Consequences Of The Skirmish At Lewis Farm, March 29, 1865


Four pregnancies. The third nearly killed my grandmother, and as Dr. Worcester observed, the fourth was so predictably unpromising that “she could not be persuaded to provide a stitch of baby clothing.” Wouldn’t any reasonable husband and wife have stopped trying for a baby at that point? There were ways to avoid or at least sharply decrease the chance of another pregnancy. I find it difficult to believe that she was willing to undergo another ordeal such as the four she had already passed through. I find it easy to believe that it was my grandfather who was willing to gamble again. For him there was the reward of immediate physical satisfaction and the prestige of having, in a way obvious to the community, again performed his function successfully.

Dr. Worcester declared to my father’s mother and father that he would not attempt her delivery again except by cesarean section. Their reaction was to conceal her next pregnancy from him until the eighth month. By then, wrote Dr. Worcester, she was “in a most miserable condition, anemic, extremities swollen, coughing continuously, pulse weak and always over 100.” Again he insisted on cesarean delivery and, when they again demurred, retired from the case.

On June 8, 1892, the two doctors to whom the Crosbys had turned summoned Dr. Worcester to help in the delivery. Ella had been in labor for thirty hours, and everyone was willing to resort to cesarean delivery. Dr. Worcester made an eight-inch incision. The hemorrhage was so “terrific” that the baby was hard to find.

Dr. Worcester completed the delivery successfully, closed the wound with about twenty deep silk sutures, and buried that deep row with a row of fine sutures. My grandmother suffered nausea and pain, successfully treated with morphine. Her temperature was high for a week, and her pulse above 120 most of the time, but she was able to retain champagne and, soon after, meat juice and milk with limewater. She nursed the baby after the second day, and the baby, my father, “throve finely.”

I know nothing about the relationship between my father and his mother, but I am sure that it was claustrophobic. She had only one child in return for more than forty months of difficult pregnancies, and that child, as we shall see, proved to be the only dependable and for years the only resident male in her immediate family. She must have demanded considerable attention, and how could the boy deny the womb that had been rent from top to bottom, that had filled to the brim with blood for him, for him? I compare my father’s attempts to grow up with those of a seedling trying to lift a boulder. He moved the boulder a bit but never toppled it, never caught a direct ray of sunshine.

I never saw my father’s mother and very rarely heard mention of her. She died at age sixtyeight, a year after my birth. Much later he arranged for a large boulder to be placed on her grave in Vermont with a plaque. I think we visited her grave when I was a child, but I am not sure.


It never entered my mind to ask my father about his father, Charles Turner Crosby, until I was forty or so. Charles, according to his son, deserted his family and went West before the son was fully grown. He married again or at least acquired a new companion. She wrote my father to come West to join them. He never answered the letter and, sixty years afterward, appeared to be still horrified by the invitation—as if tempted. After a while my grandfather returned East, either with his new companion and a son or alone with the son. I know nothing more of the woman. The son, whom I as a child met two or three times, was eastern Mediterranean in appearance and resembled my English-Irish-Scottish father not at all.

Charles Turner Crosby, my grandfather, lived to be eighty-seven, not dying until I was seven years old. I never met him. I have no idea where he was buried. No one ever spoke directly to me about him until my interrogation of my father cited above. I learned little enough from that, but enough to know what and who blighted my father.

Now, presuming that an effect must have a cause (an essential presumption for a historian), I wondered what had made a scoundrel of Charles Turner Crosby. Did he, too, have a dreadful father, a tormented mother? All that my father could tell me of them was that she had lived on a federal pension of twelve dollars per quarter, paid to her as the widow of Elisha P. Crosby, who died in the Civil War.

My father had the details wrong. Sarah, Elisha’s widow, was paid by the month, not the quarter: eight dollars a month, plus two dollars each for her children, for a total of fourteen dollars. Payment for the individual children ceased as each reached sixteen years of age. Charles reached that age in December of the year of his father’s death. At the time of Sarah’s death in 1908 she was getting twelve dollars a month, so adjustments must have been made later.

Elisha was forty years old (my age when I asked my father about Charles) when he joined the New York 185th Infantry Regiment in the summer of 1864. He had brown hair, dark eyes, and fair skin. He was five feet five and a half inches in height, short for a man who lived in the countryside rather than unsanitary Boston or Philadelphia or New York. My hair is dark brown, or was before it turned white. My eyes aren’t dark, but my skin is fair and I, too, am short.