Sunday, June 7, 2015

150 Years Ago Today - Gen. W. T. Sherman's 1865 Commencement Address at Notre Dame

I am pleased to provide an excerpt from my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the commencement address delivered by Union general William T. Sherman at the University of Notre Dame, on June 7, 1865.

"Life is only another kind of battle and it requires as good a generalship to conduct it to a successful end as it did to conquer a city, or to march through Georgia."

–William T. Sherman, Notre Dame commencement address, June 7, 1865

The Sherman family—fresh from grand reviews and a series of congratulatory banquets—stopped at Notre Dame on Wednesday, June 7, 1865. The university took advantage of the presence of their distinguished guest and invited him to speak at that day’s commencement exercises. When Sherman entered the refectory, the students gave him an ovation. Timothy Howard, the wounded veteran of Shiloh—and now a Notre Dame professor—addressed the general on behalf of the faculty. The professor first congratulated Sherman on his military exploits and success and then on the general’s special connection to the university:

We are glad that you have kindly visited us on your way; we knew you would not forget us. From the field of strife and the march, your heart must have often turned to the quiet shades where dwelt the treasures of your soul. And when the war was over, we knew that General Sherman would come to see the places made sacred to him by the consecrating footsteps of his family, and rest with us and let Notre Dame be a gentle spot in the midst of toils in the present and honors in the future. (1)

Tommy Corcoran, a senior from Cincinnati, also congratulated the general and spoke with pride of how the university had a part in the Union victory, stating that “[p]riests, sisters, professors and students have gone out from their quiet places, and have become part in your grand armies; and a feeling of glory goes up in our souls as we remember that we, too, have a share in your renown.” (2)

The general’s nephew, Tom Ewing, then spoke on behalf of the junior department. He first poked fun at the seniors, saying that most of them were going to be doctors so that they could “kill other people without endangering their own lives,” while the rest would become lawyers so that they “may be smart enough to find excuses for avoiding all coming drafts.” His fellow juniors, though, he proudly declared, “have unanimously and solemnly resolved…to be soldiers…[and] Major Generals, also.” He then alluded touchingly to the general’s favorite son, stating, “You have come here, we know, to visit the halls where Willy studied, the groves where he played, and the boys who were his friends—a title we are proud to claim.” (3)

The general was deeply moved and assured the audience that the boys at Notre Dame were dear to him. Sherman declared that, under the circumstances, he would rather “fight a respectable battle in behalf of the nation’s rights, than make a speech now,” adding, “[b]ut it is clear that you expect me to say something and I don’t want to disappoint you.” He then delivered some unprepared remarks (his trademark), commenting on his own youth and the need for self-reliance and referring often to the great national struggle:

Let me not forget that I was once a young man like those who have appeared before the audience on this day and occasion. You should be grateful that you are under such good instruction and guidance. You now have a pilot on board to guide you, but the time will come, and soon, when you will have to go forth into the great, dark seas alone, under your own guidance…

You must see to it that the ship is strong, the pilot true and the compass unerring…No one can tell when the ship might be wanted, when it will be required to go into action and even to do fighting for America. God knows there has been enough of fighting for a long spell, but it is the highest wisdom and the best policy…to be ready for that encounter at any moment…

But I ask you to remember that, although I have no more than ordinary abilities such as any of you possess, I had not forgotten to take care of the ship and that I trusted in the pilot—in myself. I relied upon my own courage and foresight and in my devotion to the good old cause, to the Union, to truth, to liberty and, above all, to the God of battles…

So I call upon the young men here to be ready to at all times to perform bravely the battle of life…A young man should always stand in his armor, with his sword in hand and his buckler on.

The general concluded by promising the young men assembled that he would “always regard you and your pursuits with interest,” with confidence that “each of you will try to make your careers honorable as well as successful,” and then he then bade them farewell. (4)

(1) Chicago Evening Journal, June 16, 1865.
(2) Ibid
(3) Ibid.
(4) “General Sherman at Notre Dame” in Wilson D. Miscamble, ed., Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 46–47.

Note: Sherman's speech is the first of many in the wonderful book cited above: Go Forth and Do Good: Memorable Notre Dame Commencement Addresses by Fr. William D. Miscamble (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003). It includes more than two dozen addresses from 1865 through 2001.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 21, 1865 - "Mournful Intelligence" - A Notre Dame Student-Soldier Learns About Lincoln's Assassination

I have featured information about Orville T. Chamberlain - a Notre Dame graduate, Union soldier in the 74th Indiana infantry, and Medal of Honor recipient - several times here on the blog (see here, here, and here).

Indeed, my book - Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory - starts with an excerpt from a letter Chamberlain wrote as a student, dated March 4, 1861, in which he describes how the school had the afternoon off in honor of the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.

It's fitting, then, to share one of his last wartime letters - dated April 21, 1865 - 150 years ago today - and written to his father from his camp about nineteen miles from Raleigh, NC, in which he discusses several pieces of news:

"Quite a brisk skirmish" near Clayton, NC, on April 10, 1865

The announcement of Lee's surrender to Grant - "the camp was full of excitement and joy"

His visit to the state house in Raleigh - "better than the capitol of Indiana or Georgia, but no so good as that of Tennessee."

