Boston’s Civil War Monument and the Emergence of the Massachusetts Grand Army of the Republic

Boston’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, designed and sculpted by Irish immigrant Martin Milmore, was dedicated on September 17, 1877. Photo by author.

About two hundred thousand people crowded the streets of Boston on the day the city’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument was dedicated. The octagonal granite shaft, ornamented with large bronze statues and low relief panels, had been ten years in the making from conception to completion. It stood 137 and ½ feet tall on Flagstaff Hill, the highest point on Boston Common. The procession that marched that day, September 17, 1877, followed a meandering six mile route designed to reach numerous city neighborhoods. It numbered about twenty five thousand and took nearly four hours to pass without stopping. It was the largest procession the city had ever seen. The first division consisted of the new state militia units—mostly young men who had been just boys when the war was fought. Journalists celebrated the spirit and patriotism of the inexperienced militia, commenting on their lock-step and crisp uniforms and pardoning the occasional error in their maneuvers.[1]

But the day, as one reporter wrote, “belonged to the veteran soldiery” who followed in the second division. Compared to the brightly uniformed youths of the militia, these were “rough looking fellows in dark clothes and slouch hats who followed their tattered colors and guidons with something of the nonchalance when they trudged through Virginia mud.”[2] The crowds received the veterans with one long, continuous ovation along the entire route.[3] An array of high-ranking generals followed in carriages including former General-in-Chief and failed Presidential candidate George B. McClellan. The veterans “went wild” over him which, according to one reporter, was no surprise as the soldiers had always loved him. “It is not so easy to see,” the correspondent wrote, “why he should be popular with the crowd of lookers-on.”[4] There was a more “tender” reception for the carriages bearing wounded veterans, amputees, and former prisoners of war. One veterans’ post commander, an officer with one leg on crutches, attracted special sympathy from the crowd as he came to attention in front of the State House at the head of his company and saluted Governor Alexander Rice. The Governor came down the steps of the reviewing stand to doff his hat and bow to the man as the crowd applauded the veteran.[5]

This was one of the first and certainly the largest processions of the Massachusetts Department of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal order for veterans of the Civil War. The department was ten years old but still growing—indeed struggling to grow—and only within the previous two years had they been able to mount a large showing for a celebration in Boston. For thousands of civilians, this was the first time they had seen such an assembly of “their boys” since the war and it had a sensational effect on them. The sight of the veterans, once again in proud procession after twelve years, reinforced the reverence civilians felt for the “sacred” status of the discharged soldier. That identity which had been so carefully articulated and promoted by relief workers at Camp Misery to safeguard the rights and well-being of thousands of wounded, starving, and debilitated soldiers, still had weight and meaning for the general public and particularly those who still labored to help them. The new visibility of the Grand Army of the Republic brought those feelings once again to the fore.

And the GAR knew it. Brigadier General Horace Binney Sargent, a Boston attorney and war veteran who energized the Massachusetts Department of the GAR when he became its commander in 1876, wrote to his comrades later that fall, urging them to take advantage of the avalanche of positive publicity they had received after the monument dedication. “As you marched with the old army swing,” Binney wrote in a general order, “the tears and cheers of the people showed you that their great, warm heart had not forgotten. Let it never forget…Stimulate this memory to practical, active sympathy.” He called on them to use this opportunity and to immediately appoint fundraising committees and to seek donations to bolster their organization and aid their comrades in need. In time, the GAR would rally their political might to successfully lobby the federal government for a broad expansion of the national pension program for Civil War veterans.[6] But first, on the state level, even as they marched in Boston’s colossal celebration of 1877, the Massachusetts Department of the GAR were gearing up for a campaign to create a Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts. This had been Binney’s priority since his election and he passionately advocated for it, seemingly at every opportunity. In doing so, he stridently insisted that it could never be realized without a firm alliance and a cooperative effort between former soldiers and civilians. In the same general order, he asserted that they would not be successful without the energies of the women’s relief societies. “On your knees, if need be,” he ordered the members of the GAR, “implore the assistance of the patriotic women of the land.”[7]

[1] The number of spectators was given in numerous reports including Boston Daily Advertiser, September 18, 1877, 1; and “Dedication of the Boston Army and Navy Monument,” The Farmers’ Cabinet (Amherst, NH), September 25, 1877, 2. Chicago Daily Tribune, September 18, 1877, 2; and Deseret Evening News (Salt Lake City, UT), September 18, 1877, 1, among other reports, provide the number in the procession. Some reports place it at 30,000. The Chicago Daily Tribune report states it was the largest in Boston’s history.

