The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Collection Profiles

Charles Cornish Pearson and the Great War, Part III

This is the third post in a series about the wartime experience of Charles Cornish Pearson. Go back and read Part I and Part II for the full story.

*****

Today we return to the letters of Charles Cornish Pearson, a young man who served during World War I with the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, 26th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. If you want to catch up on the story, see Part I and Part II.

When we left him, Charles had been a soldier for about nine months and had seen his first direct fighting in the trenches of France’s Chemin des Dames sector. On 18 March 1918, his battalion pulled up stakes and began the two-week journey via train and automobile southeast to the Toul sector. The weather was beautiful, the country picturesque, and the troops enjoyed the welcome respite. This part of France was mostly untouched by the war. Charles wrote to his mother en route and described a typical French village.

It is all very peaceful and so different from what we have experienced lately. Here War seems to have affected the village in the lack of men, hardly any being about except those past the age limit, and of course there are a few deserted houses and the others not kept up quite as well as in peace times I imagine. Picture on the other hand a village without any civilian population not a habitable house & even the church in ruins, with the military forces quartered in dugouts or cellars of the ruins of the old houses. It is an awful contrast I can tell you, still you quickly get hardened to it all, and take it all as part of the days work.

 

 

The 101st arrived at their destination on 1 April 1918, and Charles’ platoon was stationed at Mandres-aux-Quatre-Tours. He was promoted from corporal to sergeant that same day. The following day, coincidentally, was his 28th birthday.

Charles’ letters, originally chatty and carefree, had become a little more subdued as he experienced the realities of war first-hand. He described bursts of chaotic activity followed by periods of anxious waiting and uncertainty. The battalion never knew when it might be called into action at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, regular gas alarms and barrages of shells frayed everyone’s nerves. (“They usually tune up about night fall,” Charles wrote to his sister, “so as to disturb our sleep I guess. These Boche certainly have a mean disposition that way, but suppose our gunners treat them the same way.”) Charles also told harrowing stories—for example, the day his detail dragged two dead mules and a wagon out of an exposed road, narrowly avoiding the German bombs dropped on the spot immediately after. All this kept him keyed up most of the time, he admitted.

Philip S. Wainwright, in his History of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, confirms that Charles’ platoon at Mandres “had its share of shelling every night.” (p. 33) Of course, Charles described things to his parents is his usual wry, understated way.

Up to the present time cann’t [sic] say that it has been especially tranquil. However we have gotten over the newness of it now and can listen to a big gun without shaking too much. […] Even at the present writing the Boche are sending a few shells over, but way over so don’t have to worry much. Funny how you can get to tell pretty well if they are coming near you by their whistle. At times that whistle gets on ones nerves but you can usually figure they are trying to locate a battery and not worrying about small fry such as yours truly.

 

April 19 was his parents’ anniversary, and he sent a telegram to mark the occasion. The following day, in the early morning hours, the Germans launched a surprise attack, and Charles found himself right in the middle of the Battle of Seicheprey. It was the largest American battle up to that point and certainly the worst fighting Charles had seen, but the Americans (mostly Connecticut men) held their own against the larger and more experienced German army and forced “the Hun” back.

 

According to Wainwright, “During the intense bombardment of high explosive and gas which preceded the attack,” Charles’ platoon “suffered the first real casualties that occurred in the Battalion.” (p. 34) The first man of the 101st to be killed was Private Giuseppe “Joe” Molinari. Charles wrote to his parents in the aftermath of the battle and, without going into detail, called the past hours “H–l rippers” and “heartbreakers.” After his platoon was relieved, he reflected on his recent experiences in a letter to his brother.

We are supposed to be trained soldiers now so we get our full share of excitement that is going on. It sure is a plenty I can tell you. No use describing things over here as it [is] beyond my power any way. You have a nice explosive gas shell land in the story over your head during a general bombardment in the night and you have to get up half asleep & put on a gas mask and then wonder what your chances are of making a dugout. Take a hike up a road that is called Dead Mans Curve and pull a couple of dead mules off the road and with your detail grab hold of the wagon & pull it back for about ½ mile so it wont impede traffic, wondering all the time when they will harass the road again. You can write these things down but the reader doesn’t get any idea of what one is thinking of when said things are happening.

 

To his parents that same day, he wrote a letter just two pages long, closing with: “Don’t feel much in the mood for letter writing today, will try to do better next time.”

Hope you’ll join me for the next installment of Charles’ story.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 26 January, 2018, 1:40 PM

Gerry E. Studds Papers Available

The MHS is pleased to announce that the papers of Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) have been processed and are available for research. This very interesting collection contains material on subjects as wide-ranging as environmental and wildlife conservation, foreign policy (particularly in Central America), and gay rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.


