The bulk of the Charles Cummings papers consists of letters he wrote to his wife during his service in the Civil War. The dates of these letters are from October 28, 1862, to his last letter dated September 30, 1864. One letter by Lt. Cummings written to his daughter Lizzie on May 2, 1864, survives. One exceptionally interesting letter dated October 2, 1864, sent to Mrs. Cummings reports him as wounded and captured by the enemy. Although reported to have been “killed in action” there is no official notice of his death in this data.
Charles Cummings was born at Royalston, Massachusetts, February 6, 1821. He studied medicine, and in 1847 received a medical diploma from the Vermont Medical College in Woodstock, Vermont. He practiced his profession in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, for three years. Cummings moved to Brattleboro in 1850 and found work as an accountant. In 1852 he became co-publisher of The Semi-Weekly Eagle. In 1853 and 1854 he was co-publisher of The Brattleboro Eagle. Cummings later became publisher of The Vermont Phoenix, a position he held until his death. In 1855 he was appointed Clerk of the Vermont State Agricultural Society, a position he held until 1861. In 1858, Cummings was elected Clerk of the Vermont House of Representatives and was re-elected three more times to the post. Cummings married Elizabeth Reynolds of Boston, Massachusetts on June 27, 1857. The union produced two children, Charles and Lizzie.
Cummings enlisted as a private in Company E, 11th Vermont Regiment, and was chosen first lieutenant of Company E on August 14, 1862. He was elected lieutenant colonel of the 16th Vermont Regiment on September 27, 1862. On February 9, 1864, he transferred to the 17th Vermont Regiment where he remained until his death in the fall of 1864.
The facts surrounding Cummings death are somewhat muddy. The Daily Free Press of October 14, 1864, reports that Cummings was wounded on September 30, 1864. On October 21, 1864, the Vermont Phoenix described Cummings as having been wounded and taken prisoner on Friday September 30, 1864. The same article states: “A letter from Dr. Edson, Surgeon of the regiment received by Mrs. Cummings on Monday, the 10th inst., says that a Petersburg paper states that Col. Cummings was found among the dead on the battlefield.” His obituary, published on October 31, 1864, contains a statement that his last words were “Save the colors boys,” but there were no eyewitness reports to verify that the colonel issued these colorful last words.
The Charles Cummings letters presented here are part of a larger collection of papers known as the Charles Cummings papers, 1857-1873 (MSA 28).