Friday, October 6, 2023

Hardtack in the Petersburg trenches -- A Soldier’s “Explanation”

 What might be a creative way to point out the deficiency of army rations to a superior?  Here is one interesting account:
    While before Petersburg, doing siege work in the summer of 1864, our men had wormy “hardtack,” or ship’s biscuit, served out to them for a time.  It was a severe trial, and it taxed the temper of the men.  Breaking open the biscuit, and finding live worms in them, they would throw the pieces in the trenches where they were doing duty day by day, although the orders were to keep the trenches clean, for sanitary reasons.
    A brigade officer of the day, seeing some of these scraps along our front, called out sharply to our men: “Throw that hardtack out of the trenches.”  Then, as the men promptly gathered it up as directed, he added: “Don’t you know that you’ve no business to throw hardtack in the trenches?  Haven’t you been told that often enough?”  Out from the injured soldier heart there came the reasonable explanation: “We’ve thrown it out two or three times, sir, but it crawls back.” 
            [H. C. Trumbull War Memories of an Army Chaplain
                (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1898) p.52-53]

Troops in the trenches
Library of Congress/ Getty Images
(Location is debated. Some sites tag this as picturing men in trenches at Petersburg.
But other sites say the location is unknown or at Fredericksburg.)

    I heard this joke about hardtack early on when we started reenacting many years ago, and have often used it myself over the years to explain to spectators, especially kids, about the “glories” of hardtack.  No one I talked to knew the source, even though they had heard the joke.  Some years later I finally learned the source of the story is from Henry Clay Trumbull, who served as a Chaplain in the 10th Regt. Connecticut Volunteers.  Was glad that I confirmed to myself that it had historical background instead of being just a modern reenacting joke.
    But what was Trumbull source?  Was it his personal slam on hardtack he would tell in a fictional story to make it sound good?  The joke about hardtack appears in his book in Chapter 3 entitled “Disclosures of the Soldier Heart”.  In this chapter Trumbull uses several incidents which he witnessed to give insight into attitudes and motivation of the soldiers he served with.  He cites various incidents of soldiers enduring hardship while still showing great dedication and fortitude in their service to their unit and their country.  Then he makes the following summary statement:
     “There was no show of heroism on the part of the average soldier, any more than there was a show of sentiment.  He simply was a loving-hearted hero, without saying anything about it, or making a demonstration of his feelings.  Indeed, a soldier tried to cover up his emotion; and in this effort he would frequently act as if he were ready to laugh, when he felt a good deal more like crying.  A joke, indeed, often took the place of an oath, starting a laugh instead of a groan or a sob, as the feelings must find vent in some way.” [p.50]
    Trumbull is saying the men he served with were not focused on being famous.  Their focus was on diligently doing their duty to comrades and county.  Trumbull follows the introductory summary with some examples of how humor helped the men handle the tedium or difficulty of their circumstances.  The Petersburg hardtack joke cited above is one of the examples he gives of humor being a vent for frustration.
    He then shares a second hardtack joke from the same Petersburg situation:
    About the same time, I was accompanying our brigade commander in a tour of observation along our front.  As he stopped in the trenches where the men were keeping up a sharp fire, he saw them opening a fresh box of ammunition, of which they constantly needed a new supply.  Noting the careful wrapping of the cartridges in their neat packages of a dozen each, he said pleasantly to the soldier who was taking them out:
    “’Uncle Sam’ is very careful that his boys shall have good cartridges while in his service.”
    “Yes, sir; I wish he was half as careful of their hardtack,” was the keen and respectful reply.
    This dry humor in the expression of strong feeling showed itself in the ordinary soldier in every phase of his service.”  [p.53]

    Trumbull then moves on from examples of humor giving vent to frustration over poor rations to explaining how general humorous contempt toward cowards helped the man in the ranks resist the temptation to shirk his own duty in the next few pages. 

    Trumbull does not tell how the officers reacted to the hardtack jokes.  Possibly his being silent on that aspect might mean the officer in each situation caught the point, knew it was an honest challenge about the poor quality of rations, and chose not to seek punishment on the man who said it.  Can’t say for certain.
    I do not present this information as being some profound historical discovery to impress you, the reader.  I just appreciate knowing the historical background of a joke I’ve often told.  And when I tell it to spectators now, I can add the insight which Trumbull gives about humor being a relief for the struggle to deal with difficult challenges like poor quality rations.  I have often thought reenacting the incident in front of a crowd of spectators would be ‘humorously educational’.

    Henry Clay Trumbull (1830 to 1903) was Chaplain of the 10th Connecticut Infantry starting in 1862.  The troops enjoyed his eloquent sermons, his dedication to helping and encouraging them, and his personal courage.  He was captured at the battle of Fort Wagner on July 19,1863 while searching for wounded Union soldiers, and held as a prisoner of war until exchanged on Nov.24, 1863, when he then rejoined the 10th Conn., serving with them until they mustered out in Aug. 1865.
    After the war, Trumbull became a prominent lecturer, an advocate for Sunday School being incorporated into the American church, and a scholar who wrote many books.  Among them was The Knightly Soldier (1865 biography of his friend, Adjutant Henry Ward Camp, who was KIA Darbytown Road, Oct 13, 1865), and War Memories of an Army Chaplain (1898).

Chaplain Henry Clay Trumbull
Picture from Connecticut Historical Society collection.
Rustic pulpit built by Army Engineers
below Richmond Va. in the winter of 1864-65.

    The 10th Connecticut Infantry Regiment was one of Connecticut’s most exemplary units, having fought in twenty-three battles and many smaller skirmishes.  It was formed in the summer of 1861, serving in the early war coastal campaign from the battle for Roanoke Island to the assault on Fort Wagner, then on to fight in the trench as the Union Army pressed in on Petersburg and Richmond.  They were present at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant.  The Tenth was one of the top 300 Union regiments in the Civil War (out of over 1,700), according to historian William F. Fox.

Children Projects:  
    Might be an interesting opportunity to discuss options of handling frustrations.  Also, how humor could be better than outright anger, but can also lead to punishment if the superior gets angry.  Might look at Proverbs 15:1ff.
    For hardtack projects check out my other posts tagged with “hardtack” such as Oct.22, 2022 “Why was hardtack so disdained by the Civil War troops?”

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Which Is More Frightening? The Disease Or The Doctor?

