“He did not die in the war, but he died of it.”: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection

Among the newly released works in The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society are memorials to two quite different men who fought for the Union. Also included is the account of an anti-slavery journalist who acted as the head of the American consulate in Bristol, England, throughout the Civil War.


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A Memorial of Lieut. John W. Grout, of the 15th Massachusetts Volunteers, Killed at Ball's Bluff, October 21, 1861 (1861)

By the Rev. E. Cutler

Reverend Cutler begins his memorial by describing the young Lieutenant Grout:

The subject of this sketch won a claim to this memorial, not only as being one of the first commissioned officers that has fallen in this campaign from the state of Massachusetts, but also as leaving a fame independent of fiction, of exaggeration, and of the partiality of friends.

He was born in the summer of 1843, and had barely attained the age at which a legal claim could be made upon his service, when he fell a voluntary sacrifice on the altar of his country.

Of medial stature and symmetrical proportions, erect carriage, and remarkably fine and manly features, and with elastic vigor and “the crimson glow of health,” he seemed “every inch a soldier,” and might have been selected as a model by an artist. His physical qualities were admirably complemented by his moral and intellectual. Though the child of affluence, privilege, and indulgence, and exposed to the temptations incident to life in a city, he was yet above all reproach or suspicion in respect of his habits and associates. With uniform outward respect for religion, he united a cheerful seriousness and frankness in the expression of his religious views and feelings….He was proficient at the pianoforte and in mathematics, and had a genius for the art of drawing; to which he added some knowledge of the French language and of ancient classics, and a cultivated elocution.

 

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Grout determined to join the battle in its earliest days. He became adept at drilling other men in preparation for enlisting. He was immediately made a lieutenant and bravely led his men at the battle of Ball’s Bluff. He did not survive. He was 18 years old when he died.

It appears that he has been largely subsumed in the history of the war. After all, despite his virtues and accomplishments, he was yet a teenager who was killed in his first battle. It is probable that his biography and youthful zeal was the story of countless young men whose promising lives were cut short by four years of carnage.


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Eight Years in a British consulate, from 1861-1869 (1919)

By Zebina Eastman

Zebina Eastman, born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1815, was a journalist, editor and publisher who began his career at age 19 when he became the publisher of the Vermont Free Press. He left two years later and moved west and became involved with abolitionist publications. The death of a mentor made Eastman the most visible leader of the Liberty Party in Illinois. He married and moved to Chicago where he continued his journalism career in service of the anti-slavery cause. He became a friend and political supporter of Abraham Lincoln who, in 1861, named him Consul at Bristol, England. He served in this position for eight years. This imprint is a memoir of those years.

Eastman begins by describing his arrival in England.

It was at the close of the year 1861 that I left my country for my “country’s good.” It was in the first year of the war of the rebellion and the gloomy period of our national life. Traitors, both at home and abroad, in north as well as south, were endeavoring to popularize the disruption of the republic. Treason was striving to appear the highest order of patriotism. As this was sentimentally and morally a gloomy period of the natural year, the time the poet styles “the melancholy days”—clouds cast over the horizon.

He subsequently describes his meeting with the man he was replacing who had no good opinion of Lincoln nor much else.

In the first place I had an edifying dissertation on the character of John Bull—their out of date style of doing business—their contemptible philanthropy and sympathy for the [black slaves]. Upon these thrilling topics he fulminated with great dignity. He rose from his seat, and planting himself in front of the fire, his back to the mantle and spreading his coat tails like a pair of shears, to the exhilarating effects of the warmth in the rear—uttered great swelling words of ponderous wisdom, interpolated with greater oaths, several sometimes in a single sentence….But he had no sympathy, or part, or lot with the damned abolitionists! He would settle the trouble by hanging fifty on each side—of northern abolitionists and southern agitators.

In Eastman’s first year at the Consulate, the Trent affair erupted. There arose a real risk of war with Great Britain, and the incident predisposed John Bull in favor of the Confederacy. Another factor was cotton. Cotton made fortunes for Great Britain, and the American South had all the cotton. This event did ease Eastman’s way.

John Bull doesn’t show much warmth yet. Just after this came the Deluge of the Trent. There was awful indignation, you may believe, with the John Bulls; they tore around as if they were already in our China shop….The streets were placarded with patriotism,—busses ran with inscriptions “self-defense.”

….John Bull began to appear in some of his varied characters. He is a queer animal. Cold, stiff and stubborn—arrogant and distorted—expresses his opinion unreservedly, without delicacy. He is a lion in his war—can act the part of a lion when necessary—yet at times or in spots, is as gentle as a lamb. He is a wise man who can fully comprehend John Bull. I do not pretend to be that wise man.

