Leander Harris was born March 12, 1833, in Fairlee township, Orange County, Vermont, the third of eight children of Stephen Harris and Mary Jane Colby. Leander married Emily S. Hunt (1835-1866), daughter of Jacob E. and Anna Hunt, and they had two daughters: Annie M. in June 1857, and Clara Josephine in September 1858. Although essentially a shoemaker by trade, in 1861 Leander was elected to the office of town clerk in Hampstead, Rockingham County, New Hampshire.
Later in the year Leander resigned this civil position and at the beginning of the Civil War he enlisted on the 1st of September for three years service in the Union army. On the 18th of September he was mustered in as a private into Company I of the Fourth New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Manchester, New Hampshire. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Louis Bell, his regiment was sent south on September 27 to Washington, District of Columbia, then on to Annapolis, Maryland, to join in General Thomas West Sherman’s Expedition to Port Royal, South Carolina. There they saw the destruction of Forts Walker and Beauregard along with the capture of Hilton Head. The regiment camped in Hilton Head for the winter until January 1862 when they were sent to Florida to aid in the capture of the towns of Fernandina, Jacksonville and St. Augustine. By September 1862, the regiment was returned to Beaufort, South Carolina, for the winter. In the spring of 1863, as part of a brigade commanded by Colonel Bell, they began the long battle to capture the South Carolina Forts Wagner and Gregg on Morris Island, and Fort Sumter in Charleston. From June to December 1864, a detachment of the 4th New Hampshire was sent to the Army of the James and took part in the long siege of Petersburg, Virginia. In January 1865, they also took part in the assault and capture of Fort Fisher, North Carolina.
Leander’s usual position was an aid at the military base hospital which included the duties of cutting wood and bringing water to the cooks. For a short time he filled in the vacant position of steward at the hospital and later in the war, he was sent to the trenches to bring water to the soldiers. Toward the end of the war, he was assigned the duty of mail messenger.
Leander’s strong patriotism combined with the handsome bounty and furlough offered to the veteran soldiers persuaded him to re-enlist for another three years duty and on February 29, 1864, he was mustered again into the service. At the end of the war, he was mustered out at Raleigh, North Carolina, on August 23, 1865. Leander’s brothers, Elmer, George and Joseph Harris, also volunteered and served throughout their terms in the Union Army with the exception of George who died in 1864.
Following the war, Leander and his family went to live in Bradford, Essex County, Massachusetts. He worked and eventually became foreman in a shoe factory in Hampstead, NH, as did his brothers, Elmer and Joseph. Six months after his return from the war, in February 1866, Emily died from diphtheria, and ca. 1875 Leander married his cousin, Elizabeth D. Colby (they did not have children). Before the turn of the century, Leander and his wife moved to a farm on Crank road in Hampton Falls, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, near his daughter. There he took up farming and spent his remaining days until his death on August 25, 1912. Leander and Elizabeth Harris are buried in the Westview Cemetery on Nason road in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire.
[Note: This biographical sketch was lifted from the University of New Hampshire Library which houses an entire collection of Leander Harris’ letters—including these. See Leander Harris Letters.]
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER ONE
April 11th 1864
My Darling Wife,
I am tired and homesick tonight and very lonely. I need you so much. How shall I ever get along without you? and shall I ever be able to come to you for sympathy as I Have done before? I know that you will forgive myself. Oh! my darling wife, you did pity me last night; but I did not intend to write this, but it is ever in my mind. I could not help writing to you tonight. It seems as though I could not rest if I did not talk with you in some way. But now I will talk of something else.
I had an awful hard walk to Windham and got there just in time for the train, and after all, there was no need for me to come here as there has been nothing done and it is not likely that there will be for a number of days. It is too bad, when I might have been wit you. It is possible I may get a chance to get home again some day this week. Shall I come if I can?
I am going to make you a promise that I will never drink any liquor again unless it is actually necessary for my health and never to think or do anything that I cannot tell you of.
I met Henry here today and he wanted me to go home with him tonight but if I had, I could not have written to you. Perhaps I will go with him tomorrow night. I showed him your picture and he said “she is better looking than you are, Harris.” How do you like that?
I feel anxious to hear from you, my precious, to know if you are any better. Do write me a few words as soon as you get this and direct to Concord. You can send it to the depot by Brown and I shall get it quicker. And now my own sweet wife, good night. I am going to bed to try and cry myself to sleep.
Ever your loving, — Leander
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER TWO
April 28, 1864
As I have nothing else to do, perhaps the best way to pass the time till roll call will be to write a few words to you though there is nothing of any importance to write. But if you care as much for a letter as I do, you will not care so much for the quality of the letters that you receive. I wrote to you yesterday and mean to do so every day when I am situated so that I can.
