The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Eight Is Enough: The Worcester Family in the Civil War

It can sometimes be difficult to comprehend the scale of the Civil War and to realize how deep an impact it had on the lives of families far and wide. Then something comes along that really drives the point home.

The MHS recently acquired a collection of the papers of Joseph E. Worcester, publisher of dictionaries, almanacs, gazetteers, atlases, and other reference works. While most of the collection relates to his lexicographical career, one letter, written in the midst of the Civil War, caught my eye. On 20 Apr. 1863, Joseph wrote to his sister Deborah (Worcester) Loomis from his home in Cambridge, Mass. The letter starts out simply enough: Joseph discusses some family business related to the death of their brother-in-law Daniel French and the disposition of French’s property. Then he changes the subject:

You know, I suppose, that we have eight nephews in the army, but how recent information you may have had respecting them, I know not. Henry P.’s wounded ancle [sic] is healed, and he has joined his regiment, and is now, or was recently, at Falmouth, in Gen. Hooker’s army. Charles, John, and William, who have passed most of the winter at St. Augustine, Florida, are now in South Carolina – were well early this month. Henry, br. G.’s son, has seen hard service in N.C. – has been very ill, and is now, I suppose, in the hospital at Port Royal. He will be, as I hope, soon discharged, if he is not already. I have seen a letter from Leonard’s son Edward, dated the 24 of March at Camp Farr, near New Orleans. He was in good health. Brother David’s sons Frank and Edward, who enlisted and left Bangor in February are now, I suppose, at Fort Alexandria, near Washington. It is to be hoped, though hardly to be expected, that all these young men will return in due time to their friends.

I was intrigued, so I set out to identify the (mind-boggling!) eight soldier nephews and learn their fates—no mean feat considering the size of the family. Joseph was one of fifteen children of Jesse and Sarah (Parker) Worcester of Hollis, N.H. Those fifteen siblings had, according to The Worcester Family: The Descendants of Rev. William Worcester, a total of nearly fifty children. Many of that generation’s young men died on the battlefields of the Civil War, and Joseph was right to be guarded in his optimism.

So how did the Worcesters fare? Amazingly, it turns out that seven of Joseph’s eight nephews survived the war—all except 24-year-old John Howard Worcester (1839-1863). In fact, John died on 26 July 1863, just three months after this letter was written, from wounds received during the infamous assault on Fort Wagner, S.C. The rest of the nephews did, in fact, “return in due time to their friends.” Taking them in order…

Henry Parker Worcester (1839-1882) was a member of the 3rd Maine Infantry and saw action at Fair Oaks, Wilderness, and Bull Run. Wounded twice and promoted multiple times, he finished his service as a captain. After the war, he settled in Norfolk, Va.

Charles Henry Worcester (1837-1919), the aforementioned John, and William Worcester (1840-1895)—Charles and John were brothers, and William their cousin—served together in the 7th New Hampshire Infantry. After the war, Charles went into business with his three other brothers and, as far as I can tell, lived the longest of the eight nephews. William died of heart trouble at the age of 55.

Henry (1842-1911), William’s younger brother and a member of the 24th Mass. Infantry, was, as his uncle Joseph hoped, discharged due to illness. Henry became a leather manufacturer, post commander of his local G.A.R. #40 in Malden, Mass., and a Civil War historian.

Edward Joseph Worcester (1831-1893) of the 42nd Mass. Infantry was the only one of the eight with a wife and children at home when he enlisted as a “hundred days man.” Happily he returned to his family and had two more children with his wife Maria.

Francis D. Worcester (1843-) was a member of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. He survived the war but may have suffered from mental illness later in life. His brother Edward Lewis Worcester (1845-1897), the youngest of the eight, also served in this regiment and went from private to first lieutenant over the course of the war. He later settled down as a farmer in Iowa.

After updating his sister Deborah on the status of their soldier nephews, Joseph wrote more broadly about the conflict itself:

This most iniquitous war, after two years of most destructive prosecution, seems now no nearer a successful termination than it did one or two years ago. I have all along had a hope that the war would lead to the extermination of the cause of it, that is slavery, but whether this will be effected seems doubtful. I think slavery is a much greater evil than the people of the Free States have considered it, but it is an evil that is very difficult to get rid of without the concurrence of the slaveholders. We know not what the designs of Providence may be, but we may hope good will come in some way.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 2 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a shortened week here at the MHS as we enter July and the humidity rises, with only a single public program on offer. So, before you settle into your celebrations, why not take in some history? 

On Wednesday, 2 July, stop by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk. This week, Matthew Amato from the University of Southern California presents "The Camera and the Community: How Photography Changed American Abolitionism." With this project, Amato examines the production, exchange, and visuality of photographs of abolitionists to show how radical activists harnessed the medium as a way to build their movement in the decades prior to the Civil War. This program is free and open to the public. 

