Lowell Contributions to the Mass 13th
Regimental Circulars

 

James Howard Lowell contributed letters to eleven regimental circulars. The circulars served two functions: to invite the men to their annual Mass 13th reunion in Boston, and to provide a forum for remembrances and status updates. While excerpts are included in the book, here are the full transcriptions.

In Circular 23, Lowell recounts an incident where the Company A men were displaying their bayonet skills and their youthful vanity. The contemptuous reaction of a local matron revealed her identity as a Southern spy. Circular 27 offers an incident from the journal where he met a fellow Boston man in Montana. Lowell wrote his last contribution four years before his death. In Circular 34, he relates how a newspaperman saved his life by dragging him off the battlefield at Antietam.

 

 

Circular 14

 

HOLTON, KAN., Dec. 5, 1900.

DEAR COMRADE:

   Your notice to report for duty the 11th instant at Boston, to companion again with the old boys of the Thirteenth is received. I am not happy to say that I shall have to be one of the invisibles. I find in your excellent and interesting circular the ranks are fast diminishing. Thirteen in one year! It awakens the thought that a pilgrimage, even so far, would always remain a cherished incident in one’s career. It intensifies the regret, also, that it is, this year, not to be. I was glad you gave Colonel Hovey a memoriam in your circular. The articles all have to us, so far away, a peculiar interest. The adjutant at the soldiers’ home near Leavenworth tells me there were for quite a while two of our regiment there. They have left he knows not where to. There are two with their families living here who were of the Sixteenth Indiana, at one time in our brigade. They are both in business and near neighbors, well to do. I meet out here occasionally others who were in one or other of the regiments of our brigade. I have yet to meet one of those comrades who is not respectable. It grieves me to know of our old commander’s affliction. Won’t you say to him that he is affectionately remembered by one of his disciples in the art of war? He was to so many of us a preceptor during the period from green kidhood to sternest manhood.

   I have always been impressed that our regiment was made up of pretty good Massachusetts blood, and it is not to be wondered at that such material would take the lead in perpetrating that comradeship which is born of a common danger. I think it was the Sunday before I enlisted that I went to Music Hall to hear Wendell Phillips, and it has always since been in me that he was the best recruiting agency in the country—that speech put in the ranks many of the best youth of Boston. The article of Comrade Bell on the hot time at Winchester was worth reading to a fellow who was along. I must confess that I heaved a colossal sigh of thankfulness when we found the unmet enemy. There is an old proverb, “Better ten mistaken suspicions than one close encounter.” I wish you would send a writ of fieri facias if I am again caught so far in arrears. I enclose post-office order, $6.

Yours with much regard,

JAMES H. LOWELL.

 

Circular 16

 

HOLTON, KANSAS, Dec. 12, 1902.

CHAS. E. DAVIS, JR., Secretary Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment Association, Boston, Mass.:

DEAR COMRADE DAVIS:

   Circular No. 15 duly came in value of full measure for entertainment and keeps. Both articles deeply interesting: yours on “An Entailed Shoulder Strap” and Jepson’s on a battle-field where was established the precedent—the invention and patenting of a three-day fight. Since reading it I have reviewed Victor Hugo and Sloan’s Waterloo. I presume the parallel drawn by Jepson refers to the “high-water-mark” character of both these battles. Hugo says in effect that forty thousand effectives became fugitive at the close of a six-hour fight, and the query arises, had either side engaged at Gettysburg been there would it have stayed till day after to-morrow? I am sure the survivors all of our regiment will appreciate with intense interest Jepson’s recital, which, besides being comprehensive, specializes the part taken by the regiment, and also the heroism allied to the fortunes of the regimental flag on that field. I am reminded of hearing that once James A. Garfield, when in the height of his fame, entered a Masonic Lodge, the brothers rising and cheering, extending his hand and commanding silence, he said: “On this floor all are equal.” It may be because we privates are such nice fellows that our reunions are so democratic. I hope your forthcoming reunion will show up as big an attendance as the last, but for goodness sake let there be no such showing of parade rest—23. I shall remember the hour of your meeting on December 16, with appropriate ceremony in this far-away place. A cordial greeting to all, and may it be good to be there.

