Saturday, July 25, 2009

On Furlough

I'll be "on furlough" for a week, so there will be no further posts until my return. For further details on the furlough, go over to Distant Temple Bell.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

We Behold As In a Magic Mirror: Part Three

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.

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. Benjamin's son, Hiram, my great-great-great grandfather, married Sophronia Hersey in 1824. They had eleven children.

Our story continues with a narrative of Hiram and Sophronia's life in Sumner and culminates in the outbreak of the Cvil War in 1861. Part Two in the series may be found here.

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.

Asa Robinson, the proprietor of a store in East Sumner established by his father Increase, makes mention in his account books of the sale of “one stove” in 1848. This was, if not a luxury item, certainly much coveted hardware that not only spared the backs of women bending low over the hearth but required far less wood to heat the home. Its purchase also suggests that the economy had begun to evolve away from mere subsistence farming to one in which realizing an agricultural surplus was a possibility. Hiram’s new home may have been built with monies accrued from just such a surplus. That there was an increasing awareness of larger markets beyond Sumner is apparent as well, and Asa Robinson’s account books indicate that he engaged in long-distance hauling to Portland, Hallowell, and Lewiston.

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.

Although we may infer something of Hiram and Sophronia’s economic life, we know little of their personal character, of who they were as individuals. No written record remains, or has yet been discovered, that would provide the necessary information. However, there is a daguerreotype, very possibly made when the likeness of Franklin and James was also produced, which provides some clues.

As did the two boys, Hiram and Sophronia sit side by side, dressed in their finest clothes. Hiram, wearing a white shirt, black cravat, and frock coat, gazes confidently at the camera; his left hand tucked – Napoleon style – into his vest accentuates the self-possessed, even somewhat cocky, appearance.

Sophronia, wearing a lace bonnet and collar, a beaded necklace (in all likelihood, the only one she owned), and cotton dress, also gazes steadily ahead, although the impression the viewer receives is of a more interior soul. Her substantial hands, with thick fingers devoid of rings suggestive of hard domestic work, are folded left over right atop a large book, undoubtedly the family Bible. It must be said that the long exposures called for in such settings, requiring ramrod-straight postures and minimal facial expression, make any inference of the sitter’s character extremely difficult. But barring any other evidence, we are more emboldened to conjecture about such things. We might even be willing, in retrospect, to see in Sophronia’s inward-looking gaze something of the suffering she would so soon undergo.

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.

The election only further exacerbated escalating tensions between North and South. At 4:30 A.M, April 12, 1861, General P.G.T Beauregard’s troops opened fire on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter with the big seacoast guns and mortars ringing Charleston Harbor. In response to Lincoln’s subsequent call for 75,000 volunteers, Sumner was one of only four Maine towns (noted Sharon Robinson who would later enlist with the Ninth Maine Regiment), that “not only promptly filled its quotas, but had a surplus besides.” Of those one hundred and ten who signed the rolls, and of those thirty-eight former Sumner men who joined the ranks of regiments out of state, many would not survive. Of those six sons of Hiram and Sophronia who enlisted, four would return from the South alive, two would not.

Image Source: Daguerreotype of Hiram and Sophronia Heald; early 1850s (?)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

We Behold As In a Magic Mirror: Part Two

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.

In 1786, Benjamin married Rebekah Spaulding, whose parents had earlier emigrated from Dunstable, Milddlesex County, to Bucksfield. A long succession of children followed, eleven in twenty-four years, nine of whom survived to adulthood. Each of Benjamin’s six sons, upon marriage, was given substantial acreage of cleared land with outbuildings or, in a least one case, a mill site. All three daughters eventually married, and settled on their husbands’ property.

As a young man, the fifth child, Hiram, my great-great-great grandfather, came to inherit his father’s land and buildings. His parents lived with him until their deaths in 1841 and 1858, respectively. Our story begins with Hiram's marriage to Sophronia Hersey in 1824. Part One in the series may be found here.

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.

