The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Civil War 

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 23

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

Friday, July 12th, 1863

4th. The great anniversary, rendered still more famous now, was very quietly spent here. At ½ past 1, I went into Boson, & at the depot bought a paper, containing the announcement by the President of the successful issue so far of the three days’ fight at Gettysburg, - which I read with thankfulness & hope.

Friday, July 19th, 1863

The great theme of conversation has been the riots in New York & Boston, occasioned by the Conscription. Blood shed in both. Law triumphant here, and I trust also there.

Meantime, thanks to God for victory at Port Hudson, - near Vicksburg, - in Arkansas, - and some success near Charleston.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 11 July, 2013, 8:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 22

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

June 18th, 1863

So too let me feel in regard to my suffering, bleeding country. We have heard within a few days, of the sudden aggressive movement of the rebel army, & its inroad into Pennsylvania. May the Ruler of nations grant that the pressure of each immediate danger may arouse a spirit that shall not slumber till it brings conquest and peace! The fine, calm eradication by President Lincoln of his course in making arrests, is worth noting at this time. God be thanked for our firm, honest chief magistrate!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 8:00 AM

“We are doing a great deal here”: The Letters of Civil War Sharpshooter Moses Hill, Part 3

I hope you've been enjoying the letters of Moses Hill as much as I have. After last month's installment, we pick up his story in April 1862 at the beginning of the siege at Yorktown, Va. Moses anticipated a hard fight: “I dred it for I know there must be a great loss of life on both sides.”

Now eight months into his service, Moses wrote candidly about the realities of war, describing some of the fighting in wrenching detail. Sharpshooters played an important role in battle by picking off enemy soldiers from a distance to provide cover for their own troops. Moses told his wife Eliza how, at Yorktown, he and his company kept the Rebels from reloading their guns by firing at them every time they rose above the fortifications. While he was proud of his company’s skill, he refused to kill gratuitously:

I do not shoot Rebels for money or by the head. I shal not nor I have not shot any one unless it is agoing to do some good for the Countery. I have had balls come around me very close when I did not return a shot for as to slowtering men when it does no good I cannot do. When we fight for a victory then is my time if any. Some take pride in going out and shoot a man from the Rebel brest work when it does now good at all, but I cannot slawter in that way nor I will not.

Moses also disapproved of his fellow soldiers' predilection for drinking, gambling, and swearing. He felt too much was at stake to tolerate poor discipline, with the enemy so close and an attack expected at any moment. He described sleeping with his rifle by his head and frequently waking in the middle of the night to the “rower [roar] of musketery.”

The most poignant and evocative passages in Moses's letters are those juxtaposing these combat experiences with peaceful memories of his home in Medway, Mass. He painted vivid pictures of life after the war:

Eliza you do not know how much I think of home you and the Children. It seems as if the summer could not pass off without my seeing home. Tell Asahell Lovell that I would like to be at home so I could go a fishing with him this spring but I cannot. I would like to go down on the River bank where all is still and where I should not be oblige to look on all sides to see if some Rifle or a musket was pointing at me, or to not listen to here if there was a shell coming over my head so that I could drop on the ground before it bursts, or to lay myself down at night to sleep where I knew I should not be attacked before morning....There is cannonading now within a 1/4 of a mile of us. I stop my pen to listen to here where the shells burst.

The sound of gunfire was nearly constant, but all around him were signs of spring. Moses was sitting under a blossoming apple tree when he wrote: “If I ever come home...I shal know how to apreaceate home more then I ever did before. Men living in Mass dont know what home is.”

Confederate forces withdrew from Yorktown during the night of May 3-4, and Union troops, including the 1st Massachusetts Sharpshooters, followed them west to Richmond. Come back to the Beehive.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 1:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 21

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

Monday, May 11th 1863

I must leave to history the public events of this agitating time; but I have sadly to record that my dear pupil and friend, Frank A. Eliot, was killed in the recent battle at Chancellorsville, near Fredericksburg, Va. He was captain of the Phila [Braves?], - about 35 years of age, - brother of Dawes and William G. Eliot. We hope that an honorable end of this awful strife is near.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 8:00 AM

“My whole mind is at home”: The Letters of Civil War Sharpshooter Moses Hill, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I introduced you to Moses Hill of the 1st Massachusetts Sharpshooters, whose letters form part of the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. family papers. When we left Moses, in January 1862, his company was traveling along the C&O Canal. Unfortunately, weather and camp conditions were very poor, and illness became a major problem. Moses wrote to his wife Eliza: “I do not dred a Battle so much as I do sickness.” And with good reason: many soldiers died from typhoid and other diseases that winter.

However, each Union victory renewed Moses’ hope that the war would end soon and he would be home with his family by spring. His two children were growing fast. 13-year-old Lucina was now 5 feet and 1 inch tall, and Moses was impressed with the letters he received from her. The proud father bragged:

I think Lucina must of improved very much at school for she wrote me the best letter that she ever wrote before. I could not of believed she wrote so well as she wrote in that letter. I must say it was the best wrote letter that I have received since I left home.

His son George, or “Bub,” had been just two years old when his father left for the war, and Moses longed to see “the little fellow.” He drew pictures for Bub at the bottom of his letters, mostly rabbits, roosters, and other animals. In March 1862, Eliza sent him a photograph of their son, which he cherished:

I found a letter here when I got back to Camp. I found a great preasant in it. I found bubs picture. It is every thing to me. I shall kiss it every time I get a chance.

Moses’ homesickness is palpable. The separation from his family was both an emotional and a physical pain. And although the collection contains very few of the letters they sent to him, it's clear the feeling was mutual. He assured his wife:

Dear Eliza you wrote that you dremped that I come home and I did not take any notice of you. Your Dream will never come to pass for if I come home or live to come home, and do not take notice of you and family I am mistaken. I think of home as much as you do of me and I think more. Why should I not out here in virginia. I think I ought to....You do not know what war is.

Moses had begun his military service, if not with enthusiasm, at least with optimism. But by March 1862, he had already taken part in many battles, and the war was taking its toll. He wrote: “I am sick of it. I want to come home I asure you but here we are.” On 27 Mar. 1862, the 1st Massachusetts Sharpshooters left for Yorktown, Va., where they would play a pivotal role in the month-long siege that spring. Please check back at the Beehive for the next installment of Moses Hill’s story.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 2 May, 2013, 1:00 AM

older posts