Yours truly,

JAMES H. LOWELL.

 

 

Circular 20

 

HOLTON, KANSAS, Dec. 2, 1906.

DEAR SECRETARY DAVIS:

   Visitor No. 19 was received last evening at once engaged the attention of self and wife—rivals, each striving to be the “sooner.” Indeed, I think I ought to file her claims, a most eligible candidate for the title of “Daughter of the Regiment,” for I believe she knew, during its martial organization, more of the Regiment than any other lady. The circular in every respect was admirable. Yours and Jepson’s had all the properties of an advertised tonic. When we read your “Narrow Escape,” a panorama of incidents were recalled. The hospital at Harrisburg was a structure used for Sunday school purposes of the German Reformed Church; separate, but on the same spacious lot adjoining, was the residence of a Mr. Small, banker, whose daughter our comrade James [L.] Forbes, of East India fame, married. [Ella Small.] A little way up the street, on the opposite side, was the residence of Colonel Roberts, whose daughter is the writer’s wife. It was usual of an afternoon for Miss Roberts and three others, making a quartette, to visit our ward, and their music will be remembered by the boys; these visits led to return visits to the home of Miss Roberts, where your “Bob,” alias “Chuck it” with his fine baritone, and Dorr, tenor, contributed to a like entertainment, and Noyes and Brigham were at times in evidence. These four were together a good deal and singularly had leg and foot wounds, and Miss Roberts remembers chaperoning these four, all on crutches, one Sunday to the Pine-street Church, where Bob seemed to have a call (if your inventory of him is correct), perhaps to prey. [The character of “Chuck it” appears in the regimental history, written by Charles Davis. This flirtatious fellow habitually borrows money from his comrades. Davis spared Armstrong’s family by not identifying him other than by nickname in the published history.] It may be that being ineligible, we find it difficult to reconcile our Bob with Your Bob. He never insisted on our parading our wealth by dispensing with it, but surely Bob got into the cut glass set when James McCormick, a wealthy Harrisburger, took him under his wing, joined him to his Bible class at the Pine-street church, where, also, its choir was enriched by his baritone. McCormick was not only rich, but easy, and might readily have fallen under the magnetic influence of Bob. His personality is remembered to be all you describe, and I have heard him converse in Spanish. But we are curious to know what family fired him. We recall that Brigham was restless during his confinement and convalescence, constantly clamoring for release to return to active service, and when at last he joined the artillery arm, Bob took occasion to write the fact to Miss Roberts in one of the numerous letters she received from him. It is hardly necessary to say how much I should like to be with you this year, and I wish you all a good time, with best wishes otherwise.

Yours,

JAMES H. LOWELL.

 

 

Circular 22

 

HOLTON, KAN., Dec. 7, 1908.

DEAR COMRADE DAVIS AND COMRADES ALL:

   I wish to assure you that with great pleasure I awaited the coming of Circular No. 21 as well because I felt that I was a part of it, as for the matter it contained, and as years accumulate one becomes conscious that the invisible thread which attaches man to comrades of an early fellowship in common dangers becomes stronger and more tenacious. Our whole being reacts on the spectre we call time. I am more sorry than I can say that I shall not be there with you the ensuing anniversary on December 11. “To be or not to be” there could from one point of view be answered, yes, since to mingle again with you would be

   “To trim the wick of stirring memories.”

   I have often pictured seeing you now, in contrast with the spectacle you presented on the day I last saw you on Aug. 1, 1864. How many were there who could claim any other occupation than that of soldier? But the degradation that had followed the close of all previous wars in the ranks of its soldiers found a poor soil in the membership of the Thirteenth, and here’s to the Thirteenth, its reunions, and its circulars expiring only with the last man.

Yours,

LOWELL.

 

 

Circular 23

 

HOLTON, KAN., Dec. 9, 1909.
CHARLES E. DAVIS, JR., Boston, Mass.
DEAR COMRADES ALL:
[...criticizes the practice of quoting by-laws and permitting advertisements in the Circulars, the sale of “our accumulated rubbish.”]

