"Death and the Civil War" airs on PBS
Last night I eagerly watched as American Experience debuted “Death and the Civil War,” a documentary film based on the remarkable This Republic of Suffering (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008) by Drew Gilpin Faust. My eagerness was generated in part by my personal interest in the Civil War, and in part because this past spring I had the pleasure of working with Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker Ric Burns and a wonderful production team from Steeplechase Films when they visited the MHS to work on this project. I assisted them in selecting documents and artifacts for filming and had the special opportunity of supervising the filming process in the Society’s Dowse Library. What an eye opening experience! Seeing the care and time invested in the selection and filming, all the while knowing the MHS material only represented a small portion of the total material needed for the two hour film, left me with a deeper appreciation for those that research and create documentary films.
So last night, I was anxious to see which MHS materials made the final cut and was thrilled to see a large number of our resources were used to tell portions of the story. MHS materials feature prominently in two segments of the film. In the segment “Dying” a letter written by Wilder Dwight to his mother Elizabeth Dwight (available on our website), begun "in the saddle” at the opening of the Battle of Antietam and finished as he lay mortally wounded on that field, is read aloud while the letter and a photograph of Dwight are featured on screen.
Later in the film the story of Nathaniel Bowditch, a Massachusetts soldier mortally wounded at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, and his father Henry Bowditch, who championed improvement of the ambulance service available to soldiers after the death of his son, weaves through the segment “Naming.” This segment includes images of both Nathaniel and Henry Bowditch, a panning shot featuring a number of personal items belonging to “Nat” from the Bowditch Cabinet, as well as an assortment of items – the “terrible telegram” and the annotated map of Virginia showing the site of the younger Bowditch’s death, among others -- contained in the Nathaniel Bowditch Memorial Collection.
If you missed the episode, look for it to re-air on PBS or watch it online. You will be glad that you did.
| Published: Wednesday, 19 September, 2012, 8:00 AM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 16
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Friday, Sept. 19th, 1862
The war, - whose burden has lain on our spirits through this anxious period, will find more enduring records than this. The retreat of McClellan from the peninsula, & the battles near Washington, - the irruption of the rebel army into Maryland, have followed each other in sad succession. We have been saddened, besides other losses of more distinguished officers, to hear of that of Lieut. W. R. Porter, a young man of this town, known to us personally.
Come back to the Beehive in October to read Bulfinch's thoughts on the Emancipation Proclamation and the upcoming gubernatorial election.
| Published: Wednesday, 12 September, 2012, 8:00 AM
Bostonians Respond to Union Loss at 2nd Bull Run
By Jim Connolly, Publications
31 August 1862 was a remarkable day in Boston—one full of anxiety and activity. News reached town that day of the Union’s devastating defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The battle, which took place in Virginia from 28 to 30 August, resulted in approximately 15,000 casualties, the vast majority suffered by Union soldiers. Bostonians responded with a diligent relief effort.
Nothing in the historical record captures the mood of such a moment like a good diarist. Caroline Healey Dall (whom I’ve blogged about before) was an excellent one, and her journal, which lives at the MHS, gives us a bracing account.
I heard Mr Clarke preach, yet hardly heard him, for I longed for the service to be over, that I might hurry home to help prepare lint & bandages.
No one who was in Boston today—will ever forget it. No one but will be proud to own it as a birth place. The car which I took from Dover St. to Court—was crowded to a crush with women & bundles. Most of them were weeping. "Give way," said rough men to each other, "those bundles are sacred." When we got to the Tremont House—a dense crowd had pressed between it & the Hall. All were eagerly gaping for rumors. About the Tremont Temple a semi-circular rope was stretched enclosing several hundreds of cubic feet. At Three Tables, placed in the center & at each end, men took down subscriptions for the freight fund. Within on the side walk immense boxes were being packed. In the building 1800 women sewed all day.
In the car that went to Medford every body was bitterly depressed. The women thought—that if we conquered in the end, the life of the Camp would ruin our young men, that they would come home coarse, licentious cruel. I could not stand this, and the end was, that I appealed aloud to the women, in a plea lasting—partly in a conversational way, nearly the whole time we were coming out, as to the moral end of the war. How moved the whole population were we can judge from the fact, that one could hear a pin drop in that rattling car—& there was not a smile at me on man's or woman's face.