[2] Boston Daily Advertiser, September 18, 1877, 1.

[3] “Boston’s Fete Grand Ceremonies,” New York Tribune, September 18, 1877, 10.

[4] Boston Daily Advertiser, September 18, 1877, 1.

[5] Boston Daily Advertiser, September 18, 1877, 1.

[6] Ian Delahanty, “The History and Legacy of the Grand Army of the Republic in Massachusetts,” Secretary of the Commonwealth, Mary R. Dearing, Veterans in Politics: The Story of the G.A.R. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana University Press, 1952) pioneered the study of the GAR as a political force, see thesis regarding pensions vii-viii. Theda Skocpol, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 112 acknowledges the role played by the GAR in influencing the Republican Party to support a broader pension system which she considers the foundation of the modern welfare state. Stuart McConnell, Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 19-21, also acknowledges the GAR’s role in shaping the pension system, though he is more concerned with their role in creating a conservative, nationalistic culture of patriotism.

[7] Horace Binney Sargent, “General Order No. 9, November 10, 1877,” reprinted in Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Massachusetts, Early History of the Department of Massachusetts, G.A.R., from 1866 to 1880 inclusive (Boston: E. B. Stillings & Co., 1895), 368.

Arriving at Camp Misery

These sloping plains outside of Alexandria, Virginia viewed from Fort Ellsworth became the site of a horrific camp where Union soldiers kept other Union soldiers. 15,000 at a time, about 200,000 in all. Public domain image from the Library of Congress

The inexperienced recruits of the 11th Rhode Island Infantry marched along a road slick with wet, red clay as they left their camp on Miner’s Hill near Arlington, Virginia on January 14, 1863. They had been posted on that hill since their arrival in Virginia about two months before. Some felt a bit sentimental about the departure. The hill, part of the defenses of Washington, was the site of their first camp in the field. They had drilled there day after day and gained a good reputation as a well-disciplined regiment.[1] Their first Christmas in the army was spent at Miner’s Hill and given their proximity to Washington within easy reach of supply wagons, it had been a merry holiday with plenty of boxes from home. The regimental historian later wrote that Miner’s Hill seemed as a “secondary home” to them.[2]

Despite this ambivalence, the Rhode Islanders sang loudly as they marched away, even as men from neighboring camps swarmed to pick over the baggage they had left behind. The unit had not seen fighting. The news of the Union’s disastrous defeat at Fredericksburg weighed heavily on them back in December. Now, at last, as they marched southward, it seemed they might finally have the chance to prove themselves in battle. They marched cheerfully despite the mud and kept good formation when the officers from time to time ordered them to move at the double-quick.[3] Their destination, however, was just six miles away—a spot halfway between Washington and Alexandria, Virginia known as “Camp Convalescent.” The rumors began to circulate even before they arrived. They were not going to the front. Instead they were to act as guards for their own comrades—thousands of sick and wounded men ejected from the hospitals in Washington and gathered together in near Alexandria with little shelter, clothing, or food until such time as they could be sent back to their regiments or discharged. There was no glory here, only misery.

Here the Rhode Islanders first observed what Private Ansel D. Nickerson called, “the terrible effects of war upon human life.” Nickerson, 28 years old, worked as a printer before the war. Like his compatriots in the regiment, he looked forward to earning the pride and respect that came with experience as a soldier as they marched away that day. Instead, he confronted the reality of the army’s treatment of sick and wounded veterans. When he recorded his memories of Camp Convalescent 25 years later, he wrote, “In recalling these scenes even at this late day, my heart sickens as those pale faces and gaunt forms again rise up before me.”[4] He estimated ten to fifteen thousand men occupied the indescribably filthy camp. Each day, he observed a long line of wagons from Washington bringing more. While on guard duty, he studied them with shock:

Some had lost a leg, some both legs, some an arm, and some both arms. Others had an eye gone, an ear torn off, a jaw which had been crushed into fragments. The wounds were of every conceivable sort, and in every part of the body, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot. They had been shot in the head, in the face, in the neck, in the shoulders, the arms, the legs, and the feet. They had been shot through the chest, through the lungs, through the hips and through the thighs.[5]

The sick were less evident than the walking wounded as they lay inside tents on the muddy ground, unable to get up, or huddled in small groups. The looks on their faces, Nickerson remembered, “plainly indicated that they realized that there was but a step between them and death.”[6]

What the 11th Rhode Island marched into was, in fact, the beginning of the “new” Camp Convalescent, established to replace the “old” Camp Convalescent on the outskirts of Alexandria. This new camp, relocated to healthier ground, would eventually become a vast improvement over the old. However, the state of things in January 1863 did not yet show much promise. Nickerson did not know that the overall numbers, at least, had been considerably reduced by the time he saw it. The old camp at Alexandria had been even worse—more crowded, more disorderly, and with only the scantiest shelter provided in the form of an inadequate number of rotting tents. Its unfortunate inmates referred to it as “Camp Misery.” Mary Livermore, a nurse and agent of the United States Sanitary Commission, called Camp Misery “a perfect Golgotha.” The army, she wrote, had gathered “fifteen thousand feeble men, all of them unfit for duty, and sent here to recover. Recover! This was the governmental fiction which glossed over the worst condition of things I had ever beheld.”[7]

Camp Misery is sadly demonstrative of the army’s mentality during the early years of the war when it came to sick and wounded men. In 1862, when the camp was established, the army deliberately pulled men from military hospitals (mainly in Washington but also from more distant cities, some from as far as far north as Philadelphia) and held them in this hellish environment to make way for the wounded of the summer and fall campaigns. For half a year, the officials of the Army of the Potomac, the Army Medical Bureau and the War Department ignored this problem and refused to deal in any comprehensive way with the reality that they lacked efficient mechanisms to send ailing men home. Rather than reckon with this fact, army officials instead prioritized the opposite—keeping men in loathsome reservoirs with intentions of getting them back in the ranks. To make matters worse, within the army there was widespread stigmatization of convalescing soldiers as cowards and deserters.

In the case of the Washington area, the resulting humanitarian crisis was most visible in the sprawling squalor of Camp Misery but also could be found in the streets of Washington City. Eventually, the army’s failure at Camp Misery jarred the public into action as civilians became aware of the army’s inhumane policies. A Congressional investigation into Camp Misery ensued and civilian relief organizations marshalled resources. Camp Misery played a role in focusing the attention of both the army and the northern public on the need for better procedures in terms of getting men home. Exactly how this problem came about and how it was rectified is a story that I devote a large portion of a chapter to in my dissertation.

[1] Ansel D. Nickerson, A Raw Recruit’s War Experiences, (Providence, RI: The Press Company, 1888), 29. Private Nickerson recorded some of the high praise they had received on the character and conduct. John C. Thompson, History of the Eleventh Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteers, in the War of the Rebellion, (Providence, RI: Providence Press Company, 1881), 89. Thompson recorded the compliments of an officer who called the regiment “a model of cleanliness and good order”, a fact which he believed may have earned them the undesirable post at Camp Convalescent.

[2] Thompson, 83.

[3] Thompson, 86.

[4] Nickerson, 30-31.

[5] Nickerson, 30.

[6] Nickerson, 30.

[7] Mary Ashton Rice Livermore, My story of the war: a woman’s narrative of four years personal experience as nurse in the Union army, and in relief work at home, in hospitals, camps, and at the front, during the war of the rebellion, (Hartford: A. D. Worthington & Co., 1889), 253.

Rainsford Island Hospital and Marginalized Veterans

Main building, Rainsford Island Hospital, Boston Harbor, after it fell out of use. The soldiers’ hospital was located in separate barracks.

