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Thomas Fry Tobey papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1354
Scope and Contents

The Thomas Fry Tobey Papers contain correspondence, military papers, personal papers, photographs, and printed material providing documentation on the lives of Tobey and other members of his family. The papers span the dates 1808-1929. The collection is arranged in six series: Correspondence, Military Papers, Family Papers, Photographs, Writings, and Printed Works, plus one box of Oversize papers.

Series I, Correspondence , (Box 1) consists primarily of letters from Thomas F. Tobey to family members in Providence, although it also includes letters of Tobey's father, mother, and brothers Samuel, Jr. and John, together with a handful of items by other individuals. The bulk of the correspondence covers the years 1860-67, from the time of Tobey's studies at Harvard to the early phases of his career in the regular army.

The first letter in the collection, dated November 29, 1834, is from Dr. Samuel Boyd Tobey to his first wife's grandfather, Moses Brown, asking for his approval to marry Sarah Fry, a close friend of the doctor's late wife Sarah Lockwood. A March 1853 letter from Dr. Tobey to his children describes his travels in the South and contains comments on the rampant "drinking [of] ardent spirits," the "blast of Slavery," and the degradation of whites "by their course towards their Slaves." The remaining early letters concern family matters, with the exception of an 1857 letter from President Francis Wayland of Brown University to Mrs. Sarah Tobey on the subject of a home for aged females.

The volume of correspondence picks up in 1860 when Thomas F. Tobey was studying law at Harvard. Except, however, for brief references to the "Wide Awakes" and a visit by the Prince of Wales, his letters are entirely personal in nature.

Tobey's parents were devout Quakers, but three of their sons volunteered for military service during the Civil War. The Tobey Papers contain twelve Samuel B. Tobey, Jr. letters written between 1861 and 1864. Samuel joined the 19th New York Volunteers in 1861 and spent most of the next two years in New Bern, North Carolina. John Fry Tobey served three months with the 10th Rhode Island Volunteers and six 1862 letters cover this time period.

Thomas F. Tobey was mustered into service with the 10th Rhode Island on May 26, 1862. In his letters of May 31 to July 30, 1862, numbering about one dozen, Tobey discussed marching through Confederate sympathizing Baltimore, camp life in the fortifications around Washington, D.C., picket duty, religious services, the weather, and his health. A patriotic and religious young man, he was dismayed by the defeat of the Army of the Potomac before Richmond, but asserted in a July 8 letter that "we must not despair, nor give up the contest." He believed that it was a great "privilege to take part in this great struggle" (July 11) and told his family on July 24 that it was his duty to re-enlist. He obtained a second lieutenant's commission in the 7th Rhode Island and explained his decision to his unhappy family. "I hope you will both do me the justice to believe that I have not chosen lightly in this important matter, and that it is not a boyish impulse, but a sense of duty to my country, that sends me into certain discomfort and danger, and possible death." Whatever might happen, he hoped "to be sustained by God's help" in the discharge of his duty and asked to be forgiven for opposing the wishes of his parents.

During the course of the next four months, Tobey wrote his family from a number of camps in Maryland and Virginia before arriving with his regiment in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area near the end of November. Some letters reassure them that he was in no danger, others ask them not to grieve too much if he were to die. He also took time on October 15 to write the Society of Friends in Providence expressing his regret that his departure from its principles "must necessarily involve my separation from it."

Another series of letters covers the period from November 27 to December 27, 1862 (Box 1, folders 12-15 and Letterbook, folder 16), the time of the disastrous Fredericksburg campaign, when the Army of the Potomac was commanded by Rhode Islander General Ambrose E. Burnside. Tobey noted optimistically on December 5 that he did not expect Burnside to attack Fredericksburg because the army had remained in place and allowed the Confederates to fortify the heights above the town. Five days later, however, (Letterbook, folder 16) he reported that his regiment had been ordered to march, that Burnside looked "a little nervous," and that he expected that "a pretty bloody time" was ahead. In his next letter, dated December 13 (Letterbook, folder 16), he stated that he was safe and sound, but that his regiment had lost one quarter of its commissioned officers and one third of its enlisted men. Further reports of the battle, his feelings about facing death, his belief that Lincoln was responsible for the defeat, and his praise for the heroism of Colonel Zenas Randall Bliss (1835-1900) and the men of his regiment followed in letters of December 16, 17, and 20. The fullest report of the battle came in a ten-page private letter to his brother John, begun on December 20 and finished two days later, which gives a detailed description of the 7th Rhode Island's part in the disaster. During the worst of the attack, "I felt no sensation of fear or anxiety, but on the contrary, didn't care a straw for all the rebels that ever lived. I felt as if I and my company could go through any fire, or do anything that man can do."

