Nuns as Nurses in the Civil War ~ With a Lowell Connection

Our friend Dave McKean has another interesting post on LowellIrish. In writing about nuns – specifically the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul – who nursed the wounded, the sick and the dying during the Civil War, Dave brings the story home to Lowell.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Lowell’s Civil War Nuns

 
Sisters at Saterlee Hospital, Philadelphia

You can barely make them out.  Along the edge of Yard 4 of Saint Patrick Cemetery is a series of stones.  They are small, all similar, and quite plain in keeping with their owners’ way of life.  This lot belongs to the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, the Sisters who served St. John’s Hospital from 1867 to 1961.  Their habit made them quite memorable with their large winged headpieces, reminiscent of the Flying Nun TV series of the 1960s.  The markers have become overgrown with grass clippings and sod and are slowly sinking into the ground.  It is almost metaphorical to the work the Sisters labored at for decades; few remember their ministry of healing the sick.

Though no words mark their deeds, three of the stones draw special attention.  Sisters Matilda, Amelia, and Frances all have a special place in the history of our country.  They are three of the 600 Sisters who served as nurses during the Civil War.

There were not many life opportunities for women in the 19th century.  The great majority knew that their lives would be spent as farmer’s wives, bearing children and spending endless hours doing chores, often dying in childbirth or meeting an earlier death than their male counterparts due to exhaustion or disease.  A few women were able to learn a trade or become teachers, but they were few and far between.  Some women sought the religious life as a way of breaking out of the norm.  Religious women were often in places where other women could not be; hospitals, administrators, or traveling to places outside their homes.

A number of Catholic orders trained their religious to become nurses, a job often looked down upon for the type of work they would be asked to do.  When the Civil War broke out the Sisters took it upon themselves to use their services for both sides of the conflict, often bringing contempt upon themselves from both sides for aiding the enemy.

Not everyone appreciated the work of the Sisters.  Anti-Catholic sentiment was ripe during this period, especially in the South.  Some doctors refused to have Sisters as nurses.  The great Florence Nightingale was so anti-Catholic she would not allow Sisters in her wards.  Others recognized the work of the nuns.  Secretary Stanton and even President Lincoln requested Sisters to work in military hospitals.  Often they were better trained than their civilian counterparts and worked endlessly when civilian nurses would refuse certain duties or leave when met with the brutality of war.

When the battle of Gettysburg was over a group of Daughters of Charity left their mother house about 20 miles away in Emmitsburg, MD and went to work with the wounded from both sides.  Though the Sisters were offered wages, they refused them requesting only medicine and supplies for their work.

All three of the Sisters at the cemetery served as nurses at the Satterlee Military Hospital in Philadelphia.  At one point the hospital held 6000 patients, though built for 4500.  Sr. Martina was born in Maryland and worked in the tents that were set up around Satterlee to meet the overflow numbers in the hospital.  She spent many years as the night supervisor at St. John’s Hospital in Lowell before her death in 1926.  The daughter of a barrel maker, Sr. Amelia was born in Pennsylvania.   She worked in a number of Southern schools before the war and then did nursing at Satterlee.  She spent her final years working at St. John’s spending 60 years as a nun and dying at the age of 80.  Born in County Sligo, Sr. Mary Frances was the daughter of an Irish farming family.  The war years prevented her from taking her final vows but it did not stop her from also nursing in Philadelphia.   She too spent decades serving at St. John’s and upon her death her funeral was held at Immaculate Conception church with burial at St. Patrick’s.

Though application for veteran stones were made out for the 3 Sisters in 1928, no veteran markers were ever placed recognizing the service the Sisters gave to their country and their God.  Today’s regulations for a veteran stone demand that a direct descendant must apply for the stone meaning they will not be given the  recognition they deserve.

As usual Walter must be given credit for finding the original requests for markers which started our story.  Photo credit belongs to Daughters of Charity Archives, Province of St Louise.

