My Story of the War

Author: Mary Ashton Livermore  | Date: 1889

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Rising of the People (1861)

BY MRS. MARY ASHTON LIVERMORE (1887)

THE day after my arrival, came the news that Fort Sumter was attacked, which increased the feverish anxiety. The threats of its bombardment had been discredited, for the North believed the South to be as deeply rooted in attachment to the Union as it knew itself to be. All its high-sounding talk of war was obstinately regarded as empty gasconade, and its military preparations, as the idle bluster of angry disappointment. When, therefore, the telegraph, which had registered for the astounded nation the hourly progress of the bombardment, announced the lowering of the stars and stripes, and the surrender of the beleaguered garrison, the news fell on the land like a thunderbolt. . . .

The next day, April 14, was Sunday. The pulpits thundered with denunciations of the rebellion. Congregations applauded sermons such as were never before heard in Boston, not even from radical preachers. Many of the clergy saw with clear vision, at the very outset, that the real contest was between slavery and freedom; and, with the prophetic instinct of the seer, they predicted the death of slavery as the outcome of the war. . . .

Monday dawned, April 15. Who that saw that day will ever forget it! For now, drowning the exultations of the triumphant South, louder than their boom of cannon, heard above their clang of bells and blare of trumpets, there rang out the voice of Abraham Lincoln calling for seventy-five thousand volunteers for three months. They were for the protection of Washington and the property of the government. All who were in arms against the country were commanded to return home in twenty days, and Congress was summoned to meet on the 4th of July.

This proclamation was like the first peal of a surcharged thundercloud, clearing the murky air. The South received it as a declaration of war, the North as a confession that civil war had begun; and the whole North arose as one man. The Union was not to be destroyed without a struggle that would deluge the land with blood. The calls of the governors of the loyal states were met with a response so generous, that ten times seventy-five thousand volunteers could have been furnished had they been asked. All the large cities and towns raised money for the volunteers and their families, and it was believed that abundant means were placed at the disposal of the general government for a speedy quelling of the rebellion.

Everywhere the drum and fife thrilled the air with their stirring call. Recruiting offices were opened in every city, town, and village. No stimulus was needed. The plough was left in the furrow; the carpenter turned from the bench; the student closed his books; the clerk abandoned the counting-room; the lawyer forsook his clients; and even the clergyman exchanged his pulpit for the camp and the tented field, preaching no longer the gospel of peace, but the duty of war. Hastily formed companies marched to camps of rendezvous, the sunlight flashing from gun-barrel and bayonet, and the streets echoing the measured tread of soldiers. Flags floated from the roofs of houses, were flung to the breeze from chambers of commerce and boards of trade, spanned the surging streets, decorated the private parlor, glorified the schoolroom, festooned the church walls and pulpit, and blossomed everywhere. All normal habits of life were suspended, and business and pleasure alike were forgotten.

. . . When, on the morning of Tuesday, volunteers began to arrive in Boston . . . they were escorted by crowds cheering vociferously. Merchants and clerks rushed out from stores, bareheaded, saluting them as they passed. Windows were flung up; and women leaned out into the rain, waving flags and handkerchiefs. Horse-cars and omnibuses halted for the passage of the soldiers, and cheer upon cheer leaped forth from the thronged doors and windows. The multitudes that followed after, and surged along on either side, and ran before in dense and palpitating masses, rent the air with prolonged acclamations.

As the men filed into Faneuil Hall, in solid columns, the enthusiasm knew no bounds. Men, women, and children seethed in a fervid excitement. "God bless it!" uttered my father in tender and devout tone, as he sat beside me in the carriage, leaning heavily forward on his staff with clasped hands. And following the direction of his streaming eyes, and those of the thousands surrounding us, I saw the dear banner of my country, rising higher and higher to the top of the flagstaff, fling out fold after fold to the damp air, and float proudly over the hallowed edifice. Oh, the roar that rang out from ten thousand throats! Old men, with white hair and tearful faces, lifted their hats to the national ensign, and reverently saluted it. Young men greeted it with fierce and wild hurrahs, talking the while in terse Saxon of the traitors of the Confederate States, who had dragged in the dirt this flag of their country, never before dishonored. . . .

That day cartridges were made for the regiments by the hundred thousand. Army rifles were ordered from the Springfield Armory. Fifteen hundred workmen were engaged for the Charlestown Navy Yard. Enlistments of hardy-looking men went on vigorously, and hundreds of wealthy citizens pledged pecuniary aid to the families of the soldiers. Military and professional men tendered their services to the government in its present emergency. The Boston banks offered to loan the state three million six hundred thousand dollars without security, while banks outside the city, throughout the state, were equally generous in their offers. By six o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 16, three regiments were ready to start for Washington, and new companies were being raised in all parts of the state. On the afternoon of the next day, the Sixth Massachusetts, a full regiment one thousand strong, started from Boston by rail, leaving the Fourth Massachusetts to follow.

An immense concourse of people gathered in the neighborhood of the Boston and Albany railroad station to witness their departure. The great crowd was evidently under the influence of deep feeling, but it was repressed, and the demonstrations were not noisy. In all hands were evening editions of the daily papers; and as the record of the disloyal behavior of Maryland and Virginia was read aloud, the comments were emphatic in disapproval. With the arrival of the uniformed troops, the excitement burst out into a frenzy of shouts, cheers, and ringing acclamation. Tears ran down not only the cheeks of women, but those of men; but there was no faltering. A clergyman mounted an extemporized platform, to offer prayer, where he could be seen and heard by all, and a solemn hush fell on the excited multitude, as if we were inside a church. His voice rang out to the remotest auditor. The long train backed down where the soldiers were scattered among mothers, wives, sweethearts, and friends uttering last words of farewell.

"Fall into line!" was the unfamiliar order that rang out, clear and distinct, with a tone of authority. The blue-coated soldiers released themselves tenderly from the clinging arms of affection, kissed again, and again, and again, the faces upturned to theirs, white with the agony of parting, formed in long lines, company by company, and were marched into the cars. The two locomotives, drawing the long train slowly out of the station, whistled a shrill "good-bye"—every engine in the neighborhood shrieked back an answering farewell—from the crowded streets, the densely packed station, the roofs of houses, the thronged windows, and the solid mass of human beings lining both sides of the track, further than the eye could see, there rang out a roar of good wishes, and parting words, accompanied with tears and sobs, and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs—and the Sixth Massachusetts was on its way to Washington. Ah, how little they, or we, foresaw the reception awaiting them in the streets of Baltimore!

Mary A. Livermore, (Hartford, A. D. Worthington & Co., 1889), 86–96 passim.

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Chicago: Mary Ashton Livermore, My Story of the War in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed July 3, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZH9VVNQNIKXMLDU.

MLA: Livermore, Mary Ashton. My Story of the War, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 3 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZH9VVNQNIKXMLDU.

Harvard: Livermore, MA, My Story of the War. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZH9VVNQNIKXMLDU.