And as always, remember to come in and see our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I." The galleries are open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.

Finally, please note that the Society is closed Friday, 4 July and Saturday, 5 July, in observance of Independence Day. Normal hours resume on Monday, 7 July. Enjoy the long weekend!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 29 June, 2014, 12:00 PM

The Transcendental Tracings of Christopher Pearse Cranch

The last two times I wrote for the Beehive (here and here) I spoke about the important interplay that goes on between the library staff and researchers. In both cases this interplay revolved around the parties sharing information about and exploring collections relevant to a particular topic. Recently, though, one of our regular researchers casually asked me whether I saw a collection of sketches and drawings with which he was working. Since I did not see them before, prior to returning the material to the stacks I decided to have a peek.

The first thing that I saw was a drawing I recognized immediately and which I remember seeing in a textbook in high school, showing an eyeball raised on long, spindly legs and wearing a top hat, striding through an unembellished countryside. The “transparent eyeball,” a facetious illustration of Ralph Waldo Emerson remains a popular image.

Christopher Pearse Cranch was a transcendentalist artist and poet. Born in 1813 in what is now Alexandria, VA, he eventually made his way to Boston to study divinity at Harvard in 1835. Though Cranch was never ordained, he served for a time as a missionary in New England and the Midwest. While at Harvard he became associated with the New England Transcendentalists. Through his life, Cranch published several volumes of poetry, served as an editor and contributor for James Freeman Clarke’s Western Messenger, wrote frequently for various periodicals, published a pair of children’s books, and did a blank verse translation of Virgil’s Aeneid. Despite all of this, it is his drawings for which he is most remembered, most of which were not published until they were rediscovered by F. DeWolfe Miller in 1951.

What struck me first as I looked through the drawings was how much his sketches called to mind images from other artists from very disparate times and places. The first thing conjured up by some of these drawings are the works of the 15th-16th century Dutch painter, Hieronymous Bosch, especially his famous triptych "The Last Judgement."


Beyond this first impression I was intrigued by the breadth of styles that Cranch employed and delighted in the strange doodles he created. Some of them are funny and slightly satirical, others are repetitive depictions of people in profile. Many of these profiles, as well as some other creatures he drew, remind my very much of the style employed in the Beatles’ animated movie Yellow Submarine, especially the Victorian-esque profiles:

Another image I found, depicting a cloaked and somewhat shadowy figure, looks like it would be right at home in a collection of drawings by the Massachusetts illustrator Edward Gorey:

"Oh: Charly is my darling, my darling."

Also present were little pieces of satire, sometimes aimed at specific people or situations, and some, like this one, aimed at Americans in general:

"Some of them beautiful Merry-kins."

In addition the types of images you see here, Cranch also did some serialized cartoons that followed themes. One series of drawings was made up of imaginitive illustrations of lines from various works of Shakespeare. Another series of several images showed the "Miseries of Landscape Painters."

"Miseries of Landscape Painters.
No 3."

Despite all of the whimsy present in many of Cranch's drawings, and despite the "misery" of the form, he also showed talent with landscape images:


While Cranch’s drawings are nothing new to many people, without a casual interaction with one of our researchers I might never have seen them in this way. This is just one more example of how important and how beneficial it is for us as librarians to interact with our researchers. What do you think about Cranch's drawing?



- Christopher P. Cranch drawings [graphic]

- Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds. 1999. American National Biography. New York: Oxford Univeristy Press.



comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 27 June, 2014, 3:55 PM

This Week @ MHS

This week is the great calm at the MHS as there are no public programs scheduled. However, keep in mind that our exhibitions space is open to the public at no cost, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. Currently on display is "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War," an exhibition which celebrates the forthcoming MHS publication Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall.

And on Saturday, 28 June, come by at 10:00AM for The History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute docent-led tour of the public spaces in the Society's home at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour, free and open to the public, touches on the history, collections, art, and architecture of the Society. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 22 June, 2014, 12:00 PM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 33

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Wednesday, June 1st, 1864

The Convention of Ultra-Republicans has met at Cleveland, & nominated Fremont for president. While thinking him the most brilliant man we have, I have not that confidence in his sound discretion, & what the Romans would have styled his fortunes, to think him the right man for the office. Mr. Lincoln is my choice, & will, I think, be that of the nation, unless possibly a brilliant victory gives Grant the preference.

Monday, June 13th

Our good president Lincoln has been re-nominated, by the Union Convention, with Johnson of Tennessee for Vice; - a good choice, as a tribute to the union men of the South, & I trust in other respects. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 20 June, 2014, 1:00 AM

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