Thursday, January 19, 2017

Two Book Projects and a Plea

Hello all my readers, I know it has been awhile since I have posted. I wanted to give you an update on two projects that I am currently working on.

I am compiling a volume of letters and diaries from Massachusetts soldiers and sailors, civilians and newspapers during the Civil War. The goal is to cover the entire war from the prospective of Massachusetts men and women. My hope is that this volume will be published within the next few years.

The other project is a volume dedicated to profiles of Massachusetts soldiers and sailors who fought during the war. Currently the plan is to have chapters dedicated to the first enlistees in 1861, men who fought at the various large scale battles - Gettysburg, Antietam, The Wilderness, Petersburg - those who served on the water, those wounded, African American soldiers, Irish soldiers, prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and finally those who made the "last full measure of devotion."

I am asking for your assistance in helping me with these projects. If anyone has photographs of Civil War soldiers from Massachusetts that can be identified, please let me know. You will receive credit in the book and will be entered for a chance to receive an autographed copy of the book.

Likewise if you have diaries and letters written by Massachusetts soldiers, sailors, or Marines during the war, or anything written by a civilian, please let me know as well. Again, you will receive credit and a chance to win a copy of the book.

Thank you!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Emerson's Boston Hymn

The other day I posted an account by Fanny Garrison Villard of the celebration in Boston surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863. In her account, Villard mentions witnessing Ralph Waldo Emerson delivering his "Boston Hymn" at the Boston Music Hall in celebration of the act, and later at the home of George Luther Stearns, an industrialist and merchant, in Medford, Massachusetts. George Luther Stearns was a prominent abolitionist and a member of the "Secret Six", a group of wealthy Northerners - several of whom were from Massachusetts - who financed John Brown.

Also present at the private gathering at Stearns' house were A. Bronson Alcott and his daughter, Louisa May Alcott; Benjamin Franklin Sanborn, another member of the "Secret Six"; Julia Ward Howe - whose husband Samel Gridley Howe was also a member of the "Secret Six" - who read her poem "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", and Wendell Phillips.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous orator and transcendentalist, was approached in December 1862 by John Sullivan Dwight to compose and read a poem for the Boston celebration of the Emancipation Proclamtation. Emerson was noncommitted to the event, citing scheduling conflicts, but eventually relented, and to the short time frame and his schedule, the composition of the poem was rushed and not finished until December 31st, 1862.

At the event, Emerson read the poem before the crowd of 3,000 and by his own request, his name was not published in the event's program and the crowd was surprised by his participation. Following the event, the poem appeared in Dwight's Journal of Music, appearing in the January 24th, 1863 issue. The following month it appeared in The Atlantic, which omits a quattrain Emerson accidentally left out of the manuscript he sent to the printer.

The "Boston Hym" is as follows:

The word of the Lord by night
To the watching Pilgrims came,
As they sat by the seaside,
And filled their hearts with flame.

God said, I am tired of kings,
I suffer them no more;
Up to my ear the morning brings
The outrage of the poor.

Think ye I made this ball
A field of havoc and war,
Where tyrants great and tyrants small
Might harry the weak and poor?

My angel,—his name is Freedom,—
Choose him to be your king;
He shall cut pathways east and west,
And fend you with his wing.

Lo! I uncover the land
Which I hid of old time in the West,
As the sculptor uncovers the statue
When he has wrought his best;

I show Columbia, of the rocks
Which dip their foot in the seas,
And soar to the air-borne flocks
Of clouds, and the boreal fleece.

I will divide my goods;
Call in the wretch and slave:
None shall rule but the humble,
And none but Toil shall have.

I will have never a noble,
No lineage counted great;
Fishers and choppers and ploughmen
Shall constitute a state.

Go, cut down trees in the forest,
And trim the straightest boughs;
Cut down trees in the forest,
And build me a wooden house.

Call the people together,
The young men and the sires,
The digger in the harvest field,
Hireling, and him that hires;

And here in a pine state-house
They shall choose men to rule
In every needful faculty,
In church, and state, and school.

