This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead: Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.
Edward Augustus Wild grew up in Massachusetts at a time when abolitionist fervor ran rampant within New England society. A doctor by profession and an adventurer by choice, Wild became a military officer out of a strong sense of personal honor, writing his wife Frances Ellen Wild that he did not enlist “to be elevated, but simply from a sense of duty.” At the outbreak of the war, Wild fulfilled the twin drives of duty and adventure by raising a company of volunteers and becoming a captain in the 1st Massachusetts Infantry.
When our great victory was just over the exultation of victory was so great that one didn’t think of our fearful losses, but now I can’t help feeling a great weight at my heart. Poor Henry Ropes was one of the dearest friends I ever had or expect to have. He was one of the purest-minded, noblest, most generous men I ever knew. His loss is terrible. His men actually wept when they showed me his body, even under the tremendous cannonade, a time when most soldiers see their comrades dying around them with indifference.
When twenty-one year old Henry Livermore Abbott penned these words on July 6, 1863, I highly doubt he expected his letter to be reconsidered by twenty-one year old Becky Oakes on July 6, 2013. Aside from being the same age, the Henry Abbott of 1863 and I have very little in common. He was a Harvard graduate from Massachusetts, and an officer in the Army of the Potomac. I am a graduate of Gettysburg College, originally from Ohio, and I study the Civil War. He wrote these words for his father, I type these words for a blog.
However, Henry Abbott and I happened to be standing at the exact same spot on July 3rd, one hundred and fifty years apart.