Clay, David – “Only A Soldier”

David Clay —enlisted and mustered in on 10 Feb 1865 for one year at age 19 as a Private in Company H, 18th Infantry.  He mustered out 16 June 1865 after fighting in two battles during the last year of the War: the Battle at Fort Stedman, and the Siege of Petersburg.  He was born and resided in Newmarket; however, he was credited to Barrington.  During his service of 4 months and 6 days he was engaged in hard-fought battles on 25 and 29 Mar 1865 at Fort Stedman, VA.; and between 30 March  3 April 1865 at Petersburg, VA.

Battle of Fort Stedman March, and the Siege of Petersburg, April 2, 1865 

Confederate General Robert E. Lee makes Fort Stedman his last attack of the war in a desperate attempt to break out of Petersburg, Virginia. The attack failed, and within a week Lee was evacuating his positions around Petersburg.  Early in the morning of March 25, some 11,000 Rebels hurled themselves at the Union lines. They overwhelmed the surprised Yankees at Fort Stedman and captured 1,000 yards of trenches. Rebel soldiers overran two regimental encampments located nearby, and many of the sleepy Federals were clubbed down as they staggered from their tents in alarm and panic.  After daylight, however, the Confederate momentum waned and Union reinforcements arrived to turn the tide. The Rebels were unable to hold the captured ground, and were driven back to their original position.

(photo: gun batteries at Fort Stedman)

The Union lost around 1,000 men killed, wounded, and captured, while Lee lost probably three times that number, including some
1,500 captured during the retreat. Already outnumbered, these loses were more than Lee’s army could bear.  Lee wrote to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that it would be impossible to maintain the Petersburg line much longer. On March 29, Grant began his offensive, and Petersburg fell on April 3. Two weeks after the Battle of Fort Stedman, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

(photos: Petersburg in ruins, Union forces enter the evacutaed City)

With Confederate defeat at Five Forks on April 1, Grant and Meade ordered a general assault against the Petersburg lines on April 2. A heroic defense of Fort Gregg by a handful of Confederates prevented the Federals from entering the city that night.  Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill was 
killed trying to reach his troops in the confusion.  After dark, Lee ordered the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond. Grant had achieved one of the major military objectives of the war: the capture of Petersburg, which led to the fall of Richmond, the Capitol of the Confederacy.


A retired soldier’s life and death

In the 1860 and 1880 census David Clay lives with his parents Mark and Lucinda Clay and worked the Lee Road family farm.  The Town directory of 1872 lists him as a laborer living on Haley Avenue.  He married Emma Moody on 18 Oct 1873 in Newmarket; however by the 1880 census she and her 7 month old daughter, Hattie, moved back to her parents’ home in Tamworth, NH.  When Emma died on 20 Dec 1884, she was residing back in Newmarket.  David is listed as receiving a $24 monthly pension for disability by 1890.  David was by all accounts a hard worker.  He was well liked, and much respected in town.  He was active in the church as well as serving in various positions with the G.A.R., and by the 1910 census he is 65 years old, retired, divorced and living alone on the family farm.  He had a period of failing health, and in Oct 1910 he moved to the Soldiers Home in Tilton, before being admitted to the “insane asylum in Concord” where he died shortly thereafter.

The following articles written by the editor of the Newmarket Advertiser follow the course of David Clay’s demise —

ONLY A SOLDIER – (Oct 21, 1910)

If there is one in the village who enlisted at the time David Clay enlisted, I am sure the veteran will read with interest of a comrade’s condition.   For many days, weeks and months a citizen of Newmarket kindly provided him with a place free of charge under the roof which sheltered John J. and Capt. Albert J. Hanson in childhood.  During the summer months the sick man failed so rapidly,  he was advised to leave and go to 141 Fleet Street in Portsmouth to be cared for by his daughter Hattie.

(photo: post card of NH Soldiers’ Home, Titon, NH)

On October 6th, with papers hard earned, and much needed money, I wended my way to their humble quarters.  While steadying the feeble man’s mark, and to the question “were the hours long?”  He replied, “I am constantly thinking, thinking of 1864”.    On October 16th, we started out early in the day, and at 3 pm, Comrade Collis of Portsmouth, N.H. kindly granted us an emergency permit and we continued on.  But long before our day’s work for the sufferer was finished, the shadows of twilight fell around us.  Oct 18, Commander Frank A. Brackett left on the early train for Rockingham to assist in taking the old soldier to the home provided at Tilton, NH, for those we honor more and more as the years go by.  It is said in 25 years the last veteran will have laid aside of 1861, 2, 3, 4 and 5.  Listen, heaven will be a good place to go to, just to run across the honored brave.


October 20th, Major William H. Trickey, Commander of the Soldiers’ Home at Tilton N.H., spoke very tenderly through the phone of the sick veteran (David Clay) taken there Tuesday, Oct. 18.  The following letter was received by A.J. Wattterson, Oct 22:

Tilton, Oct 21, 1910 — Dear Sir – I assure you that I consider you acted in the name of humanity and had I felt warranted in keeping the unfortunate comrade I would have gladly have done so.  But in his pitiful condition it seemed the humane thing to send him to the State Hospital, where there is every facility for kindly caring for him.  The poor fellow was taken to Concord by our hospital steward Friday afternoon.  Hoping that liberal arrangements can be made with the State Hospital for his support, I am – Very Respectfully, Wm H. Trickey.

 DEATH OF A VETERAN  - (Nov 4, 1910)

On Monday afternoon, in a room tidily arranged and where at sight of the flag the heart is as quickly reached as in a palace, Rev, William Ramsden, pastor of the Federated churches, with officers of the George A. Post, G.A.R., conducted an appropriate funeral service, which was attended by veterans and friends of David Clay, who suddenly died at the State Hospital on Friday, the 29th.  Cause of death, a general weakening of strength, with slight confusion of mind, which went with the senile condition from which he suffered.