Lo, now! if these poor men
Can govern the land and sea,
And make just laws below the sun,
As planets faithful be.

And ye shall succor men;
'T is nobleness to serve;
Help them who cannot help again:
Beware from right to swerve.

I break your bonds and masterships,
And I unchain the slave:
Free be his heart and hand henceforth
As wind and wandering wave.

I cause from every creature
His proper good to flow:
As much as he is and doeth,
So much he shall bestow.

But, laying hands on another
To coin his labor and sweat,
He goes in pawn to his victim
For eternal years in debt.

To-day unbind the captive,
So only are ye unbound;
Lift up a people from the dust,
Trump of their rescue, sound!

Pay ransom to the owner,
And fill the bag to the brim.
Who is the owner? The slave is owner,
And ever was. Pay him.

North! give him beauty for rags,
And honor, South! for his shame;
Nevada! coin thy golden crags
With Freedom's image and name.

Up! and the dusky race
That sat in darkness long,—
Be swift their feet as antelopes,
And as behemoth strong.

Come, East and West and North,
By races, as snow-flakes,
And carry my purpose forth,
Which neither halts nor shakes.

My will fulfilled shall be,
For, in daylight or in dark,
My thunderbolt has eyes to see
His way home to the mark.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

How Boston Received the Emancipation Proclamation

I just posted a blog on Frederick Douglass' reaction to the news of the Emancipation Proclamtion in Boston on January 1st, 1863. Here I present another version of another event held in Boston that historic day. This version, published in 1913 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, was written by Fanny Garrison Villard, the daughter of famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

