By Tom Taber
Cora Beach was born September 11, 1838,
in Penfield, NY. Daughter of Rochester pioneers Elias and Maria
Vosburgh Beach, she received her "High School" education at the
highly regarded Phipps Union Seminary in Albion, a village on
the Erie Canal 35 miles west of Rochester. When she was 16, her
parents and three younger siblings joined her in Albion, sharing
a large house with oldest sister Maria and her lawyer husband
Cora married Oliver Charles "Charlie"
Benton the day before her 19th birthday, and daughter Belle was
born about a year later. They led a happy, rather quiet existence
until late August 1862, when Charlie decided to enlist in the
newly forming 17th New York Volunteer Light Artillery. Cora's
letters begin less than a month later. For Cora, being left alone
to raise a 4 year old daughter was one thing; being left while
seven months pregnant quite another!
Cora's early letters are filled with
anguish, caused by her longing for Charlie, but also by the fact
that he had never opened his heart to Christ. Cora believed that
there was a greater probability of her never seeing Charlie again
than of his returning safely to her - if she couldn't be sure
of seeing him again in this life, she wanted to be sure of seeing
him in the next!
As time passed and her new baby boy
became less dependent upon her, Cora sought ways to supplement
the meager (and months late) army pay Charlie received. She had
to change, in her words, from being "a child to lead" to "a partner
to walk with."
In the spring of 1864, her older sister
Emma asked her "Why not try to get 12 little girls to teach this
summer?" Acting on this gave her life a new focus, took her mind
off her loneliness, and brought in a modest yet helpful addition
to the family income.
By reading the 160 letters (approximately
300,000 words), one gains a clearer understanding of civilian
life in the North during our nation's conflict. Cora, an "Odd
Fellow" who had taken an oath to help the sick whenever the need
arose, spent several sleepless nights with a neighbor family battling
Typhoid Fever, when others stayed away fearing contracting the
disease themselves. She saved the life of at least one of the
family's teenage daughters.
At the start of her letters, Cora's
brothers Howard (16) and Valentine ("Vallie") 13 are either attending
school or taking temporary employment.; in less than a year and
a half, both are soldiers; one a hero, the other flirting with
an arrest for desertion. Cora also keeps Charlie apprised of developments
of another nature - sister Ella is betrothed, but as Cora says,
"Being engaged to one and loving another better isn't as pleasant
as it might seem."
Having spent so much time with Cora
and her thoughts, I now think of her as a friend, regardless of
the fact that she died 50 years before I was born. I believe that
any reader would grow to love Cora for her humor, her humanity,
her perseverance, and the fortitude and faith that saw her through
the nearly 3 years of her husband's absence during those "hard
|Tom Taber of Albion, NY has spent his spare
time the last four years researching Cora and the nearly
500 people mentioned in the letters she wrote to her soldier
husband Charlie from 1862-1865. "Hard Breathing Days - The
Civil War Letters of Cora Beach Benton" has just been published
as an E-book. See www.ajmorris.com/roots/catalog/0258.htm
for further info.