Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

The Vacant Chair: Thanksgiving 1861

November 20th, 2018

The Carl N. and Dorothy H. Shull Collection of Hymnals and Music Books, housed in Kenneth Spencer Research Library, includes bound volumes of sheet music. One of those songs is “The Vacant Chair,” with lyrics written by poet Henry Stevenson Washburn (H.S.W.), and set to music by George F. Root.

Image of the cover page for the sheet music of The Vacant Chair

Root, Geo. F. and H.S.W. “The Vacant Chair, or, We Shall Meet, but We Shall Miss Him: (Thanksgiving, 1861).”
Chicago: Root & Cady, 1861. KSRL call number: Shull Score E45, item 14

 

Henry Stevenson Washburn was born on June 10, 1813. He spent his childhood in Kingston, Massachusetts. Throughout his career, he was in manufacturing, was president of Union Mutual Life Insurance Company, and served as both a state representative and state senator. Best remembered for his poetry, he published a book of his collected works in 1895, at the age of 82.

Detail from the Frontispiece Portrait of Henry S. Washburn from his poetry collection, The Vacant Chair (1895)
Washburn, Henry S. The Vacant Chair and Other Poems.
New York: Silver, Burdett and Company, 1895, frontispiece portrait detail.
Image from copy obtained via InterLibrary Loan.

Washburn wrote “The Vacant Chair” in 1861 during the first year of the American Civil War, to memorialize the death of John William Grout, known as Willie, an eighteen-year-old lieutenant in the Union Army from Massachusetts. In his book, The Vacant Chair and Other Poems, Washburn tells the story of how Grout lost his life, selflessly helping his men retreat across the Potomac river under heavy enemy fire at the battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, on October 21st in that first year of war. Mortally wounded, his body, and those of the men who fell with him, floated down river. He was not found until November 5th, identified by his clothing and the letters in his pockets. He was returned to his family, and was buried on November 12th, shortly before the nation, and Willie’s own family, observed Thanksgiving on the 28th. The song became popular throughout the remainder of the war, as many families would experience a “vacant chair.”

Carte de Visite showing "Lt J. W. Grout" in uniform, August 1961
John William “Willie” Grout, 1843-1861, 15th Massachusetts Regiment, Albumen carte-de-visite
by C.R.B. Claflin, Worcester, August 1861. American Antiquarian Society.
Image included in Almanac: American Antiquarian Society Newsletter. No. 81 (March 2011), p. 6.

Recording artist, Kathy Mattea, recorded her version of “The Vacant Chair,” and it is available for listening on You Tube.


The Vacant Chair

We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.
When a year ago we gathered, joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden cord is severed, and our hopes in ruin lie.

We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.

At our fireside, sad and lonely, often will the bosom swell
At remembrance of the story how our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner thro’ the thickest of the fight,
And uphold our country’s honor, in the strength of manhood’s might.

We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.

True they tell us wreaths of glory ever more will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only sweeping o’er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, o early fallen, in thy green and narrow bed,
Dirges from the pine and cypress mingle with the tears we shed.

We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;
We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.

 

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

A Philosophy and a Photograph: Frank Snow’s Gift to a Modern Historian

February 19th, 2016

On Sunday, PBS will air the final episode of a six-part miniseries called Mercy Street, set at a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Civil War. This is the second of two blog posts that will explore a Spencer connection to that program; it’s an excerpt from a longer piece to be published later this year. Both entries have been guest written by Spencer researcher Charles Joyce. Mr. Joyce is a labor attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and also a long-time collector and dealer of Civil War photography.

In my previous blog post, I introduced readers to an early KU professor and Chancellor of KU, Francis Snow, and linked his life to the PBS miniseries Mercy Street. The physical bridge between the two takes the shape of a seven by five and one-half inch albumen photograph that I purchased in an eBay auction, shown below. Images of U. S. Colored Troops, as they were officially designated, in such a grouping are themselves relatively rare, but what makes this image truly remarkable is that each soldier is identified on the pasteboard mount by a penciled notation, written in a very distinctive hand.

