Thanksgiving in War-time, 1862-1864
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
The life of a Civil War soldier was difficult even at the best of times, but holidays were particularly poignant. Many of the men were very young and away from home for the first time. Edward J. Bartlett of Concord, Mass. had been just 20 years old when he enlisted in August 1862. In his letters home in November of that year, written from New Bern, N.C., he described his first Thanksgiving as a soldier, the elaborate preparations, the decorations, and especially the food:
First we had oysters then turkey and chicken pie then plum pudding then apple raisin & coffee with plenty of good soft bread & butter. After we had all eaten a little too much, people usualy do on Thanksgiving days and we who had lived so long on hard tack did our best[,] we had a fine sing.
The meal was followed by songs (including “Auld Lang Syne”), speeches, toasts to President Lincoln and the troops, games, and a dance. Deep in hostile territory, the men were determined to celebrate “in the true home style.” Bartlett concluded that:
The whole day was very succesfull every thing went of[f] pleasently, not a thing went wrong. We were surprised that such a dinner could be got up in this God forsacken country. Twas pleasent to celebrate Thanksgiving in such a way.
The next year, his letters were more sober. Writing on 15 November 1863 from Nashville, Tenn., Bartlett reflected:
Our company Thansgiving in the barracks last year is a day that I can never forget. Six of those boys are now dead. Poor Hopkinson, the president, in his address, [said] “that he hoped the next year would see us all at our own family tables.” He died two months after.
Bartlett spent Thanksgiving 1864 stationed at Point Lookout, Md., guarding Confederate prisoners-of-war. He wrote to his sister Martha about his homesickness on the evening before the holiday:
Thankgiving eve. I sat over the fire, thinking of what you were doing at home, and what I had done on all the Thanksgiving eve’s, that I could remember.
The day itself, however, proved to be a rousing celebration that included music and dancing (“It was fun to see them kick thier heels about.”), horse races, sack races (“Such a roar of laughter I never heard before. Most of them were flat in the dirt before they had gone three steps.”), wheelbarrow races, a turkey shoot, greased-pole climbing, and greased-pig chases (“This made more sport than all the rest put together.”). Bartlett again, unsurprisingly, lingered over his description of the meal: oysters, turkey, duck, beef, chicken, vegetables, apple pie, pumpkin pie, mince pie, etc., finished off with cigars.
Edward J. Bartlett survived the Civil War and lived to 1914. To learn more about Bartlett, visit our Civil War Monthly Document feature for November 1863 or visit the MHS Library to read more of the papers in his collection.
| Published: Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 12:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
We start this week's installment of the events calendar by noting that the MHS is closed Thursday, 28 November - Saturday, 30 November, in observance of Thanksgiving. Normal hours resume on Monday, 2 December. But before that we have two public programs for you.
First, on Monday, 25 November, the Society hosts and author talk with Thomas Whalen of Boston University who will present "JFK & His Enemies: A Profile in Power, 1946-1963." At nearly every stage of his political career, Kennedy collected his fair share of enemies. Whalen will discuss the complex and strained relationships Kennedy had with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and how their mutual hostility inadvertently led to this assassination on 22 November 1963. This public program begins at 6:00PM with a pre-talk reception starting at 5:30PM. Please RSVP for this event.
On Tuesday, 26 November, is the latest in our Immigration and Urban History seminar series. Join us as David Hernández of Mount Holyoke College presents "A Place Reeking with Rottenness: The 'Corpus Christi Situation' (1933) and Legacies of Abusive Immigrant Detention." This talk examines an internal investigation of the Immigration Service in 1933 which exposed allegations of violence, sexual abuse, extortion, and coerced testimonies in a detention facility run by Julia and Olivia Valente. The event is part of a legacy of detainee abuse--from denial of legal rights and poor conditions of incarceration to violence, sexual abuse, and death that is widespread in immigrant facilities today. The case of the Valente Detention Home thus provides the operating terms for understanding contemporary detention practices, in particular, the use of private and non-federal facilities and management for detaining immigrants. Comment provided by Daniel Kanstroom of Boston College Law School. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Talk begins at 5:15PM.
| Published: Sunday, 24 November, 2013, 12:00 PM
Lovers’ Tiff in Turkey
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
Sometimes you come across the completely unexpected when searching the MHS collections. Initially I hoped to highlight the food of the season, and began a search for an interesting menu from any date in the month of November. If turkey had been on any of the menus, that would be the subject of today’s post. Not finding a satisfactory menu and determined to have some sort of turkey in this post -- be it fowl or country -- I started searching for descriptions of Turkey. With a subject search for “Istanbul (Turkey) – Description and travel” a collection finally caught my eye.
What I found was a letter, written in 1830, containing a beautiful yet brief description of Constantinople in the Henry K. Loring papers. However, the depiction of mosques, minarets, and palaces was not the most intriguing excerpt from this letter. A lovers’ tiff revealed in the very same letter entirely captivated my attention!
