David Basset Snow Collection Edit


Mss. Coll. Snow


  • 1854-1868 (Creation)


  • 0.66 cubic feet (Whole)



  • Abstract

    This collection features letters written by David Basset Snow to his brother, Joseph C. Snow, from 1854 to 1868. Letters describe Snow's life as a student at Miami University, his first job as a teacher, his experiences as a soldier during the Civil War, and his study of law after being mustered out of the service.

  • Language of Materials

    The records are in English

  • Biography of David Basset Snow

    David Basset Snow was a student at Miami University from 1856 to 1859 and from 1860 to 1862. He was a member of Alpha Delta Phi. His cousins also went to Miami; Henry Snow was a member of the class of 1838 and Willard S. Turrell was a member of the class of 1842. From 1862 to 1865, Snow served as a sergeant in Company K, 83rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Snow earned his LL.B. degree from Cincinnati Law School in 1867 and was admitted to the bar the same year. He practiced law in Ottawa, Illinois from 1869. Snow was also a member of the Ottawa Board of Education from 1882 to 1900. The May 1926 issue of the Miami Bulletin (Series 24, Number 9, page 31) reports the death of Snow in Ottawa, Illinois. Snow's brother, Joseph Crocker Snow, was a student at Miami from 1855 to 1857, graduating from Tufts College in 1858. Joseph was an ordained minister who served as pastor of Universalist churches at Norway, Maine; Auburn, New York; Newark, New Jersey; and Haverhill, Massachusetts. He was president of Westbrook Seminary and Female College in Deering, Maine from 1869 to 1872. During the Civil War, he served as chaplain of the 23rd Maine Volunteer Infantry. A member of Phil Beta Kappa and Alpha Delta Phi, Joseph was author of Letters from Abroad (1878). He died on November 2, 1901.