    So how skilled were the doctors treating sick soldiers early in the war?  Here is an interesting evaluation by Garret W Moore, a soldier in the 25th IL. Infantry

Rolla, Missouri
January 5, 1862

My old friend Achley,
    I just received your most kind and welcome letter which I read with great pleasure. I was truly glad to hear from you. I wish you could be in camp with me awhile. I think we could have a good time although you seem to think that we have a pretty hard time. Well, it is partly true, but our berth is not as hard as you think it is. We have pretty good winter quarters and we drill two hours a day and the balance of the time we play poker and euchre and put the time in pretty well and we have plenty to eat—such as it is.
    Perhaps you would like to know what we do here to eat. Well, we have plenty of fresh beef and flour and crackers and light bread and beans, rice, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, side meat shoulders and sometimes we get hams. We can buy eggs at twenty cents per dozen, butter 25 per pound, chickens 20 cents apiece, rot gut whiskey at one dollar per pint which is good enough for soldiers.
    It is true [that] on a march, it is pretty hard on some of the boys but I have stood it pretty well until the 28th of December when I was taken sick with the intermittent fever and I was most down sick with the fever for five days and I got over that. Then I was taken with the m____ diarrhea and the doctor gave me turpentine.  I took a half pint of turpentine and I got so sick and weak that I could not hardly stand up so the Dr. wanted me to go to the hospital but I told him that I preferred staying in camp. Then I told him that his medicine was not doing me any good and he told me that he could not do me any good but he advised me to take turpentine so I made up my mind that he was a damned fool and I would not take any more of his medicine. Then I told him that the medicine that I had been taking would kill nine out of every ten men that took it so he thought I was a damn fool. He told some of the boys that I would die before one month. He told me I had better go to the hospital. I told him that I would not go to the hospital. Then the doctor left and I have not seen him since but I am not dead nor I am not a going to die for I am getting well as fast as a man can. I have been most down sick for twenty days but if the Lord is willing and no preventing Providence, I will be the best man in camp in one month. Our doctors hain’t worth a damn. There is a great deal of sickness in camp but I think the health in camp is better than it has been for the past two months.
    We are under marching orders but I think that we will spend the winter here. There is four hundred men in this regiment that is fit for duty and that is all that can be got out on drill out of one thousand. no more on this subject now.
    You said that you and Jack tried to get on a spree on New Years and Christmas and could not make it go off. Well, if I had of been there, we would of had some fun or I would of raised hell with the preachers. I would like to be at home awhile to see you and Jack and have some fun but I would not quit the service if I could, If you and Jack were with me, I would rather be here than at home for we have lots of fun. I think you and Jack had better come and go with us. We will have some fun when we get after them damned rebels.
    Well, Jack, I have been looking for a letter from you for a long time but it has all been in vain and in your letter you offer an excuse for not writing to me sooner and oftener. Well, your excuse is a very poor one. You said that you was a poor hand to write. You write very well if you would think so. Now I am a poor hand to write but I can write so you can make it out. So can you, and I would be glad to receive a letter from you every week if I could. Now, Ach, you can spend one hour every week writing to me. It always does a soldier good to hear from his friends—at least it does me.
With these few remarks, I will close hoping to hear from you soon. Give my love and well wishes to all my friends, to Jack [ ] and by the grace of God you must keep a share of my well wishes for yourself. No more at present. Your ever affectionate friend, — G. W. Moore
— to J. A. Smith

[Letter transcription above and biographical information below is from Will Griffing in Billy Yank and Jonny Reb Letters website]
    The letter was written by Pvt. Garret Moore (1838-1865) of Co. C, 25th Illinois Infantry. Garret was the orphaned son of Garret Moore (18xx-1838) and Catherine Bailey (18xx-Bef1850) of Champaign county, Illinois. He had some older siblings but he was raised by others. In the 1850 US Census he was enumerated in the household of the Alexander Argo family. In the 1860 US Census, he was enumerated in the household of the James Swearingen family.
    Garret enlisted on 4 August 1861 at Homer, Illinois, and was with his regiment in Rolla, Missouri, from mid-November 1861 until early February 1862 when they embarked on the campaign that would eventually lead to their first engagement—the Battle of Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas. Garret was seriously wounded at Kennesaw Mountain on 23 June 1864 and died of his wounds a week later at Chattanooga, Tennessee. His muster records indicate he stood 5′ 9″ tall, with brown hair and hazel eyes.

    Was Pvt. Moore justified in questioning the doctor’s medical advice?  Who would not want to drink turpentine?  
    An informative article on the medical use of turpentine is found in Oil of Turpentine: Sheet Anchor of 19th Century Therapeutics by Vincent Cirillo, Medical History Society of New Jersey 2021:
    “Oil of turpentine is an essential oil extracted and distilled from the gum resin of several species of pine trees. It was used by laypeople for relief from blisters, burns, corns, lumbago, sciatica, sore gums, abscessed teeth and insect bites. Physicians, on the other hand, employed oil of turpentine to treat some of the major diseases of the nineteenth century. It was an effective, orally administered therapeutic agent against intestinal disorders such as typhoid fever and worms (esp. tapeworms), and somewhat effective topically against hospital gangrene, and myiasis [infection in the body by maggots].” (p.2)
    “Typhoid fever, endemic in 19th–century America, was a major killer of U.S. soldiers during the Civil War (1861-1865) . . . It is a contagious disease characterized by prolonged fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, skin rash (rose-colored spots), prostration and, toward the end, delirium.” (p.5)
Unsanitary conditions mixing with contaminated flies easily allowed the spread of typhoid from the latrines to mess halls and hospital wards.
    Cirillo cites Charles Johnson (1843-1928), a hospital steward with the 130th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, in his Civil War memoir Muskets and Medicine (published in 1917): “In that era most medical men regarded turpentine as little short of a sheet-anchor in the treatment of typhoid.... It was a standard remedy in our regimental hospital.”  “Sheet anchor” is an old nautical term for a large spare anchor used only in emergency to save the sailing ship.  The term came to describe something or someone viewed as ‘very dependable and relied upon as a last resort in a dangerous situation.’  So, in this context, turpentine oil was viewed as the last best medical hope to deal with the dangerous disease of typhoid.
    Cirillo’s article has a lot of additional details both positive and negative about the use of turpentine oil during the Civil War by both Northern and Southern medical personal. In a time of limited medical medicinal resources, it was viewed as a “good option” to combat certain deadly diseases.  Turpentine oil was part of the standard medical supplies issued during the Civil War.  Its side effects were not well understood at that time, but in the face of death “use what you have.”

    Clearly Private Moore does not have a high opinion of the medical advice he is getting.  You have to give him credit for following the medical instructions at first.  He drank a half pint of turpentine – that’s 8 ounces (one cup) of it – a lot more than I would want to drink.  Then because of his reaction to the “prescribed drug” he chose to go a different route.  His refusal about going to the hospital is not unusual.  Soldiers often refused to go to the hospital unless in dire need because the treatments there were often not positive in results.  From Moore’s letter we see that he is recovering.  Possibly Moore’s drinking of the turpentine did help him if he had a touch of typhoid even though he only drank it once.  Evidently his body was strong enough to recover from whatever he was dealing with.

