Eight Is Enough: The Worcester Family in the Civil War
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
It can sometimes be difficult to comprehend the scale of the Civil War and to realize how deep an impact it had on the lives of families far and wide. Then something comes along that really drives the point home.
The MHS recently acquired a collection of the papers of Joseph E. Worcester, publisher of dictionaries, almanacs, gazetteers, atlases, and other reference works. While most of the collection relates to his lexicographical career, one letter, written in the midst of the Civil War, caught my eye. On 20 Apr. 1863, Joseph wrote to his sister Deborah (Worcester) Loomis from his home in Cambridge, Mass. The letter starts out simply enough: Joseph discusses some family business related to the death of their brother-in-law Daniel French and the disposition of French’s property. Then he changes the subject:
You know, I suppose, that we have eight nephews in the army, but how recent information you may have had respecting them, I know not. Henry P.’s wounded ancle [sic] is healed, and he has joined his regiment, and is now, or was recently, at Falmouth, in Gen. Hooker’s army. Charles, John, and William, who have passed most of the winter at St. Augustine, Florida, are now in South Carolina – were well early this month. Henry, br. G.’s son, has seen hard service in N.C. – has been very ill, and is now, I suppose, in the hospital at Port Royal. He will be, as I hope, soon discharged, if he is not already. I have seen a letter from Leonard’s son Edward, dated the 24 of March at Camp Farr, near New Orleans. He was in good health. Brother David’s sons Frank and Edward, who enlisted and left Bangor in February are now, I suppose, at Fort Alexandria, near Washington. It is to be hoped, though hardly to be expected, that all these young men will return in due time to their friends.
I was intrigued, so I set out to identify the (mind-boggling!) eight soldier nephews and learn their fates—no mean feat considering the size of the family. Joseph was one of fifteen children of Jesse and Sarah (Parker) Worcester of Hollis, N.H. Those fifteen siblings had, according to The Worcester Family: The Descendants of Rev. William Worcester, a total of nearly fifty children. Many of that generation’s young men died on the battlefields of the Civil War, and Joseph was right to be guarded in his optimism.
So how did the Worcesters fare? Amazingly, it turns out that seven of Joseph’s eight nephews survived the war—all except 24-year-old John Howard Worcester (1839-1863). In fact, John died on 26 July 1863, just three months after this letter was written, from wounds received during the infamous assault on Fort Wagner, S.C. The rest of the nephews did, in fact, “return in due time to their friends.” Taking them in order…
Henry Parker Worcester (1839-1882) was a member of the 3rd Maine Infantry and saw action at Fair Oaks, Wilderness, and Bull Run. Wounded twice and promoted multiple times, he finished his service as a captain. After the war, he settled in Norfolk, Va.
Charles Henry Worcester (1837-1919), the aforementioned John, and William Worcester (1840-1895)—Charles and John were brothers, and William their cousin—served together in the 7th New Hampshire Infantry. After the war, Charles went into business with his three other brothers and, as far as I can tell, lived the longest of the eight nephews. William died of heart trouble at the age of 55.
Henry (1842-1911), William’s younger brother and a member of the 24th Mass. Infantry, was, as his uncle Joseph hoped, discharged due to illness. Henry became a leather manufacturer, post commander of his local G.A.R. #40 in Malden, Mass., and a Civil War historian.
Edward Joseph Worcester (1831-1893) of the 42nd Mass. Infantry was the only one of the eight with a wife and children at home when he enlisted as a “hundred days man.” Happily he returned to his family and had two more children with his wife Maria.
Francis D. Worcester (1843-) was a member of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. He survived the war but may have suffered from mental illness later in life. His brother Edward Lewis Worcester (1845-1897), the youngest of the eight, also served in this regiment and went from private to first lieutenant over the course of the war. He later settled down as a farmer in Iowa.
