Springfield Soldier's Fair

By Spencer Janes, Summer 2011 Intern- Longmeadow Historical Society

During the heart of the Civil War in late 1864, the people of Western Massachusetts came together to support the efforts of the Union troops. They did this not only through personal sacrifice or hard work, but by throwing and attending a massive fair.  

In 1861, with the approval of President Lincoln, a group of concerned Northerners formed the United States Sanitary Commission. This commission was largely driven by the efforts of women volunteers (including author Louisa May Alcott and reformer Dorothea Dix) who helped to raise supplies, provide lodging and meals, inspect the health standards of Union camps and oversee medical care for the Union troops.

Starting with the Northwestern Soldiers' Fair in Chicago in the fall of 1863, northern cities held dozens of fairs to raise money for this organization.  Western Massachusetts did not escape this phenomenon, and in December of 1864, the Soldiers' Rest of Springfield held a "Great Soldiers' Fair" which would involve all of the surrounding communities and raise upwards of $18,000 for the cause.  Longmeadow residents Thomas G. Mather and Randolph Stebbins served on the general committee which planned this fair and Longmeadow resident John R. Stebbins served on the appraisal committee to determine the prices of various items sold and auctioned off during the fair.

Opening on Monday, December 19th, 1864, the Springfield Soldiers' Fair ran for five days and was an immense success.  Despite harsh winter weather and the busy holiday season, crowds flocked to the fair with each day seeing more attendees packed into the hall.

Tables from each of the outlying towns showcased their unique communities, including a large table from Longmeadow. Visitors marveled at the beautiful floral arbor and purchased commemorative silver medallions from a nearby stand. The fair also included a skating rink, an "Old Curiosity Shop", and an extensive art gallery. This gallery contained works donated or created by area citizens, which were auctioned off at the end of the fair for proceeds of $530. There was even a newspaper, The Springfield Musket, is published in four installments, just for the occasion.


Most of the items donated to the fair were disposed of in auctions or raffles, which generated a good amount of the fair's proceeds. The governors of Massachusetts and Vermont both wrote letters to the fair organizers, as did President and Mrs. Lincoln, which were sold at auction. Much of the more than 1300 worth of items contributed by Longmeadow residents were given away in the raffles, which the Springfield Republican deemed to be inappropriate and "all very wrong, of course."  Longmeadow donations such as a silver salt cellar worth $15 and bronze figures worth $30 helped this cause.  Longmeadow residents were also the beneficiaries of these raffles since Mr. Sylvester Bliss won a $20 sofa cushion and F.D. Cordis won a watchcase.

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Estimates indicate that the efforts of this fair ultimately helped over 17,000 soldiers and families by providing much needed medical care, transportation, food, and clothing. The entire region came together for this cause, and Longmeadow especially.  Longmeadow's donations far exceeded those of other communities and Longmeadow citizens no doubt graced the fair with their presence and their money.


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