    Typhoid fever cuts deep into General Sherman’s heart -- an example of its dangerous speed in cutting short a life.  Peter Cozzens shares this example of a death from typhoid fever in his book The Shipwreck of Their Hopes – The Battles for Chattanooga (1994) pp.113f:
    “Grant’s complete confidence in Sherman was obvious for all to see.  Yet his friend was not himself.  His soul ached from a deep personal tragedy that had shattered his fa├žade of gritty manhood.  In late September [1863], after learning that he was to march his army to Rosecran’s succor, Sherman had hastily packed his family aboard a streamer at Vicksburg bound for Ohio; he would accompany them as far as Memphis.  As the boat prepared to cast off, Sherman noticed that his son, ten-year-old Willie, was missing.  The general had supposed Willie to be with his wife, Ellen; she assumed he was with the general.  An officer of the Thirteenth United States Infantry, which had given Willie a sergeant’s uniform and adopted him as one of its own, disembarked to look for him.  A few minutes later he returned, leading the young boy who, all smiles, was carrying a small double-barreled shotgun with the pride of a soldier about to sail off on a grand adventure.
    As the steamer puffed languidly up the hot, malarial river, Sherman passed the time pointing out to his family old campsites along the bank that his troops had occupied during the Vicksburg campaign.  Glancing at Willie, he noticed that the boy’s face looked strangely pallid.  Ellen hurried the child off to bed and army surgeons were summoned.  Their diagnosis: a life-threatening case of typhoid fever.
Willed died twenty-four hours after the boat docked at Memphis.  It was the most painful emotional blow of Sherman’s life.  His marriage had long been strained, he and Ellen had stayed together largely for the sake of their children.  And of all their children, Willie was the general’s favorite.  He was ‘that child on whose future I based all the ambition I ever had,’ To Halleck, Sherman wired: ‘His loss is more to me than words can express.’”
    This short glimpse into Sherman’s family loss does show why the treatment of the disease was a serious concern for Civil War doctors.  In desperate situations you use whatever you have as a sheet anchor to stop it.  Maybe it stops the shipwreck or maybe you still get swamped and drown, but it’s worth a try.

    Don’t overlook his brief descriptions of camp life and food.  He lists a nice variety of rations, as well as options available for purchase.  This variety is likely because they are in encampment and not on the march.  When looking at the 20 cents per dozen eggs, remember his pay for the month was $13.00.  Camp life seems a bit relaxed, with creativity providing variety, but again this is during winter encampment.

Children’s Projects
1)  Explore the tension between medicines can be helpful yet have negative side effects.  Cirillo makes this observation [p.3]: “Not unlike today’s patients, their nineteenth-century counterparts expected to be prescribed medicine when they presented with an illness. A physician could not simply genuflect before the precept vis medicatrix naturae (the healing power of nature) and do nothing. He had to be a man of action; in short, a therapeutic interventionist.”

2) Explore why turpentine oil became tagged as a “sheet anchor.”  It was helpful in combating certain deadly disease like typhoid, even though its negative effects could do damage.  Then explore the broader concept of “idiom” (words grouped together to convey meaning that the individual words don’t convey).  I grew up hearing and saying “take the whole shebang” (= take it all) but didn’t know its Civil War background was from one soldier taking all for himself the poor quality shelter of a half tent or hut to the detriment of his comrade who also needed shelter in tough circumstances.   You might explore other idioms like “the whole nine yards” which has a WWII background.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Rock of Ages -- A Hymn Treasured by Civil War Soldiers Both North and South

The hymn “Rock of Ages” opened soldiers hearts to Jesus’ mercy and grace during the war. 
    Rev. George Bringhurst of Philadelphia, one of the first Delegates of the U.S Christian Commission serving the soldiers in the spring of 1862, shares how he saw this well-known hymn bring positive change in some who heard it being sung [Incidents of the U.S. Christian Commission by Edward P. Smith 1869. Pages 24-26]:

    In how many instances was the precious Gospel brought to the soldiers, in the strains of music set to Psalms and Hymns.  In camp and hospital, on march and field, the sweet songs of Zion wooed many a prodigal back to the Father’s loving embrace.  None possibly were more effectual than that familiar hymn, “Rock of Ages.”  We heard it sung for the first time in the army, on the beach at Fortress Monroe, by some Delegates of the Christian Commission, just beneath the “Lincoln Gun”.  Its grateful truth, borne by the winds, fell upon the ear of a soldier on the parapet; not only so, but touched his heart, and in time led him to build on the “Rock of Ages.”
    Again, we heard the same hymn at Yorktown, sung by some of the same Delegates.  After its singing, as we were returning to our quarters, one of the Delegates was overtaken by a soldier, who belonged to the “Lost Children” – (the name of a New York Regiment, “Enfans Perdus”).  He asked “Won’t you please tell me how I may build on the ‘Rock’ you sang about?  I was thinking of it while on guard the other day.”  He told his story in brief: he was from New York City, had received his mother’s dying blessing.  Before she breathed her last, she sang this hymn, and said “George, my son, I would not feel so badly about your enlisting, if you were only built upon that ‘Rock.’”
    These sacred memories were revived by the singing of the hymn; and as the Delegate and the soldier knelt on the dusty roadside, beneath the stars, the wanderer lost his weariness and thirst for sin, in the shadow of the “Rock of Ages.”
    Eighteen months after this incident, the same Delegate, going to Fortress Monroe, on a boat which had as part of her passengers a gay and happy company of the Signal Corps, conversed, sang and prayed with them.  He related to them the foregoing incidents, sang “Rock of Ages,” and retired to his state-room.  Soon after, a gentle tap called him to the door, where he found a tall graceful Lieutenant, who, with tears streaming down his face, said “O sir! I could not let you go to bed tonight until I had told you what you have done.  As I sat, with my head leaning against a spar, and listened to your words and to that hymn, you brought back my dead mother with all her prayers and love.  I have been a wanderer until this night, now by God’s grace I want to hide myself in that Rock of Ages.”

“Rock of Ages” was the song JEB Stuart requested to be sung as he was dying.  
    At 7 p.m., everyone in the house gathered around Stuart’s bed. Rev. Joshua Peterkin, an Episcopal minister, led them in prayers and the singing of “Rock of Ages,” Stuart’s favorite hymn. Stuart made a feeble effort to sing along, then turned to Brewer, and said, “I am going fast now. I am resigned; God’s will be done.” He then drifted into unconsciousness.  On May 12th, 1864 at 7:38, James Ewell Brown Stuart passed into the hands of his God.

Exploration of the Hymn “Rock of Ages” 
Written by the Reformed Anglican minister, Rev. Augustus Toplady in 1763 and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die!

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgement throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.

    Though there is some debate about Toplady writing the first verse of the hymn as he took refuge in a rock cleft himself during a strong storm, the Biblical Background for the hymn is likely the incident recorded in Exodus 33:12-34:9 where Moses is hidden in a cleft of the rock so that he is protected as he witnesses the Lord’s glory passing by and hears the Lord’s proclamation.  Psalm 18:2 also declares: “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower [KJV]” from which Toplady may have also drawn inspiration.
    In the Dictionary of Hymnology, John Julian cites the 1775 article “Life a Journey” (printed in the Gospel Magazine) in which Toplady published the first stanza of his hymn “Rock of Ages.” As introduction to the first stanza’s words Toplady wrote: “Yes, if you fall, be humbled, but do not despair. Pray afresh to God, who is able to raise you up, and set you on your feet again. Look to the blood of the covenant; and say to the Lord from the depths of your heart” the prayer which Toplady lays out in his hymn.
    This gives insight into Toplady’s heart in writing this hymn of praise to Jesus.  Toplady points us to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as our only hope in this life of struggle with sin and our only protection when we come before Him on the judgment day.  Toplady correctly points out in verse 2 our own “goodness” cannot protect us on that day of judgement as the Apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:8-9.  Just as God placed the sinner Moses in a protective place, so in the day of judgment Jesus will be the protective place for those who have put their trust in Him alone for grace and mercy.  Toplady’s song calls on hearts to realize their need for Jesus and depend on Him to “be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power”.
    From the Civil War incidents shared above by Bringhurst, we see that the hymn written 87 years earlier did indeed touch hearts of those who had heard the gospel before but had shrugged off God’s call to them.  Through the hymn’s succinct call to look to Jesus, along with the perilous circumstances of that time, some hearts did respond in faith to the promise that Jesus alone saves us from the condemnation we justly deserve.