   I wonder how many survivors of Company A remember the following incident; I have seen nothing of it in any of the circulars. The impression it left on my mind at the time has never molted a feather and I am tempted to relate it in my awkward way. In the winter of 1861, three or four companies of the regiment were sent to Hancock as part of the "Advance Guard." Company A was quartered in a brand new brick 3-story house; the pony mess (to which the writer belonged) camped in the low-ceiled attic. Now, as Company A figured in the ro1e of skirmishers of the regiment, a part of our training was the bayonet drill. One day a series of bayonet drills took place in the attic, an arena wholly unsuited for that character of warfare, and the result was that the ceiling looked like one vast cane bottom for a chair, and the lamentations of the Irishman who owned the property when he discovered the casualties brought Sergeant Whiston to the scene. Orderly Sergeant Whiston was a pretty good detective, but he was clean off-scent in this instance. The bayonet warfare of Company "A" did not end here. On one of those delightfully fine days of a Maryland winter, Bob Henderson (of cherished memory), then a sergeant, was ordered to bring out the company for bayonet drill. For the occasion we were groomed to the top notch—buttons glistening in the sunshine we were proudly marched up street halting in front of a mansion whose balcony above contained two Union officers with a female between. One was a surgeon with rank as major. With bayonets fixed we got to business, going through the manual with bugle calls. The whole thing was so sudden and unexpected that the vain pedantry of the performance did not at once get to our inner consciousness, as it did later on. Our distinguished audience on the balcony condescended to clap us politely, and the show was going merrily on when the bugle noted us to lie down, and down we went, immaculate plumage, polished buttons, and all in Maryland dirt. At once a voice—of a woman—from the balcony "see Lincoln's niggers." Instantly Sergeant Henderson took a hand, and we were marched to our quarters, where a discussion took place without the formality of a chairman and secretary and in which the names of the holy Trinity served to give emphasis. We were not long in deciding what to do, and with Sergeant Henderson for a leader we retraced our steps to the mansion and going to the door the sergeant slammed the knocker; the door presently opened with the major in front, who demanded the sergeant's business. "I wish to speak to the person who insulted these Federal soldiers," said the sergeant. Quoth the major: "You can't cross this threshold except over my dead body." Behind the major stood the "person," who said, "Major, I will speak to the sergeant." Then followed a retraction of the offensive words and an apology, and thus disarmed, we returned to our quarters. The incident was closed as to the "person," not so as to the major. Our return was enlivened by repeated "three groans for the dead body," that could be heard by the rebel pickets on the Virginia shore. At the foot of the stairway or entrance to our quarters was constantly kept a guard or sentinel. This guard, as part of his duty, was unofficially charged to announce the appearance of the major whenever seen in the vicinity. On one or two occasions this happened, and in each instance we formed a line in double column on the curb, and gave the major our complimentary salute, "Three groans for the dead body." It was currently reported that the major at his own request was relieved from further service at Hancock. But before the major's departure, the woman took hasty leave. Her mission as a spy became by this incident too plainly evident to admit of doubt. She was not a resident, a palpable courtesan, and her flight none too soon for her own good.
With best wishes to all,
JAMES H. LOWELL.

 

 

Circular 25

 

Holton, KANS., July 23, 1911.

MY DEAR COMRADES:

   From this distant place I tender greetings to the survivors of our regiment. Hitherto our anniversaries have been observed to instill interest and keep alive the association begun fifty years ago. The year we celebrate. It is an epoch to call a halt, stack arms a moment and hark back through the vista of years and recall the panorama of the molding, hammering and fashioning of a regiment consecrated to wage war—to recall the lusty group of youth in the freshness of a morning existence when the gloss of novelty was on everything that met the eye—then entering the vestibule of the theatre of war, whose portentous future was veiled from the sight. Of an association wherein fellowship ripened pace by pace, and the human sympathies quickened and thrived day by day as from war’s tempests came the tragedies that marked the regiment’s career. In our felicitations to-day, let us not forget to be thankful for the fact that this organization has been buoyed up and kept intact, in point of surviving membership, efficiency, and promised permanency, to rival that of any other of the Civil War. It cannot be denied that the career of our regiment from every point of view ranks with those at the forefront. Its responsiveness in hours of extremest peril is unquestioned, its place in history is assured, but with all these to its credit our comradeship would be enervated had it not embraced so worthy a cause as that which gave it birth. With regret, be it said, there is a growing forgetfulness of the great things accomplished fifty year ago. In nearly all the wars of history it has been a struggle between rival dynasties, rival spirits in power, rival empires: humanity as a whole was not concerned in it. If there was anything like this in our great struggle, our comradeship would have very little of the interest we now feel in it. Its fervor would lack the quality that enriches it. But ours was not a struggle between north and south—between rival statesmen—it was whether this country should go on blotted with human slavery, whether the toiling man should be lifted up or bowed down. The triumph of such a cause with such ideals enlaurels the victors, and companions in arms become comrades, of whom Shakespeare wrote:

