Military Men

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935)

Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were
touched with fire.
Massachusetts supplied almost 150,000 troops to the Union Army during the Civil War. One of the state’s most honored regiments, the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, fought in nearly every major campaign, including Ball’s Bluff in 1861, Antietam and Fredericksburg in 1862, Gettysburg in 1863, and the Battle of the Wilderness campaign in 1864.The regiment’s valor came at great cost: of the two thousand active Union regiments, the 20th Massachusetts ranked fifth in casualties. While still in college, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., son of the prominent writer and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, joined the 20th Massachusetts and served for three years before injuries forced him to leave the army.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.  Captain in the 20th MA Regiment and U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Featured Items from the BPL Special Collections

ASSOCIATION OF OFFICERS OF THE 20TH MASSACHUSETTS VOLUNTEER INFANTRY, Correspondence with Regard to the Memorial Alcove in the Boston Public Library. Boston: 1896-1897.
The Boston Public Library is home to the extensive 20th Regiment Collection: thousands of books, diaries, letters, and other materials relating to American military affairs. The volume displayed here contains extensive correspondence from surviving members of the 20th Regiment, including a draft inscription for one of the marble lions on the library’s grand staircase commemorating their fallen comrades.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department
SILSBEE, CASE & CO, photographers, Carte de visite of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Boston: 1861.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., son of prominent writer and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes, enlisted in the 20th Regiment while at Harvard in 1861.  After the war, he pursued an illustrious career in law and was named an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.
BPL Print Department
Cannister rounds, burnside cartridges, and Enfield Sargeant’s wrench, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 1863.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department
HENRY ROPES, 20th Regiment hat insignia and coat buttons, ca. 1862.
Boston resident Henry Ropes was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant with the 20th Regiment in November 1862. Ropes was killed by friendly fire at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department
JAMES GORDON CLARK DODGE, Epaulettes. ca. 1862.
Epaulettes, elaborate shoulder decorations, provided striking embellishment to the Union officers’ dress uniforms during the Civil War. These epaulettes were worn by 1st Lieutenant J.G.C. Dodge of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, SR., “My Hunt After the Captain,” Atlantic Monthly. Boston: December, 1862.
On September 17, 1862, young Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was shot through the neck at Antietam, Maryland, during the bloodiest single-day battle in American history. Upon learning the news, his worried father set out to search for his son. Holmes Sr. was relieved to find his recovering “boy” days later and wrote a detailed account of his search, “My Hunt for the Captain.” His article was heartily received as bringing a first-hand picture of the war directly to the home front audience.
BPL Research Library
OLIVER WENDELL HOMES, JR., Speeches. Boston: 1891.
In a stirring Memorial Day address to fellow veterans in 1884, Holmes attributed great value to his experience in the Civil War. This speech contains one of Holmes’ most enduring lines: “Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire.” When Holmes was laid to rest in 1935 in Arlington National Cemetery, infantrymen raised their rifles and fired three volleys, one for each of the battles in which Holmes was wounded.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department

Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911)

It is this capacity of honor and fidelity which gives me such entire faith in them as soldiers.Born in Cambridge, Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a minister, social activist, and author. From November 1862 to October 1864, Higginson served as colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (later the 33rd United States Colored Troops), the first authorized Union regiment composed of African-Americans.Along with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (the famous black regiment led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw), the 1st South Carolina Volunteers fought valiantly in many important battles, including the assault on Fort Wagner. Higginson

Thomas Wentworth Higginson Colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, social activist, and author.

Featured Items from the BPL Special Collections

*THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON, Telegram to Mary Eliza Channing Higginson. Boston: 1854.
In the 1850s, Higginson joined the Boston Vigilance Committee, an organization lead by minister Theodore Parker to protect fugitive slaves from pursuit and ‘kidnapping.’ On May 26, 1854, Higginson helped lead an attack on the Boston Courthouse to free captured fugitive slave Anthony Burns. A U.S. marshal was killed in the attack and Burns was returned to slavery. Arrested for his involvement in the riot, Higginson sent this telegram to his wife to share the news of his upcoming trial; the charges were later dropped.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department
THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON, Army Life in a Black Regiment. Boston: 1870.
Higginson’s memoir of the Civil War, Army Life in a Black Regiment, provided a vivid, first-hand account of his experiences and frustrations leading the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Although more than 170,000 black troops served in the Union Army during the Civil War, Northern prejudices persisted: black soldiers served in segregated units commanded by white officers and privates were paid $10 per month rather than the $13 paid to white privates, which infuriated Higginson. In Army Life, Higginson also labored to document the dialect spoken by the men and record the spirituals they sang in camp.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department
CHARLES TYLER TROWBRIDGE, General Orders, No. 1. Headquarters 33d U.S.C.T., Late 1st So. Car. Volunteers. South Carolina: 1866.
In May 1864, Higginson resigned command of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers due to injuries. The order shown here disbanded the regiment in 1866; they were the longest-serving African-American military unit during the Civil War. In the general order, the commanding officer wrote admiringly of the regiment’s fidelity, patience, and patriotism.
BPL Rare Books & Manuscripts Department*Conservation funded by the Associates of the Boston Public Library