Something Out of a Story Book

It’s not every day you have the exact date and moment two historical figures meet for the first time. Most meetings are inconsequential when they happen, and it’s only in hindsight that these people realize how important that meeting was to them. Sometimes there’s a mention in a diary, or a letter. Often, nothing is said at all, and slowly but surely the meeting grows into a lifelong friendship, or true love, or even a lifelong feud. That moment in time can become the most important moment in a person’s life, and they won’t even realize it. The study of meetings in the present, then, is often met with great challenges. Some historical figures meet at their work. Or while attending school. Friendships grown slowly. Many times, the meetings can be mundane.

Sometimes, though, two people will meet in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Like at a riot.

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Broad Street Riot, courtesy Library of Congress

On June 11, 1837, a group of protestant firefighters got into
a fight with an Irish funeral procession, and the fight escalated quickly from there. The scene completely descended into chaos, and by the end thousands of people were involved in the overall conflict. This is including the militia, the marines, the civilians, and of course the people instigating the fight in the first place. It is considered the worst riot in Boston’s history, which is saying something.

This is the backdrop for one fateful meeting.

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Future Postings

For my own reference, future posts I am interested in making:

  • William Barker Cushing and the crew that doesn’t exist. (I love this story.)
  • William Barker Cushing and Alonzo Cushing. No title yet, but essentially, these two had the strongest brotherly bond I have ever seen, and I’ve enjoyed looking into it.
  • James Dearing and the art of subtlety (alternatively: “The baby was born two months early and was full sized and perfectly healthy, it’s a miracle, mama!”)
  • James Longstreet and the would be assassin.
  • Charles Sumner and Samuel Gridley Howe. Everything about these two. I plan on writing a lot about them, so I don’t even have a specific post in mind. They will just be around a lot, eventually. Some things I do have in mind:
    • The Cara Mia letter
    • Sam Howe’s horrible, no good, very bad trip to Prussia
    • The Sequel: Sam Howe’s horrible, no good, very bad trip to Rome.
    • Sam and Julia Ward Howe’s horrible, no good, very bad marriage.
  • Theodore Parker’s affair of the heart.
  • Julia Ward Howe and Theodore Parker, a friendship for the ages
  • Charles Minniegerode. I intend on researching him quite a lot more, once I can figure out where his letters are located. He’s a fascinating man.
  • More of Charley Longfellow’s antics, including:
    • Two times Charley Longfellow was arrested, and the one time he wasn’t and probably should have been
    • Charley’s love triangle with his brother and brother’s wife. (I normally hate love triangles, but this one is just hilarious).
    • Charley and Zero’s misadventure in a tea house
  • The Crafts in Boston, and their daring escape to freedom
  • The Private Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr (Alternate title: “I’ve been in London five minutes and I have already found the prostitutes”.)
  • A post talking a bit about my current internship, and all the fantastic things I’ve been getting to do.

Now that I’ve listed my ideas out, I have a lot more than I expected, which is great. I am very excited to get to work on these. I have no guarantee when that will be, but this is a good start.

The Bright and Particular Star

When we think of Oliver Wendell Holmes, the immediate reaction in this day and age, if there is a reaction at all, is to recall the Supreme Court Justice. It makes sense- his legal career spanned nearly 70 years, and his writings and court decisions changed the shape of the American legal system forever. Before he accomplished all of these things, however, if that same question had been asked in the 19th century, most would have instead responded with the judge’s father. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was one of America’s most popular and beloved poets and authors. His writing was bright and witty, and it is genuinely hilarious to read even by today’s standards. He was a giant in his time (an impressive feat, when you consider that he was barely “5’4 in substantial boots”).

The ways to compare and contrast Sr. and Jr. could fill volumes, and they certainly have. The father and son were too different to ever see eye to eye, and too alike to ever be able to tolerate one another. The strained relationship has also filled volumes, but one interesting aspect is the fact that, though only one is remembered for it, both of these men were poets.

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Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr in the Civil War.

There is quite a lot to say about Jr, often referred to by friends and family as Wendell. In terms of his own poetry, unfortunately, there is a tragic lack of it still in existence today. In fact, as far as his poetry is concerned, only one of his poems was ever published, and it was published anonymously.

Wendell’s short lived poetic career began in college, where he happened to be Class Poet for his graduating class at Harvard. In fact, the day of his graduation, Wendell presented a poem he wrote to the crowd, described by those present as a ‘glorious success’. No doubt there was pressure on him in that moment, considering every eye was glancing between himself and his father as the poem progressed.

