Letter from MHQ, Winter 2012

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Folding Hand Mirror (front)  Belonged to: Corp. William H. Frazier. From: Rossie, New York. Served with: the 142nd Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865, ages 15-18. Carried through: Petersburg, Cold Harbor, and a dozen other Civil War battles.
Folding Hand Mirror (front) Belonged to: Corp. William H. Frazier. From: Rossie, New York. Served with: the 142nd Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865, ages 15-18. Carried through: Petersburg, Cold Harbor, and a dozen other Civil War battles.
The mirror’s glass—two inches wide by four inches tall—is oval, its 150-year-old silvering largely intact. Encased in a flat beech-wood frame polished smooth by many hands over many years, it is protected by an identical cover that swings open. Inscribed inside inmy grandmother’s distinctive hand is “Corp William H. Frazier, Co. A 142 Reg. Volunteers, Civil War Glass, Left from Ogdensburg New York.”

My great-grandfather was 15 when he packed his mirror and traveled to Ogdensburg to join the 142nd Regiment of New York Volunteer Infantry. Promoted to corporal in 1863, he slogged up and down the Mid-Atlantic seaboard, and was in the thick of the action at Petersburg and Cold Harbor, Virginia, and Fort Fisher, North Carolina, among a dozen or so major Civil War engagements. Of the 1,301 men who joined the regiment, 464 had been killed or wounded by war’s end. William Frazier was one of the lucky ones. Emerging unscathed, he mustered out in June 1865 and returned to New York to raise a large family and take up a long career in the logging industry.

His mirror, along with a tin-and-wood soap box he carried, made it home with him, then wended their way down through three generations, to me. They are a cherished, tangible testament to our warrior-ancestor’s inner life, comfort items that tethered him, however tenuously, to the home front, reminding him of what he was fighting for.

Twenty years ago, when I first read Tim O’Brien’s short story “The Things They Carried,” I was blown away by the ease with which he summoned Vietnam and its effect on the young soldiers fighting there, simply by sifting the stuff they carried into battle, whether talismans, weapons, or, as O’Brien wrote, “all the emotional baggage of men who might die.” William Frazier’s mirror has always held a similar power for me—what was the boy soldier thinking when he gazed into that glass before a day’s bloody battle?

We have pulled together a portfolio of things carried by other soldiers around the world, beginning on page 56. But these intriguing photographs cannot do justice to the breadth of items hauled into battle or the personal stories attached to them. So we invite you to help us build and share that visual legacy by visiting MHQ here and submitting photographs of things you or your relatives carried to war. We’ll publish your photo online, as well as the gist of the story behind it. Take a look—I’ll go first.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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