Saturday, July 25, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
This is the third in a series of posts about two brothers who died in the Civil War. Benjamin Franklin Heald and James Hersey Heald were younger brothers of my great-great grandfather Lysander.
Little is known of Hiram and Sophronia’s day to day life, although we may presume that they lived much as their parents’ had; the exhausting round of farm chores requiring the use of much the same tools and equipment that had been employed since the time of the earliest settlements. There were indications by mid-century that the economy was gradually changing.
As was the case throughout New England, the advent of the railroad was the most striking symbol of change. In 1856 an East Sumner station was opened, although predictable and reliable service would not be provided until after the Civil War.
By 1860, only six persons remained in the Heald household on Sumner Hill – Hiram (62) and Sophronia (57), their eldest daughter Marcella (35), younger daughter Althea (18), Franklin (16), and Oscar (13). Albert, Stephen, and Emogene had all married and moved away from home even if, as was the case with Stephen, it was only next door. Abel had recently joined his brother in Sandwich, Massachusetts, as had James, to be closely followed by sister Althea later that year. Their grandmother Rebekah had died in 1858 and was buried beside her husband in the family cemetery on the rise above the homestead.
In November of that year, Abraham Lincoln, an attorney from Springfield, Illinois who had served several terms in the state legislature, one as a U.S. Congressman, and who had gained considerable notoriety in his 1858 debates with Stephen Douglas, was elected president. Sumner, as did the rest of Maine, strongly supported Lincoln’s election. There can be little doubt that those male Healds of voting age cast their ballots for the Republican ticket.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
This is the second in a series of posts about two brothers who died in the Civil War. Benjamin Franklin Heald and James Hersey Heald were younger brothers of my great-great grandfather Lysander. In 1784, the family's patriarch, Benjamin, had emigrated from Carlisle, Massachusetts to Butterfield Plantation, a 47,ooo acre tract of land, presently comprising the towns of Sumner and Hartford, Oxford County, Maine.
Hiram and Sophronia had eleven children – Marcella, Lysander, Hiram (Hersey), Albert, Abel, Stephen, Emogene, James, Althea, Benjamin (Franklin), and Oscar. By mid-century, Lysander and Hiram had moved to Massachusetts (Maine having become a state in 1820) – Lysander to South Weymouth, Norfolk County, where he became a “leather cutler” supplying heels to the burgeoning shoe industry there; and Hiram, to Sandwich, Barnstable County, where he eventually became a partner, with his brother Abel, of a tack manufacturing business.
In 1840, the federal census reported over twelve hundred residents of Sumner. Population declined for the next one hundred and twenty years, steadily rebounding after 1960 to over eight hundred in 2000. By the mid-nineteenth century, the road over Sumner Hill was the main north/south thoroughfare, an area significantly more populous than today. Within walking distance of the Heald farm was a Congregational Church (1802), a schoolhouse, and a townhouse for local social gatherings.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
This is the first of a series of posts on two brothers who died in the Civil War. Benjamin Franklin Heald, a corporal with Co. C, 20th Maine Volunteers, died from gunshot wounds in a make-shift hospital in Fredericksburg, VA, after the Battle of Spotsylvania in May, 1864. James Hersey Heald, a private in Co. D, 29th Massachusetts Regiment, died of disease in a hospital in Annapolis, Maryland, in October, 1862, having been paroled as a prisoner of war in Richmond, VA. The two were younger brothers of my great-great grandfather, Lysander Heald.
They sit side by side clothed in Sunday best, with stiff blued collars, buttoned-down sack coats, and hound’s tooth trousers. They sit in armchairs like little men. The older brother is resolute, sitting up straight with steady gaze. The other, younger by four years, sits with eyes cast slightly downward and to his right. He looks distracted, even sad, as if inward looking on some unfixed point, unable--or unwilling--to stare ahead for that long exposure. Perhaps some itinerant daguerreian portraitist, plying his trade among the small towns and hinterlands of Maine, made the two boys’ likeness. The photograph may have set up shop in the front parlor of their home on Sumner Hill.
Just up the hill from the home where those boys grew up, and where that likeness may have been made, is a country cemetery. Two gravestones stand side-by-side, now slightly askew, among the fallen leaves of late autumn. It is November and the limbs of the trees are bare, starkly etched against the gray sky. Two small American flags placed in metal stanchions, their red, white, and blue startling in that otherwise monotone landscape, flutter in the cold wind blowing across the hill. A gunshot is heard off in the woods, and then another; some deer hunter abroad on that raw, cloudy day. A dog barks, then silence. I stand still gazing at those stones and read the inscriptions:
And beside that marble stone, the other, identical except the inscription:
In the twenty-first century, it seems we have lost this living connection with our ancestors. And, yet, many of us desire to be woven again into the fabric of the lives of those who have gone before. In his historical address on the occasion of Sumner’s bicentennial in 1898, the Rev. Lucien M. Robinson spoke these words:
Gazing backward along the track of past ages of the world’s history, we note with interest the changes wrought by the passage of time. We behold as in a magic mirror the mighty men of bygone times. We enter the tent of the general, talk with the philosopher, and listen to the poet. But amid that throng are also our own ancestors, and how eagerly do we scan the multitude to discern their forms, and how gladly would we question them as Dante or Virgil did of old, about their life while here in the flesh… The very instinct of our nature binds us to the past and links our fates with those of our forefathers. We are all children of the ages, inheritors of the past.
We are all children of the ages and long to feel connected, to be a part of a family; one small yet, we hope, precious part of a greater, all embracing whole. Because who we are is bound up in that greater whole--that “beloved community” as the Quaker writer Thomas Kelly once called it--of all those who have gone before, those who are with us now, and those who are yet to come. Christians call that body of the faithful the “communion of saints."
Gazing even more intently into that “magic mirror,” we may see that it is a vast room, a room without walls expanding infinitely outward, and there is no end to the people in it. Expanding ever outward, it embraces all of creation. And every life, in some sense, is extraordinary. Every life is touched by the eternal.
Franklin and James died tragically, at a young age, twenty-one and twenty-three years old respectively. The sheer number of the Civil War dead threatened Americans’ ability to grieve and to mourn, to honor and to hold dear those who had died. The historian Drew Gilpin Faust has suggested that the Civil War, not World War I, may have been the first modern war and as such “inaugurated the loss of innocence, the threat of meaninglessness that characterize modern life.”
Having no record of how their parents, or their brothers and sisters, responded to Franklin and James’ deaths, we must ourselves imagine it. And we must ourselves, by remembering them, continually make their lives, and their deaths, purposeful. It is for us even now to honor the dead and, we trust, by so doing, to make ourselves truly alive.
Excerpted from We Behold As In a Magic Mirror: Two Heald Brothers From Sumner, Maine
(Photo: Benjamin Franklin Heald 1843-1864; James Hershey Heald 1839-1862; Daguerreotype, Unknown Artist, circa 1852?)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Music Source: Traditional Appalachian Dirge
Tim Eriksen's music is some of the most hair-raising in American old-time and alternative folk, with a decidedly Northern Roots twist. He also has many years and remarkable depth of experience in a kaleidoscope of musical styles including South Indian Classical, Bosnian/Balkan, Hardcore Punk, Sacred Harp, Experimental Electro-acoustic and Oromo Gospel.
Text Source: Tim Eriksen website (above)
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
A SIGHT in camp in the daybreak gray and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.
Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first just
lift the blanket;
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-gray'd
hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?
Then to the second I step—and who are you my child and
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?
Then to the third—a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of
beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you—I think this face is the face
of the Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.