“A Tale of Two (Hood) Smokestacks…”

This is a cross-post from Dick Howe’s blog.Given the recent lightning strike that hit the iconic Hood stack in Lowell, LHS Board member Eileen Loucraft did some research and made some interesting connections…

A Tale of Two (Hood) Smokestacks

Thanks to Eileen Loucraft for sharing the following about the Hood Smokestack on Thorndike Street that was damaged by lightning over the weekend:

Since the lightning strike in Lowell last night damaging the Hood smokestack on Thorndike Street at the former C.I. Hood patent medicine plant I thought I’d explain the connection with the Hood Milk smokestack in Charlestown, MA.

 

Hood Milk Stack in Charlestown

Harvey Perley Hood was born in Chelsea, Vermont on January 6, 1823. He founded Hood Dairy in Charlestown, MA and expanded throughout New England. The family sold the company some years ago. The Hood Milk smokestack in Charlestown can be seen by all who drive into Boston from Route 93. It is quite noticeable right before the Bunker Hill Monument. New Englanders have been buying Hood dairy products for years (milk, cream, ice cream and Hoodsie cups).

Charles Ira Hood was born in Chelsea, Vermont December 11, 1845. He founded Hood Laboratories and moved to Thorndike street in 1883. He made patent medicines sarsaparilla, tooth powder and lots of advertising.  He also had a large farm in North Tewksbury where he raised award winning Jersey cows. Anyone coming into Lowell via the Lowell Connector and taking the Thorndike Street exit will notice the 100 foot smokestack. He was married and lived on Andover Street but did not have any children.

Seeing that they were both born in Chelsea Vermont seemed to be too big of a coincidence.  Come to find out they are second cousins as their grandfathers are brothers. The Hood family can be traced back to early America and even the Salem witch trials.

Hood’s Medicine Stack in Lowell

 

Hood Stack in Lowell showing lightning damage

Remembering Arthur L. Eno, Jr. ~ Past President of the Lowell Historical Society

This is a cross-post from Register of Deeds Richard Howe’s personal blog. Dick has written his memories of the late Arthur L. Eno, Jr.. They were fellow lawyers although of a different generation and both were past presidents of the Lowell Historical Society – Lou in the mid-70s and Dick in the early 90s. May Lou rest in peace.

Attorney Arthur L. Eno, Jr., 1924 – 2014

Atty Arthur L. Eno Jr. in 1986

Attorney Arthur L. Eno, Jr. – Lou or Louis to most member of the Lowell Bar – was laid to rest today after a classy and dignified committal service at the chapel of St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Chelmsford, an institution he helped create. The priest who performed the service in his eulogy cited Lou’s obituary as “a mine of information” – which it certainly was – and so I urge everyone to read it on the Martin Funeral Home website. I also wanted to share my own thoughts about Lou.

When I became an attorney in 1986, Lou had already had been practicing law in Lowell for nearly 40 years. He was always extremely generous in sharing his expertise in real estate law with lawyers (like me) who would seek it, usually when they had exhausted all other resources. In other words, Lou was the person to whom you turned when you had a real estate law problem you just couldn’t solve. My reticence in turning to him except in time of crisis wasn’t because he was stingy with his time. Quite the contrary: he was unfailingly helpful. You just had a sense that everyone called him so you didn’t want to burden him with your problem until you had nowhere else to turn.

Lou’s reputation as a statewide expert on Massachusetts real estate was corroborated by a book he co-authored.  Back when I was practicing law, most lawyers had in their law libraries an invaluable collection of maroon colored books called The Massachusetts Practice Series, a set of Massachusetts-specific textbooks for lawyers divided by subject area. One of the books (actually it was in two volumes), was Real Estate Law with Forms, Third Edition by Arthur L. Eno, Jr. and William V. Hovey (West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minn. 1995). The publisher’s promotional material described Real Estate Law as follows:

This work presents a modern comprehensive discussion of the principles of law and their practical application to all essential aspects of real estate transactions in Massachusetts. These Real Estate Law volumes set forth the necessary legal steps that must be taken in varied types of real estate transactions and gives through legal advice on all problems that might arise from both the side of the buyer or seller or lessor or lessee.

When I was elected Register of Deeds in 1994, I was delighted to be able to turn to Lou, one of the foremost authorities in the Commonwealth on Massachusetts Real Estate Law, for advice on operating the registry. Within a few days of me requesting it, Lou provided me with a multipage list of suggestions that might improve the registry. I treated it like a “to do” list and implemented many of his idea early in my tenure. Over the past two decades, countless attorneys and researchers have benefited from that list Lou shared with me back in 1995.

