Thursday, August 30, 2018

Searching for Charles Plummer Tidd

Taking a few days of annual leave from work I was able to spend a good deal of that time enjoying the beautiful ocean scenery at Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Before setting out on the trip, and as I often do, I searched for some intriguing historic sites to potentially visit either on the way down or the way back.

Remembering that my route led through New Bern, I recalled that I had once read that one of John Brown's raiders was buried there. Doing a quick internet search I located on that Charles Plummer Tidd was buried there in Section 8, Plot 40. That seemed easy enough. I had been to enough national military cemeteries to know that finding the grave with that information in hand should be no problem. Well . . . .

First, though, a little bit of background information on Tidd: Born in Palermo, Maine in 1834, Tidd migrated to Kansas in a party of free state settlers with Dr. Calvin Cutter of Worchester, Massachusetts in 1856. While in Kansas Tidd met John Brown and they became fast friends. Tidd's active abolitionism was evidenced in his participation in a raid Brown conducted into Missouri, which eventually brought Canadian freedom to 11 enslaved individuals. 

Apparently eager to involve himself in Brown's grand plan to raid Virginia, but apparently unaware of the ultimate target of Harpers Ferry, Tidd traveled with Brown through various northern states and Canada in preparation for the adventure to the Old Dominion. He joined with Brown's tiny army gathering at the Kennedy farmhouse in rural southern Maryland in the summer of 1859. 

Once Tidd found out that Harpers Ferry was Brown's intended target, he flew into a rage and left the Kennedy farmhouse to visit his friend and co-raider John E. Cook for a week in Harpers Ferry. Brown had previously sent Cook ahead to covertly study to town. Eventually, Tidd returned and like the others, who doubted the Brown's plan recommitted themselves.

Shortly before the raid, and knowing the likelihood of being killed in the raid, Tidd wrote to his family: "This is perhaps the last letter you will ever receive from your son. The next time you hear from me, will probably be through the public prints, If we succeed the world will call us heroes; if we fail, we shall hang between the Heavens and the earth." Although committed to doing his part, on the other hand, Tidd seemed to have a sort of nonchalance about the raid. He wrote often to female friends across the North telling of the preparations for the mission, feeling he could trust them to keep it secret

The plan for the raid as far as it concerned Tidd what that he and Cook were to go ahead and cut telegraph wires in advance of Brown and eighteen other raiders. Three men were to stay in Maryland at the Kennedy farm: Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, and Francis Jackson Merriam, all three being the least psychically fit. 

Tidd, Cook, Aaron Stevens, and African American raiders, Lewis Leary, Sheilds Green, and Osborne Perry Anderson were then detailed to go capture Lewis Washington, George Washington's great grand nephew, who lived nearby. They did so bring with them a Washington pistol and sword. They then stopped at John Allstadt's Ordinary, taking more hostages and liberating six slaves. 

Early on the morning of the 17th, Tidd was detailed by Brown to go back into Maryland capture another slaveholder named Byrne and then take Byrne's slaves and go to the Kennedy farmhouse and move forward firearms to an old log schoolhouse closer to Harpers Ferry. He did so, leaving the slaves guarding the weapons, Tidd returned to the Kennedy farmhouse.  There Tidd learned from Cook that the situation in Harpers Ferry was desperate. 

Tidd, Cook, Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc and Merriam decided to make their escape from the Kennedy farm rather than be captured or killed attempting to rescue the other raiders, so they made their way north through Maryland into southern Pennsylvania. Cook was captured near Chambersburg searching for food. The frail Merriam disguised himself and took the train north, while the others, including Tidd, continued the trek by foot. By November 24 they reached Centre County, Pennsylvania, and each went separate ways. Tidd went to Chatham, Canada.   

I was unable to learn how long Tidd remained in Canada, but he eventually found his way back to Massachusetts. He enlisted in Company K of the 21st Massachusetts on July 19, 1861 in Worchester, just west of Boston. Tidd, in order to maintain his true identity and thus association with Brown's raid, dropped his last name and enlisted as Charles Plummer. 