 

The friends of thy adoption tried

Grapple them to thy soul with hooks of steel.”[1]

In the festivities of this day as we recall the past—the jocund and the sad—I give you the toast:

The Epithet “Glorious,” the trophy of our arms.

 

Cordially,

JAMES H. LOWELL.

 

 

Circular 26

 

HOLTON, KANS., Dec. 9, 1912.

MY DEAR COMRADES:

   To those of us who were not present to enjoy the last reunion, Circular 25 is a matter of pride in several ways. I believe we all will be grateful to Comrade Davis that he has at last put in permanent form a narrative that will rank with the extraordinary incidents of the Civil War. I intended to stop here and close with my greetings and good wishes to all the boys when it occurred to me that what may seem a trifling incident has nowheres appeared in the Circulars. On page 17 of our “History” I find this item: “Nov. 16, 1861, Companies A, B, E, and H sent to Hancock.” [Referring to the regimental history, Three Years in the Army, by Charles E. Davis, Jr.] That is all; no achievement—no glory—no scenery; as recordless as the flight of Andrea in his balloon trip to the north pole. I purpose to draw aside a veil a bit. Captain Fox being the senior in rank was commandant of the post at Hancock and it seems he received information that a Confederate general whose home was at Bath, or near that town, was there on a furlough and preparations were made for his capture. Company A, under command of Lieutenant Neat, was put in readiness, and somewhere about midnight crossed the Potomac. Our orders were to avoid conversation, the march to be at a quick step—the only infraction of these orders that occurred was the discharge by some one of his gun. It was our first adventure—a lot of riotous youth goaded by the hunger for excitement. Milton was thinking of just such fellows when he wrote of “The strong man aroused from sleep shaking his invincible locks.” We were going to capture a rebel general that night. A long spirited march brought us, as your guide said, to the home of the general. It was a large structure of southern architecture and about were barns and outbuildings and feed lots.  Everything was dark at the house, and we were deployed in a circle around it and to lie down with guns ready, but we were not to fire except by order, or in an emergency. There were no dogs about, and no signs of life, and at early dawn the house was summoned and there being no response, an entry was effected to find it stored with grain, and along our route we had observed abundance of farms products—all of which information was taken in advance to Hancock by a courier, and as we leisurely retraced our steps campward, we met a large number of teams which were sent out to capture the produce belonging to known secessionists, and thus our enterprise, which inglorious to ourselves, was of great profit to the Government.

   I loaned the circular to a neighbor Minister and asked him to read “From Manassas to Boston,” and what he thought of a man who would swear in the circumstances therein related, with a few “ahems” he knocked under and said, “Try me.” It is useless to repeat the desire to be with you in these reunions. It is chronic, and I can only wish you all of the very best and a joyous meeting.

   Wishing you a splendid reunion,

I am yours,

LOWELL.

 

 

Circular 27

 

HOLTON, KANS., Dec. 1, 1913.

