[A New York City telegrapher’s Civil War era diaries.]. James W. Hawn.
[A New York City telegrapher’s Civil War era diaries.]
[A New York City telegrapher’s Civil War era diaries.]

[A New York City telegrapher’s Civil War era diaries.]

New York, New Jersey, 1862–1867. 6 vols, 32mo (4.5” x 3”), cloth and wrappers. Total of 835 pp. of manuscript, some of these pages devoted to annual expenses at the end of each book.

A lively group of six diaries kept by a telegrapher working in Manhattan during the Civil War, conjuring at times the war-time experience (e.g., the 1863 New York City draft riots) as it was lived in the city.

A native of Ohio, James W. Hawn (1836–1869) lived in Buffalo, NY in the mid-1850s but relocated to Manhattan by the time of the war. During the period covered by the present six annual volumes of his diary, Hawn works as “First Telegrapher” and clerk in the telegraph office of the Com Exchange on Broadway in Manhattan. The Com Exchange was a large banking and insurance company. Situated in the telegraph office, he was among the first persons in New York City to access business information from the West and that encouraged the speculative fevers in which he indulged.

Hawn’s diary begins in 1862, a period which sees his social activities encompass skating, church, theater (Niblo’s), fires, a dog show, concerts, and a gallery exhibiting Frederick Church’s “Heart of the Andes.” He is very fond of attending the opera (attending dozens over the course of these diaries). In Feb. 1862, he marries S. Madeleine Truesdell in Jersey City. His wife leaves for two months to Hillsdale (“a long two months”); “came to office at eleven, hot and a little blue at the loss I will experience for so long a time.” She does not return until ten weeks later, on Sept. 20. Hawn is a patriotic northerner, but occasionally expresses concern about government policies. When a large draft is announced on 4 Aug., he writes, “Oh, Liberty, Where art thou now?” In September, he visits Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Albany, staying at the Cataract House there. Back in the city, he finds “business brisk and Wall street rather panicky [in October]. Gold went to 29. Delightful state of affairs.” He pays a 33% premium for a $24 gold piece. A list of annual expenses accompanies each book; in 1862, he owes $1,692 for his wedding, $4 for a ring, salary, board, boot repairs, household expenses, etc. In Jan. 1863, he pays a 45% premium for a $10 gold piece, and at this time he becomes increasingly involved in speculating in gold and railroad stocks. In March he writes: “Panic in gold market as prices fell. This, with conscription, in a Republic??” However, on 15 May 1863, he is back: “Bought 5000 gold at 45.5.”

In the city, he sees performances by actress Kate Bateman, Buckley’s Minstrels, and musicians Gottschalk and Patti, and attends plays starring Edwin Booth and Edwin Forrest. His entries on the 1863 New York City draft riots include the following: (July 13) “Mobs assembled today in the 19th Ward to resist the draft. Our wires torn down this PM. Some confusion in city”; (July 14) “Mob not yet dispersed. Mob in ascendant. Plunder is the chief object”; (July 15) “No stages or cars running, wires still all down. Many lives [have] been lost, buildings burnt.” In August, he “close[s] out my [Michigan] Southern [Railroad stock] at a heavy loss, as Mortley could not take it. A lesson of experience not to have any dealings with shysters. Losing between 3 and 400 dollars this week is not a pleasing ending of the week.” Later in the year, Hawn takes a vacation to Albany, Buffalo, Syracuse, and the Falls again. He learns in August that the draft had taken place in the 16th Ward: “I escaped.”

