Memorializing the Fallen, Inspiring the Living: “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren”

By Kittle Evenson, Reader Services

I was all set to do a spooky Halloween post for this installment of the Beehive, but while looking for a broadside advertising a Boston magician, my eye snagged on the word Immortal in the title on a proximal folder. With magic on the mind, who wouldn’t be intrigued?

The document in the folder was “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren,” a poem by M.S.N. memorializing the death of a man described as a “Chieftain of Glory!” the “Hercules of Liberty!” whose “bold heart died to be free / Warm’d by its out-gushing flood.”

M.S.N.’s “Death of the Immortal Dahlgren”

Published in 1864 it seemed clear that this poem described a Civil War soldier, but who was The Immortal Dahlgren?

Halloween and magicians forgotten, I went on the hunt for this mysterious man.

Working backwards, I searched our online catalog ABIGAIL for the M.S.N. poem and found its item record (including Dahlgren’s first name – Ulric), and through that, two other poems and a memorial sermon of the same theme.

Chas. Henry Brock’s “Ulric Dahlgren”

B.B. French’s “Lines suggested by the death of one of the bravest men this war has brought into the service — Colonel Ulric Dahlgren”

B. Sunderland’s “In memoriam: Colonel Ulric Dahlgren”

Sunderland’s memorial sermon includes copies  of the three poems I had already found, with the addition of one by H.T. Tuckerman. 

H.T. Tuckerman’s “Ulric Dahlgren”

All the poems describe, in florid prose, Dahlgren’s heroic battle actions, with Tuckerman’s also alluding to Dahlgren’s Swedish heritage and injuries he sustained earlier in his short career. 

The picture they paint is emotionally clear, if somewhat lacking in facts. Rev. Sunderland’s sermon helpfully fills in many of the gaps, beginning as it does at birth and expounding Dahlgren’s 22 years over 100 pages. Interestingly, the published copy also includes a letter from Congressman Schuyler Colfax and others requesting Sunderland to publish his oration. The letter reads, in part,

Dear [Rev. Byron Sunderland, D.D.]: We respectfully request that you will furnish for publication a copy of the eloquent and patriotic discourse on the life and death of Col. Dahlgren . . . We wish to see the noble daring and heroic devotion to the cause of his country, which characterized the brief but brilliant career of this young soldier, held up before the youth of our country that they may be stimulated to an honorable emulation of his virtues, and, if need be, to a similar sacrifice of their lives 

Not only is Colfax and company hoping to exemplify Dahlgren’s sacrifice for the Union army, but “to honor his memory” in hopes that it “will add to the reproach and shame of all [their] enemies and all who sympathize with them” 

The sermon itself draws the listener (or reader) through the life of a young man whose nature was shaped by “domestic, scholastic, and Christian influences,” and whose father’s military example inculcated in him the belief that “if [he dies], what death more glorious than the death of men fighting for their country?” 

Colonel Ulrich Dahlgren

Highly educated, Dahlgren began his career as a lawyer in his uncle’s practice before following in his father’s military footsteps in 1862. Wounded in July of 1863, Dahlgren lost his right foot but returned to active duty, a newly promoted Colonel, in November of that same year. In late February of 1864, he joined General Kilpatrick’s offensive to free Union soldiers held at the Confederate prison Belle Isle near Richmond, VA. The mission was a failure, and in the early hours of March 2, 1864, just a few miles outside of Richmond, Col. Dahlgren and 500 of his men were ambushed by Confederate forces. Of the fated encounter Sunderland writes

Among the bodies that rolled down together in the dust and darkness, were Ulric Dahlgren and his high-mettled horse, all pierced and shattered with the leaden hail that made them both one heap of swift mortality.

This quiet death, indistinguishable from the thousands of others that occurred around it was publicly honored by the Union leaders as the exemplary sacrifice of a selfless officer. Military and political leaders alike had a vested interest in inspiring commitment and sacrifice in the nation’s youth, and a fierce support on the part of their families. They wove a narrative of Ulric Dahlgren that supported this conviction: a young man from a prominent military family who rose rapidly through the official ranks and gave for his county what Abraham Lincoln called in the Gettysburg Address, “the last full measure of devotion.”

The Massachusetts Historical Society holds a wealth of manuscript materials pertaining to the American Civil War, including firsthand accounts, military records, and photographs. Many collections and items have been digitized for projects associated with the 150th anniversary of the War, and still others are available for viewing on-site at the MHS library. Researchers interested in the Ulric Dahlgren memorials or any of our other collections are encouraged to stop by during any of our open hours.