If the news of the Second Battle of Bull Run and the mad rush to send relief were not cause enough for emotional turmoil, the day held yet another significant—and personal—event for Dall. That morning, her husband, the Unitarian minister Charles Dall, arrived in the ship Panther from Calcutta, where he had been engaged in missionary work since 1855 and where he would live until his death in 1886. This was the first of his four trips home over 31 years. But in the confusion of the day, their paths did not cross.
Willie came out at dusk to tell me, that his father would not get up till tomorrow. I was surprised to find that in the general distress, I had forgotten my private pain, not having thought of the Panther, after thinking of nothing else for months, since I heard she was in the bay.
To learn more about Dall and her materials at the MHS, check out the Caroline Wells Healey Dall Papers 1811-1917: Guide to the Microfilm Edition. We are pleased to work with editor Helen R. Deese to produce the four-volume Selected Journals of Caroline Healey Dall, of which Volume I (1838–1855) is available and Volume II (1855–1866) is in preparation. The excerpts above are taken from the 31 August 1862 entry in volume 25 of Dall’s journals, which covers 24 April 1860 to 23 October 1862, and the full entry will appear in Volume II of Selected Journals.
| Published: Friday, 31 August, 2012, 8:00 AM
The Death of a Soldier
Captain Richard Cary of the Second Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the subject of the March 1862 feature in the MHS' online presentation Looking at the Civil War: Massachusetts Finds Her Voice, was shot in the leg on 9 August 1862 during the battle of Cedar Mountain in Virginia. Although Cary’s injuries were not immediately fatal, his company was unable to bring him to a field hospital as there were no ambulances available for transport. Cary died of his injuries on the battle field the following day.
In a letter dated 11 August 1862 contained in the Cary Family Papers III held by the MHS, Eugene Shelton, Richard Cary’s brother-in-law and fellow officer, wrote to his parents informing them of the circumstances surrounding Richard’s death. Eugene relates that as Richard lay dying in an area occupied by Confederate soldiers, “a rebel got a piece of old wood & placed it under Richard’s head for a pillow & gave him a mug of water.” However, he added that after his death the “rebels robbed him of everything & turned his pockets inside out.” A fellow soldier who also lay dying in the field persuaded the rebels to return his locket of his wife Helen (Eugene's sister) as well as his seal ring and Eugene reports those items would be forwarded home "as soon as teh express will take them. Eugene notes that while it is generally believed that Richard died from a loss of blood, “his countenance is perfect and he looks very pleasant” and closes his letter "Tell Helen, Richard died without a murmur & without pain."**
Coming forward to the 21st century, after reading all of Captain Cary’s correspondence and doing research for the contextual essay corresponding with the March 1862 feature, I became thoroughly enthralled with his tragically short life. My fascination with Captain Cary led me to visit his grave at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I brought him a spray of roses to thank him for allowing me the opportunity to read his charming, insightful, and thought provoking letters.
** For more insight into letters sent home to the family members of slain soldiers see Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).
| Published: Friday, 24 August, 2012, 1:00 AM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 15
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Sunday, July 27th, 1862
Public events, which in this trying time, occupy our thoughts greatly, have of late been very saddening in their character. I refer chiefly to the week of battles near Richmond, where, notwithstanding the skill of Gen. McClellan and the valor of his troops, all that could be accomplished was to gain by a retreat, a safer position, with great loss on both sides, - more probably on the enemy’s than on ours. The result has been a comparative pause, while new enlistments are urged, - 300,000 men being called for by the President. The share of Mass is 15000, - that of Dorchester 137. Public meetings are held, - large bounty offered; - many towns have completed their quotas; & ours I hope will do her part. Some are very earnest to have a proclamation of emancipation; but our President, cautious and firm, holds back from what might at present, if it did not arouse the horrors of a slave insurrection, at least divide the North and embitter the South. Gen. Halleck is appointed Commander-in-chief. Congress has confirmed, after passing a Confiscation bill. Three from this town have died in the service; - two, Edward Foster and Ambrose Howe, by sickness; & one, - Dodge, - perhaps more, - in battle. My own young parishioners, thank God! have thus far been spared, as far as accounts have been received.
Bulfinch's pen is silent in August, but look for his next entry in the Beehive in September.
| Published: Wednesday, 18 July, 2012, 8:00 AM