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Michael R. Carroll papers

Scope & content

The Michael R. Carroll papers consist of three seemingly unrelated groups of material : the documents concerning Carroll’s pension as a veteran of the Civil War, letters written to Carroll by Victor D. Chambers and the book, Born at the Battlefield by Carroll’s great granddaughter. The common link between these parts is Michael R. Carroll’s service in the 73rd New York Volunteers at Gettysburg and the catalyst was an article in the Providence Evening Bulletin published on May 13, 1931.

Carroll’s pension documents include his original application for a copy of his discharge papers on August 6, 1885, the attached response from the State of New York Adjutant-General’s office dated August 12, 1885 and a series of increases granted from 1915 to 1926. Presumably his original pension was granted a short time after the passage of the Sherwood Act in 1912 which provided for pensions for all veterans, not just those injured in battle.

Chamber’s letters, written in a florid hand on paper probably available to him as a janitor in the Providence Public School Department, were prompted by a pre-Memorial Day interview with the then 91 year old Carroll, who had been at the Battle of Gettysburg. Chambers, who was born on the battlefield of Gettysburg to a fugitive slave, was moved by the article to write Carroll and relay his mother’s experiences and to thank him for his role in freeing the slaves. These letters were written in May and June of 1931 and from the context it is possible to learn that there were other letters, now lost, at least one of which was from Carroll to Chambers and face to face meetings between the two men.

Born at the Battlefield, the book in the collection, is by Harriette Rinaldi, Carroll’s great granddaughter. In it she examines Chambers' letters very closely and stretches their contents to construct an outline of Chambers’ mother’s life, Chambers’ life and a picture of slavery in the United States just prior to the Civil War. The book was published in 2004 and contains a picture of Carroll in his uniform in 1862, facsimiles of Chambers’ letters, pictures of veterans reconstructing the Battle of Gettysburg on the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1913, and background on Blacks in Dahomy (Benin), which Rinaldi concluded is relevant to the beliefs and customs of African Americans of Chambers' background. The book also includes a large bibliography of both secondary and primary sources.