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Jaffrey

Direct link to history

The Great Rebellion: Jaffrey’s Olive Bourque shares memories of her uncle, William Henry Wilson

  • Olive Bourque, 90, shows a photo of herself at 11 years old with her parents on Mount Monadnock. Bourque had an uncle, William H. Wilson, who lived in New Ipswich and fought in the Civil War. Bourque was four when her uncle passed away.
  • Olive Bourque, 90, shows a photo of herself at eleven years old with her parents on Mount Monadnock. Bourque had an uncle, William H. Wilson, who lived in New Ipswich and fought in the Civil War. Bourque was four when her uncle passed away.
  • On the trail of Civil War veteran William Henry Wilson of New Ipswich.
  • On the trail of Civil War veteran William Henry Wilson of New Ipswich.
  • On the trail of Civil War veteran William Henry Wilson of New Ipswich.
  • On the trail of Civil War veteran William Henry Wilson of New Ipswich.
  • On the trail of Civil War veteran William Henry Wilson of New Ipswich.
  • On the trail of Civil War veteran William Henry Wilson of New Ipswich.
  • On the trail of Civil War veteran William Henry Wilson of New Ipswich.

Sometimes, the biggest battle is finding people who can connect us to defining moments in American history, like the Revolutionary, Civil and World Wars.

Someone like Olive Bourque, though, is one of those few people still living whose life intersected with a Civil War veteran. The lifelong Jaffrey resident, who was born on May 15, 1923, graduated from Conant High School, worked at places like, D.D. Bean & Sons and the Monadnock Inn, and attended the United Church of Jaffrey for 77 years. She had an uncle who served in the Civil War and was alive for her early years. Bourque’s father, Peter, was just 3 years old when Wilson went to war. According to Bourque, Peter later wished he had been old enough to go, too.

Bourque’s father’s much-older brother, William Henry Wilson, or “Uncle Henry” to Bourque, was born in New Ipswich in 1840. He fought with the 13th New Hampshire Regiment during the Civil War, and afterwards moved around New Hampshire and Massachusetts until settling back in New Ipswich. In addition to being a soldier, Wilson was a farmer and he was also a deacon in Baptist churches in New Ipswich and Peterborough.

According to “History of New Ipswich, New Hampshire, 1735-1914,” Wilson lived on for a time in Wilder Village, on Chickering Farm, and in the original Appleton Academy building, on what is now Proctor Hill Road. Bourque remembers traveling to visit her uncle at the academy building in New Ipswich with her parents. “We used to have lots of fun talking about the farm,” Bourque said in an interview Tuesday. Wilson was married twice but had no children, and he died in 1927, when Bourque was about 4 years old. His grave is in the Central Cemetery in New Ipswich.

Though she was young when Wilson passed, Bourque remembers her uncle and some of what he shared about the Civil War. “He started out carrying the flag,” Bourque said. “He talked about the fighting, cleaning rifles, and the young men who were fatally wounded. It was a very serious war between our young men,” she added.

According to the American History and Genealogy website, Wilson enlisted on Aug. 13, 1862, at age 21, fighting for three years before being discharged on Sept. 18, 1865. The online version of the 1735-1914 New Ipswich written history says there were 19 men from New Ipswich in the 13th Regiment, which was involved in “more than 20 engagements, besides days and days of skirmish.” The 13th was also the first unit of the Union Army with flags to enter Richmond, Va., upon its occupation of the city on April 3, 1965. Bourque didn’t remember that Wilson was ever injured.

Bourque talked about the women who were home during the war, too. She explained that they would send wool to Wilson to repair his clothing. “It was quite frigid down there in Carolina,” Bourque said.

Though Bourque knew some about her uncle’s experience in battle, she said her uncle didn’t talk about the details too often. “Back then, they wouldn’t talk about fighting and brag about it,” she said. “That was really quite a private part of their lives.”

Bourque did say that when Wilson and the other soldiers returned home, they did what they could to revitalize the land. “They used to move around to different farms to irrigate the land and grow vegetables. They would try to bring back the land to what it was before the war,” Bourque said.

“War is a mean business,” she added.

Bourque saw her fair share of conflicts during the course of her life, including World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Bourque known other veterans in addition to her uncle, as she was a member and past president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary in Jaffrey. “I was very involved with the auxiliaries,” she said, mentioning that she joined in 1946 and belonged for over 50 years.

For Bourque, coming from a fighting family is something she’s proud of. “Somebody’s got to tell the world what brave souls they were,” she said. “It’s amazing to be involved over the centuries, to have [my uncle] fight in the Civil War.”

Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at ereed@ledgertranscript.com. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.

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