  • Scope and Contents

    The collection begins with letters written by Snow that provide family news, such as details about the Snows' farming endeavors and attending religious services. Snow's experiences at Miami University are also revealed in these documents. Holding literary society elections and studying Cicero, Virgil and algebra are some of the subjects covered here. Snow also records the fire on the northwest corner of the public square in Oxford in June 1858, as well as an address delivered by Miami Professor David Swing on Dante that month. By October 1858, Snow's letters indicate his plans to teach the following spring. Mounting bills for books, tuition and other expenses often prompt Snow to request that his brother loan him money. As he writes on October 24, 1858, "Don't deprive yourself of anything you may want on my account. It seems rather hard that you should spare me any of your earnings for which you have been so long preparing yourself to make. I hope, however, to be able to compensate you in part for the sacrifices you make for my benefit, if I succeed in getting through college with my present excellent health." Soon, Snow reveals that he has been engaged to teach at Solemn for sixty days, for which he will earn one hundred dollars. In February 1859, Snow records that he held an exhibition for his students on the last day of school. "The girls who read compositions were pale with fright, so that they did not do justice to their pieces," he writes on February 27, 1859. "Never before was I placed in so embarrassing a situation. My powers both physical & mental were taxed to their utmost capacity." After a seven-hour examination, Snow received an 18-month teaching certificate. By September 1859, Snow was teaching 47 students and preparing to take charge of the Bunker Hill Choir besides teaching music in school. Teaching proved to be taxing work for Snow. On September 24, 1859, he writes, "I sometimes feel considerably discouraged when I discover how small the effect, compared with the effort made, I tell you - Joseph - this school is 'steep' to an alarming extent. There is nothing but a shell left of me, it so completely 'cleans me out.'" Again, on December 24, 1859, Snow confesses, "I feel that I am deriving no small amount of benefit from the school. Never before have my mental powers been taxed so heavily as now. Sometimes the tension to which my mind is drawn approximates the verge of a snap." When asked about what profession he will choose, Snow responds in a letter dated January 21, 1860, "I must say that I cannot give any decided answer at present. My mind is wholly unsettled as to what I shall do when I get through college. The profession I may choose, if any, will depend much upon the progress I may hereafter make in writing and speaking. With my present limited powers I would feel incompetent to enter any profession that requires any degree of acumen." Soon, Snow writes of his success in learning to play the violincello and being in great demand for his new skill. On March 3, 1860, he writes of participating in a concert in Morning Sun, Ohio, for which an admission fee of one dime was charged. In a letter dated June 4, 1860, Snow writes of enclosing a "likeness which was taken shortly after a perusal of the fight between Heenan & Sayers. This accounts for the pugilistic look." The account recalls the match between England's Thomas Sayers and America's John C. Heenan at Farnborough, Hampshire on April 17, 1860. Sayers and Heenan became close friends after the fight, touring the country and staging re-enactments of their famous fight. Snow also recognizes the contrasts between Oxford and his brother's home of Norway, Maine. "Only think, Joseph, here we have no meetings, no Sabbath School, no conference, no anything in religious matters the least congenial to my feelings," he writes on September 6, 1860. In other news from Oxford on September 23, 1860, Snow reports that "political excitement here is running mountain high, very different from what it was in /56." He also reveals that Ohio Governor Salmon P. Chase spoke at Miami University earlier that month, giving a speech that, to Snow, "far surpassed anything I have heard since coming west," and that the Alpha Delta Phis had recently debated whether "the relation of master and slave is necessarily sinful." After relaying his thoughts about the imminent secession of states, the inevitability of war, and the capture of Fort Henry, Snow writes on April 19, 1861 that "all seem to realize the awful fact that we are entering upon a war the deadliest that ever darkened earth." Companies were being formed in Oxford, 45 students had enlisted, and recitations at Miami were rapidly coming to a close. "The 'Faculty' have no power to adjourn & the Trustees have taken no action yet," Snow writes. "I have felt more & more like joining the 'boys' of late but for various reasons have managed to restrain from so doing. Many of our best students have answered to the call of duty & the proclamation of the President. No one here dares any longer to express sympathy with the south….The Prof's are strong advocates for the union & the suppression of this great rebellion." Later that month, Snow returned home to help his father until another call for troops was received, at which time he would enlist. "Every person who can possibly leave seems ready & anxious to go should there be another demand for troops," he writes on April 26, 1861. "I could hear of nothing but war in the cars on the street or in the old omnibus," he continues. "Business is at a standstill here, except that which pertains to fitting our military companies." That autumn, Snow returns to Miami to continue his studies. On September 10, 1861, he writes, "When leaving home I had a sad presentiment that I should find college matters in a perishing condition. I scarcely hoped even to see many of my former classmates. Nearly the reverse of my gloomy anticipation had proven true. The University has seldom been in a more promising condition than now. There are already some 125 students on the ground. My class heretofore shabby, both in numbers & talent, is entirely regenerated & now - Dr. Hall says - is the best in College." On November 10, 1861, Snow reveals that he and many other students who voted for county officers in Oxford the previous month were compelled "to go down to court and be bored most egregiously, for the whole day." The object was to destroy their votes. "I was questioned over an hour, being obliged to relate in detail my whole history from babyhood to manhood," Snow writes. "I vowed a vow that I would never vote again for county officers in Oxford. I got back to Oxford last night after dark, out of humor & out of pocket $1.25." For Snow's Junior declaration in "Hall," he chose as his subject the sentence, "There is a time in the life of every nation when it is called upon to vindicate its manhood." In a letter dated February 2, 1862, Snow writes, "I endeavored to show the analogy existing between the life of individuals and that of nations. I took the ground, which I firmly believe to be in the main correct, that character formed in early life, & principles then incorporated in the mind & heart, seldom if ever change, either for better or worse. How else, I said, can we explain the phenomenon of annual church revivals." When Snow enlists for service in the Civil War, he writes his brother in an undated letter, "Be not uneasy concerning me. I shall endeavor to be a good soldier and a practical Christian, leaving the issues of sickness and health to Him who doeth all things well." By September 1862, Snow is camped near Newport, Kentucky. "I do not expect to acquire any promotion or destination as a soldier," he writes that month. "I have no taste for the excitement of war, nor have I any ambition for military glory." Comforted by his flute, reading material, and daily singing and Scripture readings, he makes the best of his situation. That same month, he continues, "I sometimes feel that my whole life thus far will prove a failure in the end as I have endeavored to cultivate mind instead of muscle. When I look around and see acres of men strong & robust, my poor bean-pole corpus seems of no worth. Then again I am greatly relieved & strengthened when I consider that in my studies I have been reasonably successful & have won many very