Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Sad End of an Unlikely Florida Hero

As visitors explore the Northwest Florida city of Marianna to learn more about the battle fought there on September 27, 1864, it does not take them long to discover that one of the best remembered participants of the fight is a Union officer.

Major Nathan Cutler of the Second Maine Cavalry has been remembered with respect and gratitude in Marianna for 145 years because of two actions he took during the Battle of Marianna. He is credited with objecting to the orders of Colonel L.L. Zulavsky to burn St. Luke's Episcopal Church and then dashing through the flames of the burning structure to save the Holy Bible from destruction. Then, just minutes later, he is said to have spared the lives of two young teenagers of the Marianna Home Guard who confronted him with shotguns by lowering his sword when he realized their age. The act left him with disabling injuries as the youths blasted him from the saddle.

Cutler, a graduate of Harvard University, returned home to Maine after the war but ultimately settled in Brooklyn, New York, where he entered the practice of law. It is known that in later years he lived for a time with a married daughter, but his eventual fate long has remained a mystery.

That mystery has now been solved, but the true story of Major Nathan Cutler's last days is tragic and sad. I'm indebted to my friend and fellow historian Dan Weinfield (author of for sending this along:

New York Evening Telegram
January 9, 1876

Not until to-day did the occupants of a twenty-five cent lodging house at No. 20 North William street learn that the quiet, unassuming man who held aloof from the other lodgers was a hero of the civil war who had won praise for exceptional bravery and had been promoted as a consequence of valorous deeds, and, in addition, a member of one of Boston's oldest and proudest families. Major Nathan J. Cutler, who was once a prominent lawyer in Boston, died without revealing any of his past career.

He died alone after having lived for many months in the lodging house mingling with human derelicts and unfortuantes. After his death it was discovered that he was a brother of Dr. Elbridge G. Cutller, of No. 214 Beacon steet, Boston.

From papers in his possession it was learned that he was a veteran of the civil war and was receiving a pension of $25 a month, on which he subsisted. Why he had chosen to come to New York and live amid the surroundings he selected none could explain. It was learned that he had a profitable law practice in Boton, but had neglected it after his wife's death last year, and did not seem to care what became of him.

Born in Farmington, Me., in 1842, Nathan J. Cutler entered Harvard and was to have graduated in 1864. But at President Lincoln's first call for troops he forsook his studies, like the great majority of other students othat university, and offered his services to his country. He enlisted as a private in the Twenty-eighth Infantry. It was not long before he was promoted to adjutant of his regiment on account of exceptional bravery. He was transferred to the Third (i.e. Second) cavalry and was later captured and sent to Andersonville. On being exchanged he rejoined his regiment, attaining the rank of major before the war ended.

He was graduated from Harvard Law School in 1872 and soon afterward came to New York.

These things were unknown to his associates in the lodging house. Most of them were Germains, and because of his pro-Ally sentiments he was thought for a time to be a British spy. The fact that a man of evident refinement and education was in the lodging house itself was sufficient to attract attention to him.

He was ill for several days before he was removed to the Volunteer Hospital, where he soon died.

Note:  To learn more about the Battle of Marianna, please visit


The Florida Blogger said...

Who knew Yankees were so nice and heroic:)

Dale said...

Ha! You know, the sad thing is that Cutler would have probably fared much better in life if he had just stayed in Marianna after he recovered from his wounds. Its sad to know how his life wound up, but his memory is still very much alive in Northwest Florida.


Daniel R. Weinfeld said...

Interesting counterfactual if Cutler had remained in Florida at the end of 1865, had mustered out and taken the Freedman's Bureau job instead of Hamilton. With no Hamilton, Purman doesn't come to Florida and engineer Osborn's takeover of the 1868 constitutional convention. Jackson Co. and Florida history might have turned out very differently.

Dick Stanley said...

Reading between the lines of the obit, I suppose he was with the derelicts because he was an alcoholic---possibly due to constant pain from the disabling injuries mentioned in the post.