Despite this fact, the poem itself appears to have been lost to history, as have most of his writings. Why that is, is up to interpretation and debate. Perhaps the competition with his father was too great. Perhaps the war drove the poetry right out of him. Both theories certainly warrant deeper exploration. One thing we do know for sure, however, is there was one poem that made it out. The story of this poem, unfortunately, is not a very happy one.

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Adventures in Interning

In December of 2013, I picked up a book on sale that my parents had mentioned to me before. It was already and old and battered copy, the pages folded and cover ripped and torn and carefully taped back together. The book had clearly been quite loved, so I had high hopes for it. I had no real idea what I was getting myself in to, but as soon as I opened to the first chapter, I knew it was something special. I didn’t know it yet, but that little book genuinely would change my life forever.

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Philip Hamlin and the Battle of Gettysburg

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Philip Hamlin, 1st Minnesota Infantry

On April 29th, 1861, 20 year old Philip Hamlin mustered into Company F, of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. Devoutly religious, and described by friends as an honest man, he easily managed to win the love and respect of the men in his regiment, and quickly rose through the ranks to become a sergeant.

During the coming years, he and the 1st Minnesota would fight at almost every major engagement in the Eastern Theater, starting at Bull Run and continuing all the way to Gettysburg. All through this he wrote letters to his younger brother Charlie, describing the war, his thoughts, his friends, and regular life in the army. Though sometimes cynical, the letters still manage to convey a sense of overall optimism. The war’s cruelties, if anything, seemed to strengthen his beliefs in humanity and God. One such letter, which he writes on March 1, 1862, is particularly striking.

“I may not live to see it but I believe that God will yet deliver our nation from the difficulties which agitate and threaten her. The example of our nation has been a fountain of light to the people of the old world foreshadowing to the struggling nationalities a future destiny gloriously delivered from the weights and embarrassments of the past which have limited privileges, combatted freedom, made the distributions of blessings unequal, and restricted the culture of mind. May God preserve us from ourselves.”

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The Prodigal Son Returns to War

Charley’s return to war marked a drastic change in how he would fight in it. Before he left, he was mostly assigned to wagon trains and camp life. By pure luck (or misfortune) on Charley’s part, his illness came just in time for him to miss some of the most bitter engagements his regiment would fight in. On June 17, 1863, the cavalry unit would find themselves caught in an ambush at the Battle of Aldie. The ranks of the 1st Mass were decimated. Of the 294 men engaged in the battle, 198 would be counted as casualties. A few weeks later, though not actively engaged, the remnants of the regiment found themselves in Gettysburg, Pa.

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“Lt C.A. Longfellow & Lt D.H.L. Gleason “Hunky boys” of the 1st Mass Cav.”

Charley returned to Virginia that August to a regiment just starting to pull itself together again, and the mundane camp experience he complained about ceased to be a problem in his life. For the first time, Charley was going to taste real battle, and he could not wait for that opportunity.

In September Charley would get his chance to fight for the first time near Culpeper, and for the next two months his life would be filled with picket duty and skirmishes. He saw first hand the results of battle on a daily basis, and though he kept up his perky and sarcastic demeanor, some of his letters home are striking in their earnestness and sincerity.

“I had several narrow escapes being covered with dirt from shells several times one bursting so close to my face as to make me feel the blast of hot air but thank God none of our officers are hurt I don’t know yet how many men are killed they may talk about the gaiety of a soldier’s life but it strikes me as pretty earnest work when shells are ripping and tearing your men to pieces.”

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The Prodigal Son Goes Off To War

When Charles Appleton Longfellow ran off to war, no one was particularly surprised by the news. Charley had always been a free spirit with a love of soldiering and adventure, and tales of his childhood hi-jinks could fill volumes. With the onset of the Civil War, 16 year old Charley saw his friends and acquaintances volunteering their services for the Union Army, while Charley found himself being left behind.

His father, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, had many reasons to protest Charley getting involved in the war. He himself was a lifelong pacifist that despised violence. He was also still reeling from the tragic death of his wife Fanny in 1861, and could not bear another loss in his family.

Despite his father’s numerous protests however, by March 1863 the eighteen year old Charley had decided to finally take matters into his own hands, and ran away from home in the middle of the night. Not long after, he found himself in Washington DC, and Henry found a letter explaining his son’s disappearance:

Dear Papa,

You know for how long a time I have been wanting to go to the war I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer, I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good God bless you all.

Yours affectionately
Charley

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