The Lincoln Gun
   
The Rodman Gun, cast in 1860, shipped from Pittsburgh to Fort Monroe in March 1861 to help guard the Hampton Roads and prevent Confederate ships from fighting their way through the channel, was one of the largest smoothbore cannons ever made, weighing 49,000 pounds, 15’10” long and 4 feet in diameter with a 15” bore.  It is said it could fire a 330lb explosive projectile or a 437lb solid shot more than four miles.  It was named the “Lincoln gun” by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

The “Lost Children” battalion 
    This unit was formed between Nov.22, 1861 and April 1862 mostly of French & German European immigrant volunteers, who served in the Carolina area during the War.  They did not muster enough men to form a regiment, so it was classed as a battalion and eventually assimilated into the 4th Corps, Army of the Potomac.  “Lost Children” – Enfans Perdus – Enfants Perdus – with its European background means the “forlorn hope” – small groups of soldiers assigned dangerous tasks like the first to charge through the breach, or hold a strategic but dangerous position.  The “Lost Children” name tag was likely taken as a challenge to these volunteers to step up and show courage no matter what they would face in battle.

Children Projects:
    1) God has created us to respond to music.  Studies have shown music can help focus, can change moods, can help memory, can create connection with others listening to it.  Discuss how music can be both good and bad in our lives, depending on what is stirs up within us.  Music can motivate us to do great and good things.  It can also be used to draw us into evil and sinful actions.  While “music” in itself is neutral, how it affects us is what we need to be discerning about.  What words are in the song?  Who is it connecting us with?  What is it motivating us to do?
    2) Help your children explore how Toplady moves verse by verse, developing the theme of the hymn.  He is not simply playing on emotions as is often the case in music today by repetition of the same few phrases over and over and over again.  Instead, he leads the singer/listener through a developing thought process – ballad style writing.  Yes, his song does stir up emotions, but it is through a development of thought.  Maybe explore having your child write their own song/poem where they present an important truth that they want others to better understand.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Loyal to the Union vs. Disloyal Copperheads -- A Missouri Union Soldier's Perspective

 If you loyally stand for the Union, how do you deal with family that doesn’t?  The following letter written by Thomas M. Coleman (6th Missouri Infantry) to his sister, Elizabeth Coleman in 1863 gives sad insight into the divisions that were personal, not just national. (The letter is from a private collection; punctuation and misspellings reproduce author’s writing style.)

Camp Sherman, 3rd Sept. ‘63
Dear Sister,
    ‘Tis with the greatest of pleasure that I take my pen in hand to inform you that I am well at present and hoping that these few lines may find you all the same.  I was on picket when I received your letter, and could not answer your letter any sooner.  We were out on picket on Black River six miles from our present camp.  We had one man shot by guerrillas from the opposite side of the river. If the officer had not sent out guards on the other side of the river the men would have burnt all of the houses within five miles of the river, for some of them follow nothing but shooting Union soldiers such me.  Are not worth wasting powder and lead, for the rope is the thing for them, and that is the best thing for the Copperhead.  If that is true what you said in your letter, about father, I shall never go near where there is a Copperhead.  I am going to get a furlough and go to Missouri in one week from today.  You need not look for me at home.  Old George Crane sent for me to come there.  He wants me and Martin and Steiner to come back as soon as our time is up I will go there, for I will never go after what he passed around there, for I can get along myself.  I don’t think very well of that, for I have undergone hardships of every description for the old Union.  Thank the great ruler off all being, that He spared me this long, but if I am spared through this time, and I am needed, I will still fight for the old flag that I followed many days, till it is restored master of this continent once more.  Then I will be satisfied.  If those Copperheads were in the rebel army, I would serve another five years, till they were all killed and under the sod.  I am in good earnest.  As for me coming home, that is played.  I must stop for this time.  Uncle Bill Reel is going to Illinois, and they are going on a farm there.  So nothing more at present, but remain your brother until death.  
Thomas M. Coleman


The 6th Missouri Infantry Regiment was organized at St. Louis, Missouri, June 15 - July 9, 1861, mustered in for three year service; mustered out of service on August 17, 1865.  Involved with the Vicksburg Siege May 18-July 4. Assaults on Vicksburg May 19 and 22. Advance on Jackson, Miss., July 4–10. Siege of Jackson July 10–17. At Big Black River Camp Sherman until September 25, 1863.
Reading this letter shows the loyalty Thomas Coleman feels for the Union, and also the divisions that are occurring in his family because not everyone agrees with him in his loyalty to the Union.  He chooses to stand by his decision to fight for the Union even if it means he must walk away from family.

Who were the “Copperheads” and what did they stand for?
“Copperheads” were people in the North who opposed using force to bring the southern states back into the Union, and instead wanted at first an immediate or then as the war progressed a negotiated peace settlement, (also called “Peace Democrats” or “Butternuts”).  These “Peace Democrats” were tagged “Copperheads” by the Republicans for two reasons:  first, they choose to wear badges made from one cent copper Liberty coins, and secondly, just like deadly snakes, they were traitors trying to kill the Union.  So “copperhead” is an interesting political play on words.  Obviously for those who supported the war effort, “copperhead” was not a positive moniker to be tagged with. 
There were variations on why people opposed the war to preserve the Union, and how they opposed it.  Some saw the conflict as a result of the extremist abolitionists stirring up trouble, or due to rich Northerners seeking more power and money through tariffs on the south, or an attempt to increase Federal power over the states.  Many southerners who had migrated north of the Ohio River saw it as an attack on their culture.  Immigrants were also drawn toward this approach as the war progressed in order to avoid being drafted into service.  In Missouri, Copperhead groups often came out directly in support of the Confederacy and fought against Unionists in the state.  The reasons why people, mostly Democrats, opposed the war varied.  Not everyone in the North was pro-war, just as not every Southerner fought to preserve slavery.  Generalizations make good politics, but do not accurately present the complexity going on in our nation at the time.  Sadly, it is true that out of the Civil War, there has come a now constantly increasing “federalization” power grab which defies what the founding fathers wrote into the Constitution.  But I digress.
For an interesting survey of historical interpretations of the meaning and effects that the Copperhead movement had on the Civil War, see the article “Copperheads” by Jonathon W. White on Essential Civil War Curriculum website.  It’s an interesting survey how views of the Copperheads have changed, depending on culture and time.

The Copperhead badge was made by cutting the Liberty Head symbol out of a copper large cent
and soldering a pin on the back side, or by drilling a small hole in the top so a ribbon could be threaded through it so the copper badge could be worn to show you were opposed this terrible war.  The wearing of Copperhead badges appears to have peaked in 1863 as the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg seemed to evidence that things were turning in the Union’s favor.

