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Who Butted Whom with a Gun? A Letter Sheet Mystery from 1886

Between August 23, 1886 and June 30, 1894, the US Post Office issued a 2-cent letter sheet with an imprinted stamp that depicted Ulysses S. Grant. The Civil War general and US President died on July 23, 1885. In the US Scott Catalog, this letter sheet has the number U293.

This particular example (Figures 1 and 2) was postmarked in Putnam, Connecticut on September 28, 1886, and arrived at the receiving post office in Middletown, Connecticut, a distance of just 60 miles, on September 29, 1886.

The message on the inside of the letter sheet (Figure 3) reads:

Dear Sir

Comrade Johnson cannot make affidavit to injury to McShane from blow from but of gun neither can Comrade Grant.

They do not know how, when or where he received injury.

I will try to find someone else in his Co. if I can.

Yours truly,

Edgar M. Warner


Sep. 28. /86

Today, the term "comrade" has a negative connotation. It brings forth images of sinister communists ready to strike at the heart of capitalism and the United States, or of their fellow travelers, the socialists! There certainly were socialists in 19th century America. Indeed, a socialist newspaper called the Workmen's Advocate was published in New Haven, Connecticut in 1886, and it made liberal use of the title "comrade."

On the other hand, "comrade" also is used in military circles. In the 19th century, for example, when veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic would meet, they would often address one another as "comrade."

I don't know the context for the use of "comrade" in this short letter, but clearly someone by the name of McShane got knocked in the head with the butt of a gun, and no one seemed to be willing to name the guilty party! I wish I could learn more of what transpired, but no such luck.

I found plenty of information about the identities of the sender and recipient of this missive, however.

The sender was a Putnam-based lawyer by the name of Edgar Morris Warner. He was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1872. He worked for a lawyer in Norwich, Connecticut before opening his own office in Putnam in 1885. He served in the Connecicut legislative and was even considered a candidate for speaker in the mid 1890s. He passed away in 1928 at age 78 and was buried at Grove Street Cemetery in Putnam.

The letter sheet recipient was Clarence Everett Bacon (Figure 4). He was born in Middletown in 1856, graduated from Wesleyan University in 1878, and was admitted to the bar in 1882. He was prominent member of the community and served on a number of boards. He passed away in 1909 at age 52 from kidney disease and was buried in Indian Hill Cemetery in Middletown.

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3 - Letter content

Figure 4 - Clarence Bacon

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