When a great moral agitation—after years of painful struggle – triumphs over unreasoning prejudice and fierce opposition, he who had no part in it may be lost in admiration of the victory, but he cannot rightly measure the sacrifices that were necessary for its achievement. Thus I realize the impossibility of presenting to the imagination of the present young generation a sufficiently graphic picture of the hold that the slave power had upon Church and State throughout the country, and upon all commercial relations between the North and the South when the Anti-Slavery movement was started.
To have dreamed at that time of a Lincoln or a Proclamation of Emancipation would have seemed as absurd and chimerical as the story of Munchausen’s quick-growing ladder that enabled him to reach the moon with the greatest ease. Yet of such stuff are true reformers made that no one of that small band of abolitionists doubted that slavery would ultimately be overthrown, however dark and apparently hopeless the outlook. My father said: “Two cannot make a revolution, but they can begin one, and, once begun, it can never be turned back.” And again: “Moral influence when in vigorous exercise is irresistible. It has an immortal essence. It can no more be trod out of existence by the iron foot of time, or by the ponderous march of iniquity than matter can be annihilated. It may disappear for a time; but it lives in some shape or other, in some place or other, and will rise with renovated strength.”
Looking back to the Anti-Slavery meetings, which were to the children of abolitionists more exciting and uplifting than any other influences that later came into their lives, that which impresses me beyond all else is the range of vision gained there in regard to the need of still other reforms – true indeed of all good but unpopular causes. The subject of Anti-Slavery became, as it were, a moral touch-stone quickly revealing the difference between lip professions and real Christianity.
Of course, there were many then, as there are many now, who deprecate the use of strong language in denunciation of a national sin against God and man. My father replied to one who said, “Mr. Garrison, you are too excited, you are on fire!” “I have need to be on fire for I have icebergs around me to melt.”
The recent celebrations of the Proclamations of Emancipation have brought vividly before me the “Watch Night” of New Year’s Eve fifty years ago in a crowded African Church in Boston, at which I was present together with a small party including Moncure D. Conway and my brother, William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., we being the only white people present. When my father’s name was mentioned we were at once given seats.
The solemnity and intense excitement of the occasion were indescribably thrilling, and I almost felt as if I could hear the heart-beats of those present, as well as my own. The black preacher said, in substance: “The President of the United States has promised that if the Confederates do not lay down their arms he will free all the slaves to-morrow. They have not laid down their arms, and to-morrow will bring freedom of the oppressed slaves. But we all know that the powers of darkness are with the President, trying to make him break his word, but we must watch and see that he does not break his word.” A great sensation was caused when he exclaimed: “The old serpent is abroad, and he will be here at midnight in all his power. But don’t be alarmed, our prayers will prevail and God Almighty’s New Year will make the United States a true land of freedom.” Loud hisses were heard in different parts of the house, and there were cries of “He’s here, he’s here!” Shortly before midnight, we were asked to kneel in prayer, and when the bells of the city rang in the New Year, we all joined in singing the old Methodist hymn:
“Blow ye the trumpet, blow!
The gladly solemn sound:
Let all the nations know,
To earth’s remotest bound,
The year of jubilee is come!
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.”
Going forth into the beautiful star-lit night we realized that our emotions were of a kind too deep for expression. I doubt if sleep came quickly, for we waited the dawn with feverish impatience lest, indeed, the terrible serpent had accomplished his deadly work. Early in the morning we looked in the papers for the good news from Washington that the Proclamation had become the law of the land, but it was not to be found. The reason for this great disappointment was afterwards explained by the fact that Lincoln did not sign the document until after he had held his New Year reception. As the day wore on, the suspense continued, the enthusiasm of the colored people, especially, being dampened by it. 
A great concert had been arranged at short notice for the afternoon in Music Hall, the committee having it in charge being composed not only of the most distinguished musicians in Boston, -- chief among them Mr. Otto Dresel, -- but also of well-known literary and business men. The hall was thronged by an audience that found vent on that day of jubilee for its pent-up feelings, although it was undeniable that a vague feeling of unrest pervaded it at first. Never, it seems to me, was music rendered more wonderfully than on that occasion, noble compositions of Händel, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven stirring us in our inmost souls. Emerson’s “Boston Hymn,” which has been brought to our special attention of late, was written for that occasion and read by the distinguished man himself before the music began. During the intermission at last came real exaltation of spirit with the announcement by some one from the platform that the President’s proclamation was coming over the wires. Nine cheers were given for Lincoln and three for William Lloyd Garrison. I can imagine what my father’s feelings were at that happy beginning of the end of slavery to which he had given more than thirty years of his life, but I know that I stood up in the gallery beside him when he received the plaudits of the audience with joy in his heart that was akin to pain. Then the concert proceeded in a still more inspiring way than before to the end of that memorable occasion. But there were no newspapers to be had to confirm the glad tidings when we left the hall.
The evening that followed that exciting afternoon was spent with my father at the house of Mr. George L. Stearns (the friend of John Brown) in Medford, where a bust of Brown was unveiled in the presence of an unusual company, the faces of Phillips, Emerson, Julia Ward Howe, and Sanborn coming distinctly before me as I write. My brother, Francis Jackson Garrison, in the clear picture that he has just given of that day, never-to-be-forgotten by those who have been so fortunate as to have an Anti-Slavery heritage,-- describes the meeting at Tremont Temple that evening in celebration of the great historic event. Even then no paper had been issued giving the text of the proclamation, but Judge Thomas Russell had seen the proof of it in the office of the Journal, which he did not hesitate to take without asking. He ran with all possible speed to the meeting, where it was read and received with deafening applause. Fresh courage with which to work still longer must have taken hold of all those present, until not only over three million slaves should be free, but the whole four million, -- and the foul blot of slavery thus wiped from our escutcheon. 
The question that concerns us to-day is, more than all else, whether our duty to the liberated bondmen has been fulfilled. The answer is, alas! No. Untutored, ignorant of the meaning of liberty, they were for a long time after the war abandoned both by the North and the South (save for few exceptions) and we are still to-day repairing the harvest of our neglect. Yet in spite of it, the colored people are rising industrially and intellectually, and – take it all in all – far more rapidly than we had a right to expect. But justice must be meted out to them if we would preserve it for ourselves, and every benefit than can be conferred by democracy bestowed upon each and every colored person, North or South, in common with every other inhabitant of this fair land. Only in this way can we make reparation for the complicity of the North with slavery, the Proclamation of Emancipation having been the initial step in the right direction.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Frederick Douglass, Boston, and the Emanicapation Proclamation