After updating his sister Deborah on the status of their soldier nephews, Joseph wrote more broadly about the conflict itself:
This most iniquitous war, after two years of most destructive prosecution, seems now no nearer a successful termination than it did one or two years ago. I have all along had a hope that the war would lead to the extermination of the cause of it, that is slavery, but whether this will be effected seems doubtful. I think slavery is a much greater evil than the people of the Free States have considered it, but it is an evil that is very difficult to get rid of without the concurrence of the slaveholders. We know not what the designs of Providence may be, but we may hope good will come in some way.
| Published: Wednesday, 2 July, 2014, 1:00 AM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 33
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Wednesday, June 1st, 1864
The Convention of Ultra-Republicans has met at Cleveland, & nominated Fremont for president. While thinking him the most brilliant man we have, I have not that confidence in his sound discretion, & what the Romans would have styled his fortunes, to think him the right man for the office. Mr. Lincoln is my choice, & will, I think, be that of the nation, unless possibly a brilliant victory gives Grant the preference.
Monday, June 13th
Our good president Lincoln has been re-nominated, by the Union Convention, with Johnson of Tennessee for Vice; - a good choice, as a tribute to the union men of the South, & I trust in other respects.
| Published: Friday, 20 June, 2014, 1:00 AM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 32
By Elaine Heavey, Reader Service
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Monday, May 9th, 1864
The great campaign has begun; & according to recent news, with a victory which promises still better success. God grant it!
Wednesday, May 18th 1864
The last two weeks have been ‘prodigal of blood.’ We have apparent advantage, but not decisive. Today there was a wicked hoax, a pretended proclamation of the President, ordering a fast, & calling for 400,000 more men.
| Published: Friday, 9 May, 2014, 8:00 AM
Love Birds: Ducks, Doves, and Darlings
Each month I have the pleasure of delving into our rich Civil War era collections seeking just one document to showcase in our “Massachusetts Finds Her Voice” web feature. It is one of my great pleasures, sitting in the reading room working through page after page of correspondence and diaries, written exactly 150 years ago, that capture the essence of how people from Massachusetts experienced the war. Each time I sit down I hope to find a document that represents the particular aspect of the war experience I hope to highlight in a coming month.
Typically, I limit myself to searching the collections of persons from Massachusetts, as the scope of the project only allows for featuring documents authored by men and women from Massachusetts. But earlier this spring, I found myself reading the Lafayette S. Foster Papers. Foster was a lifelong resident of Connecticut. He represented that state in the US Senate from 1855-1867. I turned to this collection hoping Foster may have received letters from members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation. I dreamed of finding something referencing the ongoing debate surrounding the 13th Amendment. I struck out along that line, but a letter Foster had written to his wife grabbed my attention.
I knew that this letter could not be used in the Civil War feature, but as my eyes fell on the final line of the first page, where Foster states “you are a bird, and a duck, and a dove, and a darling,” I simply could not resist reading the letter in its entirety.
Writing to his “dearest Wife” from the Senate Chamber on Tuesday, 31 May 1864, Foster opens the letter with the lament:
I generally fail to get any letter from you on Tuesday morning – it sometimes reaches me on Tuesday night – It shows me how great is the loss – for it so falls out, that what we have we prize not to the worth, while we enjoy it – but being lost, why then we rack the value – You are a bird, and a duck, and a dove, and a darling, and when your letters fail to come I find how much I lose.
The letter continues on to discuss the progress on a tax bill (slow), the progress of the war (unpredictable), and the prospects for the Republican nominating convention in Baltimore the following month (Lincoln all the way!).
Being a true reference librarian, I simply had to see what I could discover about the woman who inspired such Audubonian comparison. Referred to as both Mittie and Mattie in Foster's letters, Martha Lyman was Foster’s second wife. His first wife, Joanna, died in 1859 after 22 years of marriage. Foster and Lyman wed in October 1860, and made their home in Norwich, Connecticut. But it thrilled me to learn that there was a genuine Massachusetts connection in the letters. Martha Lyman – the bird, duck, and dove, of Foster’s musings – had been born in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1823. Perhaps I shall go back to the Foster collection and examine Martha’s letters, to determine if any of those missives, written by a Massachusetts native, make a likely candidate to be featured in Massachusetts Finds Her Voice in a future month.
| Published: Tuesday, 6 May, 2014, 1:00 AM