Even with the departure of two sons seeking to further their careers in business, the Sumner Hill household consisted of twelve members, comprised of three generations. Rebekah, being supported by her son Hiram after her husband’s death, was still living at home. Household crowding was no doubt commonplace at that time; by today’s standards it would be considered oppressive, even squalid.

In 1855, no doubt feeling the need for more space, Hiram built a home alongside his former dwelling. An early photograph shows an ample farmhouse facing northeast with a central chimney, consisting of two floors and a kitchen ell. A large barn can be seen on the south side of the house. The cemetery where the family's patriarch, Benjamin, had been buried, was situated just beyond the barn, higher up the hill. The original farmhouse, essentially intact, although having been sold out of the family by the middle of the last century, still stands today.

The Heald homestead is cradled among the foothills of the western mountains, the graceful forms of the White Mountains visible on a clear day. Second-growth forests have overgrown the pastures and fields cleared by the early settlers and now partially obscure the panoramic vistas that a perch atop Sumner Hill once afforded: of Streaked, Speckled, and Black Mountains; of Deacon Pinnacle; of Spruce, Hedgehog, and Cushman Hills, to name but a few. And among these hills and mountains the many ponds – Pleasant, Labrador, and North – and the east and west branches of “Twenty Miles” River (the Nezinscot) flowing either side of the range of hills on which many of the first families made their homes.

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.

Across the road and slightly downhill lived Hiram’s brother Jefferson, his wife Jane Hersey, and their six children. The cousins, when not otherwise occupied with farm chores, must have enjoyed one another’s company – berry picking, fishing, hunting with the old fowling piece, winter sledding, and swimming in the nearby ponds. Jefferson’s son Llewellyn was a mere nine months younger than Franklin; childhood chums would become comrades-in-arms on some of the bloodiest battlefields of the Civil War, as both boys enlisted in the 20th Maine Regiment in the summer of 1862.

Image: Heald Homestead; Sumner, Maine; date unknown

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We Behold As In a Magic Mirror: Part One

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:

son of
Hiram &
Sophronia Heald
May 17, 1864
of wounds received in
the battle of the Wilder-
ness, Va. May 14, 1864;
Æt. 21
A member of Co. C.
20th Me. Reg’t

Sleep on brave soldier!
a life sacrificed, but a Country saved.

And beside that marble stone, the other, identical except the inscription:

son of
Hiram &
Sophronia Heald.
died at the U.S. General
Hospital, Annapolis, Md.
Oct. 10, 1862
Æt. 23 yrs. 6 m’s.
A member of Co. D. .
29th Mass. Reg.

He was an exemplary and promising
young man and beloved by all who
knew him. He went forth patriotically to
sustain the Constitution and Flag of his
Country, cherishing each as his own life;
and he gave his life for them.

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

O Death!

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)


I am delighted to announce that my recent four-part series "Tokens of Dying Love," on the "Good Death" of Captain Charles W. Billings, Co. C, 20th Maine Infantry, was selected to be included among this month's History Carnival selections over at TOCWOC (The Order of Civil War Obsessively Compulsed). The History Carnival is a monthly showcase of blog writing about history, usually published on the 1st day of the month.

My thanks to Brett Schulte for including the Billings posts!

Image Source: Douglas Rowe  Fifth Corps Pennant

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Sight in Camp

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.

Walt Whitman, "A Sight in Camp..." Drum Taps 1865

"Drum-Taps" is a sequence of 43 poems about the Civil War, and stands as the finest war poetry written by an American. In these poems Whitman presents, often in innovative ways, his emotional experience of the Civil War. The sequence as a whole traces Whitman's varying responses, from initial excitement (and doubt), to direct observation, to a deep compassionate involvement with the casualties of the armed conflict. The mood of the poems varies dramatically, from excitement to woe, from distant observation to engagement, from belief to resignation. Written ten years after "Song of Myself," these poems are more concerned with history than the self, more aware of the precariousness of America's present and future than of its expansive promise. In "Drum-Taps" Whitman projects himself as a mature poet, directly touched by human suffering, in clear distinction to the ecstatic, naive, electric voice which marked the original edition of Leaves of Grass.

Text Source: Huck Gutman, "Drum Taps" Whitman Archive