Returned Soldiers Punish a Copperhead -- An interesting news report from The Commercial Times Newspaper– Oswego, NY – May 21, 1864:
An exciting affair took place last evening at Shunpike, a small station on the Central [rail]road, a short distance west of Auburn. When the train containing the 26th regiment reached there, the station keeper made his appearance wearing a copperhead badge on his coat, in plain sight. This disloyal exhibition incensed the soldiers, and in less time than we are relating the occurrence, the odious emblem was torn off.  The station keeper, allowing his zeal in a bad cause to out-do his discretion, got very mad, and starting for his house, declared that he would get his pistol and shoot his assailants. Upon this some two hundred of the soldiers surrounded the house, smashed in the windows and doors and nearly destroyed the structure. They would have severely handled the misguided copperhead himself, if he had not made haste to escape by a back door. The conductor of the train, upon hearing of the occurrence, hurried up the departure of the train.  The copperheads will learn speedily that the soldiers look upon them as no better than rebels in arms, and woe be to them if they do not keep their unpatriotic feelings within due bounds.

Children Projects:
1) Explore some articles on Civil War Copperheads to get a better idea of the variations in what they believed and how they operated during the war.  Explore what might have been the effects in both the North and the South if their idea of “peaceful negotiation” to the split had been followed.  Explore what might have happened if Lincoln had lost the 1864 election and been replaced by McClellan and the Peace Democrat Party. 
2) Discuss how people today show their support/allegiance to various causes.  Clothing items/ flags/ internet postings/ bumper stickers – oops ignore the last one, sorry am old school.  During the Civil War period, Patriotic Envelopes both helped to shape public opinion on issues as well as enabled people to show their support of various causes during the Civil War.  Explain to your children what a “letter” is and how in the old days people used to write and mail them as a means of communications.  Yes, am being sarcastic.
3) Explore the issue of family division, in the Civil War and today.  May not be a comfortable discussion, but it has happened down through the ages for multitude of reasons.  Does it make sense that Coleman, who is clearly dedicated to preserving the Union, would walk away from his father? Why or why not?  Is it better he walks away than keeping going back home and maybe increase the anger into open hostile confrontation? Also look at the Commercial Times article.  Does it make sense that the soldiers who have been putting their lives on the line would be upset with a Copperhead?  In the discussion, remember that both “sides” (those for secession and those against it) insulted and openly attacked their opponents.   

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Handling Attack and Retreat in the Chancellorsville Campaign -- Spring 1863

How do men in the ranks handle tough costly battles?
    In spring of 1863, starting on April 27th, the Army of the Potomac under Gen. Hooker begin attacking Lee’s forces across the Potomac River in the Chancellorsville Campaign, pursuing a victory that would then allow Union forces to push on to Richmond.
    Gen. Hooker had replaced Burnside after the failures of the first Fredericksburg assault in Dec.1862 and then the Mud March Jan.1863.  Hooker reorganized and raised moral in the Army of the Potomac, so the men were ready for the spring assault on the rebels.  Hooker intended to keep Confederate forces pinned down in Fredericksburg while he outflanked them with a greater force from the west coming through Chancellorsville.  Union troops began moving on April 27th.  Hard battles with Confederate forces in the distractive assault on Fredericksburg and also around Chancellorsville resulted in Hooker giving up and ordering retreats by May 5th/ 6th.  Another gloomy defeat for the Army of the Potomac.
    Wilbur Fisk, a Vermont soldier serving in the 6th Corps involved in the assault on Fredericksburg shares his perspective on the campaign to his hometown newspaper in a letter written a few days after they had retreated back across the Potomac for safety.  Enjoy this interesting analysis of the failed campaign from a man-in-the-ranks perspective -- yes, it was tough, but do not believe everything you read in the newspapers:

Camp near White Oak Church, Va.  May 19, 1863

    The smoke of the battle has cleared up [Second Battle of Fredericksburg], giving us a chance to look over the ground and count the cost and consequences of our late bloody campaign.   As we are considered fighters by trade, the last attempt in our line of business will have prominence in our thoughts and be the leading topic of conversation till another “rip” comes off.  It may be an old story in Vermont by this time but it is not exactly so here.  We all have our stories to tell, and where they are deficient in fact we supply the lack from imagination.
Marye's Heights Stone Wall
May 3d, 1863
Library of Congress/ Andrew Russel Image

    It is quite amusing to see the accounts the newspapers give of our proceedings here subsequent to coming this side of the river [back north of the Rappahannock].  Hooker, it was coolly said, was over the river again and pursing Lee’s fleeing forces into the last ditch.  The Philadelphia Inquirer (I believe) shrewdly observed that the next battle would probably be fought somewhere on the Pamunkey and then the door to Richmond would be thrown open to the victorious Yankees.  The backbone of the rebellion, so long on the point of breaking, would be able to sustain the pressure no longer, and the starved-out confederacy would succumb at once, letting peace and prosperity once more shine into that slavery-darkened region, while the Flag of our Union should float triumphantly over all.  This looks very fine in print, and if the papers would only fight the battles for us and give us an open road to the rebel capital we should be abundantly satisfied to walk in and make that noted, as well as notorious, city ours. It is vastly easier to win victories on paper than on land, and the experiment has proved that to drive Gen. Lee and his army from the Rappahannock to Richmond is an operation attended with considerable personal danger.  We had no idea that we was to start for Richmond again after being drove to this side, till we saw it in some of the leading dailies, and then, it is needless to say, we didn’t believe it.
    I noticed the New Jersey papers claim that the 26th New Jersey regiment with the Vermont brigade captured the rebel stronghold on the heights of Fredericksburg.  That is strictly true, but it strikes us that the mention of the 26th is entirely gratuitous and unnecessary.  It reminds one of the Dutchman who in the excess of his vanity to make a display for himself, boasted that he and the Squire owned forty cows, when it would have been equally true had the “he” been left out, for the forty cows all belonged to the Squire.
    But after all, that regiment contains some as brave boys as the country affords, and it is a pity they should have to serve in such a miserable organization.  It is not necessary to have the men all cowards to have the regiment break and run.  Fear is one of the most contagious diseases that ever afflicted a soldier, and when one timid fellow loses his heart, others are apt to be affected in the same way.  It takes a fellow of more than ordinary courage to come up to the scratch when others desert their post to hide away from the bullets of the enemy.  Every man that leaves and runs, encourages the enemy, and prompts them to crowd a little harder, and when one after another has skulked away and the ground is getting covered with wounded and dying men, while all the time the enemy are pressing harder and harder and bringing up heavy supports as they did in the second day’s fight, leaving our men no hope of driving them back, but only of holding their ground and gaining time, it takes but a word to start a panic that no power on earth could stop.
    No matter how brave a man may be when that event takes place, nor how much he may deplore the event, if the rest run, he must run too, or be overwhelmed.
    When the Jerseys broke in the 5th, on Monday afternoon, some of them fell in with us, willingly, and some fell in with the 6th regiment, to show the Vermont boys that they were not a set of cowards, and when that regiment charged, they charged with it, and they kept a long ways ahead, making themselves the most conspicuous mark for the enemy, and plunging first and foremost in every encounter, doing their utmost to retrieve their honor, and the honor of their regiment.  Bully for such fellows as that, and all like the, belong to what regiment they will!
    The anxious question, when is the Army of the Potomac going to move, has been practically answered.  We have moved on to the enemy’s works, and moved off again.  We slept one night in the rebels’ nest, and should have slept longer there, perhaps, had we not been forcibly reminded by them that it was a safer place for us this side of the river.  Some sanguine writer said, ‘When Gen. Hooker moves on the enemy, God help them;’ but the prayer was unnecessary; they were able to help themselves.  On the whole, the most of us are willing to admit that we got a very neat little whipping over there, and General Hooker will have to be more successful than he has been, or his boys will think Old Lee, the rebel General, is too much for him.  Our reports claim a sort of victory on whole, and so do the rebels, but the rebel newspapers will lie, and ours won’t.  If we accept the rebels’ own calculations that one Southerner is equal to two Yankees, we may safely infer that battles like the last ones pay pretty well, after all; but the rebels can hardly make out as much for them, unless they change the premise of their argument, for they, by no means, killed twice as many of us as we did of them.
    Let no one say that the recent battles have had a tendency to demoralize the army.  Far from it.  The more we get used to being killed, the better we like it.  Positively, the army is in just as good fighting spirits to-day as they were the day we left our old camp.  I was talking to some New York boys a few minutes ago, whose time of service has nearly expired.  The late battles, I found, had not discouraged them in the least, and a large majority said they contemplated re-enlisting after they had enjoyed the luxuries of home a while but they would not bind themselves to any paper at present, preferring to wait and see what would “turn up,” as they expressed it. 
        Hard Marching Every Day -- The Civil War Letters of Private Wilber Fisk (University Press of Kansas) p.85-87