warm, true-hearted friends by my intellectual endeavors, supported by the principles inculcated by our excellent parents and our blessed Faith." Snow records details of his experiences as a soldier, stationed in Kentucky locations such as Falmouth, Nicholasville, Louisville, and Frankfort, before reaching Memphis, Tennessee. His regiment is named the "Greyhound" on account of its speed. On October 30, 1862, he writes, "One is almost led to conclude that the war is a failure. One thing seems certain - 'tis this - the man is so terribly exhausted that it must end in some way before long. God grant that we may be successful." Later, on November 24, 1862, Snow writes, "I cherish the hope that the war cloud will soon pass away and our family again meet under circumstances of 'great peace and joy.' The hardships and privations which the soldier endures, are nothing when compared to the torturing anxiety felt for him by those at home who love him." After traveling down the Mississippi River from Cairo, Snow arrived at Memphis. He writes on December 5, 1862 of his surprise to see a fellow Miami student named [Richard Edwin] Southgate among a boatload of rebel prisoners en route for Vicksburg to be exchanged. "He was quite popular among the boys there, being a good writer & speaker," Snow writes. "Joining K. Smith's forces, he was soon captured & sent up to Johnston's island for safekeeping. Upon seeing me he called me by name & expressed regrets that we should meet in that way. Had no feelings of shame, but said he hoped to have the pleasure of paroling me & the other Oxford boys down at Vicksburg." Southgate, a native of Newport, Kentucky, died in June 1863. Soon, Snow is working in General Hospital No. 3 and Jefferson Hospital in Memphis, making out the necessary papers when the sick and wounded are discharged from the service. "At the beginning of the war I thought three months a long time to be in the army, and that during that period one must see & participate in hard battles, and come home a veteran," Snow writes on May 24, 1863. "In the western army now, troops enlisted last fall are considered raw and are seldom put to the front in any engagement." By July 6, 1863, Snow is at home in Harrison, Ohio, where he records details of the Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg & Indianapolis Railroad Company's building a new railroad to provide access to Harrison. Back on duty at Jefferson Hospital in Memphis the next month, Snow confides to his brother on August 10, 1863, "I shall endeavor to relinquish the evil of sadness and feel that I have been peculiarly favored. The time will come when I shall look back to the time spent in the army with feelings of pride, and unless the good Provider that so circumstanced me as to take an active part in the struggle for liberty's salvation….While I feel that my few literary acquisitions are fast passing with my youth away, I know that I am daily growing richer in that experience, the value & blessings of which are indeed inestimable. I hope to come out of that conflict possessing an integrity more decisive & a character more nobly developed than when I entered the service." Stationed in Carrollton, Louisiana the next month, Snow writes of the magnolia trees, orange trees and banana trees that he sees on almost every plantation. He visits Lake Ponchatrain and took a pleasure boat down the canal to New Orleans, where he was struck by the cleanliness of the streets and the excellent police regulations. He also writes of touring the French market, seeing fruits and vegetables of every season for sale there, and concludes that "comfort and luxury are the characteristics of New Orleans." On October 1, 1863, he writes of his brigade going on an expedition up the Mississippi to Donaldsonville, in search of guerrillas. The next month, he records details of his regiment being flanked by cavalry near Vermilion, Louisiana, with over half the fighting force of the brigade missing, and 54 taken prisoners. "While I sometimes sorrow in the thought that I am the object of such deep solicitude & even painful anxiety, I rejoice in the assurance given me by you and others the assurance that I am making for myself an honorable record and that you & they look with pride upon my endeavors," Snow writes on Thanksgiving Day 1863. "To know that the course which I am endeavoring conscientionably to pursue, is approved by the dear ones of earth and blest of Heaven - is an ample & rich reward for all sacrifices I have been called to make or may yet have to endure." January 1864 finds Snow back at home, on recruiting service. Ten members of his regiment left New Iberia, Louisiana, arrived at New Orleans, and took a steamer for New York. Reporting to Ohio Governor David Tod in Columbus, Snow was given a recruiting commission as 2nd Lieutenant. Since larger bounties were offered in other parts of the county, Snow was not very successful with his recruiting efforts. He rejoined his regiment in April 1864 and arrived at Memphis, where he soon moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi and participated in the march for the Atchafalaya. Information about soldier rations and campaigns, such as the siege at Fort Blakely, Alabama and the possession of Mobile in April 1865, provide additional details of Snow's life as a soldier. Always in search of good reading material, Snow writes of procuring religious papers and books from the Christian Commission to supplement the newspapers that his brother sends him. Recording the events of the Fourth of July 1864, Snow also comments on the upcoming Presidential election. "I hear but little said, enough however to be convinced that by far the majority of soldiers all the more intelligent will go for honest Abe," Snow writes on July 10, 1864. "Politics does not rage in the army as it does at home." After Lincoln's re-election, Snow writes on November 19, 1864, "…all soldiers doing battle for the Republic understand the people of the north as saying to the army, 'Continue with increased & increasing vigor the work given you to do, relying upon us for full and ample supplies of men & means.' It remains now with the army supported by the people who 'watch over the stuff' to fight out a great & glorious 'Amen' to Freedom's supplicating voice. The past two years have demonstrated its ability and determination to finish well & speedily the work remaining to be done." Reflecting on President Lincoln's assassination in a letter dated May 6, 1865, Snow writes, "The assassination of the President is regarded by men of the army as the greatest calamity that has befallen the Republic during the war. When the terrible news reached us unofficially, no one would believe it, for it seemed too bad to be true. The official announcement of the murder produced the greatest sorrow and indignation. It surely cannot be that four years of war, involving so great a loss of life and treasure, will have passed away without accomplishing a good commensurate with sacrifice offered." As Snow's service draws to a close, he is undecided about a future livelihood. "Three years in the army have in a great measure incapacitated me for any purely literary vocation," he writes on December 4, 1864. "I do not borrow trouble in contemplating the future. I shall have good muscle and I believe a pretty strong will." As he waits for being mustered out of the service, Snow writes from Galveston, Texas on July 19, 1865 that he desires "above all things to get away from this 'lone barren isle,' and away from the corruptions of the army." Receiving his final discharge from the service on August 10, 1865, Snow writes the following day that he has decided to study law for his profession. In the final letters of the collection, Snow describes what he is reading and the lucrative legal practice of his cousin, Henry Snow.

  • Organization of the Collection

    Series I: CorrespondenceSub-Series I: LettersSub-Series II: Envelopes

  • Processing Information

    Betsy Butler, January-February 2009

  • Restrictions on Access

    This collection is open under the rules and regulations of the Walter Havighurst Special Collections, Miami University Libraries.

  • Preferred Citation

    Researchers are requested to cite the David Basset Snow Collection and The Walter Havighurst Special Collections, Miami University Libraries in all footnote and bibliographic references.