Gerry Eastman Studds (1937-2006) was the first openly gay Congressman in the United States. He served in the U.S. House for 24 years, from 1973 to 1997, representing first the 12th district of Massachusetts, then the 10th after redistricting in 1983. Studds’ district included Cape Cod, the islands, and parts of the South Shore, and his papers are a great resource for information on fishing, fisheries, and the Coast Guard. He also served on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and the Foreign Services Committee.

The collection consists primarily of legislative papers, campaign papers, and scrapbooks. Included are speeches, statements, press releases, newsletters, correspondence, subject files, clippings, briefing books, surveys, and commendations. Here are a few highlights:

  • - Two biographical scrapbooks compiled by Studds’ mother, Beatrice (Murphy) Studds, including material from his childhood, education, and early career;
  • - Papers related to the 1968 New Hampshire primary campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy, which Studds coordinated; 
  • - Sixteen detailed surveys of voters in Studds’ district  reflecting the attitudes of his constituency on a variety of issues over his 24-year tenure; 
  • - Papers documenting Studds’ work to protect Massachusetts Bay’s Stellwagen Bank and to designate the Boston Harbor Islands as a national park; 
  • - And heartfelt letters from anonymous gay servicemen and women thanking Studds for his support of policies that would allow them to serve openly in the military.

We hope this collection will get a lot of use. The bulk of the papers are stored offsite, so use the online guide to submit your request at least two business days in advance.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 21 July, 2017, 12:00 AM

Doctor & Artist Samuel W. Everett

The Everett-Boyle papers fill only half of a narrow box here at the MHS, but they include a lot of terrific material from these two interrelated families. One of the family members represented in the collection is Samuel Williams Everett (1820-1862), who served during the Civil War as a surgeon in the Illinois Infantry and later as brigade surgeon. (The Everett family is originally from Boston, which is why their papers happen to be here.)

Unfortunately, we don’t have any of Everett’s war-time correspondence—at least not intact. Some letter fragments obviously date from that time, but the only complete letters by him were written between 1835 and 1851. What the collection does contain, however, are many of his fantastic drawings, beginning when he was a teenager and continuing into the war years. Here are some of my favorites:


“Camp at Lamine river, near Otterville.”

 


“View up the Ohio at Cairo.”

 


“Fort Prentiss. Cairo.”

 


“Military Ball.”

 

It’s not just Everett’s artwork that makes his letters so entertaining. He was also a gifted storyteller. Even when narrating the mundane happenings of his life, he elaborated and exaggerated for comedic effect. In one letter from early 1851, he wrote about how his coat and some surgical instruments were stolen from his room, and the whole thing reads like a whodunit, complete with a whimsical “royal we”: “On that evil day the sun shone brightly, & we were tempted out to our dinner without a coat, which garment was left sweetly slumbering with the Case of Instruments in its pocket.” The story is illustrated in several panels, ending with an image of two empty nooses captioned: “View of the gallows, upon which the thieves are yet unhung.”

Everett’s description of his brother’s wedding is hilarious:

The parson retreated to avoid being knocked over in the rush of congratulation and kissing. The latter part, it was previously agreed, was to have been omitted at the particular request of the mother, the bride and the bridesmaids; but as in several rehearsals of the performance the rule had been relaxed, so it was at the ceremony and was extended to every young lady present; and repeated upon the discovery that one had been omitted.

(It was either at this wedding or shortly before that he met the bride’s cousin, his future wife, Mary Smith. He described her this way: “In spite of her common name, an uncommonly pretty girl.”)

In another letter, Everett related a humorous—though frightening—incident involving a runaway carriage, when he lost control of his horse’s reins as it raced down the street and sent bystanders scurrying for cover: “Sounds of ‘woe’ were raised from all quarters & sundry individuals appeared willing to sacrifice their lives in trying to stop the runaway, but they only stopped themselves upon re-considering the question.”

Other creative touches make his letters a real pleasure to read. When writing to his family, he addressed different paragraphs to different family members with headings like: “The Misses E.” “Anybody.” “Mrs. E.” “Ditto.” Along the top of one letter, he wrote a note that actually made me laugh out loud: “Nothing worth stopping to read in the street.”

Everett also had a talent for rebuses. Anyone care to take a stab at solving either of these in the comments section below? (Hint: the second snippet is from a published work not original to Everett.)

Everett was shot and killed at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee on 6 Apr. 1862, not even one year into his military service. Multiple sources, including The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, identify him as the first Union medical officer killed in action. His “talent for drawing” was noted in his obituary in the 1864 Transactions of the American Medical Association (pp.212-4).

