Lowell Historical Society “Civil War Stories”

The Lowell Historical Society held its annual meeting yesterday at Middlesex Community College’s Federal Building. Despite the heavy rain and impressive crowd of more than 60 folks showed up to hear a three member panel discuss various aspects of Lowell’s involvement in the American Civil War.

Jack Herlihy of the Lowell National Park began the program by talking about and showing images of letters from George Fox from Lowell/Dracut who wrote of his experiences of the war in the days before he was mortally wounded in battle outside Suffolk, Virginia. (The Fox Family letter collection has been transcribed and is available online at the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History). I followed with a discussion of Ben Butler’s decision made on May 23, 1861 to treat escaped slaves as “contraband of war”, a nuanced interpretation of the law of war that changed the course of history. Finally, Martha Mayo shared stories about Lucy Larcom and her Civil War related activities; of Nathan and Rebecca Crosby and their work on behalf of Soldier’s Aid Association and the Sanitary Commission; of Abba Goddard, who was raised in Lowell and who became a nurse attached to the 10th Maine; of Richard Elliott, who was born in Lowell and who became a Captain in the Second Louisiana Guard; and of Patrick Gilmore, who lived briefly in Lowell and who is credited with writing, among other things, the even-now familiar tune, “When Johnnie Comes Marching Home.”

One Response to Lowell Historical Society “Civil War Stories”

  1. Corey says:

    Great presentations, every one. I had to take off in a hurry as I was trying to stay ahead of the rain for a scheduled trip to River Meadow Brook. One question I had for Jack and ended up researching myself was “what was the literacy rate amongst soldiers in the Civil War?” The numbers I found, well, for 1870 and for the white population at large as it was the oldest set I saw, was an amazing 90%. Blacks were far, far lower – 80% illiterate.