabled US Steamship Vermont in Hampton Roads and later on the James river during McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. He was at the battles at Fort Darling, Va., and at Malvern Hill. In November 1862, he was given a commission in the regular army and served on the staff of General Banks on the disastrous Red River Campaign. He was surgeon-in-chief with the 19th Army Corps during he Valley Campaign in 1864.


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