What?!?”  Newspapers do NOT always get the story right?!?
    Wilbur Fisk is indeed a gifted writer.  Over the course of the war, he wrote many letters to the Green Mountain Freeman newspaper under the name “Anti-rebel.”  He was born in Sharon, VT (June 7 1839) and lived until March 12, 1914.  Mainly self-educated, he taught in a rural school district for seven terms.  1861 he enlisted in Co.E 2nd Vermont Volunteers.  After the war he tried his hand at farming in Kansas for a decade before turning to the ministry and serving as the Congregational pastor in Freeborn, Minnesota, for more than 30 years.
    Fisk is writing this letter to his hometown newspaper after he has read how various newspapers are describing the latest failed Union push into Virginia.
    Now you may say that Fisk is just rambling on, but as you walk through his analysis of this latest Union failure, catch how he is putting the strategic set-back (big picture) into perspective with explanations of tactical insights (on the ground small pictures).  Yes, units did get routed, and there were reasons for that happening, but individuals often stepped up giving their fullest even amidst the harsh defeat.  Even though Fisk shares about retreats, he also affirms that the honorable men in the ranks can handle such things and will rise to the challenge again in the future.
    Is Fisk “lying” about the moral of the army to whitewash the campaign failure to his hometown people?  I honestly think he is trying to explain that even though ‘once again’ the road to Richmond still has not been traveled, many Union soldiers are still committed to finishing the task of putting down the rebellion.  He is also trying to give a more realistic perspective to people back home than what they might read in the newspaper headlines.  He is trying to balance out the “failure” with “all is not lost.” The newspapers may project big picture victory . . . then oops . . . pushed back across the river in defeat once again!?!  Which is it?!?  Once again, we see while the soldiers value the newspapers which they get in camp from ‘back home’, they also evaluate the content for accuracy.  Fisk is attempting to give better perspective for the readers back home to both “headline grand oversimplification” as well as  “local news focus” which downplays the part of other units in the conflict to highlight the favored local unit.
    Is Fisk's perspective the 100% true one?  I'm not saying that.  Fisk's letter is an interesting illustration of the discussions that were certainly happening around the campfires by the men in the ranks all the time about what was going on and why.  I really enjoy Fisk's sense of humor that he uses to make his points.

2nd Vermont Volunteers
    Mustered in June 1861, becoming part of the Old Vermont Brigade in Sept.1861, they fought in many battles including the first assault on Fredericksburg in 1862.  They were also went marching on Burnside’s glorious Mud March in Jan. 1863 (see my post on January 2022 for a humorous tidbit of history on that march). As part of 6th Corps, in the Chancellorsville Campaign sent to keep the Confederate forces pinned down at Fredericksburg while the majority of the Union troops attempted to outflanked the Rebs, on May 3d they assaulted Marye’s Heights, then were involved in the Salem Church battle before retreating back across the Rappahannock as the campaign failed.


    A more detailed unit description is given in The Union Army: A history of military Affairs in the Loyal States 1861-65, (Federal Publishing Company, Madison, WI, 1908), p.108-109:
     The 2nd Vermont Regiment was organized at Burlington and there mustered into the U. S. service for three years on June 20, 1861. It left Burlington for Washington, June 24, and encamped on Capitol Hill until July 10, when it was ordered to Bush Hill, Va., where it was attached to Howard's brigade, Heintzelman's Division, with which it fought at Bull Run on July 21. It was next sent to Chain bridge for guard duty along the Potomac, and assisted in the construction of Forts Marcy and Ethan Allen. In September it was formed with the 4th and 5th Vermont regiments into the Vermont Brigade (later known on many battlefields), the 2nd brigade of Smith's division.
    Winter quarters were established at Camp Griffin and occupied until March 10, 1862, when the regiment marched to Centerville, thence to Alexandria, where it was ordered to Newport News and participated in the Peninsular campaign. It was in action at Young's Mills, Lee's Mills and Williamsburg. In the organization of the 6th Corps, the Vermont Brigade, to which had been added the 6th Vt., became the 2nd brigade, 2nd division. From April 13 to May 19, 1862, the brigade was posted at White House landing. On June 26 it shared in the battle of Golding's farm and in the Seven Days' battles it was repeatedly engaged. It was ordered to Alexandria and to Bull Run late in August. The corps was not ordered into the battle and was next in action at Crampton's Gap and Antietam in September. It fought at Fredericksburg Dec. 13, 1862, after which winter quarters were established near Falmouth and broken for the Chancellorsville battles in May, where the 6th Corps made a gallant charge upon the heights. It fought at Gettysburg, and from Aug. 14 to Sep. 13, 1863, the brigade was stationed in New York to guard against rioting and then rejoined the corps. 
    Winter quarters were occupied with the Army of the Potomac near the Rapidan and a large number of members of the regiment reenlisted. The command continued in the field as a veteran organization and broke camp May 4, 1864, for the Wilderness campaign. On the opening day of the fight at the Wilderness, Col. Stone was killed and LtCol. Tyler fatally wounded. A number of the bravest officers and men perished in the month following, during which the Vermont Brigade fought valiantly day after day with wonderful endurance, at the famous "bloody angle" at Spotsylvania, at Cold Harbor and in the early assaults on Petersburg. On July 10 it formed a part of the force ordered to hasten to Washington to defend the city against Gen. Early, and shared in the campaign in the Shenandoah Valley which followed - the fatiguing marches and counter-marches and the battles of Charlestown, Fisher's Hill, Winchester and Cedar Creek. During the last named battle the brigade held its ground when it seemed no longer tenable and only withdrew when it was left alone. Returning with the 6th Corps to Petersburg in December, it participated in the charge on March 25, 1865, and the final assault April 2, after which it joined in the pursuit of Lee's army and was active at the battle of Sailor's Creek, April 6, where it is said to have fired the last shot of the 6th Corps. 
    The service of the 2nd closed with participation in the grand review of the Union armies at Washington, after which it returned to Burlington. The original members who did not reenlist were mustered out on June 29, 1864, the veterans and recruits at Washington, July 15, 1865.
    The total strength of the regiment was 1,858 and the loss by death 399, of which number 224 were killed or died of wounds and 175 from other causes. In his well-known work on 'Regimental Losses," Col. Fox mentions the 2nd Vt. infantry among the "three hundred fighting regiments" of the Union army.