Photograph of African American soldiers from L'Ouverture Hospital, circa 1864

African American Union soldiers from L’Ouverture Hospital, in Alexandria, Virginia,
probably taken between early December 1864 to early April 1865. The men – a corporal,
eight infantryman, a drummer, and a fifer – appear to have been arrayed as an
Honor Escort for a deceased private. From left to right they are Tobias “Toby” Trout,
William DeGraff, John H. Johnson, Jerry Lyles (or Lisle), Leander Brown, Samuel Bond,
Robert Deyo, Adolphus Harp, Stephen Vance, George H. Smith, Adam Bentley, and
Reverend Chauncey Leonard. Private collection of Charles Joyce; used with permission. Click image to enlarge.

Close-up of soldiers' names

Close-up of the soldiers’ names, written by Francis Snow at the bottom of the mount.
Private collection of Charles Joyce; used with permission. Click image to enlarge.

The tools used to determine who these men were – and to posit a reason why this image was made in the first place and how it finally ended up in the personal effects of a University of Kansas Chancellor – were found chiefly in two repositories: The National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the Records of the Office of the Chancellor at Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made the enlisting of black men into the Union Army a reality, and by the end of the Civil War roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Army) had served as soldiers, with another 19,000 having served in the Navy. The War Department created a Bureau of Colored Troops to oversee, in as orderly a fashion as possible, the induction and service of the black soldiers. Because of the Bureau, records kept of those men were both systematic and fairly scrupulous, as illustrated by the documents below. Moreover, soldiers who survived the fighting – especially if they had been wounded or ill during their service – usually filed for a federal pension. This process generated reams of additional bureaucratic paperwork. While undoubtedly maddening for the claimant, these records are invaluable to the modern-day researcher. Today, the service and pension records of the USCTs are mostly digitized and available using online pay-for-use services like Ancestry.com or Fold.com; copies of records can usually also be obtained for a fee by an online request or personal visit to the National Archives.

Image of NARA Toby Trout service record

A page from Tobias (Toby) Trout’s service file.
Original document held by the National Archives and
Records Administration. Copy in the private collection of
Charles Joyce; used with permission. Click image to enlarge.

Image of NARA Toby Trout record of effects

This document shows the belongings – or personal effects –
Toby Trout left behind when he died at L’Ouverture Hospital of
“gangrene of the lungs.” His effects included a fife, possibly the one
he’s holding in the photograph above. Original document held by
the National Archives and Records Administration. Copy in the private
collection of Charles Joyce; used with permission. Click image to enlarge.

Image of NARA George Smith service file

A page from George Smith’s service file, which describes a gunshot wound
to his right hand received at the Battle of the Crater. The injury disabled him for life and
can be seen in the photograph above. Original document held by the
National Archives and Records Administration. Copy in the private collection of
Charles Joyce; used with permission. Click image to enlarge.

My research into these records revealed that six of the soldiers in the photograph were wounded at the hellish Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. Encountering wounded soldiers from the battle, Francis Snow recorded in his diary on August 9th that “no visitor at L’Ouverture Hospital would for a moment cherish the shadow of a doubt concerning the bravery of the Negro troops on Sat. July 30th. The charge is utterly false that the battle was lost on account of their ‘cowardly behavior.’” The “calamity,” he insisted, was instead “due to some blunder on the part of officers high in command.”

The service and pension records of the men in the photograph also reveal telling details of their lives before the war. For example, Adolphus Harp had been flogged in the groin by his master with a rawhide whip when he was thirteen years old; fifty years later, he had to explain to pension doctors why the scar was still there. Robert Deyo was court-martialed for desertion (but acquitted) and Jerry Lyles (or Lisle) was similarly tried for breaking his musket over the head of one of his fellows during a drill. Wounded during the Crater fight, he was released from the hospital only to be readmitted some months later, now suffering from the effects of “secondary syphilis.”

