John Raymond was a native of New York’s North Country; a member of the prominent and influential Raymond family, whose cousin, the land agent Benjamin, founded the village of Potsdam for a group of land speculators who included members of the Clarkson family; a dealer in lumber whose business occasionally took him as far away as Michigan; an opinionated fan of Whig politician Henry Clay; a would-be gentleman farmer and grape vine enthusiast; and a loving uncle. John Raymond’s brief but engaging correspondence from the era of the American Civil War also happens to have survived the years, where it presently forms a small part of the Sewell Raymond Collection at the Potsdam Public Museum. A selection of these letters is presented here.
John Raymond’s surviving correspondence from 1860-1864 offers a civilian view of the run up to war and several incidents during the war itself. Raymond was in his fifties at this time, beyond the normal age for going to war himself. But he cared passionately about the Union and sprinkled his correspondence with observations on what he saw and heard about current events. By happenstance, a number of dramatic incidents unfolded before him. A trip to scout for property in New Jersey took Raymond to New York City in the secession winter of 1860-1861, just as president-elect Abraham Lincoln passed through on his way to Washington, D.C. Later in the spring, as war fever mounted, Raymond witnessed the determined Unionist sentiment that gripped the city of New York. John Raymond’s exact whereabouts for much of the war years are impossible to know, given the sparseness of his surviving correspondence. But in the winter and spring of 1863-1864 he traveled on business to Beaufort, in Federal-controlled eastern North Carolina. It was here that Raymond heard chilling reports of the aftermath of the bloody Battle of Plymouth, where victorious Confederate forces allegedly butchered African-American and white North Carolina Unionist troops who had surrendered. This news Raymond deplored, in part because he imagined anti-war “Copperheads” in the North Country, like their compatriots in the South, would celebrate this latest disaster to Federal arms.
John Raymond’s Civil War-era letters are one small part of the vast outpouring of sentiment and information that characterizes the correspondence of the American citizenry during these trying times. It is our hope that the transcriptions and interpretive essays archived here will contribute to our understanding of this important passage in American history.