Civil-War era letters discovered at Bates

During the recent renovation of a Bates-owned house on 31 Frye St. in Lewiston, construction workers discovered six Civil-War era letters exchanged between former Lewiston resident Uriah Balkam and his wife, Annie. Balkam was the chaplain for the 16th Maine Regiment during the Civil War. He suffered from nephritis, and the letters detail his unsuccessful efforts to petition his commanding officers, Colonel Tilden and Brigadier General Crawford, for a 20-day disability leave. One letter was written from the battlefield near Petersburg, Va., where Balkam describes his failing health, Union troop movements and the chilling sound of brisk musketry fire. The heartbreak of a wife left behind is evident in one of Annie’s letters to Balkam, in which she wrote, “I never wanted to see you in my life more than I do at this moment.”

Balkam survived the war and returned to Lewiston, where he was a pastor at the Congregational Church on Pine St. from 1855 to 1870. A graduate of Amherst College and the Bangor Theological Seminary, Balkam later received an honorary doctoral degree from Bates in 1867 and became the Cobb Professor of Logic and Christian Evidences at Bates from 1873-1874. He died on March 4, 1874, when he was thrown from his horse on his way to the college. After Balkam’s death, the editor of The Bates Student newspaper wrote: “His liberality of spirit and freedom from all forms of bigotry, combined with great earnestness of purpose, made him a very effective preacher.”

Kurt Kuss, special collections librarian at Bates, transcribed the letters and has a photograph of Balkam available to the press. In addition to historical information on the 16th Maine Regiment, Kuss has Balkam’s death notice and a lengthy article about Balkam that appeared in an 1874 issue of the college newspaper, The Bates Student. The transcriptions of the letters, articles and historical account are available from Kuss. A photograph of Balkam is available from the Office of College Relations.

Marcel Cyr, construction-site supervisor from Ouellet Associates in Brunswick, Maine, hand delivered the letters to Kuss. Cyr is available to discuss in specific detail how the letters were found in a second-floor wall that members of his crew were renovating.

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