Goshen sheds light on historic watch

Was Paul Mellen's ebay treasure ticking at the side of Lincoln's deathbed?

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  • Paul Mellen and his excellent ebay find: Did this watch mark the moment of President Lincoln's death?

  • Paul Mellen shows the engraving on the watch which reads: "Presented to Pay Master Major Ladd By the Officers of the 2d. C.V.A. March 1864."

  • Ladd's honorable discharge signed by Andrew Johnson.

“There fell a silence so profound, the watches in all the men's pockets (were) ticking loudly.”
The Rev. Phineas D. Gurley, President Lincoln's pastor

By Ginny Privitar

— Last March, Paul Mellen of Duxbury, Mass., bought a rare Civil-war solid gold pocket watch on ebay. It was an Appleton-Tracy watch, made by the Waltham Watch Co. in 1862. On the back was this intriguing inscription: “Presented to Paymaster J. Ladd from the officers of the 2d C.V.A. 1864."

Who was Ladd? And who gave him this watch?

Mellen did loads of research: at the National Archives in Washington, at Harvard's Lamont Library, and at the Lowell Historical Society. He consulted a genealogist for the Ladd family. But it was the Goshen Public Library and Historical Society that provided the crucial piece of evidence in its owner's history.

The watch was presented to Major Jonathan Ladd (1819-89) of Lowell, Mass. Ladd started his military career as “Master of Transportation," organizing transportation and supplies for Union troops. On one occasion, there was no transportation for additional troops arriving from Boston, so Ladd improvised and chartered private steamships. His success in getting troops so quickly down to Washington, D.C., to reinforce the Capital, was noted by Lincoln himself. A colonel in the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment reported that "with tears in his eyes," Lincoln told one of the Massachusetts commanders: “Thank God you are here. If you had not come we should be in the hands of the rebels before morning. Your brave boys have saved the capital. God bless them."

Eventually, Ladd was made Paymaster for the Union troops and stationed in Washington, D.C. Officers of the Second Connecticut Volunteer Artillery presented the watch to him in 1864 in gratitude for his help in preparing their troops.

Placing Ladd at the scene

Now is when things got really interesting for Mellen in his research. According to some contemporary reports, a “Ladd” was present at Lincoln's deathbed, among the family members, dignitaries, and military men assembled there. But Mellen could not find original source material that placed Jonathan Ladd at the scene.

Goshen was home to a number of famous soldiers from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. One Civil War veteran was a lawyer who later had a summer home in Goshen known as Hillside Farm. He was Brigadier General Henry Lawrence Burnett.

Two days after Lincoln's assassination, Burnett was summoned to Washington by Edward Stanton, the Secretary of War, and appointed assistant advocate general, one of the four-member military tribunal that presided over the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators. Burnett's job was to obtain the evidence in the trial.

Burnett died in New York City in 1916 and was buried in Slate Hill Cemetery in Goshen. Burnett's papers, now in the collection of the Goshen Public Library and Historical Society, includes a note saying Burnett gave a talk at the First Presbyterian Church.

A typewritten copy of Burnett's speech given before the Ohio Society of New York in 1892 describes the assassination of President Lincoln, the collection of evidence, and the subsequent trial of the conspirators. Burnett makes several references to a man named “Ladd” who stood vigil at Lincoln's bedside.

Was it Jonathan Ladd, the one-time owner of Mellen's ebay watch? Mellen is pretty sure it is. Ladd was in Washington, and, according to Mellen, there is no mention of other officers named Ladd in Washington at that time.

Mellen was delighted to find this original, contemporary source to confirm his theory: “When I got Henry Burnett's reports out of the Goshen Library and Historical Society — that was it — that was the moment — because Burnett's (was) an original document.”

Did Ladd have this watch with him at the bedside vigil? And did he consult it to establish the President's time of death?

According to one report, Lincoln's pastor, The Rev. Phineas D. Gurley, was among those at Lincoln's deathbed. “There fell a silence so profound,” the reverend recalled, "the watches in all the men's pockets (were) ticking loudly.”

Editor's note: Burnett's home, Hillside Farm on Old Chester Road in Goshen, was destroyed by fire in 1915. Later the site was the home of the Westinghouse family, and still later the home of a spa. It is a private residence today. For more about Burnett, see The Chronicle's May 10, 2012, story, "Union and Disunion," http://chroniclenewspaper.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120510/NEWS01/120509925/0/SEARCH.

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