Children’s Projects 
1) Explore Fisk’s sarcasm about what Newspapers are proclaiming and the realities of the situation for those actually doing the work of fighting the battles.  This would be a good occasion to also explore how “media” in its various forms can influence our thoughts and how we have an obligation to evaluate and challenge broad proclamations.
2) Explore how Fisk blends the descriptions of the ‘big picture failure’ with ‘small picture incidents’ to give his readers a better understanding of what is going on at the moment.  I find it interesting that he does admit there were serious defeats and retreats, yet courage and commitment was not totally lost individually.
3)  It is interesting that Fisk who clearly has excellent writing skills was mainly self-educated.  And that he was a teacher in a rural area for several years.  Times and expectations have certainly changed.  Maybe remind your children that it is what they develop within that will allow them to best use whatever they might get from without.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

New Enlistee’s Camp Life Reflections – T R Sterns – 29th Wisconsin Infantry

 What was life like for a newly enlisted Union soldier?
    The following transcript of a letter by Thomas Rescum Sterns, enlisted Aug.1862, to his wife Lavinia [in Iowa University Digital Library – Civil War Diaries and Letters] has some interesting perspectives on camp life’s challenges:

Camp Randall, Madison, Wis. Sept 24, 1862

Dear wife 
    I take the pleasure of writing a few lines to you to let you know how thing are here in camp. We arrived here last Saturday about 8 o'clock in the evening. After we arrived each one eat his allowance and went to repose. Our bunks as they are called are just wide enough for two to sleep in. In which is put about a handful of straw and then we spread down a blanket and crawl on that and spread another over and in this we start for the land of dreams. After we arrived here on Saturday night, we ate our supper and the next morning we had our breakfast about noon. I have a headache today caused from the loss of sleep being on guard duty last night but when I get my regular sleep again, I shall be all right. My duty was last night when on guard was to guard prisoners, that is men from our regiment that got drunk and was shut up in the guard house. We had three last night but none from our company. 
    Tell Mrs. Parsons that if she take the blanket back again I will much obliged as I drew one and shall not want more than one. I merely speak of it for she will be looking for the money for it. I cannot get a furlough until we are mustered in U. S. service which we expect to be this week and if we are I think I can get home next week and when I come, I shall bring home all of my old clothes for I expect to get my uniform as soon as we are mustered into U. S. service. The 29th is all here in camp now we are quartered new barracks. For breakfast we have bread, meat and tea or coffee. For dinner coffee, bread and meat. For supper meat, bread and coffee. Sometimes we have in addition to the above potatoes or beans. 
    I suppose you have heard what news there has been. I have not heard much and all I have heard is the President has issued a proclamation declaring all slaves free after the 1st of Jan, and also for 400,000 more troops. 
    Everybody that wants to hear from me must write me a letter and I will answer it; for if I have any more regular correspondents than I have got some of them will get neglected. I shall have five regular correspondents. They are yourself, mother, George, aunts [Huldah?] and [Bethia?]. I have not time nor space to write much more this time. Next time I will try to write something about this city as I have not seen much of it yet. Write as soon as you get this for I shall want to hear from home soon. If I should not get home next week, it would be lonesome if I should not hear from you. How is the little boy? No more at present. so good bye. 

From your Husband, Rescum 
Direct yours to Camp Randall Madison Wis. If you direct as I have told you I will get it for I am acquainted with the P. M.

    Camp Randall, in Madison, Wisconsin was established in 1861 and named after governor Alexander Randall who served from 1858 to 1861.  (Guess it has always paid to be a politician.)  It served as a training facility for over 70,000 recruits from the area during the Civil War.  Here they received basic training, uniforms and gear.  But they did not get weapons until they arrived at federal depots in other states.  During the course of the war 27 infantry regiments trained at Camp Randall as well as nine heavy artillery companies, two batteries of light artillery and a company of sharpshooters.  The army also set up a hospital there.  In the spring of 1862, it served briefly as prisoner-of-war camp.  Today there is an arch monument erected in 1912 by veterans of the war, and a marker to the confederate dead buried in Forest Hill Cemetery; at least as I write this, the monuments haven’t been torn down yet.


    Thomas Rescum Sterns was born January 18, 1839 in Amsterdam NY.  He married Lavinia on April 25, 1860 in Jefferson County, Wisconsin.  He farmed and also taught in the local school.  In August 1862 he enlisted for a three year service, received a $25 bounty and was mustered in as a private in Company F of the 29th Wisconsin Infantry on Sept.27.
    Sterns’ letter gives a brief glimpse into camp life from an enlisted man’s perspective.  Sleeping quarters sound luxurious, don’t they?  Food rations actually seem pretty good.  Wonder if it was all organic?  Evidently there were a few ‘troubled souls’ that had signed up, which had to be held in confinement until they ‘slept it off’.  Interesting that he wants to return the blanket bought with ‘credit’ since he has gotten a government issue one.
    There is mention of the Emancipation Proclamation issued on Sept.22, 1862 to go into effect on Jan.1, 1863.  Sterns does not have an accurate understanding of the details of Lincoln’s executive order (it only freed slaves in states in rebellion against the government), but shows it was evidently a topic of conversation at the camp.
    Again, we see that he highly prized letters.  He assures his wife he will write regularly to certain correspondents.  And he will try to answer letters from others as he gets them.  McCown says that Sterns wrote at least 77 letters to his wife (Books at Iowa, p.38), so we see Sterns was diligent in correspondence with Lavinia until he died Sept.2, 1863.

    The Patriotic Envelope -- The saying printed on it:
            The union of lakes -- the union of lands -- the Union of States none can Sever
            The union of hearts -- the union of hands -- the Flag of our Union Forever

                Sold by Bliss, Eberhard & Festner  Madison
    Since he is in Madison WI, it makes sense that Sterns bought this envelope from a local merchant, maybe even the printer directly. 

        The stamp position: I've always heard an upside down stamp means "I love you".  Did just a bit of research on stamp positions and found that meaning varies with time period as well as position like straight or at an angle etc.  At one angle it could mean "Do you still love me?".  At another angle it could mean "Write no more", which obviously Sterns does not mean. And people could have their own personal messages via the stamp's placement on the envelope.  So I will not pontificate on the meaning of the stamp Sterns put on the letter.

Children’s Projects:
1) Explore a bit about the Emancipation Proclamation that President Lincoln issued.  No, it did not resolve the issue of slavery.  But it was an honest step in that direction, and led to the 13th amendment being adopted in 1865.  In an imperfect world, steps in a good direction should be praised, not condemned “because it didn’t go far enough”.
2) Should the post-war monuments erected on the site to the Wisconsin veterans and also the confederate dead prisoners of war be torn down?  Discuss the attack on American history being waged today.  Or ignore it, to your children’s future detriment.  As I always say to spectators at Civil War reenactments:  Study history, learn from it, improve upon it.  Do not white wash it.  Also do not erase it.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sleep Lovely Youth of Infant Years, Death Claims Thee for His Own

In the 1800s a common saying upon the death of a child was: “The Lord has spared the child the trials and tribulations of this world.”  The following is a poem written by Maria Gilbert Webber as she grieved the loss of her young daughter, March 14th, 1840.  I read this poem at the memorial service for my grandson, Jedidiah who died at birth on January 15, 2018.  Maria’s poem reached across the years to touch and encourage hearts 178 years later.  Read the poem, and then the information background to see why I value exploring history.