“Three Generations Have Advanced in a Century” : From John Adams to Charles Francis Adams II

By Amanda Norton, Adams Papers

            On October 31, 1835, John Adams’ grandson Charles Francis Adams, along with his wife, Abigail Brooks Adams, had their second son, Charles Francis Adams 2d, baptized at their home in the presence of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams and other close family members. Born in May, the day for the christening had been specially chosen—the centennial of John Adams’ birth. While John Adams’ birthday is recognized as October 30 in the new style Gregorian calendar, John Quincy Adams erroneously believed that the date should be recognized on the 31st and convinced Charles Francis to hold the baptism on that date.

            Charles Francis Adams, who often reflected on his place within his illustrious family, noted the occasion in his diary:

“It was a little singular that a child of mine should be christened just one hundred years from the birth of his great grandfather. Three generations have advanced in a century. May the last who is carrying the name of the family into the next be as honest, as determined and as a conscientious as the first. I trust in a power above us which has for reasons unknown thought fit to make among us instruments for advancing the power, the honor and the prosperity of this Nation, and whose decrees are always just and always wise. My feelings always overpower me when I reflect how unworthy I am. Prosperity has been showered upon me. May I learn to deserve it!”

            John Quincy Adams also linked the events in his diary: “This day is the centurial anniversary of my fathers birth. . . . He was born of Parents in humble life, and has left an illustrious name, for his descendants to sustain by virtues like his own. May it please the disposer of all Events that his great grandson this day devoted to the service of God and man may enjoy as long, as useful and as prosperous a life.”

            The prayers of the father and grandfather were indeed answered in Charles Francis Adams 2d (1835–1915), who was a distinguished Union Army officer, railroad executive, historian, and biographer. Along with these many achievements, Charles Francis served as president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and selected the spot on the Fens Park where the MHS now resides. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Adams Manuscript Trust and the deposit of the Adams Family Papers at the Society, thereby assuring the preservation and propagation of his great grandfather’s legacy and that of the entire family.

            For more on the collection, preservation, and dissemination of the family’s manuscripts and the origins of the Adams Papers Editorial Project, see the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams.



This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

On Tuesday, 27 October, stop by at 5:15PM for a seminar from the Immigration and Urban History series. Luis Jimenez of the University of Massachusetts – Boston will speak about “Immigration, Race, and the Tea Party Movement,” looking at the extent to which racial anxiety played a factor in the formation of the movement. Theda Skocpol of Harvard Universiy provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Next up is a Brown Bag lunch talk that focuses on the founding father of the Society. Come in on Wednesday, 28 October, for “Jeremy Belknap, Missionary: Religion, History, and the Founding of the MHS,” a chapter in an upcoming book by Abram Van Engen, Washington University, which asks why institutions like the MHS and New York Historical Society came into existence in the first place and what role religious belief may have played. The talk begins at noon and is free and open to the public. 

Also on Wednesday is the second event in the Transforming Boston series. This panel discussion, titled “Connecting the Communities Back to the City, 1960-1990” begins at 6:00PM, with a pre-talk reception starting at 5:30PM. This event is sold out.

Please note that on Wednesday, 28 October, the library reading room will close at 3:30PM in preparation for the evening’s event. The reference area and microfilm collections will remain accessible until 4:45PM.

And on Thursday, 29 October, the Society will host an event to announce the recipient of the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize. The evening will begin with a reception at 5:30 PM and will be followed at 6:00 PM by the presentation of the award and a talk by the author. Seating is limited and registration is required at no cost. RSVP by October 22.

Finally, on Saturday, come on in for a free tour of the Society. “The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society” is a 90-minute, docent-led tour of the MHS’ historic building at 1154 Boylston St. No reservations necessary for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or





How the Sausage Is Made: The Process of Processing

By Susan Martin, Collections Services

I’ve written many posts at the Beehive highlighting specific items, stories, and people from our collections that captured my attention, but it occurs to me that readers of our blog may be interested in a bigger picture of the work we do here. This week, I’d like to offer a behind-the-scenes look at how a collection is processed—or, as we say in Collections Services, how the sausage is made.

The responsibilities of the MHS Collections Services department include everything from the acquisition of new material to processing, preservation, and digitization. It’s the job of a manuscript processor like me to make collections both physically accessible and intellectually coherent to researchers, what archivists refer to as “arrangement and description.”