January 1st, 2017 marks 154 years since the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1st, 1863. I thought it would be fitting to begin this blog with a look at the celebrations of Bostonians on January 1st, 1863 when they received word of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Frederick Douglass was in Boston that day. In his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Douglass writes

The first of January 1863 was a memorable day in the progress of American liberty and civilization. It was the turning point in the conflict between freedom and slavery. A death blow was then given to the slaveholding rebellion. Until then the federal arm had been more than tolerant to that relict of barbarism. It had defended it inside the slave states; it had countermanded the emancipation policy of John C. Fremont in Missouri; it had returned slaves to their so-called owners; and had threatened that any attempt on the part of the slaves to gain their freedom by insurrection, or otherwise, would be put down with an iron hand; it had even refused to allow the Hutchinson family to sing their antislavery songs in the camps of the Army of the Potomac; it had surrounded the houses of slaveholders with bayonets for their protection; and through it secretary of [state] William H. Seward, had given notice to the world that ‘however the war for the Union might terminate, no change would be made in the relation of master and slave.

Douglass was in Boston attending an abolition rally at the Tremont Temple. He recalls the thrill when news was received, writing

And now, on this day of January 1, 1863, the formal and solemn announcement was made that thereafter the government would be found on the side of emancipation. This Proclamation changed everything. It gave a new direction to the councils of the Cabinet, and to the conduct of the national arms. I shall leave to the statesman, the philosopher, and historian, the more comprehensive discussion of this document, and only tell how it touched me, and those in like condition with me at the time.
I was in Boston, and its reception there may indicate the importance attached to it elsewhere. An immense assembly convened in Tremont Temple to await the first flash of the electric wires announcing the “new departure.” Two years of war prosecuted in the interests of slavery had made free speech possible in Boston, and we were now met together to receive and celebrate the first utterance of the long-hoped-for Proclamation, if it came, and if it did not come, to speak our minds freely; for in view of the past, it was by no means certain that it would come. The occasion, therefore, was one of both hope and fear. Our ship was on the open sea, tossed by a terrible storm; wave after wave was passing over us, and every hour was fraught with increasing peril. Whether we should survive or perish depended in large measure upon the coming of the Proclamation. At least so we felt. Although the conditions on which Mr. Lincoln had promised to withhold it had not been complied with, yet, from many considerations, there was room to doubt and fear. Mr. Lincoln was known to be a man of tender heart, and boundless patience; no man could tell to what length he might go, or might refrain from going in the direction of peace and reconciliation. Hitherto, he had not shown himself a man of heroic measures, and, properly enough, this step belonged to that class. It must be the end of all compromises with slavery– a declaration that thereafter the war was to be conducted on a new principle, with a new aim. It would be a full and fair assertion that the government would neither trifle, or be trifled with any longer. But would it come? On the side of doubt, it was said that Mr. Lincoln’s kindly nature might cause him to relent at the last moment that Mrs. Lincoln, coming from an old slaveholding family, would influence him to delay, and give the slaveholders one other chance.* (*I have reason to know that this supposition did Mrs. Lincoln great injustice.)
Every moment of waiting chilled our hopes, strengthened our fears. A line of messengers was established between the telegraph office and the platform of Tremont Temple, and the time was occupied with brief speeches from the Honorable Thomas Russell of Plymouth, Miss Anna E. Dickinson (a lady of marvelous eloquence), the Reverend Mr. Grimes, J. Sella Martin, William Wells Brown, and myself. But speaking or listening to speeches was not the thing for which the people had come together. The time for argument was passed. It was not logic, but the trump of jubilee, which everybody wanted to hear. We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky, which should rend the fetters of four million of slaves; we were watching, as it were, by the dim light of the stars, for the dawn of a new day; we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries. Remembering those in bonds as bound with them, we wanted to join in the shout for freedom, and in the anthem of the redeemed.
