Reading the recurring requests penned in his mother’s familiar cursive writing, Edwin A. Lowe gulped.
He clearly understood what Lucetta S. Parker sought: information about her third oldest son — and a particular son-in-law. Re-reading Lucetta’s questions marks, Lowe gulped again.
This wasn’t going to be an easy letter to write home to dear old Mom.
A member of the 15th Maine Infantry Regiment, Lowe hailed from Waterville, and his parents were Lucetta and her first husband, David Lowe. The daughter of Asa and Olive (Southworth) Soule, Lucetta was also a Waterville native, born there circa 1799. Her marriage to Lowe had produced three children: sons David and Edwin and Angeline, who apparently died in infancy or childhood.
Lucetta’s marriage ended relatively soon; she married butcher Alexander L. Parker at Waterville in 1827. Hopefully this wedding took place in early January, because the Parkers’ first child, daughter Helen Augusta, was born that Aug. 8.
Lucetta bore Alexander seven more children, in chronological order Angeline, Olive, Charles A., all three apparently born in Waterville, and Albert A., Olive S., Alpheus Lyons, and Augustus H., all born in West Waterville, which became Oakland.
Like her mother, Helen Augusta Parker had married twice, the second time to James Nowland, a native of Liverpool in England. The marriage or another reason had lured Helen north to Hodgdon, where she had tied the knot with Nowland in Hodgdon in 1849. Edwin Lowe and James Nowland both enlisted in the 15th Maine Infantry in autumn 1861.
Edwin and Lucetta corresponded as the 15th Maine arrived at New Orleans in spring 1862 and then deployed to various posts in Louisiana. Commanded by Col. Isaac Dyer, the regiment transferred to Pensacola, Fla. that September. Lucetta’s letters kept coming — and the one dated Feb. 5, 1863 was a humdinger.
Edwin sat down to answer that letter at “Camp Arnold” in Pensacola on March 4. He thanked his mother for “your kind letter” and expressed his pleasure that “you and the rest of the folks are well.”
Rather than get down immediately to his mother’s business, Edwin digressed by talking about the weather. “I am glad you have been having so pleasant a winter in Maine,” Edwin wrote.
After arriving in Pensacola, the 15th Maine boys had discovered a temperature-related conundrum still noticed by 21st-century snowbirds. After sweltering in the Louisiana bayous and swamps for much of 1862, Edwin and his comrades had acclimated to Gulf Coast heat and humidity.
But the Maine soldiers found the temperatures at Pensacola almost bearable. Men asked around; as Edwin explained to Lucetta, “The Citizens here call this the coldest winter they have had for a long time.”
Yet the definition of “coldest” was in the eye of the beholder. Edwin thought the Pensacola winter almost balmy; “to us of the north now here[,] the weather has been most delightful, nearly all the time,” he commented.
For sure, the thermometer had plummeted “occasionally for a few days at a time,” Edwin wrote. The weather turned cold particularly when “what they call a Norther” rolled south across Alabama and caused “the mercury” to fall “below the freezing point so as to make ice, perhaps one third of an inch thick during the night,” he explained to Lucetta.
The “Norther” (called a “blue norther” to this day in Texas) occurred when an Arctic cold front plunged through the Deep South. Sometimes the cold front would capture Gulf moisture and haul it east and north; depending on the temperature immediately behind the front, the moisture would fall as rain or ice.
When such weather struck, “we need a number of Blankets to keep ourselves warm,” Edwin noted.
Pensacola had seen little precipitation so far; “the sky has been clear most all of the winter — we have had but little rain since Sept. ,” he observed.
As modern snow birds can attest, Florida’s winter weather swings wildly at times. “Quite a number of days the thermometer has indicated summer heat[,] but it did not seem so warm,” Edwin told his mother. “We have got used to hot weather and don’t mind it as we did at first.”
Then Edwin shifted to the topic most important to his mother.
After joining the 15th Maine, James Nowland was named the regimental adjutant on Nov. 20, 1861. He was talented at keeping the regimental books, but he had a vice all too common to American men in the mid-19th century.
Nowland drank to excess.
Lucetta had politely placed “inquiries about Mr. Nowland” in her Feb. 5 letter to Edwin. Rolling his eyes, he admitted, “I have to say as you have probably supposed.
“Liquor is all the trouble with him,” Edwin confirmed his mother’s fears. “He got to drinking hard while at Camp Parapet La (Louisiana) and sent in his Resignation[,] but Genl. [Benjamin] Butler refused to accept it.”
Nowland kept nursing his liquor, even as the 15th Maine transferred to Pensacola.
The change of venue did him no good.
“A short time after we came here[,] he got to drinking hard and after a while got so drunk that one night on dress parade he was unable to perform his post,” Edwin described the scene. “In truth he could not Sheath his sword.”
Dyer preferred charges against Nowland, who “tendered his Resignation,” Edwin wrote. Something happened when the court martial papers and resignation went to brigade headquarters; Nowland “was returned to duty after a Short time and has behaved himself since.”
Edwin wrapped up his letter with “so good night and God bless you Dear mother.”
Nowland soon left the 15th Maine; later that year he was working as an accountant for the Jewett & Pitcher Lumber Co. in Ashland. Helen and their family moved there with him.
And Lucetta, so inquisitive about her son-in-law in winter 1863, moved in with him and Helen in her later years. She died in Ashland in March 1885.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.