This can be challenging, to say the least. Collections come to us in all shapes, sizes, and conditions. Think of the way you keep your personal files at home or on your computer. You may know where things are, but would anyone else be able to figure it out? Are items arranged chronologically? Do folder labels really reflect the folders’ contents? How do the files relate to each other? When we’re talking about historical documents, often passed down through generations, potential problems multiply. Items may be in poor condition, undated, unidentified, basically a mess. For example:



This carton contains hundreds of letters folded up in their original envelopes and in no discernible order, as well as rusty staples, paper clips, and who knows what else. (Hair, leaves, dead insects—we’ve found them all!) These papers can’t be used by researchers like this. Each letter will need to be unfolded and arranged chronologically in acid-free boxes and folders for access and long-term preservation. It’s a very time-consuming job. A finished collection ends up looking something like this:



At the same time this physical work is being done, the processor will also need to make some intellectual sense of the material, scanning the letters carefully but quickly to determine who the authors and recipients are and what topics they discuss. The collection will be described in ABIGAIL, our online catalog, with headings for people, places, organizations, events, subjects, etc.

Good cataloging is vital because it’s our description that directs researchers to a specific collection. Experienced archivists have developed both subject knowledge and professional instincts that help them make informed judgments about the context and importance of a collection. What makes the papers historically significant? What possible avenues of research might bring someone to see them?

When you look at one of our catalog records, you may notice many slightly different permutations of the same topic. For example, papers of the director of Boston’s Children’s Hospital during the peak of the U.S. polio epidemic might be described by any or all of the following subject headings (and then some):

Children’s Hospital (Boston, Mass.).


Children—Health and hygiene.


Hospital administrators.




This may seem redundant, but there’s a method to the madness. What headings are useful depends on a researcher’s particular area of interest. Is he or she doing work on the specific hospital, children’s hospitals, Boston hospitals, hospital administration, polio, general childhood health?

Catalog records for manuscript collections have to be written from scratch because each collection is unique. No two archivists will describe the same papers the same way. Hundreds of our collections here at the MHS are also described more fully in online guides, which allow us to go into more detail about groups or “series” of papers and to indicate where specific material is located. Our guides are fully searchable, and more and more people are finding us through online search engines.

Manuscript processing is fundamental to all the work done at the MHS. Every other function of the library, from research to digitization, exhibit planning, even blogging, would not be possible without it. We’re constantly refining our catalog records and collection guides, and we’re still making discoveries in collections that have lived on our shelves for years. Our researchers are a great resource, bringing their subject knowledge to bear to fill gaps…and to catch our mistakes!


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

We’re taking a breath this week at the Society and the schedule is a bit lighter, but there is still plenty to take in to fill your history fix. 

On Wednesday, 21 October, join us for a public conversation. In “The Two Worlds of Erastus Hopkins,” authors Bruce Laurie and Anne Emerson will read and discuss their separate works that are united by their focus on a common historical figure. The talk is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members) and registration is required. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

And on Saturday, 24 October, we have a special event. Join us from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM for this special event and see the 2004 Red Sox World Series Trophy alongside a one-day display featuring the Society’s 1912 Red Sox medal and other baseball artifacts from its collections. Visitors are invited to take pictures with the trophy. 

Also on Saturday we have our weekly free tour, the History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led talk is free and open to the public. No need for reservations for individuals or small groups, but parties of 8 or more should contact Art Curator Anne Bentley in advance, at 617-646-0508 or

Finally, don’t forget to come in and see our current exhibitions. Free to the public, our galleries are open Mon.-Sat., 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

New Titles in the MHS Library’s Reference Collection

By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Here in the MHS library it is always a pleasure to see the fruits of scholarly labor pursued in our reading room come back to us as the form of publications hot off the presses. In recent months, we have been delighted to add a number of titles to our collection gifted to us by their authors.



The following recently-published titles have been cataloged and are now available for use as part of our reference collection:

Amestoy, Jeffrey L. Slavish Shore: The Odyssey of Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Balik, Shelby. Rally the Scattered Believers: Northern New England’s Religious Geography (Indiana University Press, 2014).

Berry, Stephen. A Path in the Mighty Waters : Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World (Yale University Press, 2015).

Blanck, Emily. Tyrannicide: Forging an American Law of Slavery in Revolutionary South Carolina and Massachusetts (University of Georgia Press, 2014).

Fisher, Julie A. and David J. Silverman. Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts : Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-century New England and Indian Country (Cornell University Press, 2014).