Tidd received promotion to 1st Sergeant of Company K on November 1 1861. The following winter, the 21st Massachusetts received orders to participate in the coastal operations at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, being conducted by Gen. Ambrose Burnside. They embarked on the ship Northerner, and soon after landing Tidd died of enteritis, an inflammation of the bowels on February 7, 1862. The 21st Massachusetts regimental history states that Dr. Cutter, the man Tidd followed to Kansas and later became the 21st's surgeon, attended to Tidd and that the good doctor's daughter and regimental nurse, Miss Carrie E. Cutter, closed Tidd's eyes in death. 

The regimental history of the 21st Massachusetts also says that Miss Cutter died on March 24 of spotted fever: "Her body was carried to Roanoke Island and buried by the side of her admired friend, Seargent Charles Plummer Tidd, the heroic companion of John Brown, whose eyes she closed so sadly during the battle of Roanoke Island." (page 83).

New Bern National Cemetery was established on February 1, 1867, and contains the Union dead reinterred from the coastal war-time battlefield cemeteries like New Bern, Morehead City, and Beaufort, as well as those who died of disease in the area hospitals.

I arrived at the New Bern National Cemetery on a sunny, hot, and humid day excited to find Tidd's grave. Near the entrance is an enclosed box containing a list in alphabetical order of the known interments and their plot numbers. I thought it would be best to consult the list. First checking for Tidd, and then Plummer, I only came up with a Charles E. Plummer, who had served in an artillery unit and had died in 1864, not 1862. I began to feel a little doubtful.

However, still determined, I went ahead a used the information I found online and located section 8, but there was not a plot number 40. I then went through all of section 8's graves and did not find a Tidd or Plummer. I finally went to the far back of the cemetery and found plot 40, but it, too, was not a Tidd or Plummer. 

The cemetery office appeared to be closed, so I was unable to find additional help. But, despite my disappointment in not locating Tidd's grave, I was buoyed somewhat by several beautiful monuments to the Union dead in the cemetery. One, pictured above, is dedicated to the Massachusetts troops buried there, of which there appeared to be hundreds.

On the monument's side it lists several regiments of Bay State troops, including Tidd's 21st Massachusetts. So, although I did not find Tidd's individual grave site, I still felt that the search was worth it, and in some small way is a my tribute to a man who ultimately gave his life in the service of his country and for an honorable goal.


  1. Tim, thank you for this insight on Charles P Tidd. His sister, Susan Caroline Tidd married my great, great grandfather Elhanan Winchester Clark and they are buried in Union Cemetery in Livermore, Humboldt county, Iowa along my parents and many of my Clark relatives.
    Harry Dolder

  2. Thanks for the fascinating bit of history! I found my way here researching his sister, Evelyn Elizabeth Plummer (née Tidd), whose grave is not but a mile from where I live. One minor detail with which I am intrigued: the name change. Evelyn never married, but in 1864, at age 30, took legal action to change her surname from "Tidd" to "Plummer." Perhaps there was some wish to dis-associate herself from her family of origin. An account of her life says that she left home at age 12 to find her way in the world. But I am suspicious that she, and probably brother Charles, had actually become part of the household of their older sister, Martha, who had married Acton Plummer before they were born and was raising a family of her own already. I do not believe that "Plummer" was part of Charles' original given name.

  3. You're welcome. And thank you for the additional information!

  4. It is possible that he was able to hang out in Canada with members of the underground railroad that he knew from his time with the Quakers whom they stayed with in Springdale, Iowa while training for the raid on Harpers Ferry. I say this because my grandparents were Quakers and conductors of the John Brown freedom trail and the parents of a girl that he had a relationship with while there. This is also where they met the Coppoc brothers who went on the raid with them. I have a tintype of him that was given to her (Elizabeth Huntington Varney). I'm trying to find a good place to donate it too that will take good care of it.