Louis Eno speaking with me at the Registry of Deeds in 1995

I also came to know Lou in his capacity of Lowell Historian. Although our time on the board of the Lowell Historical Society never overlapped, we collaborated on several “Lowell in the Civil War” projects in the late 1980s and always found time to talk about the city’s history any time our paths crossed (often at Barney’s at lunchtime, I seem to recall).  And Cotton Was King, the history of Lowell edited by Lou and published by the Lowell Historical Society in 1976 has always had a prominent place on my bookshelf.  More than anyone except perhaps my dad (Richard P. Howe Sr.), Lou early on inspired me to take on Lowell’s history as a vocation, something for which I will be forever grateful to him.

While we always had a cordial and warm relationship, I wouldn’t say that Lou and I were particularly close. Yet he influenced my life profoundly in two separate areas: real estate law and Lowell history. I suspect there are hundreds of others who could share similar stories. His own accomplishments benefited Lowell directly in countless ways. But when you add in the indirect benefits to the city from untold others like me who were so beneficially influenced by Lou, you have to conclude that Arthur L. Eno Jr.’s contribution to the city of Lowell was immense.

Forgotten Finds from the Collection of the Lowell Historical Society ~ the Badge

This is a cross-post from Forgotten New England – written by Lowell Historical Society board member Ryan Owen. He is the newly appointed  Curator of Art and Artifacts. He’ll be combing through LHS collection in the coming months, researching then reporting on the unknown stories on these forgotten finds.

Forgotten New England

Exploring New England As It Was

February 7, 2014

Forgotten Stories behind the Artifacts of the Lowell Historical Society

Lowell Police Badge - William G Lee (Photo Credit:  Tony Sampas, LHS Archivist)

Lowell Police Badge – William G Lee (Photo Credit: Tony Sampas, LHS Archivist) From the Collection of the Lowell Historical Society

Check out this badge.  I came across it in the Lowell Historical Society’s vast archive, located in the city’s Boott Mills complex.  As the society’s newly-appointed Curator of Art and Artifacts, I got to spend some time with the badge, recently, and other items that came with it.

The badge, it turns out, comes from William G. Lee, a patrolman with the Lowell Police Department who retired from the force in 1948, after 37 years of service.  The Society also has Lee’s billy club and his policemans’ rule book in its collection.

Like all old stuff, the badge, club, and book all have a kind of magic to them.  I mean, face it.  Old stuff like this invokes a certain fascination within all of us.  It’s one of the reasons societies like the Lowell Historical Society exist, and why they have an archive in the first place.  Maybe that sense of wonder carries forward from our first years, when  we escaped into our grandparents’ attics as children and found Victorian punch bowl sets wrapped in yellowed newspapers, or a stack of colorful magazines from the decade before we were born.  Most of those things are gone now, disappeared into landfills, into firepits, into oblivion.  Unless we saved them, or donated them to an archive.

That’s just how the badge, the club, and the rulebook made it to the Lowell Historical Society’s archive.  Almost 20 years ago, Officer Lee’s daughter donated them so that they could be maintained, and shared with future visitors to the Society’s archive.

24 Canton Street, Lowell, as it appears today (Photo Credit:  Google Maps)

24 Canton Street as it appears today (Photo Credit: Google Maps)

Touching history is a pretty cool thing.  Sure, you can read about history, watch it on TV, or even apply your imagination to it.  But touching history brings it to life.  And that’s the great thing about archives.  You can touch history.  As the Lowell Historical Society’s Curator, one of my duties is to publicize the collection, and share some of the stories I encounter as I research its items, and help bring the society’s vast holdings to life.  When you first set about researching an artifact, there’s that initial wave of information you instantly find, the low-hanging fruit, so to speak.  Sometimes, it’s the most interesting.  Often, it’s not.  A quick search on William G Lee shows that he lived at 24 Canton Street in Lowell in June 1948, when he retired from the force.