Gaskill, Malcolm. Between Two Worlds : how the English became Americans (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

Hodes, Martha. Mourning Lincoln (Yale University Press, 2015).

Kopelson, Heather Miyano. Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic (New York University Press, 2014).

Morrison, Dane. True Yankees: Sea Captains, the South Seas, and the Discovery of American Identity (Johns Hopkins, 2014).

Researchers are welcome to visit the MHS library during our regular business hours to consult these and other titles. If you are an author who has written a work drawing on research done at the MHS, we invite you to send a copy of your book to the Reference Librarian for inclusion in the Society’s collection. 


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

It is a busy holiday week at the MHS with plenty of programs on offer to meet your daily required amount of history. Please note that the library is closed on Monday, 12 October, in observance of Columbus Day. Despite the library closure, our doors remain open! Stop by anytime 10:00AM-3:00PM to enjoy Opening Our Doors, a city-wide celebration of free arts and cultural events. In addition to our two current exhibitions, visitors can also enjoy a special one-day presentation of “Doors from the MHS Collections.” 

On Tuesday, 13 October, we return to our normal schedule, including an evening Environmental History Seminar presented by David Hecht of Bowdoin College. Beginning at 5:15PM, Hecht discusses “How Rachel Carson Became a Revolutionary: Environmental Politics and the Public Sphere.” Chris Bosso, Northeastern University, provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Then, on Wednesday, 14 October, join us for the first in a new program series, “Transforming Boston: From Basket Case to Innovation Hub, Program 1—Turning the City Around, 1945–1970.” This panel discussion features Lizabeth Cohen, Frank Del Vecchio, Mel King, and David Fixler, with Tunney Lee moderating the talk. The talk is open to the public for a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS, BARI, or Rappaport Fellows or Members) and registration is required. A pre-talk reception kicks-off at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

Friday, 16 October, is a day of two beginnings. First, “Maritime Massachusetts: Boston Stories and Sources” is a two-day workshop that explores the maritime history of Boston. The workshop continues on Saturday, 17 October, and runs 9:00AM-4:00PM both days. The workshop is open to educators and history enthusiasts for a fee of $35/person. For more information or to register, complete this registration form, or contact the education department at or 617-646-0557.

Also beginning on Friday is a new exhibition. “The Unitarian Conscience: Letters & Publications from the George E. Nitzsche Unitariana Collection” celebrates the sesquicentennial of the founding of the Unitarian Society of Germantown in 1865 through a display of letters and publications from the collection. Exhibitions are open to the public, free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

Last but not least, on Saturday, 17 October, the Society hosts its weekly free tour, the History and Collections of the MHS. Starting at 10:00AM, this docent-led tour explores all of the public spaces of the Society’s building on Boylston St, providing information about the history of the organization and the materials it has collected and maintained over the years. Tours are open to the public free of charge. No need for reservations for individuals or small groups. However, groups of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or


Boston by Broadside, part II: Fashionable Footwear

By Dan Hinchen

Welcome to my new series here on the Beehive: “Boston by Broadside.” Here I will use examples from the MHS’ collection of broadsides to show various views of our fair city as it used to be.


As we leave Prof. Boulet’s Gymansium behind after a bracing work-out, we are ready to start exploring the city a little bit more. Since we will probably be on our feet for a while we need to make sure that we have some trusty (and stylish) footwear to get us around. With that in mind, we’ll head into the city proper and proceed to 180-182 Washington St. to pay a visit to Mr. Henry Wenzell. 


As you can see from Messr. Wenzell’s handsome advert, he specializes in importing the finest and most fashionable French footwear, and has for some years now. I think that I will go with a sturdy pair of boots in case we are struck with a sudden downpour on our walk. 

And now, with our toes cozy, we can set off once again to see what sights Boston-that-was has to offer us. Check back soon to stay on the trail!

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

The first week of October is a busy one here at the Society. Here’s what’s coming up!

Starting things off on Monday evening, 5 October, is a public author talk. Beginning at 6:00PM, author Andrea Wulf will discuss her new book, The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World. Co-sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, this talk is open to the public with a $20 fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members); registration required. A pre-talk reception starts at 5:30PM. Click here to learn about Wulf’s talk the following day at the Arboretum.