My dissertation focuses on the improvised, decentralized network of relief organizations and programs that formed to aid the Civil War veteran during and in the years immediately after the war. I argue that these forms of support were, contrary to some interpretations, generally successful. However, one cannot turn a blind eye to the failures. And so I explore the sad case of the state soldiers’ hospital on Rainsford Island in Boston harbor. It serves as an important reminder that even as civilians and veterans labored together to aid returning soldiers in need, not all of those discharged soldiers received fair treatment or the attention they deserved. Certain populations, as the story of Rainsford Island demonstrates, were marginalized based on ethnicity, race, or perceived immorality. The numbers here were not large—about 200 soldiers—but their backgrounds were telling. My research on Rainsford Island Hospital shows that it held a disproportionate amount of immigrants and African-Americans under less-than-ideal circumstances.[1] Here’s some background on just one of them:

James Brown signed up as a private with the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry on December 30, 1864. He was born in Gloucester County, Virginia—whether free or enslaved is not clear. At the time of his enlistment in Concord, Massachusetts, he was 19 and working as a farmer. One can only speculate as to how he came to be so far from his birthplace.[2]

The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry served dismounted (essentially as infantry) in the fighting before and during the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia. During this campaign, Private Brown was only about 50 miles from his birthplace of Gloucester County and we can only wonder what he thought of that. When Richmond fell, the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry was one of the first federal units to enter the city. After the war’s end, the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, like many African-American units, remained in service. They were shipped to Texas where the federal government massed troops due to the unrest caused by Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. The regiment’s service in Texas was uneventful and they were mustered out in Clarksville, Texas on October 31, 1865. They were shipped back to Boston where the regiment was paid and discharged at the end of November.

A little over a month later, Private Brown was admitted to the hospital on Rainsford Island, suffering from phthisis (or tuberculosis) on January 3, 1866. He died there on January 4. His body was not claimed and was buried in the island’s cemetery which, by the turn of the 20th century, was utterly neglected and partially reclaimed by tide and shifting sand. An effort was at least begun on paper by the city of Boston to move the bodies of U.S. veterans to the cemetery on Long Island. However, according to a recent investigation, and despite a plaque at Long Island indicating the reinternment there of 79 soldiers, there is no evidence that the removals ever actually took place. Private Brown’s remains lie beneath the sands of Rainsford Island, unmarked, with approximately 1,700 others, mostly civilians, who died at Rainsford Island Hospital.[3]

[1] Based on my tabulation of the admissions register, Rainsford Island Hospital Records, Massachusetts Adjutant General’s records, unprocessed collection, Massachusetts Archives.

[2] Rainsford Island Hospital register; U.S. Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865, via in association with the National Archives and Records Administration.

[3] William A. McEvoy, Jr. and Robin Hazard Ray, Rainsford Island: A Boston Harbor Case Study in Public Neglect and Private Activism. Online book through the blog of Mount Auburn Cemetery, June 2, 2020., 107-109.

Winslow Homer’s “Veteran in a New Field” and Postwar Toil for Civilians and Soldiers Alike

“Veteran in a New Field,” by Winslow Homer (public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)

In the summer of 1865, as hundreds of thousands of former Union soldiers returned home, Winslow Homer painted “Veteran in a New Field.” Homer had worked as an “artist-correspondent” for Harpers Weekly during the war. He spent much of the Peninsular Campaign of 1862 virtually on the front lines. His vast body of wartime work is known not for depictions of glorified charges (like those drawn by many of his contemporaries) but rather for candid scenes of camp life. In his painting “Home Sweet Home,” he portrayed a small group of soldiers bivouacked in a muddy camp as they listen with somber demeanor to the plaintive song being played. “Veteran in a New Field” captures an equally poignant moment. The scene depicts a Union soldier just home. He has dropped his uniform coat, haversack, and canteen (which bears the badge of the First Division, II Corps—the unit in which Homer was “embedded” for a time). It would seem as though the veteran has immediately picked up a scythe and set to mowing, perhaps without even a word to the folks at home. While some art historians focus on the implications of the scythe in his hands—the tool of the angel of death—there is also a strong sense of optimism about the painting. The discharged soldier has returned home but nonetheless has a bright, blue sky and a “new field” ahead of him. Like Cincinnatus, he has turned his back on the battlefield and, despite all he has endured, he has returned to civilian life, is already readjusting and setting to work.[1]

Three years earlier, Morris C. Fitch, a member of the Board of Managers of the Discharged Soldiers Home in Boston, employed a similar metaphor—but he was not speaking of veterans.[2] In a letter printed in the Boston Evening Transcript, Fitch urgently called for donations to the Home which had been founded just two months prior. He expounded on the good work already being done for disabled, discharged soldiers and the work ahead for all those at home. “Remember,” he wrote, addressing Boston’s civilians, “that the battle[s] of Maryland and Virginia are to be fought over and over again at our own doors, in the horrible shape of disease and of lifelong incapacity for work, and that we whom home has preserved in health and a full complement of limbs, are to be the toilers in the new field.”[3]            

My work-in-progress explores more deeply this “new field” of toil for civilians as they volunteered for relief organizations in the years immediately following the war.