Eight, nine, ten o’clock came and went, and still no word. A visible shadow seemed falling on the expecting throng, which the confident utterances of the speaks sought in vain to dispel. At last, when patience was well-nigh exhausted, and suspense was becoming agony, a man (I think was Judge Russell) with hasty step advanced through the crowd, and with a face fairly illumined with the news he bore, exclaimed in tones that thrilled all hearts, “It is coming!” “It is on the wires!” The effect of this announcement was startling beyond description, and the scene was wild and grand. Joy and gladness exhausted all forms of expression from shouts of praise, to sobs and tears. My old friend Rue, a colored preacher, a man of wonderful vocal power, expressed the heartfelt emotion of the hour, when he led all voices in the anthem, “Sound the Loud Timbrel O’er Egypt’s Dark Sea, Jehovah hath Triumphed, His People Are Free.” About twelve o’clock, seeing there was no disposition to retire from the hall, which must be vacated, my friend Grimes (of blessed memory), rose and moved that the meeting adjourn to the Twelfth Baptist Church, of which he was pastor, and soon that church was packed form doors to pulpit, and this meeting did not break up till near the dawn of day. It was one of the most affecting and thrilling occasions I ever witnessed, and a worthy celebration of the first step on the part of the nation at its departure from the thraldom of ages.
There was evidently no disposition on the part of this meeting to criticize the Proclamation; nor was there with anyone at first. At the moment we saw only its antislavery side. But further and more critical examination showed it to be extremely defective. It was not a proclamation of “liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof,” such as we had hoped it would be; but was one marked by discrimination and reservations. Its operation was confined within certain geographical and military lines. It only abolished slavery where it did not exist, and left it intact where it did exist. It was a measure apparently inspired by the law motive of military necessity, and by so far as it was so, it would become inoperative and useless when military necessity should cease. there was much said in this line, and much that was narrow and erroneous. For my own part, I took the Proclamation, first and last, for a little more than it purported; and saw in its spirit a life and power far beyond its letter. Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further. It was in my estimation an immense gain to have the war for the Union committed to the extinction of slavery, even from a military necessity. It is not a bad thing to have individuals or nations do right though they do so from selfish motives. I approved the one-spur-wisdom of “Paddy,” who thought if he could get one side of his horse to go, he could trust the speed of the other side.
The effect of the Proclamation abroad was highly beneficial to the loyal cause. Disinterested parties could now see in it a benevolent character. It was no longer a mere strife for territory and dominion, but a contest of civilization against barbarism.
The proclamation itself was like Mr. Lincoln throughout. It was framed with a view to the least harm and the most good possible in the circumstances, and with especial consideration of the latter. It was thoughtful, cautious and well guarded at all points. While he hated slavery, and really desired its destruction, he always proceeded against it in a manner the least likely to shock or drive from him any who were truly in sympathy with the preservation of the Union, but who were not friendly to emancipation. For this he kept up the distinction between loyal and disloyal slaveholders, and discriminated in favor of the one, as against the other. In a word, in all that he did, or attempted, he made it manifest that the one great and all commanding object with him was the peace and preservation of the Union. His wisdom and moderation at this point were for a season useful to the loyal cause in the border states, but it may be fairly questioned whether it did not chill the Union ardor of the loyal people of the North in some degree, and diminish rather than increase the sum of our power against the rebellion: for moderate cautions and guarded as was this Proclamation, it created a howl of indignation and wrath amongst the rebels and their allies. the old cry was raised by the copperhead organs of “an abolition war,” and a pretext was thus found for an excuse for refusing to enlist, and for marshalling all the Negro prejudice of the North on the rebel side. Men could say they were willing to fight for the Union, but that they were not willing to flight for the freedom of the Negroes; and thus it was made difficult to procure enlistments or to enforce the draft."

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Welcome to Civil War Massachusetts, a new blog exploring the role that the Bay State played during the American Civil War. Here we will explore the lives and experiences of the men and women who not only fought and died for the Union (and the Confederacy in some cases), but who played a pivitol role on the home front.

I will try to post daily, but beware that I do have a fulltime job and a life outside of cyberspace. I be posting the first post (besides this one) on January 1st. I have not chosen a topic for that post yet, but hopefully you will all look forward to it.

Until January 1st, may you all have a safe and wonderful Holiday season and a Happy New Year!