On Tuesday, 6 October, stop by the Society at 5:15PM for an Early American History seminar. This time, Jane Kamensky of Harvard University presents “Copley’s Cato or, The Art of Slavery in the Age of British Liberty,” taken from several chapters of her manuscript, Copley: A Life in Color. David L. Waldstreicher of the Graduate Center at CUNY provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Looking for a lunch date on Wednesday, 7 October? Why not pack a lunch and come by the Society at noon for a Brown Bag talk. Cynthia Bouton of Texas A&M University discusses her book project with this talk titled “Subsistence, Society, Commerce, and Culture in the Atlantic World in the Age of Revolution.” This talk is free and open to the public. 

Then, on Thursday, 7 October, we have seminar number two for the week, this time from the History of Women and Gender series. “Capitalism, Carceral Culture, and the Domestication of Working Women in the Early American City” is presented by Jen Manion of Connecticut College, with Cornelia Dayton of UConn providing comment. The talk will begin at 5:30PM and is taking place at the Schlesinger Library. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

And on Friday, 8 October, there is a gallery talk focused on our main exhibition, Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection. Stop by at 2:00PM on Friday for “Terra Firma: Too Big to Show.” In this talk the MHS’ Senior Cataloger, Mary Yacovone, will provide an up-close look at atlases that didn’t make it into the exhibition. This talk is free and open to the public. 

Finally, on Saturday, 9 October, come in at 10:00AM for “The History and Collections of the MHS,” a 90-minute docent-led talk that explores the public spaces in the building at 1154 Boylston Street and passes on information about the history, holdings, art, and architecture at the MHS. This tour is free and open to the public. Reservations are not necessary for individuals and small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Art Curator Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or

Remember to keep your eye on our online calendar for updates on programs, and to read about our current exhibitions!

Prospect Hill Tower and the Grand Union Flag

By Bonnie McBride, Reader Services

One day when wandering through Somerville, my boyfriend, a recent transplant to Cambridge, noticed what looked like a castle tower in the distance. He asked me about it, and rather than just find the answer online, we decided to have an adventure and discover in person what this tower was all about. It turns out that there is not a secret castle in Somerville, rather it is the Prospect Hill Tower, built in 1903 to commemorate the first flying of the Grand Union Flag on that same hill 1 January 1776.



As someone who is a fan of early Massachusetts history, I was surprised that I did not know about this tower and even more surprised that the first flag representing the United States had looked as if it had a Union Jack quartered on it. The next day I decide to search our collections here at MHS to see what materials we held about the Prospect Hill Tower and the first flying of the Grand Union Flag.



We do hold a number of secondary sources about both Prospect Hill and the flag flying, ranging from published historic guides of Somerville to sheet music composed about the first flag flying. The sheet music, pictured below, was printed in 1862 and while it is about the first raising of the flag in 1776, you will notice that the soldier pictured on the cover is dressed in a Civil War uniform, with tents in the background. Prospect Hill was used during the Civil War as a training camp. Most of our materials regarding the flag and Prospect Hill are from the late 19th and very early 20th centuries, which was about the time the tower was erected.



One of these sources is a bound scrapbook, created by Alfred Morton Cutler in 1921. In it, he pasted clippings of articles he had written for newspapers, such as the Cambridge Tribune, between 1918 and 1921. A number of the clippings were Letters to the Editor, in response to articles on the location and flag, with Cutler writing in to correct errors. All the articles go into great detail about not only the location of the first flag on Prospect Hill but also the type of flag. Cutler describes the first American flag as having “thirteen stripes, and containing in the field the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew.” At the end of the scrapbook is a clipping from a letter to the editor from William E. Wall: “An attempt is being made by the Librarian of the Cambridge Public Library to rob our city of Somerville of the honor which it has held so long, viz., that on January 1, 1776, on Prospect Hill (then a part of Charlestown) the flag of the United Colonies ‘first flung defiance to an enemy.’” Mr. Wall goes on to encourage readers to read closely Mr. Cutler’s “answer to assertions of the Cambridge librarian.” Unfortunately the letter written by the Librarian of the Cambridge Public Library was not included in the scrapbook, though this was the apparent conflict which prompted Cutler to correct the narrative.



Perhaps realizing that a book would have a wider audience than a newspaper, Cutler re-works many of his articles and letters into a short book titled The Continental “Great Union” Flag which was published in 1929. Similar to his letters to the editor, which contained short citations, Cutler goes to great lengths to prove the validity of his claims by citing in detail his various sources, which I am sure would lead to more delightful discoveries if a researcher ever chose to track them down.


Stop by and visit the library to help answer your own early Massachusetts or local town history questions! Though you can find answers to many questions online, it is more interesting (and fun!) to see how scholars thought about those same questions many years ago.