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 17 June, 2015, 1:00 AM

“Your Trew and Truly Husband”: The Letters of Civil War Sharpshooter Moses Hill, Part 1

The Frank Irving Howe, Jr. family papers here at the MHS include a wonderful series of Civil War letters by Howe's grandfather Moses Hill (1823-1862). Hill served in the 1st Company of Massachusetts Sharpshooters, or “Andrew Sharpshooters,” during some of the worst fighting in Maryland and Virginia in 1861 and 1862. He wrote most frequently to his wife Eliza, but also to their two children, Lucina and George, affectionately known as “Sis” and “Bub.”

Moses, a stone mason of Medway, Mass., was 38 years old when he enlisted in August 1861 and began his service at Camp Benton, Md. His health was good, and he wrote contentedly about life at camp and proudly of the men of the 1st Company:

I am well and we live very well. A beter company never went into the army, the Smartist & largest lot of men I never saw....I think the Governer is proud of the company. It is cald Andrews Sharp Shooters. He says we can have any thing we want....I think camp life will suit me firstrate.

The company was “composed of Lawyers school masters, schollars, clearks, Laboring men, black legs, machinests, and most every thing else.” They fought well at Ball's Bluff and Edwards Ferry, but Moses didn't expect the war to last long and hoped to be back in Medway by spring. In November, with Thanksgiving approaching, he urged his wife Eliza to enjoy the holiday without him. He tried to do the same, but with little success:

They have a kitten in the cooks house, and last night when I put my men on guard, I sat by the fire alone and she came and play'd with me and it made me think of home....I belieave I never was so long away from home before.

By December, Moses began to realize the war would last much longer than a few months. He missed his family terribly, but was determined to do his job the best he could. On Christmas eve, he wrote a letter to his 13-year-old daughter Lucina:

I wish I was at home to see you all and hug and kiss you and bub but I think it is better for me to be here to give you better suport and to serve my countery. I pray the National Troble will close soon. Then I hope I shal be with you as long as we live....Kiss bub for me and Mother to, and tak as meny for yorself as you are a mind to.

On 3 Jan. 1862, the Andrew Sharpshooters left Camp Benton via the C&O Canal. I'll be blogging more about Moses Hill right here at the Beehive, so stay tuned!

 

 

*Eliza Ann Arnold Hill and Lucina Maria Hill [photograph], [ca. 1855], Photo 1.570, Massachusetts Historical Society.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 8:00 AM

"Representing Me": The Scrapbook of Eleanor Shumway

Earlier this year, the MHS acquired the scrapbook of Eleanor Shumway, a teenager living in Newton, Massachusetts in the early 20th century. We see a lot of scrapbooks here, but this one is unique because Eleanor annotated each page, making the volume a kind of personal diary, as well.

Eleanor Shumway was born in 1895, the second daughter of salesman Harold H. Shumway and Amy Louise (Moors) Shumway. She had two sisters, Marjorie and Helen. One hundred years ago, when she kept this scrapbook, Eleanor was a student at Newton High School. She attended parties, dances, and concerts; participated in school sports; and gushed about her favorite actors and actresses. Pasted carefully to each page are ticket stubs, programs, invitations, party favors, dance cards, postcards, photographs, newspaper clippings, etc., mostly dating from 1908-1915. The volume also contains some original pencil sketches, including “Works of Art. Representing me.” And next to each item is a handwritten note by Eleanor describing her activities in detail.

Eleanor wrote about popular party games, like Winkums, Drop the Handkerchief, Hearts, and something called Buzz. She and her friends also played cards, bean bag games, and guessing games; ducked for apples; strung pumpkin seeds; told ghost stories; made fudge and molasses candy; ate Jack Horner pie; went skating; and participated in “theatricals.” At one party, the guests performed in blackface, and Eleanor got a prize “for acting the craziest.”

The slang is priceless, and reading through the scrapbook, you can almost hear Eleanor's voice. She often had “piles of fun,” “great sport,” or “a peach of a time.” Plays she attended were “horrid,” “darling,” or “perfectly slick.” Her “chums” were a “corking bunch.”

But Eleanor's life was not without its drama. One letter, written by her friend Ruth W. after the two had fallen out, reads:

What was it about Alfred Pratt that Eugenie didn’t know. Please tell me what I said or did to make you & Eugenie not even look at me. I’m awfully sorry and I didn’t mean what ever you heard….Please tell me why you wont look or speak to me.

There was also the occasional mortification:

This note fell out of my History Book over at Charlestown and a gentleman very politely handed it to Marjorie. We nearly died!

This scrapbook is not just a personal account of one precocious American teenager's daily life, but a window into social history and a record of dramatic technological changes. Eleanor also described riding in a Parkhurst car, as well as eating a meal “made by electricity” at the House of Edison Light in Newton Centre.

To see the Eleanor Shumway scrapbook, or any of our other scrapbooks, please visit the MHS library.

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 3 October, 2012, 8:00 AM

older posts