From the note that came with the badge, I also learned that he was appointed to the department’s probationary force in May 1911, and was promoted to the rank of patrolman about five years later in September 1916.

What’s really interesting, though, is the next few waves of discovery that you come across as you research a piece.  And it turns out that Patrolman Lee received some commendations during his 37 years on the force.  A quick glance through Lee’s rulebook reveals that patrolmen, while making their rounds, weren’t allowed to walk together, or even talk with one another.  They were advised not to stay in one spot, or converse with anyone, unless it was in the line of duty.  But, a little more research into Lee’s career proves that it’s good that he didn’t always follow his rulebook to the letter.

Officers Lee and Liston Save Lives of Dummer Street Tenants (Credit: Lowell Sun - 2/8/1922, Pg. 1)

Officers Lee and Liston Save Lives of Dummer Street Tenants (Credit: Lowell Sun – 2/8/1922, Pg. 1)

While he was wearing that very badge pictured above, Lee stood at the top of Dummer Street early one day on February 13, 1922, talking with fellow patrolman William Liston.  It wasn’t even four in the morning, when he and Liston first saw the flames and smoke bursting from the windows of a dry goods store on the ground floor of a building housing eight tenements.  Lee ran at once and pulled the alarm on a nearby fire box, while Liston ran to the burning tenement at 67 Dummer Street and started to rouse its residents.  Lee soon joined.  They, with the firemen who soon arrived, entered the building and awakened the tenants who lived on its three floors.  Everyone escaped unharmed, and the men carried three children out of the fire to safety.

Three years later, Lee received a commendation again, when he made an arrest in the early morning hours of January 26, 1925.  While likely carrying the very billy club that now rests within the Society’s collection, Lee arrested Edward Cole, a 32-year-old Lowell man who was wanted for breaking and entering into a Londonderry, NH hen house some two months earlier.  How did Lee find Cole?  He happened upon him while Cole was trying to crack a safe at the Colonial Filling Station on the Pawtucket Boulevard.

Police Billy Club that once belonged to Lowell Police Officer William G Lee (Photo Credit:  Tony Sampas, LHS Archivist)  From the Collection of the Lowell Historical Society

Police Billy Club that once belonged to Lowell Police Officer William G Lee (Photo Credit: Tony Sampas, LHS Archivist) From the Collection of the Lowell Historical Society

How did Lee treat his prisoners?  Luckily, we have his rulebook to shed some light on this.  The book advised that prisoners “shall be made as comfortable as possible,” and reminded officers that they were entitled to clear water.  The water could be purchased using the prisoners’ own money, the book continued, but only if that money hadn’t come from the offense for which they had been arrested.  Even if it turned out that the prisoner was broke, the police officer could purchase the refreshment from his own money, get a receipt, and get reimbursed for these expenses once monthly.  Officers were required to check on their prisoners once every half hour, but were strictly forbidden to “bandy words with prisoners” or to speak to them unnecessarily.  The book also stressed that the use of obscene or profane language was prohibited.

Lee’s guidebook also provides a glimpse into the daily life of patrolmen.  The book specifically reminded policemen that they were to look for anyone of ‘known bad character’ and that it was their duty to seek out disturbances and to restore quiet.  They were also encouraged to evaluate anyone who he saw walking Lowell’s streets after 10 PM.  In making his rounds, we also learn that Lee ensured that Lowell’s sidewalks remained unobstructed, and that he was to gauge the purpose of anyone he saw selling door-to-door.  Lee was also responsible for checking the doors of all dwellings upon his route to make sure that they were properly locked.

While Lee was fulfilling these same duties, in March 1933, he found Mrs. Sofie Boumilla, 37, on the floor of her unheated Cady Street home, weak and nonresponsive.  She had spent the night before on her floor, suffering with a broken leg.  She had fallen on the sidewalk on Chapel Street at 6:30 PM the prior evening and had dragged herself home, nearly half a mile away.  A neighbor who heard the woman’s weak moaning summoned Patrolman Lee who entered the home and rescued her.

