Israel Putnam Spencer, who is my sixth cousin twice removed, was a writer in his own right. He wrote a journal of sorts that dated back to his earliest recollections, beginning at about four or five years of age. Not everyone can remember very much about themselves at that age, although I think a number of us can. Usually it is some traumatic even, such as illness, a death, or as in my cast, an accident, in which I lost a fight with an escalator. For Israel, it was both illness and death. Israel states that he was just “getting over a spell of sickness” in the town of DeRuyter, Madison County, New York. He talks of moving to Corning, Steuben County, New York where the family lived another four years. This place had no stove, so cooking was done over the fire in the fireplace. It was in Corning that he and his sister got the measles, and his aunt, his mother’s sister died…probably also of measles, as they were very dangerous in those days. His writings tell of hard times…of moving to live with his mother’s brother, Frank Lewis. Hard times in that after finding a dog and being so excited to have a pet, they had to give the dog to a cousin. I’m sure these things all seemed extra hard to a young boy of about nine or ten. Yet, in the midst of those hard times, the family arrived at Israel’s Uncle Frank’s house, to find the dog, that they hadn’t seen in two years…and the dog remembered them, and was so excited to see them. That friendship must have felt like the sun coming out after a long raging storm.
Soon things were looking up for the family, and Israel’s dad bought a farm where the family lived until Israel was fourteen and then he traded that farm for a 100 acre farm just a sort distance away. That farm brought about a big change for the Israel and his brothers because they now have to work the farm, in order to keep up. They went to school in the winter and worked the farm in summer. Then Israel writes of reaching an age where he got a “big head” like most boys did at about 15 to 18 years of age. He said that he got to a point where he was convinced that he knew more than the teachers and his parents combined, and so he quit school at 17 years old. He got odd jobs, and made about $15.00 a month…about average for a 17 year old in those days, I suppose, but maybe less than if he had more schooling…these days anyway.
Then came the biggest change of Israel’s life…the Civil War started in 1861. His oldest brother, Morton Spencer enlisted in Company E, 23rd New York Infantry for two years. Shortly thereafter, Israel’s brother Fred Spencer enlisted, and Israel joined him. It was August 6th of 1862, and Israel was 18 years and 2 months old. Israel tells of his time spent in the war, with an insider’s view that most of us never got to hear about. The northern army, and I suspect the southern army as well, were having trouble keeping their officers. Back then, they didn’t have the came controls over the people in the army. A person could be missing for weeks before anyone really got word of it. Of course, when an officer goes missing, and you are one of his men, you know it, and that is what happened at times…especially when the war put brother against brother, as was the case in the Civil War. He survived the war, as did his brothers, but those were days of hunger and lack. He chose in later years, not to talk about them much, because who would want to remember such a time. He did write about those day, and there are many more tales to tell of the Civil War, but that is a story for another day.