MY DEAR CHARLES, JR.:

   The selections in Circular 26 were fine, and the good, dietary sketches are something to think over after reading. Warner’s sketch of the blue and gray at the late reunion at Gettysburg called to mind, by contrast, a little incident that occurred in ’69 in the mining region of Montana. A matter of business took me to see the president of a gold placer mining enterprise. They were digging a water ditch on a big scale, and apparently, the diggers were all unreconstructed rebels. It was nightfall when I reached the ditch line, and man and beast were about all in. I drew rein at a cabin of one of the diggers. A big fellow came out, and a heated colloquy took place. He said he was a Georgian, and had a hand in licking Yankees, and would like to do it again. No damned Yankee from Mass. could sleep under his roof, and the sooner a Mass. soldier got off his ditch contract the better for him. I had my foot in the stirrup to remount, when he took hold of the rein to detain me. “Hold on,” he said, “no true Southerner forgets to be hospitable.” He picketed the horse out where it could feed on the nutritious bunch grass, and we entered the cabin. My protests were in vain, and he was a big man besides, and would have his way. A neater kept cabin was hard to find. There were books and papers; the furniture hand made from the surrounding timber. Canned meats and fruits were on the shelves. The dirt floor looked clean and swept. On the deal table I saw a volume of Hume’s History of England. I got into a fit of thinking. He busied himself getting supper—mixed a batter, and was soon flipping slap-jacks in a frying-pan; then he broke the tense silence. “What town did you say you hailed from in Mass.?” “Look here,” said I, “Quit your damn shamming, and what town in Mass. did you come from?” “Boston!”

   His name was Hopkins; he had served through the war in a regiment of Mass., I have forgotten the number. He asked me to stay with him a day or two and help stand off annoying neighbors who would come in pairs to taunt and vent their spleen and hatred of Yankee’s, thinking to freeze him out of his ditch contract. It worried him, but he was amply able to keep up his end. I run up against many in Montana, first and last, of the horde of ex-rebels that had poured into that Territory at the close of the war, who were amiable and content to bury the hatchet; some fine fellows, among whom was the president of the ditch company, whom I first met in 1866 in Salt Lake City.

   Wishing a happy reunion on the 13th,

Cordially,

Lowell.

P.S.

   Some very clever lines were written some years ago, I may have them somewhere, on the futility of swearing. The argument was that smoking and chewing tobacco, and the satisfaction they gave to some particular sense, found a contrast to swearing, that satisfied no sense whatever.

   An officer of the U.S. Army—a General—was delivered of a dictum carrying a better argument, and in harmony with the outburst of G. Washington, to wit:

   “Profanity, sir, is the unnecessary use of profane language.”

 

 

Circular 31

 

HOLTON, KANSAS, Sept 12, 1917.

MY DEAR COMRADE SWAN AND COMRADES:

   Was very glad to get the circular promptly and I wish you all a happy reunion. Since I cannot be with you I rejoice that I can in this way manifest my interest in, and best wishes to all of you.

Yours,

LOWELL

 

 

Circular 33

 

HOLTON, KANSAS, Sept. 11th, 1919.

MY DEAR COMRADE SWAN AND COMRADES ALL:

   I have just read the nine short letters of the nine aged and esteemed veterans in Circular 32 with a thrill of comradeship, which I must acknowledge here. Our ages are separated but by a few years at most and doubtless we generally share more or less the inconveniences hinted at in the letters. [Lowell is 77.] But, glory be, old age is not necessarily an unhappy period. It will come with good cheer to those who can say: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; and when the summons comes for my departure, I am prepared to go—not like the galley slave scourged to his dungeon, but like one who draws the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams.” [2 Timothy 4:7] The going out of such a life is like the going down of the sun into the mellow haze of an Autumnal evening. Our attention is constantly called to the inevitable, that a strictly old man’s league that admits of no recruits, puts it squarely up to us to make all the hay possible while the sun shines. Therefore, may you have a cheery time on the seventeenth, a day so full of memories of youth, of vigor, of sacrifice, of valor. The natal period of our glorious comradeship, and we who are camping out will remember you and the day.

Yours,

LOWELL, Co. A.

 

 

Circular 34

 

HOLTON, KANSAS, Sept. 10, 1920.

MY DEAR SWAN AND COMRADES:

   I wish I could be with you the 17th. Have read and enjoyed the Circular and I find in it, in Comrade Walker’s Article, a text for reminiscences of hospital life, and events that followed in its train.

   Antietam has always been a theme of deep interest—a sort of starting point in my life. A few days ago I fished out a Government map of the battlefield given me by Charley Davis (of devoted memory) of good size and the location of hay stacks as they were, and gave it to the Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, who welcomed it with great enthusiasm.