Lowell Sun, Front Page, March 16, 1933

Lowell Sun, Front Page, March 16, 1933

The badge, billy club, and police rulebook are just a few of the many historical treasures that form the holdings of the Lowell Historical Society’s archive.  The LHS has been in existence for years, and traces its roots to 1868 when it was founded as the Old Residents’ Historical Association.  In the coming months, I’ll be writing regular posts researching some of the many interesting items held by the Society and trying to find some of the forgotten history behind the Society’s art and artifacts.

Source:  Lowell Sun, Front Page, June 22, 1948

Source: Lowell Sun, Front Page, June 22, 1948

A Lowell Cracker Remembered

The array of crackers available to today’s consumers from Market Basket to Trader Joe’s and beyond is stunning. I’m a cracker lover who enjoys eating them plain or with butter, “spread” or hard cheese, peanut butter (sometime with a touch of Fluff), jelly, a dip or crumbled in soup. Ritz crackers with melted butter make a elegant dressing/stuffing for scallops or lobster. But if you have a stomach that needs settling a plain saltine does the trick. This cross-post from Dave McKeon at LowellIrish reminds us of the wonderful, tasty, versatile Lowell Bradt’s Soda cracker – once a staple in so many homes. Take a trip down Memory Lane ~

Bradt’s Crackers- a Lowell original

 
 
Thursday nights were food shopping nights when I was growing up in the Acre.  We’d get in our 55 Ford and head down Broadway to the Giant Store.  It had a big ramp that led up to the food store, or you could take the stairs and go down to look at the toys.  When you were done grocery shopping, they’d put your brown paper bags in a metal bin and send it down a long set of rollers, which led outside in order to load at your car.  I always wanted to take a ride along that conveyor, but I digress. 
One of the items that was on our weekly shopping list was a box of Bradt’s crackers.  They came in a long, white rectangular box with blue lettering that said “Bradt’s Soda Crackers.”  The crackers were snow white with little air pockets that made them “crispy, but not brittle” as was advertised on the box.  I remember they were on a shelf near the ice cream, and I’d have to climb up on the freezer to reach them to put in the shopping cart.  There was always the warning of not dropping the box and breaking them before we got them home.  There was always a little anxiety to pull out that perfect cracker without breaking it, and then snapping it along the little perforations that would divide the square into quarters. 
The company was a Lowell original being manufactured on Whiting Street (between Fletcher and Salem Streets).  Today the parking lot for the new UMass buildings completely covers where the small wood and stone factory once stood.  My friend, David, lived just steps away from the factory.  You could smell the crackers baking in the oven as we played in back of his house.  The white-aproned men would often keep the doors and windows open to escape the heat or sneak outside for a smoke.  From time to time they’d give us a few of the broken crackers.   The wooden floors of the factory were almost snow white with crackers that didn’t meet quality control.  Occasionally, farmers would pull up to haul away the sacks of broken pieces to feed their hogs.
 
 City Directory – 1890
Since my dad had ulcers they were a staple of his diet whenever they flared up.  My Mother used them in her stuffing, as I think every Lowell mother did.  They were great on meatless Fridays with butter or peanut butter.  Probably every family in the area had a box of Bradt’s in their pantry. 
The company had deep Lowell roots.  It was started by David, Gerrit J(Garrett), and David Bradt in 1833.  The Bradts originally worked for Mr. Pierce’s bakery.  In just a couple of years the brothers opened their own bakery on Whiting Street and built a home.  They acquired tracts of land that make up parts of Bowers Street.  Through the years the company took on several names; Bradt’s Soda Crackers, Bradt’s Soda Biscuits, and Bradt’s Common Crackers.  The family did well enough that they became involved in real estate and banking.  The founder, David Bradt died in 1892, leaving the company to various relatives and slowly declining over the years.  He was buried in the family plot in the Lowell Cemetery.

