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George Oscar French family papers, 1857-1888;
French, George Oscar, 1844-1865.
Library Call Number Copy Material Location
Vermont Historical Society Library  MSA 414  Manuscript  Vault-Manuscript 

Personal Author : French, George Oscar, 1844-1865.
Title : George Oscar French family papers, 1857-1888; bulk: 1862-1865.
Physical Description : 1 linear foot.
General Note : Transcriptions have been made of George Oscar French's Civil War letters.
Summary :

The bulk of the collection is letters written by George Oscar French (1844-1865) during the Civil War to his parents in Castleton, Vermont. The letters start on August 6, 1862, the day on which French enlisted, and continue up until April 1, 1865, the day before he was killed just prior to the fall of Richmond and the end of the Civil War.

Oscar French enlisted in Company C, 11th Vermont Volunteers, and trained at Brattleboro into early September, ending up as a sergeant. He next moved to the defenses of Washington, serving mostly in a heavy artillery unit, and remained there until May 13, 1864. After that he saw a great deal of heavy action, often as an infantryman including at Cold Harbor, the Shenandoah Valley (he received a wound at Cedar Creek), and Petersburgh. He was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant June 28, 1864. He was killed on April 2, 1865, during the last week of the war.

One of the sub-themes of the letters is the relationship between Oscar French and his father. In a number of letters there is a reference to an on-going dispute between father and son on the merits of the war. Oscar berates the Copperheads, including Congressman Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, who his father seems to have been supporting, and some of the anti-war New York press. Oscar is strongly critical of his father's pro-McClellan stand in the 1864 election. He attacks "dirty peace men". "I care not who is Pres. If they only go in for a vigorous prosecution of the war. Making slavery a secondary question and using the full Abolition principle if necessary to weaken our enemy."

The letters contain many references to pay policy of the army, which often is months in arrears. Oscar often sends money home, but then has to ask for money to buy parts of his uniform, and he orders boots to be made at home and sent to him. His father seems to be lecturing him on his spendthrift ways, but Oscar defends himself, while also asking his siblings to do more to help at home to make life easier for the parents.

In a letter dated December 9, 1863, while French is on sentry duty at Fort Stevens, he writes a detailed account of meeting with a family of escaped slaves, a mother with five children, who had run after several had been beaten by their owner.

The collection includes pages from a diary Oscar kept in September and October, 1864, when he was campaigning in the Shenandoah Valley and saw heavy action. He mentions "Large fires in the Upper Valley. Every house and barn in a radius of 5 miles were burnt in revenge for the murder of Lieut. Meigs of Sheridan's staff." Oscar later writes about "the rear guard burnt every vestige of hay and every barn that contained grain or forage. Desolation most complete following our track. Every grist mill, cotton, or saw mill was burnt."

The rest of the collection is made up mostly of letters to Oscar's sister Ella French from sister Mary Alice in Castleton while Ella was living in Middlebury and teaching. These are mostly undated, but were evidently written in the late 1870s. The letters are quite long, dealing with events in Castleton, getting crops in, who has visited, health topics, etc. As well, the collection includes letters from Will written in 1872 from the west and one from Mary

Biographical or historical data :

George Oscar French, called Oscar, was the second of five children born to Ezra Warner French and Amanda Roberts French of Castleton, Vermont. Ezra French was a farmer and worked in the slate trade, doing roofing, among other things. The first of the French children was Emeline Helen French (March 17, 1841-July 21, 1921). Second was George Oscar French (born April 25, 1844, and killed on April 2, 1865, just before the Battle of Richmond). The third child was Wilbur Ernest French (July 26, 1846-March 21, 1881) who mostly called himself Will, though sometimes Ernest. He served briefly in the Civil War. The fourth child was Mary Alice French (b. January 19, 1849). Fifth was Frank W. French (February 14, 1850-December 10, 1871) and sixth was Ella Agnes French (July 14, 1856-January 21, 1931).

Personal Subject : Vallandigham, Clement L. (Clement Laird), 1820-1871.
Corporate Subject : United States. Army. Vermont Infantry Regiment, 11th 1862-1865. Company C.
Subject Term : Soldiers Vermont Correspondence.
Cold Harbor, Battle of, Va., 1864.
Cedar Creek, Battle of, Va., 1864.
Fugitive slaves Washington D.C.
Geographic Term : Shenandoah River Valley (Va. and W. Va.) History Civil War, 1861-1865.
United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Campaigns.
United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Public opinion.
Vermont History Civil War, 1861-1865.
Fort Stevens (Washington, D.C.)
Petersburg (Va.) History Siege, 1864-1865.
Castleton (Vt.) Archival resources.
Hammond (Mich.) Archival resources.
Genre/Form : Letters correspondence.
Added Author : French, Mary Alice, b. 1849.
French, Wilbur Ernest, 1847-1881.
Electronic Resource : Click here for transcripts of the letters.
Click here for full text of finding aid.