1864 sees Hawn speculate in stock, principally railroad stock (Fort Wayne, Rock Bland, Illinois Central, Erie) and also in gold. On May 18 he writes: “Gold opened at 84, on bogus report in The World [newspaper]. What are we coming to?” Hawn witnesses and participates in the 1864 gold run-up and panic. He writes in June: “Everything and everybody excited. Gold sold as high as 230. Goods all advancing rapidly. Money very tight. Stock all of this P.M. 2 to 5 percent.” War news and especially rumors are discussed. Hawn’s father, who had been in South Carolina in some type of government business, dies in Apr. 1864 at Augur General Hospital, a military hospital in Alexandria, VA. The elder Hawn “died of chills and fever contracted by exposure to inclement weather.” He is buried in Zanesville, Ohio, with James in attendance at the funeral. On 12 May 1864, George M. Hawn, James and Madeline’s son, is born. Hawn himself was slightly built, writing in this year that he weighs only 108.5 pounds “in shirt sleeves.” Nevertheless, he grows interested in playing baseball, attending a match game between Mutual and Eagles at Hoboken, New Jersey. The former team wins “handsomely.” He soon joins the Eagles, paying $5.75 dues, $1.87 for a baseball cap, and $1.25 for a ball. They practiced as Hoboken’s Elysian Field and played a variety of other clubs including Eureka, Active, Gotham, Mutual, and Brooklyn’s Atlantic (now the Los Angeles Dodgers). He also umpires on at least one occasion.

“The President died this morning,'' Hawn writes on 15 Apr. 1865; “Secy. Seward. very low. Gloom very intense. All business suspended today. Broadway being draped in mourning and buildings generally following.” On the following day he notes, “the events of Friday night and subsequent death of the President is the theme of talk—every one feeling somber over the sad and shocking assassination. A nation mourns the untimely loss of a good man, and History will honor him.” He adds: “The unanimity of feeling is very great against Enemies of our Government.” Hawn had moved to an address on Essex St. in Jersey City, NJ by this time. He visits auctions to buy furniture and paintings and succeeds in getting a parlor suite of Rosewood on one occasion—plus some artwork. He hears Henry Ward Beecher preach on two occasions (Hawn and his wife had been confirmed recently in the Episcopalian Church). The couple travel west this year, making a visit to Pittsburgh (“very dirty city, reminds me of Zanesville”). Foreshadowing his future health crises, he notes in Nov. 1865, that he had an episode of bleeding from the lungs. From 1866 to 1867, Hawn’s interest in cultural events continues. He sees Edwin Booth at the Winter Garden on 11 Jan. 1866—only a few days after Booth’s return to the stage following his withdrawal from acting following his brother John’s assassination of Lincoln. He also sees John Deery in a championship billiard match with William Goldthwaite of Boston at Cooper’s Union. (Deery was the nation’s 1865 billiard champion and maintained a saloon above Grover’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., where he was personal friends with John Wilkes Booth.) Hawn glimpses General U.S. Grant several times, and attends the Brooklyn church of Henry Ward Beecher on several occasions. He contributes $25 to the Gettysburg battlefield monument fund.

His stock speculations continued and he added government bonds into the mix, although he admits he sometimes invests “like a jackass." Hawn is fond of Western Union but believed it was “a poor stock to speculate in—not active and bearish on the Street, although cheap enough in comparison with others.” He buys his wife a $134 cluster diamond ring, but reverses late in the year lead him to write: “Have met with the poorest success this year I ever had and can congratulate myself upon being out a year’s salary, which amount to one year’s labor thrown away. Hawn suffers in the panic of January 1867: “stocks excited and panicky. Failure reported. Heavy sales of Erie and other stocks amid great excitement.” After a serious illness, his weight drops to 97.5 lbs. “Growing daily more feeble.” Hawn dies in Jersey City, NJ in 1869. “One of the oldest and most skillful of our telegraphic brotherhood, Hawn died at his house in Jersey City, N.J., on Sabbath afternoon, May 20th. Mr. Hawn has been in poor health for some time.” —Journal of the Telegraph (1869).

REFERENCES: Journal of the Telegraph, vol. 2, no. 12, (New York, June 1, 1869), p. 151; New York Times, Feb. 13, 1862.

CONDITION: Some detaching of covers and loose pages; contents generally clean, no losses to the text.

Item #6835


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