The company was sold off to Oswald Turcotte in the 1930s who tried to re-energize it by broadening the selling area to outside of Lowell and a new advertising campaign.  Ads appeared in the papers using the theme “crispness without brittleness.”  Mr. Turcotte assured his patrons that they were keeping the original recipe and quality of the 100 year old product, while expanding the line to include oyster crackers  and saltines.  As November rolled around the ad campaigns showed up in the Lowell Sun.  One was a “telegram” by grandchildren reminding Grandma they were coming home for the holiday and her stuffing made with Bradt’s crackers.  Another was a personal endorsement by a Mrs. Edna Riggs Crabtree who used them at her cooking school.  The company even had a quite successful bowling league in the 1940s and 50s competing against the likes of Laurin Morticians and Turcotte Wines. They were still advertising for employees in the Lowell Sun up to 1970.  The actual date of closing is unclear. 
Today we buy water biscuits at outrageous prices at specialty stores.  Yet nothing today could compare to a Bradt’s!

 

 

 

Another Chapter in the Solon Perkins Saga

Here’s another chapter in the Solon Perkins saga in a cross-post of my post on Dick Howe’s blog. LHS board member Eileen Loucraft continues her research with more to come as there are still some unanswered questions.

Civil War Solon Perkins Saga Continues

Eileen Loucraft offers more insight into  the Solon Perkins – Civil War soldier saga. But questions remain: Why did Mrs. Perkins give the flag to the Middlesex Bank? Were there Perkins-Knapp connections? More research coming…

From E. Loucraft: His mother, Mrs. Wealthy Perkins received the gideon from the estate of Benjamin Butler. The General had been holding the sash of Solon A. Perkins and his Captain Henry A. Durivage, of 3nd Calvery Massachusetts. Captain Durivage drowned in the Mississippi River in April of 1862 and Lieut. Perkins commanded the 3rd until his own death. Captain Durivage was the son of 19th century author Francis Alexander Durivage of Boston and later New York City. So instead of the sash ending up at Memorial Hall it ended up at the bank.

My note: What is now known as Memorial Hall is located on the second floor of the now Pollard Memorial Library. Since the library was built as a memorial to veterans and with expectations that surviving Civil War veterans would have a place to occasionally meet – the expansive upper hall was the site of the meetings  of the   B. F. Butler Post 42, G.A.R. organization. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army, US Navy, Marines and Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. The Lowell Post  42 was established in 1868. The furniture and accoutrements of the GAR were in the hall for many years. BTW – the LMA has the sash!

From the Lowell Daily Sun, December 15, 1894:

A Valuable Memento

Mrs. Wealthy Perkins, mother of Capt. Solon A. Perkins, who enlisted in this city when 27 years of age for the war, has the sash worn by her son when he was killed in the engagement with the rebels in Louisana. The sash, with another, was formerly in possession of Gen. Butler, and was enclosed by him in a receptacle for safe keeping, with the following memoranda. The sash and letter are to be put in Memorial hall.”

“The two sashes in this box belonged to two of the bravest cavalry officers I ever knew. The smaller one was worn by Henry A. Durivage, 1st lieutenant of the second company, Mass. unattached cavalry, who was lost overboard from the steamer North America on the Mississippi river at the head of the Passes, April 21, 1862. The larger one belonged to Capt. Solon Perkins of the same company, who was killed near Port Hudson, La., in June 1863. Both were dear friends, and better or braver men never lived.

B.F. Butler”

Check out this web page with a gideon in excellent shape – http://jeffbridgman.com/inventory/index.php?page=out&id=1625

More on the Civil War Flag Story

Here’s another cross-post from Dick Howe’s blog. My post is based on information found by fellow LHS board member Eileen Loucraft. This overall story has had input from many people/sources – all interested in the history of Lowell.

More on the Civil War Flag Mystery

Fellow blogger, history researcher and Lowell Historical Society BOD member Eileen Loucraft has discovered more background on the Civil War flag found at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium.

The  flag was donated to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium by a Mrs. Charles (Mary Sawyer) Knapp of Fort Hill Avenue in November of 1929. The particulars were found in a Lowell Sun story ( 11.29.1929)recounting that Mrs. Knapp – who had a large collection of war relics – felt that the “guidon under which a Lowell boy, Solon A. Perkins, was killed in action, and the flag was given by his mother to my husband… carefully preserved by mounting under glass in a beautifully hand-carved frame…” deserved the honor of a place in the Auditorium. For years – it seemed – prior to just coming into her hands – the flag was kept in the banking room of the Middlesex National Bank (also identified as the Middlesex Trust).