Most of Tobey's 1863 letters were written from Kentucky, where his regiment was sent in March along with the rest of the IX Corps. The 7th Rhode Island enjoyed two months on quiet occupation duty before taking part in the closing stages of the siege of Vicksburg and participating in the siege of and Battle of Jackson. The collection, however, contains little documentation of the Vicksburg and Jackson campaigns. In a June 24 letter from a "Camp in the field" near Black River, Tobey reported that his regiment was "in light marching order" and waiting for the Confederate troops of General Joseph E. Johnston; and in a July 17 letter he stated that Jackson was evacuated the previous night, that the climate "will use us up," and that in the last two weeks his men had suffered from "hot marches, skirmishing, night alarms, and all sorts of fatigue and exposure."

Tobey viewed the Western theatre from the perspective of a battle-hardened veteran of the Army of the Potomac. If the enemy was ever rash enough to attack the IX Corps, he believed that they would be in the same fix as the "buzzard that picked up the wild-cat" and that men who had "fought Lee's veterans needn't fear these Western bushwhackers very much." (April 7, 1863) After Rosecran's defeat at Chickamauga, he complained that Western men lacked discipline, that all they were good for was bushwhacking and guerilla fighting, and that "you never heard of any fight of the Potomac army of whole divisions running like dogs, as [Alexander McDowell] McCook's and [Thomas Leonidas] Crittenden's commands did."

Series I also contains three 1863 letters from Samuel Boyd Tobey and one from Sarah Fry Tobey to Susanna Corder which discuss the Quaker perspective on the war, the terrible sin of slavery, the problem Friends faced with the Civil War draft, and news of their son Thomas. Letters of August 23 and December 14 report on the breakdown of Tobey's health after Vicksburg and Jackson.

Thomas F. Tobey resigned his commission in February 1864 due to poor health. As his physical condition improved in 1864, he sought to reenlist and received letters of recommendation from Burnside and Brigadier General S. G. [Simon Goodell] Griffin (1824-1902), Tobey's brigade commander in 1863. He was, however, unable to secure a majority in the volunteers, because he had not completed two years of active service (Box 2, folder 52) prior to resigning his commission, so he decided to seek a lieutenancy in the regular army (February 22, 1865). The preponderence of 1865 letters cover the period of his service as a sergeant in the 14th Infantry stationed at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut; as a lieutenant stationed in Richmond, Virginia; and his departure in August for California and Fort Boise in Idaho Territory. He discussed his health, his efforts to gain a commission, and his regret for resigning in 1864, believing that if he had remained in the volunteers he would have become a brevet colonel with a good chance of a captaincy in the regulars.

The volume of letters diminishes with Tobey's posting to the West, providing relatively little information about his six month tour of duty at Fort Boise. A November 14, 1865 letter describes his journey from Panama to Fort Boise and an April 9, 1866 letter contains a report on a lynching. Only eleven letters cover the period when he was stationed in Arizona Territory at Sacaton, Camp Lovell, Fort Yuma, and Fort McDowell, during which time Tobey served as adjutant to General Charles S. Lovell (1811-1871). He wrote about his good health, Indian problems in the territory, and, after the death of his father in 1867, the possibility of leaving the army and returning to Providence to take care of his mother and sisters.

The later correspondence is even more fragmentary, but includes two 1873 letters from Mary Atwater to Tobey's mother that discuss the role of women in the Society of Friends; an 1882 letter of Sarah Fry Tobey concerning the death of brother John Fry Tobey; and 1891, 1892, and 1895 letters of Tobey to an unknown Zilpha that discuss his family, his retirement, the poor condition of the Cheyenne Indians, and a visit to the home of secretary of state and fellow Brown alumnus John Hay, who "talked away as if he and I had only left college the other day."

Series II, Military Papers (Box 2), holds chronologically arranged materials that document aspects of Thomas F. Tobey's Civil War and regular army career. It contains a variety of appointments, discharge certificates, subsistence records, vouchers, and similar papers. Probably the most significant material, however, is found in the military correspondence, court-martial, and disability retirement folders.