Service and pension records tell us this much, but it remains puzzling why the image was made and how it came to be found in Chancellor Snow’s private papers. Fortunately, KU’s University Archives at Spencer Research Library retains many of Snow’s letters, journals, and diaries of the Civil War period, including a memorandum book he kept as a Christian Commission delegate stationed at Alexandria. This established that one of his duties included ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of sick and wounded USCTs. And, while there is no account of him dealing directly with any of the men in the photograph – other than the Hospital’s Chaplain, Reverend Chauncey Leonard – Snow’s writings, including the examples shown below, are those of a young man who viewed African Americans as fully worthy of their freedom.

Image of Francis Snow's "Negro Patriotism" entry in journal, 1864

Image of Francis Snow's "Negro Patriotism" entry in journal, 1864

Image of Francis Snow's entries about African Americans in journal, 1864

Some of Francis Snow’s thoughts and observations about African Americans
in the journal he kept while working for the U.S. Christian Commission
in Alexandria, 1864. University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click images to enlarge.

Plainly, Snow’s brief month-long sojourn affected him greatly. So, when an image was made of a group of black soldiers, Snow not only received a copy, but took the time to write each man’s name down – again in his own unmistakable hand – and kept the photograph for the rest of his days, until unearthed in another century, at a time when questions of race and justice nonetheless continue to confound us.

Charles Joyce
Guest Blogger and Spencer Researcher
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Quandary of Young Francis Snow

January 20th, 2016

On Sunday, PBS aired the first of a six-part miniseries called Mercy Street, set at a Union hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Civil War. This is the first of two blog posts that will explore a Spencer connection to that program. Both have been guest written by Spencer researcher Charles Joyce. Mr. Joyce is a labor attorney in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and also a long-time collector and dealer of Civil War photography.

Any connection between the University of Kansas and the PBS series Mercy Street would probably be considered unlikely at best. However, a fascinating historical link does exist in the form of Francis Huntington Snow (1840-1908), who, after the Civil War, became a prominent scientist and served as KU’s fifth chancellor.

Photograph of Francis Snow, undated

An undated photograph of Francis Snow taken in Lawrence.
Snow arrived at KU in 1866; he taught mathematics and
natural sciences and was one of the school’s first three faculty members.
Snow served as KU’s chancellor from 1890 to 1901.
University Archives Photos. Call Number: RG 2/6 Undated Prints:
Chancellors: Francis Snow (Photos). Click image to enlarge.

In July 1863, Snow was a young Massachusetts divinity student facing a knotty ethical dilemma. The son of ardent abolitionists, Snow shared in his parents’ zeal to see the war transform into a crusade for the emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans. However, he believed his religious conviction and pacifist views prohibited him from actually taking up arms for the cause. Snow was drafted on July 18, 1863, and he recorded his thoughts on the matter in his diary, held at Spencer Research Library.

Could I be sure of a place where no fighting would be required, no amount of danger would deter me from going…[as] I might be of some service to the wounded on the battlefield or in the hospital. But a drafted man has no choice of position, and I, too, should be liable to be called to musket duty. So I can’t go.

Snow weighed his options for opting out of service, as allowed by the draft law. Believing that “[g]etting a substitute would be worse in my opinion than going myself,” Snow decided to pay the commutation fee of $300.

One year later, as soon as he finished his final exams at the Andover Theological Seminary, Snow hit upon a way to serve the Union cause and stay true to his moral precepts. He volunteered as a delegate with the U.S. Christian Commission, established by the YMCA, then just ten years old. The organization’s purpose was to promote the spiritual and physical welfare of Union soldiers and sailors. Francis Snow was posted at Alexandria, Virginia, for six weeks (August-September 1864) and tasked with caring for sick and wounded men at several of the military hospitals there. (He later served another five weeks with the Commission, March-May 1865.)