   I had two assistants from the firing line to the haystacks on the farm of Samuel Luffenberger. [sic Poffenberger] One was a Penn. bucktail, who, when we got past the rear guard, bolted. There came along, under fire, a fellow about my age in civilian rig, who stuck to the job. [...of supporting Lowell off the battlefield and escorting him to the triage area among the hay stacks on the farm.] He took down my name, regiment, etc., saying, “I am a correspondent of the New York Sun.” How stupid of me not to take his name and address that I might remember to commend his bravery later! The space at this stack hospital was crowded and we remained there till evening, during that time first aid only was given. And there was disclosed the machine like habit of the drilled soldier—more interested in the fortunes of the firing line they had just left than the injury he received there. “How are things going?” was the topic discussed, while the surgeon was making his rounds. The tragedy of the firing line was the tragedy of the wounded, and its fortunes, their fortunes. That night we were taken to Hagerstown, and our second hospital was “The little White Church,” thence the next day through the Cumberland Valley to Harrisburg, where a hospital on Chestnut Street—the Sunday School room of the German Reformed Church, was opened for some of us—a frame dining room in the rear. It was a new thing there and our treatment was lavish for quite a while, and always of the friendliest. Eight boys of the 13th were there, possibly I may miss others—John B. Noyes, Robt. Armstrong, Eugene A. Fiske, James L. Forbes, L. L. Dorr, James Dammers, William S. Soule,[2] Alfred Brigham. The service was good. A rule was early laid down that all emotions except those of cheerfulness should be stifled; and I recall no infraction of this law. My cot was next to Dammers. A quartette of singers often delighted us. Dammers’ lung was pierced with a bullet, but no one was his superior in keeping out the blues, being a ventriloquist, he startled the quartette on one occasion by an interruption from the opposite side of the ward of a cock crowing. This resulted in a riot of laughing. Dorr, Dammers and self survive. An intimacy—life long—with Forbes, Soule and Fiske has been my good fortune. Forbes inherited a large landed estate in India through an uncle. Fiske lived in Santa Fe many years and served a term as Attorney General of New Mexico. You know of Soule. But I must not encroach on your time and patience. It will interest you to compare Walker’s Article and this scrawl with the following authentic account of a hospital at Waterloo. By Surgeon C. Bell.

 

This is the second Sunday after the battle and many wounds are not dressed. It is impossible to convey to you the picture of human misery continuously before my eyes. At 6 o’clock a.m. I took the knife in my hand and continued incessantly at work til 7 in the evening, and so the second day, and again on the third. All the decencies of performing surgical operation were soon neglected. While I amputated one man’s thigh, there lay at one time thirteen, all beseeching to be taken next—one full of entreaty, one calling on me to remember my promise to take him, another execrating. It was a strange thing to feel my clothes stiff with blood and my arms powerless with the exertion of using the knife.

 

   At the time he speaks of the principle of anesthetics had not been discovered.

   I intended to include in my hospital experience, and state that being detailed as a clerk in the Medical Director’s office, I caught a case of small pox from a convalescent who had business here, and in consequence put in a couple of months—alone, except a man nurse––in the pest house at Camp Curtin, just outside the city. Cordial greeting to all.

Yours,

LOWELL, of A.

 

notes

[1] Polonius to Hamlet: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,”... (1.3.63-64)

[2]William S. Soule (1836-1908) became an important photographer of the post Civil War period. He is known principally for his portraits of the Plains Indians taken at Fort Sill, Indian Territory, [OK] from 1869 to 1874-1875. Belous, Russell E. and Robert A. Weinstein.  Will Soule: Indian Photographer at Fort Sill, Oklahoma 1869-1874 (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1969). Soule's work is an important visual record from the era when the tribes were still defiant "in a métier and in costume closer to their own choosing than required of them later by photographers. His subjects were not the Indians of twenty, or even ten, years later, dressed and posed to demonstrate the Indian as the white man wished to see him." Soule returned to Boston in late 1874 or early 1875 where he partnered with W. D. Everett in a photography business.