Sutton Massachusetts

Town of Sutton
Historical Society

by Paul Brosnihan and Timothy Brosnihan

We were spending a few hours at the Sutton Historical Society’s Museum working on a labeling project and began to realize most of the Civil War items were labeled in handwriting in a style of another age and it began to dawn on us that someone named Herbert Kimball had donated most of the items in the Civil War display and had written labels with a personal touch and signature.

Comfort bag, 1862. This bag was made and presented to me by my grandmother, Mrs. Amanda N. Peck. Made of French Calico at $1.00 per yard. Needle in it placed there by her in 1862. Presented by Herbert A. Kimball.” From that handwritten label, we looked to the others showing Herbert Kimball’s handwriting and began to see a pattern of the thoughts of the one who donated his personal items he had kept from the Civil War. Unlike most museum labels, we were seeing personal ones written from a personal attachment to each item.

We looked from label to label and object after object and Herbert Kimball’s presence in the past began to be more and more evident. The old gray metal canteen was labeled, “This canteen was carried by Herbert A. Kimball.” And then we saw the photograph of a young Union soldier there in the case and it was Herbert Kimball himself looking up and out at us across more than a hundred years. Our search for Herbert Kimball began that afternoon and continued into several months.

Initially our intent was to find the grave of Mr. Kimball, the Sutton Civil War soldier and veteran, and that search led us through Sutton’s Cemetery Commissioner, Town Clerk, and walking tours of all of Sutton’s old cemeteries. Birth records in the Town Clerk’s office gave us the birth date of Herbert Allston Kimball of February 15, 1847 and the names of Andrew L. Kimball and Alvira Kimball. Occupation of father - shoemaker. Our cemetery searches both on foot and by phone led us to Sutton, Millbury and eventually Worcester. We found no evidence of where Mr. Kimball had been buried. We met many people in Millbury, Sutton and Worcester and we viewed a hundred and more graves of Civil War veterans or those who were killed in that war but couldn’t find Herbert, or H.A.K. as we began to call him in our talks about him. His final resting place eluded us for months but his life began to take on understanding.

At a great war meeting in July, 1862, at the old Congregational Church in Sutton, Mass., I, Herbert A. Kimball, fifteen years of age, enlisted for the war of Rebellion, 1861-65. I remember well walking over the back of the pews bare-footed, amid the applause of some and the smiles of others at the absurdity of a boy of my age going to war. I also recall what seemed to me a great crowd of people, the enthusiasm of the speakers, the excitement, drums beating, flags flying, and everybody enthusiastic. With twenty other young men of the town we enrolled in Company F, 36 Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers.”

You see, we later found that Herbert Kimball’s memoirs of the Civil War were on the shelves of documents stored in the Sutton Historical Society’s Museum and you just read his initial words of his twenty-five pages of his own story of his experiences in the Union Army. In the summer of 1925, Kimball’s account was written in Worcester entitled “Experiences in the Civil War of Sergeant Herbert Allston Kimball.” By this time he was in his seventies and ill with heart disease as can be gathered from cards of correspondence found in the original and most likely only copy of his typed memoirs. By then he was a widower and his children, both sons, had preceded him in death. His youngest son, Frank Peck Kimball, was buried from Worcester’s Pilgrim Congregational Church with a large military funeral as he was the first Worcester boy to die during the Spanish-American War.

A “by chance” discovery during our search in the Worcester Public Library was a history of Worcester book which gave accounts of past Worcester leaders in various fields. Thumbing through it, the name Herbert Allston Kimball stood out. There it was, an update, at least for 1919, of Mr. Kimball in Charles Nutt’s, “History of Worcester and its People.” Details of Mr. Kimball’s life after his return from the Civil War were there before us in the biography in the “History of Worcester and its People.”

After two months of searching, we now knew details of Herbert Kimball’s life and family from the time of his growing up in Sutton and his service in the Civil War years. But his burial place eluded us for another month. Clues in the “History of Worcester and its People” led us to Hope Cemetery. Our note of January 26, Thursday reads, “Around 2 P.M. a phone call to the unlisted number of Hope Cemetery led to “Herbert A. Kimball is buried in Hope Cemetery Lot 2946, Section 29.” We found him at last!

We were quiet on our drive to Hope Cemetery, keeping to ourselves. We had a few minutes more of our search once we were at Section 29 before we found Lot 2946. And there it was, the large marker of the Kimball family. Around it were six smaller grave markers with raised initials. We read each and came to Herbert A. Kimball’s marker. We stood there.

Neither of us had to ask the other, “Did you say a prayer for him and his family.”

Sutton Historical Society Webpage