Image of Francis Snow's journal, "Duties of Delegates," August 1-September 14, 1864

“Duties of Delegates” of the U.S. Christian Commission. Francis Snow journal, August 1-September 14, 1864.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Francis Snow's journal, "Delegates to the Hospitals," August 1-September 14, 1864

Instructions for Commission delegates serving in hospitals,
from Francis Snow’s 1864 journal. Other Commission delegates
served with regiments in camps and on battlefields.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Snow was unpaid, except for expenses, and he was required to keep a journal detailing his service on behalf of the Commission. In this, he recorded that during his stay in Alexandria, he visited with over 2700 hundred wounded soldiers, wrote 128 letters for them, read scripture, sang hymns, and led them in prayer many hundred times more.

Image of Francis Snow journal, cover, March 25-May 1, 1865

The cover of one of Francis Snow’s two Commission journals.
Included is Snow’s account of being at Appomattox Court House,
Virginia, on April 9, 1865, when General Lee surrendered to General Grant.
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of a travel pass included in Francis Snow's journal, 1864

A travel pass glued in to Francis Snow’s 1864 journal, instructing
“guards [to] pass F. H. Snow to and from the Hospital at will until further orders.”
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Image of a list of soldiers in Francis Snow's journal, 1864

Snow’s 1864 journal included a ten-page list of soldiers with whom he interacted.
Here he noted information about each man, especially the nature of his injury and his religious affiliation.
Many of the men listed on this page were African American soldiers; their regiment was listed as “USCT,”
or U.S. Colored Troops. University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

One of Snow’s assignments in Alexandria took him to L’Ouverture Hospital, specially constructed to care for sick and wounded African American soldiers, who were kept segregated from their white comrades. Here he befriended the Hospital’s Chaplain, the Reverend Chauncey Leonard, who signed his journal on a page he apparently maintained for “autographs.”

Image of the first page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864

Image of the second page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864 Image of the third page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864 

Image of the fourth page of Francis Snow's letter to his sister, 1864

A letter from Francis Snow to his sister describing
his hospital experiences in Alexandria, August 8, 1864.
“There are now only 9 delegates here to thus attend to the 5000 sufferers,”
he wrote, “and I can assure you we find our time fully occupied.
O Mattie you can form no conception of the amount and intensity
of the suffering among these poor fellows.”
University Archives. Call Number: RG 2/6/6. Click image to enlarge.

Snow’s interest in and empathy with the black population of Alexandria, which had swelled during the war years, was also manifest in other, less official duties, like teaching a Sunday School class of black children. Indeed, when his tour with the Commission ended in early September, Snow “found it hard to get away” from those men, women, and children. He gave the Reverend Leonard $20 to “lay out for the boys” at L’Ouverture.

Photograph of African American soldiers from L'Overture Hospital

African American soldiers from L’Ouverture Hospital, circa 1864.
Photograph in the private collection of Charles Joyce; used with permission.
Click image to enlarge.

Sometime thereafter, probably toward the end of 1864, an unknown artist took a photograph of Leonard with a group of black soldiers who were convalescing from war wounds and sickness at L’Ouverture. Someone sent a copy of the image to Francis Snow; he carefully wrote down each man’s name in the margins of the image and kept it all of his life. The photograph was found in a box in Snow’s personal library some 145 years later, and I purchased it in an online auction. More research on the soldiers in the photograph led to the holdings of the Spencer Library, including Snow’s original diary and Christian Commission journals. More on that in the next entry…

Charles Joyce
Guest Blogger and Spencer Researcher
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A Nineteenth-Century Woman’s New Year’s Resolutions

December 30th, 2015

According to Wikipedia, a New Year’s resolution is “a tradition, most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere, in which a person makes a promise to do an act of self-improvement or something slightly nice, such as opening doors for people, beginning from New Year’s Day.” In January 1864 Elizabeth Duncan wrote down her resolutions on the back pages of her new diary. Little did she know that 150 years later we would use her resolutions to gain insight into what it was like to be a women in the Midwest during her lifetime.