At her invitation the LMA trustees visited her home, observed the flag and unanimously agreed to add the flag to the collection. It was installed at the Auditorium on November 12, 1929.

My research shows her husband Charles L. Knapp as treasurer Middlesex Trust Company, a Trustee of the Lowell Cemetery and  Clerk of the City of Lowell water board.

Eileen also found a January 1919 Sun   “Man About Town” column – describing the flag as a wall decoration hanging over the chair of the bank President – F. P. Gilly. The bank president shared the Solon Perkins story with the Sun writer. Thanks to Eileen Loucraft for her research and this information.

The Story ~ Solon A. Perkins and the Civil War Flag at the LMA

This is a cross-post from Dick Howe’s blog. He tells us the story of the Civil War flag discovery and more about Solon A. Perkins.

Solon Perkins: 1836-1863

Photo by Tory Germann

Workers at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium recently discovered a large, ornate wooden frame which enclosed a faded and tattered flag from the American Civil War.  The Auditorium workers quickly contacted the Greater Lowell Veterans Council which sprung into action and is already planning for the refurbishment and eventual public display of this Lowell relic.  Tory Germann has already documented the case and its contents with her camera and has made those pictures available on her website.

Even a quick glance at this artifact makes clear it is dedicated to Solon Perkins, one of nearly 500 men from Lowell who died in the Civil War.  Perkins died from wounds sustained in battle near Port Hudson, Louisiana on June 3, 1863 while serving as an officer in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment.  Perkins was one of many from Lowell who served in Louisiana, recruited by General Benjamin Butler who had been appointed military governor of New Orleans in 1862.

Solon Perkins was born in Lancaster, New Hampshire on December 6, 1836.  His family moved to Lowell in 1840.  Solon graduated from Lowell High School and immediately became engaged in the world of international business, working for several years in Buenos Aires and for several more in Valparaiso, Mexico.  In these places, he became fluent in both Spanish and French, skills that became invaluable during his military service in Louisiana.

In late June of 1863, the Reverend Owen Street, minister at Lowell’s High Street Church, delivered some remarks about the circumstances of Perkins’ death that were based on information that had been provided to the deceased soldier’s mother.  The following is some of what Street had to say:

When the army of General Banks moved upon Port Hudson, [Perkins] was ordered there and wrote his last letter from that place.  The booming of the enemy’s cannon, only 400 yards distant forbade his sleep, and he arose in the night and continued his letter . . . until an order came for him to support a battery; he stated the fact, recorded his farewell, and there his pen rested forever.  The same day that this letter was received, there came another, from another hand, saying that his earthly career was closed.

[Perkins and the Union cavalry encountered] the enemy’s force at Clinton at about 2 p.m.  In the course of fifteen minutes the action became general.  Lt. Perkins . . . was ordered to dismount his men and deploy as skirmishers . . . The fire became so galling, however, that he was ordered to fall back . . . It was found that the Federal force was in great danger of being outflanked, as the enemy had two or three times their number . . . Perkins fought the rebels at every step.  They reached a bridge over a ravine which the enemy were making every exertion to gain.  While skirmishing in front of this, Perkins received a ball through his arm which disabled it.  He did not however, stop fighting, but rode up to Colonel Grierson on a mule – his horse having been killed in the fight – and said that he could hold that bridge till the infantry had got out of range. . .

Perkins rejoined his corps, with one arm disabled and bleeding, and resumed the contest, exclaiming with the energy and impassioned tone of the battlefield, “Now boys, let us show these scoundrels that we can fight.”  A few minutes afterwards he received his mortal wound. . . Perkins was soon placed in a carriage and conveyed off from the field.  He survived about two hours, suffering little or no pain, and calmly passed away. . .

Thus has fallen as brave, as earnest, and as dutiful a soldier, and as faithful an officer, as the service can boast.  If all our officers, high and low, had fulfilled their part as well as he, this war would have many months since have been brought to an end.

Besides the recently discovered flag, a monument to the memory of Solon Perkins sits in Lowell Cemetery at his family’s burial plot.  The spring tours of the cemetery pass by this place.  This spring, we will stop there and talk of Solon Perkins, of his service, and of the flag display created in his memory.