Thursday, July 16, 2020
Thomas Bayley Fox, Jr., 1857. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryThomas Bayley Fox, Jr., 1857. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library

Archivists often remember the names and odd bits of information about people long dead. In October of 2018, I was at the Gettysburg National Military Park with my husband. The Gettysburg National Military Park is awe-inspiring. The battlefield has been preserved as the farm land it was, and one can follow the battle from where the first skirmish took place on the northwest side of town, past Little Round Top and through Devil's Den, beyond Pickett's Charge to the High-Water Mark, and up to Culp's Hill and Spangler's Spring. In the morning, when the mist dampens all sound, and at dusk when a thunderstorm rolls through, you can feel the past all around you.

Examining the monuments strung along the long-deserted battlefields, I was struck by the memorial to the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry near Spangler's Spring. We had tried to read all the Massachusetts monuments (there are at least 25 of them), looking for family names. This particular memorial featured the name of a Captain Thomas B. Fox. "That's funny," I thought, "I processed a collection with a Thomas B. Fox; and he was in Gettysburg in July 1863."    

Letter from Captain Thomas Bayley Fox, Jr. July 4, 1863. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryLetter from Captain Thomas Bayley Fox, Jr. July 4, 1863. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryCaptain Thomas B. Fox was born on February 2, 1839, in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Thomas Bayley Fox, Sr., and Feroline Walley Pierce Fox. He attended Harvard University (1860) and Harvard Law School (1862). Captain Thomas B. Fox joined the Union Army in August 1862; he was 23. Two of his brothers, Charles Barnard Fox and John Andrews Fox, also served in the Union Army. John and Thomas both served with the 2nd Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry. Charles was a major in the 55th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry; he resigned his commission as a colonel in 1865. Their other brother, George William Fox, was not able to serve in the military during the Civil War, but instead acted as secretary for the American Unitarian Association.

Their father, Thomas Bayley Fox, Sr., attended Boston Latin School, graduated from Harvard College (1828), attended Harvard Divinity School, and was ordained in 1831. He settled in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and served as minister of the Unitarian Church for 15 years.

Fast forward to April 2019. I was volunteering for an event in Memorial Hall, Harvard's grand testament to the alumni who served during the Civil War. In what is called the Memorial Transept, 28 tablets contain the names of the 136 Harvard alumni who died fighting for the Union Army, the names of the Union soldiers are listed by graduating class. I happened to be at a table across from the names from the Class of 1860, which includes Thomas Bayley Fox, Jr.

On July 3, 1863, Captain Thomas B. Fox's ankle was shattered, and sometime after his letter dated the 4th of July, he was sent home to his family, who now lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts, near Meeting House Hill. On July 10, 1863, Thomas's brother George William Fox wrote to Mary Susannah Poor (whom George would marry later that same year) to tell her that his brother Thomas had made it home.

Letter from George William Fox to Mary Susannah Poor, July 10, 1863. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryLetter from George William Fox to Mary Susannah Poor, July 10, 1863. Courtesy of Schlesinger LibraryThree weeks later, Captain Thomas B. Fox's wound had become infected, and unlike so many others who fell at the Battle of Gettysburg, he died at home with his family around him. His brother George wrote again to Mary Susannah Poor on July 26, 1863:

I fear my last letter but poorly prepared you for what I must now write. Yesterday afternoon Tom breathed his last. . . . I must now close my letter—a letter which I have found it harder to write, than any ever written before.

George and Mary would name their first child, born in 1864, Thomas Alfred Fox.

Eventually, Captain Thomas B. Fox's name was immortalized in stone, both in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and he was remembered 156 years later by the archivist who processed his family's papers. 

For more information on the Fox, Poor, Peirce, and Chandler families, see Additional Papers of the Poor Family.


Cat Lea Holbrook