The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Civil War 

Just Launched! Nine Fully Digitized Civil War Collections

Reading handwritten letters and documents by men who experienced Civil War battles and military life can be a riveting experience.  Nine collections of Civil War manuscripts are available at the Massachusetts Historical Society's website as complete online collections.   You are invited to examine digital facsimiles of over 9,000 pages including letters from a surgeon (Charles Briggs) serving in the 54th Regiment, letters from a 16-year-old drummer (Edward Peirce, who later served as a private) describing routine life within a military unit, and warm and informative letters from a Captain (Richard Cary) in the 2nd Regiment to his wife.

The following collections are available on our website:

Charles E. Briggs letters

This collection primarily contains letters by Dr. Charles E. Briggs, assistant surgeon with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1862-1863, and surgeon with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, 1863-1865. 

Richard Cary letters

Captain Richard Cary served in the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  Unfortunately he was shot during the battle at Cedar Mountain in Virginia and died a short time later.  This collection includes the letters he sent to his wife, as well as condolence letters she received after her husband’s death.

Norwood Penrose Hallowell papers

Hallowell began his service in the Civil War in the 20th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and then later served as lieutenant colonel of the 55th  Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the second Black regiment in the state.  This collection contains letters and a large number of clippings assembled in scrapbooks. These materials relate to a wide variety of Hallowell’s activities—from his time as a student at Harvard College, through his years serving in the Civil War, to his activities as a Boston businessman.

Frederick Newman Knapp papers

Knapp was a clergyman and teacher from Plymouth, Massachusetts. He wasn’t a soldier, but he held the position of superintendent of the Special Relief Department, U.S. Sanitary Commission.  The focus of this commission was to assist sick and wounded Union soldiers.  This collection includes Knapp’s personal and professional letters as well as a manuscript of a history of the Sanitary Commission.

Francis William Loring papers

This collection contains letters Loring wrote to his mother and sister while he served in a variety of military units.  Loring was a sergeant major in the 24th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; first lieutenant and adjutant in the 38th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; and aide-de-camp for Gen. William H. Emory of the 19th Corps.

Edmund Miles papers

Miles was a lieutenant in the 41st Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, later renamed the 3rd Regiment of Cavalry Massachusetts Volunteers.  This collection includes letters Miles sent to his family describing his activities in the Civil War, and letters he received from his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Charles F. Morse papers

This collection contains letters (some with drawings) written by Lieutenant Colonel Morse of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, who saw action at Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Resaca, and the Siege of Atlanta in 1864. The collection also includes some correspondence relating to his post-war activities in the railroad business.

Edward Burgess Peirce letters

Peirce was a drummer and a private in Company F. of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery, from July 1863 to September 1865. This collection includes letters he wrote to his parents in Lowell in which he described many aspects of day-to-day activities as an enlisted soldier including accounts of camp life and troop movements.

Stephen Minot Weld papers

This collection contains letters written by Weld who was promoted several times during the four years he served in the Union Army. Weld was a second lieutenant and then captain in the 18th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1863, and later was lieutenant colonel and then colonel in the 56th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1864-1865.

Please explore and read these collections from any location where you have a web browser and access to the Internet!

Funding for the digitization of the nine Civil War manuscript collections that enabled both the creation of preservation microfilm and the online version of the collections was provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 2 October, 2014, 1:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 35

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

Tuesday, Aug. 7th, 1864

Thursday was a day of fasting for our national afflictions; - a day of thanksgiving too to the community for a blessed rain the day before after an unexampled drought.

Tuesday, Aug. 28th

Uncertain rumors of peace negotiations, & political arrangements, are the order of the day. Democ. Convention to nominate candidate meets tomorrow at Chicago.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 27 August, 2014, 12:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 34

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

Sunday, July 24th, 1864

 

As to public affairs, - we appear to gain little near Richmond, - Sherman advances successfully in Georgia. Gold has been up to 270 or above it. The president calls for half a million more men, - for one year. The first abortive attempts at negotiation are symptoms which may be followed by something better. The awful sacrifices of the war go on meantime; & among the late losses is that of my friend Hall’s son, of Dorchester, assistant Henry Ware Hall, killed near Atlanta, Georgia. His father bears it heroically.

 Sunday, July 31st

 

This dreadful war continues its ravages, & the good & the brave fall on both sides. Maria writes me of the death of her cousin Cyprus, - my namesake & godson, - in battle near Marrietta, - fighting in the rebel cause; - & of the Christian firmness & submission with which he met death. ‘How long, O Lord!’

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

Eight Is Enough: The Worcester Family in the Civil War

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.

comments: 0 | permalink | 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. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 20 June, 2014, 1:00 AM

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