Sleep lovely youth of infant years,
Death claims thee for his own;
That form so charming to our view,
From our embrace is torn.
Thine infant prattle oft had cheered
A mother’s happy home;
Thy riper age in hope appeared,
That age can never come.

The hope of future years thou wast,
A father’s joy and pride;
The idol of his heart – sweet child,
Would that thou had’st not died.
Oft have they watched thy growing charms,
Thy mind’s expanding grace –
The sweetness of thy smiles had won,
What time could ne’er erase.

The deep affection of their hearts;
Love of the purest cast,
The anxious care of sleepless nights,
The soul’s eternal fate;
Yet none of these could e’er avert
Death’s arrow from its mark;
The summons came – disease was there,
To quench the vital spark.

Angelic form! Human, divine!
Thy spirit has winged its flight.
Now robbed in righteousness alone,
It sheds ethereal light.
Bles’d spirit we would not call thee hence,
To thee we fain would go –
Our Father’s there – our Saviour too, --
How mournful all below.

Our Father did we say was there?
To us, is ‘the promise’ good?
Our Saviour too!  These souls of ours--
Have they been washed in blood?
They were purchased by the Son of God:
Lord seal them with Thy blood;
Let justifying faith be ours –
And fill our hearts with love.

Fill these our mourning hearts with peace,
Shed on them healing grace.
Give us Thy Spirit for our guide,
Grant we may see Thy face.
And when from earth Thou us remove,
Be heaven our destined home,
Where sin and sorrow ever cease,
And death can never come.

In that blest region of the skies,
We’ll join angelic lays,
We’ll spend eternity home,
In chanting Heavenly praise.

History of this poem
    This poem is from the journal of Maria Gilbert Webber, the mother of Samuel Gilbert Webber who was a Civil War Union Navy assistant surgeon.  A friend of mine bought a collection of Samuel Webber’s Civil War letters which also had the journal among the items.  He gave the journal to me as a Christmas gift in 1996 because he thought it would give me a resource in exploring thoughts and attitudes about life and faith prior to the Civil War.  I had no idea then that a poem written so long ago would be an encouragement to my family in our time of loss of a child.
    “Samuel Gilbert Webber was born July 24, 1838 in Boston, Massachusetts, son of Aaron D. and Maria (Gilbert) Webber. He graduated from Harvard with a bachelor's degree in 1860. Webber joined the Union navy in 1862 as an assistant surgeon. He served on board the receiving ship Ohio in 1862 and then on Rhode Island in December 1862. He later served aboard the ironclad Nahant. In February 1864 he was again on board the Rhode Island. He was on board while Rhode Island was towing US Steam Battery Monitor toward Wilmington, NC, a voyage that was interrupted by the sinking of the ironclad. He married Nancy Pope Sturtevant in 1864 and mustered out of the Navy a year later. Harvard awarded Webber his medical degree in 1865; his experience in the Navy took the place of actual classes. He continued study for two years in Vienna, Austria and returned to Boston. Webber served in various hospitals, clinics and medical schools in the Boston area and lived in Boston suburbs. He was appointed member of the first faculty of the Tufts College Medical School, and finally retired from all appointments in 1917, at age 79. Webber died on December 5, 1926.” [quoted from the Mariner’s Museum & Park Letters Archival Collection]
    The journal has on its first page a notation that Samuel Gilbert gave it to his daughter, Maria Gilbert on November 3, 1831 with this inscription "May you grow up in virtue and goodness, prove an ornament to society, and live to a good old age, is the prayer of your parents".  Later in the journal is the notation that she at age 21 married Aaron D Webber at age 29 on Oct.29, 1835.  Maria wrote on a variety of topics, some in poetic form, others in just regular script.  She has entries on family relationships, hardships, prayer, faith in Christ, loss of loved ones, as well as some quotes from other people which she found inspirational and wanted to preserve for herself. She wrote poems celebrating the birth of her first child, a daughter named Maria, born on Oct.7th 1836 and then of Samuel (the Union Navy assistant surgeon) born July 24th, 1838.
    Then comes the poem quoted above when her daughter dies of “dropsy on the brain” on March 14th 1840.  There is also a second poem about her struggle with grief over the death of her daughter.  Among later entries by her are ones about two other children who also died at young ages, one 3 days old and another a year and half old.  Through all her experiences of sadness shines her faith in the Lord and His strength to help her walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  Her son who did live to grow up, Samuel Gilbert Weber, learned from his mother a deep faith in Jesus as his letters show.

Encouragement to my family through Maria’s poem
    When my son asked me to do the memorial service for my grandson, Jedidiah Josiah Rowe, who had died at birth, I remembered reading Maria’s poem years ago and wanted to use her words as a part of the message I would share.  I had to hunt up the journal which the Lord was kind in helping me find.  I read Maria’s’ poem at the beginning of the message.  After the service I had several people mention that they found the poem helpful and encouraging in dealing with the loss of Jedidiah. 
    So the Lord used the grief mixed with faith of a woman from 178 years ago to help my family and friends as we faced a similar loss of a young child.  God gave my family this providential gift of encouragement.  Maria’s daughter and my grandson are both in heaven by the forgiving grace that comes through Jesus.  Maria is with her daughter because as an adult she chose to put her faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross – His shed blood.  My grandson is with his grandma, my wife Vicki who died in 2016 because she put her faith in Jesus.  Someday because I trust in what Jesus did on the cross, I look forward to seeing my wife and my grandson at the tent in heaven.  And I also look forward to meeting Maria Gilbert Webber, and thanking her for her gift to my family.  Discovering her family story gave some aid and comfort to my family story.  Who would imagine that exploring history would be so helpful?  


    “At the tent in heaven” is one of our family sayings.  It originated from a post that I put up on Facebook shortly after my wife Vicki died.  I said it would not surprise me if she had already setup just inside Heaven’s gate a tent where she was welcoming newcomers in with “Welcome Home! God’s love is free and so is this! Come on in and get something to eat and a nice cold cup of lemonade!”  The reenactors who knew her and had often been to our tent at reenactments agreed.  And among my grandkids the saying became “Can’t wait to see Grandma at the tent in Heaven.”
    Well on the day that Jedidiah died we gathered as a family in the hospital room with many tears and hugs, trying to encourage each other.  My eldest grandson Jonas, came over to me and gave me a hug and was crying.  As I hugged him, I said “your brother is with Grandma at the tent in Heaven.”  He looked up at me and exclaimed “Then he’s alright!  She’ll take really good care of him!”  I said “yes, she will teach him to make lemonade and serve goodies just like she taught you.”  For Jonas it was a visual that gave him comfort that his young brother was OK, even as we grieved over our loss of Jedidiah.

    The poem is not copyrighted.  Feel free to pass it along to someone else who might be encouraged by reading it.  But please also share the background of Maria Gilbert Webber as that will make it more meaningful to people who read it.