As can be seen, Eastman’s years as a journalist honed his writing style as well as his observational skills and sense of humor. One further example:

There was undoubtedly great sympathy with a majority of the English people for our rebels—and hope for the destruction of the American Union. This is strange to those well posted in English philanthropy—and those not well posted on the general character of the country. The whole was quite unlike—yet just like—John Bull. It was quite natural—as natural as it was for the demagogues of this country to sympathize with the East India rebellion and to prophesy foolishly the end of the Eastern British Empire….It is better generally for Englishmen and Yankees to know something before they prophesy!

The memoir is both entertaining and instructive. We have provided only a few examples of Eastman’s wit and insights.


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A Memoir of Chapman Biddle, Read before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, March 13, 1882 (1882)

By Charles Godfrey Leland

Chapman Biddle was a member of the prominent Biddle family of Philadelphia. He was a well-established lawyer and nearly forty when the war began. He was commissioned as a colonel and fought at Gettysburg among other battles. After the war he returned to Philadelphia and his legal career. Charles Godfrey Leland, the author of this work, was a native of Philadelphia who lived most of his adult life in Europe. He was a journalist, folklorist, and art educator. At the death of Biddle he addressed the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in memoriam of him.

Him of whom I would speak to-night, no titles could make nobler than he appeared in the eyes of all who knew him. And so deeply do I feel that CHAPMAN BIDDLE was truly one of nature’s noblemen, that I recognize it as one of the brightest honors of my life, to be called on to speak of him before this distinguished body of gentlemen and scholars. By your invitation, you have testified to the fact that he was one among thousands, and that his name will ever remain in this community, inscribed in its golden book. Whoever shall in future days write the history of this City, will not fail to give his name prominent place amongst her great sons.

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During the war, it was possible for wealthier men to essentially buy their way out of having to serve in the Union Army. Many did. But there were also men of means who reckoned it their duty to serve. Biddle was such a man. His family was preeminent in the city and beyond. Leland gives us an account of that family.

Such a family is that of BIDDLE. An off-shoot of the Biddulphs, the wolf-killers of the Saxons in the time of the Conqueror, many Biddles were citizens of London, towards the close of the seventeenth century. Among them was William Biddle, a Quaker merchant, who had, before his conversion, served as a major in Cromwell’s army, and that William Biddle was the lineal ancestor of all the Biddles of Philadelphia. In every generation they have stood high. As soldiers, scientists, statesmen, and lawyers, they have graced every profession they have adopted. Owen, the astronomer; Edward, the legislator; and Nicholas, whose name and fate are known to every school-boy, and who sank beneath the wave that engulfed the “Randolph,” live still in our memories of the old wars.

The author recounts the details of Biddle’s education and travels during his younger years.

In 1848, he was admitted to the bar. What a position he achieved at a bar, whose members have been famous throughout the country, and whose learning and acumen have given rise to the world-wide saying, “as clever as a Philadelphia lawyer,” you all have heard…

…it is wonderful when we remark around what a small number of names the great lawyers of England grouped. William Biddle, to whom I have referred, the ancestor six generations back of the Biddles of to-day, was a very eminent member of the Society of Friends, and came to New Jersey from England in 1681.

Leland describes how, despite their Quaker roots, subsequent Biddles aligned themselves with the military from the Revolution on. Biddle served as an orderly sergeant in the First Regiment of Pennsylvania Artillery. After the attack on Fort Sumter, Biddle helped form a uniformed militia of which he became the captain. An account of Biddle’s early engagements in the war is provided as a prelude to a narrative concerning his role at Gettysburg.

Colonel Biddle, while leading his men, had his horse shot under him, and later in the day was himself wounded in the head: as the injury was not serious, he still remained in command….There was no period of responsibility or danger…in which Colonel Biddle was not as calm, as cool, as courageous, as considerate as he was in his office; or, as we all know, he was in the trial of a case. In a driving storm of snow, at midnight, on a march, you would find him just the same courteous, cool, perfectly self-possessed gentleman, taking care of his men—thinking of others, and not of himself…

Toward his conclusion, after describing Biddle’s final days and death, Leland asserts that…

He did not die in the war, but he died of it. The almost imperceptible germ of his only constitutional defect [his head injury in battle], developed by torrid heat and strengthened by pestilential air, grew to be the poison-tree whose branches at length overshadowed his life.

Biddle died in Philadelphia in December 1880. He was 58. He left a widow and two children.


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