There was a small mail came here from Washington tonight, but there was none for me. There was but three for this company and Frank brought them over and called out, “Fall inn Co. I for your letters” and the men all came tumbling out in a hurry, but when they found that they were “sold,” they went off swearing as only soldiers can swear. By the way, Henry hardly ever swears and I try to avoid that folly as far as possible lately.
I should like to know what my darling is doing just at this time but I can only imagine. I should guess you were about putting the children to bed. I should like to hear Josie say, “less kiss ye,” but you will get my share now. But you will have to pay them all back with compound interest when I get home again.
But I guess I will not write anymore tonight, but finish this another time and send it off. So goodnight my precious wife and pleasant dreams to you, that you may be kept from all sorrow is the constant prayer of your loving husband. — Leander
April 29th — There is nothing new to write but I feel as though it was necessary to say something “if it is not so bright.”
We are still in camp here though expecting the order to move all of the time. It may come at any moment, though it appears as though we should not be ready for several days yet. We shall probably move up the river toward Williamsburg but I do not know anything about it.
There was another mail tonight but none for me. It is not likely that we shall get our letters very regularly till we get settled somewhere. But you must write the oftener on that account so that I may stand a chance to get one once in awhile. A letter from you now is worth more than its weight in gold or anything else. It is quite likely that my letters may not be sent off just at present as the mail is generally stopped for awhile when there is any movement on foot. But I shall write just the same every chance that I have. You will perhaps notice that I do not have anything very important to tell you, but I suppose if my letters tell you that I am well and I that I am loving you and thinking of you all of the time, it will be about all you will ever expect of them. I know that you do not need to be told that I am loving you, but my experience is that it is very pleasant to read or hear it, no matter how often.
I cannot think of anything to write to the children but if I were there perhaps I should find something to say. Tell Mother that the sewing case she made me is very handy and I like it much better than I thought I should. Henry wants to swap with me but we can both use it and he can leave his. I guess I will not make this any longer. So goodnight again, my darling wife. May every blessing attend you. As ever, yours truly, — Leander
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER THREE
Base Hospital 10th Army Corps
Jones’ Landing, Virginia
November 5th 1864
My Dear Wife,
I have just received your last letter and hardly know how to reply to it. What can have come between us? I am sure that I love you as well as I ever did? Can it be possible that you care less for me? I do not think so and that is what troubles me. If I thought that you did not love me, I should not feel that I was making you unhappy. But I cannot explain what it is in your letters that troubles me so will say no more about it.
There was a furlough came last Friday night for me to go home to vote but I did not choose to go then. Now do not think that I did not want to see you for it was a great sacrifice of my own feelings to refuse, but I did not care to come home at that time for reasons which you will perhaps easily understand and there are other reasons that I will explain when I see you to your entire satisfaction. I mean to get home if possible before a great while and then, my darling, I will convince you that I love you as much as you can wish.
I have not time to write but little today but felt like answering your letter at once. My health is excellent. Try and take good care of your own for I shall want to find you looking well when I see you. My love to our babies and all the rest of the babies.
Goodbye for awhile, — Leander
TRANSCRIPTION LETTER FOUR
Base Hospital, 10th Army Corps
Jones’ Landing, Virginia
November 15th 1864
It is some time since I have written to you for as your letter which should have reached me last Friday did not get here till today, I began to think you were not going to write again and I hardly knew what to write. I am very glad, however, to find that I was mistaken and very glad hear from you again.
As you say, it does seem as though we were separated farther than time or distance could ever part us, and the thought has made me more unhappy than I can tell you, or, would wish to if I could. I cannot understand why it is so for I am sure that you love me and I love you more than anything else in the world and can see no reason whew should be unkind to each other. I do not think that you mean to be unkind to me but what can have come over you that you feel like a stranger when you write to me? If it were possible for me to entertain a doubt of you, I would ask you directly if you still loved me. Sometimes it seems to me as though you had ceased to love me though I never thought you loved anyone else. But perhaps you have found so little happiness in your love for me that you have learned to consider it as something worse than useless. Now if this should be the case, it would be your duty to let me know the truth at once for I should not fail to see it as soon as I should meet you, and to be perfectly frank about it would be the means of sparing me a great deal of pain. But I will not let such fancies trouble me, or rather, will not trouble you with them. Perhaps what I have already written will make you still more unhappy and drive you still farther from me, but will send it as it will tell you something how I feel.
If I had supposed that you expected me, and really desired to see me, I should not have been able to resist the temptation of going home with the rest. And your letter has made me regret that I did so, but perhaps, it will be for the best. I shall try to come home sometime this winter.
It is getting very cold here and it snowed one day this week. My health is excellent. But supper is ready and I will close this. My love to our darlings and much love to you, my precious wife.
Yours truly, — Leander