[1] Christopher Kent Wilson, “Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field: A Study of the Harvest Metaphor and Popular Culture,” American Art Journal 17.4 (1985), 10-13, reflects on the optimism reflected in the painting (both for the readjustment of veterans and the democratic future of the U.S.) and the more grim symbolism of the soldier as a reaper of men; Marc Simpson, Winslow Homer: Paintings of the Civil War, (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1988), 16-17, 143.

[2] “An Appeal in Behalf of the Discharged Soldiers Home,” Boston Evening Transcript, September 26, 1.

[3] “An Appeal…” Boston Evening Transcript.  

Soldiers’ Barracks and Mayhem in Downtown Boston

The federal barracks were located on Beach Street due to their proximity to the Boston & Worcester Depot–a keyroute southward

The degree to which Boston was dominated by a strong martial presence during the Civil War is often overlooked. Regiments from four states converged on the city to board ships or trains headed southwards. For four years, soldiers paraded through the streets, drilled on Boston Common, and were barracked by the thousands in any number of public halls including Faneuil Hall. As the war progressed, homecoming parades and ceremonies in front of the State House became a regular occurrence. And when not in formation, soldiers wandered the city or packed into the drinking establishments downtown. Boston may not have seen armed conflict but it was nonetheless transformed during the war.

The above location today

This was particularly true of the neighborhood around the Beach Street Barracks. The barracks, which had been a meeting hall, were leased by the federal government to provide temporary quarters for regiments preparing to depart Boston for the South and for returning regiments. No sooner did one unit vacate the barracks than another from Massachusetts, Maine, or New Hampshire moved in. Needless to say, the constant coming and going of thousands of soldiers led to deplorable sanitary conditions in the barracks and considerable disruption of the largely working-class Irish neighborhood around it. The site is now in the heart of Chinatown—in fact, if the barracks still stood, they would look directly out on the famous Chinatown Gate. In the 1860s, this site was just down the street from the Boston and Worcester Railroad Depot where many regiments began or ended their journey.

Discipline was notoriously poor at the barracks. Drafted men often tried to escape the guarded building. In one case a large group of rounded-up deserters were held there and one was shot and killed in the act of trying to escape.[1] In another instance a group of draftees tried to create a diversion by setting fire to the building and escaping out the windows using improvised ropes made from blankets. 30 of them managed to escape.[2] One disturbing incident likely involved pent-up anger on the part of the guards. The officer of the day shot a recruit who mouthed off to him at point blank range in the head. The officer was brought up on murder charges. [3]

This turbulent atmosphere tended to spill out into the neighborhood. A number of barrooms stood nearby the barracks. Soldiers often got into brawls with the local Irish laborers who resided in the adjacent South Cove neighborhood. A local newspaper correspondent described the tension, “​The soldiers have previously had considerable trouble with the crowd of loafers in the vicinity of the barracks and liquor shops being very plenty in that locality it is required the greatest forbearance on the part of the veterans to prevent a fight on several occasions.”[4] The reporter was clearly biased against the immigrants and in favor of the soldiers. This wasn’t always the case.

On August 24, 1864, a riot broke out when a local man struck a soldier and a full melee ensued, engulfing the neighborhood. Some soldiers retrieved their muskets and bayonets from the barracks and beat back the gathering numbers of “South Cove roughs”. One soldier even tried to fire upon being dared by one of the locals but his weapon misfired. During the mayhem, “​a number of bricks and pieces of wood were hurled at the soldiers from the houses in the neighborhood of the barracks.”[5]

This violence represents a remarkable indication of frustration, not just on the part of intoxicated workingmen, but of residents who evidently resented the ongoing presence of soldiers in their city. The Irish community’s anger over the draft and the war in general is well known. Boston residents at large also had to cope with this problem. The constant presence of so many soldiers had a complex effect on how citizens viewed returning veterans. This concept is explored further in my dissertation.