Photograph of Elizabeth Duncan, circa 1860-1865

Photograph of Elizabeth Duncan, circa 1860-1865.
Ladies of Lawrence Portrait Album. Call Number: RH PH 51.
Click image to enlarge.

Wesley Duncan (1814-1902) and his second wife Elizabeth (1837-1879) became residents of Lawrence, Kansas, in May 1855, when the town was less than one year old. Wesley was in the dry goods and grocery business. In 1867 the family left Lawrence and traveled to California, where they briefly settled in San Jose. Sometime around 1868 they returned to Lawrence, and Wesley opened a hardware store.

Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds three of Elizabeth’s diaries, covering the years 1864, 1867, and 1868. The 1864 diary, shown here, was a gift to Elizabeth from her favorite nephew. On January 1st of that year she recorded that “This morning was intens[e]ly cold but I think some warmer than yesterday I wished all the folks a happy new year. About noon Fred Eggert…presented me this book which I value very highly.” The next day she wrote, in part, “I am going to try to live a more elevated life this year than I did last.”

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, front cover

The front cover of Elizabeth’s 1864 diary. Elizabeth Duncan Collection.
Call Number: RH MS A26. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, inscription

The inscription on the inside cover of Elizabeth’s diary reads
“From Fred to his Aunt Bettie as a New Years Present Jan 1st 1864.”
Elizabeth Duncan Collection. Call Number: RH MS A26.
Click image to enlarge.

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, title page

The title page of Elizabeth’s diary. Elizabeth Duncan Collection.
Call Number: RH MS A26. Click image to enlarge.

Elizabeth began writing in this diary four months after Quantrill’s Raid, an event that took place in the turbulent years of strife between Kansas and Missouri during the American Civil War. Writing in her diary faithfully throughout 1864, Elizabeth primarily spoke of her family, daily life, and the people she knew. She only occasionally mentioned incidents and issues concerning the war and politics of the time.

In January 1864, Elizabeth (age 26) and her husband Wesley (age 50) had been married for almost ten years. Their household included two daughters, two-year-old Katie and one-year-old Cettie; seventeen-year-old William (“Willie”), Wesley’s son from his first marriage; and Ella Jackson, a nineteen-year-old domestic helper.

Image of Elizabeth Duncan's diary, New Year's resolutions

Elizabeth’s resolutions for 1864. Elizabeth Duncan Collection.
Call Number: RH MS A26. Click image to enlarge.

Elizabeth wrote her New Year’s resolutions on the volume’s back pages, dating them January 21, 1864. They are transcribed here.

Jan 21st 1864

Today I have determined more fully to live an humble and devoted Christian and so [illegible] that I may make more steady progress in the good way I have determined to pass the following 1st resolutions which are as follows.

Resolved that I will let no day pass without reading two or more chapters in the Bible or Testament.

2nd Resolved that I have stated times and place for secret prayer and if I am hindered in any way so as I am not possible attend to it just at the stated time I will improve the very first opportunity after.

3rd Resolved that I will be more firm with the children and not let my temper get control of me.

It appears that Elizabeth added another resolution later that year.

4 Resolved that by the grace of God assisting me I will do all in my power to make those around me happy especially our own family. July 22nd, 1864

To learn more about Elizabeth, her diary, and her life in 1864, check out Katie H. Armitage’s article in Kansas History; see also Armitage’s article about Duncan’s 1867-1868 diaries.

Kathy Lafferty
Public Services

Collection Snapshot: Chancellor Fraser’s Saber and Belt

April 25th, 2014

John Fraser, KU’s second Chancellor, served as a general in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Displayed here are his dress saber and saber belt.  The saber was an 1862 gift from “the ladies of Canonsburg,” Pennsylvania, in appreciation of his service.

Chancellor Fraser's saber and belt

Saber inscription
Saber belonging to John Fraser. Records of  the Office of the Chancellor: John Fraser. Call Number: RG 2/2:  Saber

For additional images, please click to enlarge:

Belt detailSaber detail

Becky Schulte
University Archivist