Military correspondence for 1864-65 (folder 52) concerns Tobey's attempt to gain a majority in the new First Army Corps to be commanded by General Winfield Scott Hancock and a lieutenancy in the regular army. The folder includes a certificate in support of Tobey's candidacy by Colonel Zenas Randall Bliss, letters from Rhode Island Senators William Sprague and Henry B. Anthony, and Tobey's formal application letter to Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas. This letter contains an endorsement dated February 17, 1865 denying Tobey's request for a command due to his "not having served two years in the Armies of the U.S. during the present Rebellion."

On August 2, 1887, Captain Tobey failed to perform "the forms of dress parade" correctly, which regimental commander Colonel Thomas M. Anderson believed was due to his "irregular habits and imprudent course of life," the result of excessive drinking. If Tobey was unable to control his habits, he was urged either to retire or seek "such assistance as may restore you to full usefullness" (folder 71). After a second such incident on October 10, Tobey was formally charged with two counts of being "under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs." Folder 72 contains a copy of Tobey's statement denying the charges and a report of the not guilty verdict by the general court-martial. A similar "epileptic" manifestation on parade two years later, which may have been "the direct result of alcoholic stimulation," led Tobey to seek a disability retirement (folders 76 and 78).

The series also includes a copy of an 1898 letter of retired General Bliss to House Committee on Military Affairs in support of a special bill "for the relief of Captain Thomas F. Tobey" (folder 81), a 1920 letter to the 7th Rhode Island announcing Tobey's death (folder 82), and a folder of records documenting the specifics of his military service (folder 83).

Family Papers are housed in Boxes 3-4. The series contains genealogical information on the Tobey family, a poetry notebook in the hand of John Fry Tobey, biographical information about Samuel Boyd Tobey, memorial cards in memory of Sarah Fry Tobey, and a variety of papers on Thomas F. Tobey. Included among this material is a 1920 certification of Tobey's baptism into the Catholic Church, three diaries, a series of invitations to White House receptions, memorabilia, notes on his Civil War service, and fragmentary reminiscences. The most informative diary covers the period between June 23 and October 14, 1876, when Companies B, C, and F of the 14th Infantry participated in the Sioux expedition. On July 8, the companies received the news of "poor Custer's affair." The memorabilia, most dating from the Civil War, include the pipe smoked by Tobey at the Battle of Fredericksburg, while the reminiscences contain thoughts on his participation in a "drill-club", a description of his tour of duty with the 10th Rhode Island, and a concluding anecdote about General Edwin V. Sumner at the Battle of Antietam.

Series IV is composed of Photographs (Boxes 5-6) of Elizabeth L. Comstock; Lake City, Colorado; various members of the Tobey family; Walloper, the family dog; and unidentified individuals. Many of the photographs show Thomas F. Tobey in uniform. The series contains daguerreotypes of the Tobey family, Thomas F. Tobey, and an unidentified woman; a tintype of Thomas F. Tobey; and three stereographs.

Writings (Box 7) primarily contain fragments of stories written by Thomas F. Tobey, most on military themes. The series also contains a translation of Georges Ohnet's "The Kleptomaniac: A Banker's Story" in Tobey's hand, Latin exercises (folder 150), a juvenile story book (folder 158), and a copy of Marcus Waterman's "The Legend of Conydon's Cave." A second Waterman poem is found in John Fry Tobey's notebook (Box 3, folder 87).

The final series, Printed Works (Boxes 8-9), includes works on military science, a copy of DeBow's Review picked up by Tobey at Fredericksburg, two Catholic devotional works, one of which was owned by Tobey in May 1865, an 1808 epistle of the yearly meeting of the Society of Friends in London, an 1867 Report of the Trustees of Rhode Island Hospital containing a tribute to Samuel Boyd Tobey, a copy of a speech by Daniel Webster, and scattered issues of newspapers, including a copy of Freedom: The Giant of the Orient published in Manila.

Oversize (Box 10) holds oversize military appointments and certificates from Series II, diplomas and a Latin certificate from Series III, and newspapers from Series VI.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Thomas Fry Tobey Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Thomas Fry Tobey Papers were purchased from the estate of Estelle Philibrick in August 1991.

5.25 Linear Feet (10 boxes)
Related Names
Tobey, Thomas Fry, 1840-1920
Language of Materials