[1] Boston Evening Transcript, April 6, 1864, 4

[2]Boston Evening Transcript, December 12, 1864, 3.

[3] Boston Herald, April 26, 1864, 2

[4] Boston Traveller article reprinted in the New York Herald, August 26, 1864, 8

[5] New York Herald, August 26, 1864, 8

Civil War Hospital Cars to Boston

Sanitary Commission hospital car exhibited at the Paris World’s Fair. Image from New York Public Library Digital Collections, original here (unrestricted)

The Executive Committee of Boston Associates of the United States Sanitary Commission (now there’s a mouthful) set a high priority on extending hospital car service from New York to Boston. More informally known as the “Boston Branch”, the Boston Associates organized in 1863 to manage special relief efforts in the city and to aid returning Union soldiers in whatever capacity necessary. The activities and motives of the Boston Branch are explored thoroughly in my dissertation-in-progress. I devote a few pages to the operation of the hospital cars but if I had the space and time, I wish I could devote an entire chapter to them. I find them sort of fascinating. Maybe an article topic for the future.

Hospital car interior, Harpers Weekly, February 27, 1864

The Sanitary Commission hospital cars were cutting edge and a vast improvement over cramming sick and wounded men into a passenger car (or worse, an open box car), forcing them to change trains several times on their arduous way home. The stretchers on the cars were hung on elastic bands and the wheels of the car itself built with extra-strong shock absorbing springs so as to avoid jostling the men. The cars included stocked medical cabinets, a small stove for preparing coffee and meals, and other implements for cleanliness and comfort. They were manned by an Army Medical Bureau hospital steward and nurse and often additional Sanitary Commission volunteers.

During their roughly two years of operation the Boston Branch brought 27,503 sick and wounded men homeward via the hospital cars.

[Sources: United States Sanitary Commission, Executive Committee of Boston Associates, No. 1, Report concerning the special relief service of the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Boston, Mass. for the year ending March 31, 1864, (Boston: Prentiss & Deland Printers, 1864), 9; and Third and Final Report of the Concerning the Special Relief Service in Boston, Mass for the Year Ending March 31, 1866, 5.]

Published article in the New England Quarterly

The Tremont Temple Riot–an anti-abolitionist mob breaks up an antislavery meeting in Boston, December 3, 1860

Another of my research interests has to do with the clash of abolitionists and anti-abolitionists in Boston. I was very happy to have a paper on the subject published in the March 2021 issue of the New England Quarterly. This represents the culmination of a great deal of research and editing of this piece. The result is titled, “’This Most Atrocious Crusade against Personal Freedom’: Anti-abolitionist Violence in Boston on the Eve of Civil War.” The essay explores increasing organization among anti-abolitionists in Boston during the Secession Winter and the combination of mob violence and political tactics they employed in an attempt to silence abolitionists. This opposition did not fade away on its own, I argue, but was actively shut down by abolitionists who knew how to navigate politics and public opinion. Opposition to antislavery in Boston came to be an organized and cohesive effort as anti-abolitionists increasingly mirrored their abolitionist counterparts, passing resolutions, forming a secret organization, and implementing a political agenda in the state legislature. 

You can read more here:

I recommend selecting the PDF version. It’s not only attractive but also much easier to read.

My short article for “the Beehive”

Reading room of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Back in the “before times” in 2019, I was honored to received a Mellon Short-term Research Fellowship with the Massachusetts Historical Society. Over the course of a few months, I did a deep dive into their collections related to the U.S. Sanitary Commission and returning Civil War soldiers. It was a great opportunity and I’m grateful to Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai (Director of Research) and Katy Morris (Asst. Director of Research) for their support of my work.

The papers at MHS relating to the New England Women’s Auxiliary Association (a subsidiary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission) were particularly helpful to my project in that they illuminate the activities of an important relief organization which refused to close up shop after the dissolution of the Sanitary Commission. As evidenced by their Executive Committee minutes and correspondence books, the women of the NEWAA, led by the formidable Abby May, were determined to continue their work for discharged soldiers, even going so far as to urge the Boston branch of the Sanitary Commission to remain in operation.

I was happy to be able to write a short article on this for the “Beehive,” the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society which you can read here: