The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Civil War 

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.   

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 6 May, 2014, 1:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 30

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Feb. 2d, 1864

The President has just ordered out 500,000 men.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 14 February, 2014, 8:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 29

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Jan. 2d. 1864

In regard to public events, the year has witnessed many calamities, through the rage of civil war; but God has sustained us, and it now seems as if the end, - and a righteous and permanent end, - was nigh. May He grant its speedy attainment!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 1:00 AM

Thanksgiving in War-time, 1862-1864

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.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 12:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 27

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday, Nov. 8th

Of military affairs, the rumor is now, - said to be confirmed to-day, - of the taking of Fort Sumter by our forces. We hear of late sad accounts of the treatment of Union prisoners by the rebels, - their suffering from want of food, etc. Their own destitution may partly extenuate this wrong. God grant the end be soon, & the victory of Union & freedom!

Sunday, November 15th

The rumor mentioned in my last entry [the recapturing of Fort Sumter] was not corroborated; but successive advantages give good hope for the cause of Union and Freedom. We lament meanwhile, for the sufferings of our brave men, prisoners in Richmond, said to be almost starved. A plot has been revealed through the British authorities, formed by refugees in Canada, for attacks on our lake cities etc.

Monday Nov. 23d 1863

Last week occurred the Dedication of the Battle Cemetery at Gettysburg. An oration by Mr. Everett, & some noble words from President Lincoln.

Sunday Nov. 28th

Of public events, I must name with solemn gratitude the victory granted to the union arms near Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain. Hope is again encouraged that the end of this awful strife is near.

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 8 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

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