Captain Loring’s passenger ship arrived in Constantinople (now Istanbul) on 27 November 1830. As a sailor abroad, Loring often wrote to his sweetheart Sarah Hichborn in Boston from his various destinations, including the Greek Islands, Italy, and Turkey. During this stop in Constantinople, he wrote to Hichborn on 12 December 1830 responding to a situation that she addressed in a prior letter, which is not among this collection of correspondence. She seemingly accused him of intentionally impressing ladies other than herself while he was last in Boston. The captain addressed the issue with such ostentation I am uncertain whether his sentiments are flirtation or vainglory:
Dear Sarah, as you observe, distance, does not seperate minds. May ours, never be seperated. But be always, united according to your good Wishes, I cannot recalled, were I took Tea, excepting it was at your house, I do not remember, any ladies, that I could possibly, have impressed them, with any Particular regards for me. I suffer it was on account, of my beauty, Gentlemanly appearance &c. I think you aught to have gratified me, by telling me who they were, Now by way of retaliation I shall not tell you, how near I come, loosing my heart, at Constantinople. The Turkish and Armenian ladies, are certainly very beautifull.
Ooh, trouble! I would advise the captain that retaliation is not always the best course of action in matters of the heart.
Dear readers, if you are worried about their relationship, let me reassure you. Captain Loring and Sarah Hichborn married on 21 March 1833.
| Published: Saturday, 23 November, 2013, 1:00 AM
Adventures in Western Massachusetts
By Kathleen Barker, Education Department
What do Herman Melville, papermaking, and Shays’ Rebellion have in common? Perhaps you already knew that all three have a connection to Berkshire County in Massachusetts. On 15-16 November 2013, educators and history enthusiasts had the opportunity to immerse themselves in these topics as part of the Society’s recent series of workshops, “Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of the New Nation.” This program, offered in conjunction with the Berkshire Historical Society at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, the Crane Museum of Papermaking, and the Pittsfield Athenaeum, offered participants a behind-the-scenes look at the fascinating history of the region.
Friday’s highlights included a discussion of the events known as Shays’ Rebellion, tiptoeing through gravestones, and vacuuming water from paper pulp. First, Gary Shattuck shared his research into the life of his ancestor, Job Shattuck, a participant in the uprising that closed several Massachusetts courts in 1786 and 1787. We discussed the complicated political, social, and economic conditions that led to the “rebellion,” as well as Shays’ and Shattuck’s legacies. Is it really accurate to call these court closings a rebellion? As Gary pointed out, men like Shattuck were not trying to overthrow the system of government, just regulate it. (Perhaps that’s why the title of Gary’s new book is Artful and Designing Men: The Trials of Job Shattuck and the Regulation of 1786-1787.)
Friday afternoon began with a conversation with Dean Eastman, a retired history teacher from Beverly High School and the co-creator (with Kevin McGrath) of the fantastic website, Primary Research: Local History, Closer to Home. Many of the primary-source-based projects featured on the site were collaborations between Dean’s students, historians, and local history organizations. Dean explained how one investigation into the designs carved into eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gravestones encouraged student research on topics including local artists, the religious culture of Massachusetts, and even the growth patterns of lichen. Dean is currently looking for history buffs to participate in a project that traces the men and women who served as apprentices in Essex County, Massachusetts. Visit primaryresearch.org to learn more. The day concluded with a visit to the Crane Museum of Papermaking in Dalton. Curator Peter Hopkins treated us to a hands-on introduction to the art of making fine paper. Did you know that Crane & Co. supplies the majority of the paper that will become United States currency? Although we didn’t get to make money, everyone did take a turn at making a sheet of paper.
Saturday was devoted to exploring the physical structures and features of the landscape that make Berkshire country such a special place. Curator Will Garrison gave participants a look at some of the artifacts donated to the Berkshire Historical Society over the years. Although the Society is headquartered at Melville’s Pittsfield residence, Arrowhead, the organization’s collections include many intriguing artifacts that speak to the history of the region. Participants caught a glimpse of a nineteenth-century sampler, a cozy looking quilted skirt, a piece of the hull from the U.S.S. Constitution, and part of the press used by the residents of Cheshire, Massachusetts, to make a 1,200-pound wheel of cheese for President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Our tour of Arrowhead concluded with a walk through his home with Betsy Sherman, Director of the Berkshire Historical Society. She talked about Melville’s longstanding connection to—and affinity for—the Berkshires, as well as the references to the people and places of the region that fill the pages of his writings. She saved the best part of the tour for last: a glimpse into Melville’s study and the stunning view of Mt. Greylock beyond his window. We ended the day in the local history room at the Pittsfield Athenaeum, where Kathleen Reilly treated us to a comprehensive overview of the library’s many resources. Like Dean, she also has a potential research project for anyone with time and interest to spare. Just ask her about the mystery of the twin paintings….
For information about upcoming public programs or workshops, please visit our web calendar or contact the Education Department.
| Published: Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 9:23 AM
The Real Gettysburg Address
By Peter Drummey, Librarian
On November 19, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln spoke to an immense crowd at the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, the greatest orator of the day, was the primary speaker. In his diary, Everett omitted any reference to the president’s remarks except for his praise of Everett’s speech. The next day, however, after they had returned to Washington together, Everett and Lincoln exchanged letters concerning their respective addresses:
I should be glad [Everett wrote to Lincoln], if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.
Lincoln replied the same day:
In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one. I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure.
On Tuesday, 19 November, the Historical Society will mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address by displaying this extraordinary exchange of letters—and other materials related to the respective roles of Lincoln and Everett that day at Gettysburg—from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM.
Come and help us decide what was the “real” Gettysburg Address.
| Published: Monday, 18 November, 2013, 10:00 AM