His interaction with a local Confederate family and their daughter

and - a solemn bookend to his March 4, 1861, letter, this:

Since we came here we received the Gen. Sherman's Order announcing the assassination of President Lincoln.  The mournful intelligence was received by our army with feelings of mingled rage and sorrow.  If the perpetrator of the damnable deed were here, he would be torn into a thousand tatters.  We all wanted to see Abraham Lincoln live to see the fruits of his labors, and we wanted to honor in the future his honesty and his wisdom.

and a quote from Macbeth:

Besides, this Duncan bore his faculties so meek,
He was so clear in his great office, that his virtues
Plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off;

and - finally - closing with a note of peace and hope:

" is probable that I will live to get home."

Reference: Letter, Orville Chamberlain to Joseph Chamberlain, August 23,1862, Chamberlain Papers, Box 1, Folder 8, Indiana Historical Society (IHS)

Letter, Orville Chamberlain to father, April 21, 1865, Indiana Historical Society

Friday, October 4, 2013

150 Years Ago - "Our Little Sergeant" - The Death of Willie Sherman

150 years ago - October 3, 1863 - "Willie" Sherman, the 9-year old son of General William T. Sherman, died in Memphis, Tennessee, with his family by his side...and a Notre Dame priest as well.  

The story is below in an excerpt from my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory. The story begins shortly after the surrender of Confederate forces at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in July 1863.

A Soldier’s Fate
An Excerpt from
Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory
(The History Press, 2010)
by James M. Schmidt

“I wish you could see [Vicksburg] for a minute, but it is not right for children to be here, as the danger is too great,” William T. Sherman had written his son, Willy, but after the surrender of the city, the general felt confident enough to invite his family to his new camp on the Big Black. Sherman assured his father-in-law that the camp was “one of the best possible,” that it “combine[d] comfort, retirement, safety, and beauty” and that he had “no apprehensions on the score of health.” His wife, Ellen, was thrilled at the invitation, writing, “We are all so crazy to go…The thought of going down to you has spread sunshine over everything—all have gone to bed to dream happy dreams & my own heart is full of joy—God grant that nothing may occur to mar the happiness we anticipate.” (1)

Ellen, daughters Lizzie and Minnie and sons Willy and Tommy—Ellie and Rachel, only toddlers, remained at home—arrived in mid-August, and their days were full from dawn to dusk. “The children are happy and well and their Father is delighted to have them with him,” Ellen wrote her mother. “Minnie and Willy ride horseback with him while Lizzie and Tommy drive about with me in the carriage.” Ellen also had the comfort of a Notre Dame chaplain, adding, “Sunday we attended Mass at Hugh’s headquarters and heard Father Carrier preach.” (2)

For Willy, especially, the visit was a great adventure, and he reveled being so close to his father, who recalled, “[He] took the most intense interest in the affairs of the army. He was a great favorite with the soldiers, and used to ride with me on horseback in the numerous drills and reviews…He was called a sergeant in the regular battalion, learned the manual of arms, and regularly attended the parade and guard-mounting of the Thirteenth [U.S. Infantry], back of my camp.” In a letter a few weeks later, Sherman thanked the soldiers for the kindness they had extended to his son that summer, writing that “Willie was, or thought he was, a sergeant in the Thirteenth. I have seen his eyes brighten, his heart beat, as he beheld the battalion under arms, and asked me if they were not real soldiers.” (3)

In late September, duty called again, and Sherman was asked to move his corps from its camp on the Big Black to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sherman dispatched his troops immediately and followed quickly with his family, all boarding the steamer Atlantic bound for Memphis. Both
Minnie and Willy became ill on the voyage. The usually energetic boy was listless and weary as they pushed up the river. A regimental surgeon on board the Atlantic examined the little soldier and declared him quite sick—perhaps fatally so—with “camp fever.” As soon as the steamer reached Memphis on October 2, 1863, the Shermans took Willy to the Gayoso Hotel and called for the town’s best physicians, yet the ministrations were to no avail.

“Our Little Sergeant Willie” is buried in the Sherman family plot at Calvary Cemetery, St.
Louis, Missouri. Photo is courtesy Curtis Fears
Notre Dame’s Father Carrier had traveled with the family and stayed at Willy’s side almost constantly. Sensing the seriousness of Willy’s condition, the chaplain began to gently speak to Willy of heaven. “He told me that he was willing to die if it was God’s will,” Father Carrier wrote Ellen a few weeks later, “but it pained him to leave his Father and Mother.” He continued:

Fr. Joseph C. Carrier
He said this with an expression of such deep earnestness that I could hardly refrain from giving way to my feelings. I endeavored to soothe his sentiments of subdued regret. “Willy,” I said quietly and calmly, “If God wishes to call you to Him now do not grieve, for He will carry you to Heaven and there you will meet your good Mother and Father again.” “Well,” he breathed, with an air of singular resignation. (4)

Willy drifted in and out of sleep, waking only to inquire of the whereabouts of his prized rifle. “He never complained; how I wish he would have complained more!” Ellen wrote. Willy Sherman died the next day, October 3, 1863, at 5 p.m. (5)


The young William Sherman was referred to as both "Willie" and "Willy" in Sherman family correspondence.

(1) Letter, William T. Sherman to William T. Sherman Jr., June 21, 1863, CSHR 2/170, University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA); Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin, eds., Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860–1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 521; Letter, Ellen Sherman to William T. Sherman, July 26, 1863, CSHR 2/108, UNDA.
(2) Anna McAllister, Ellen Ewing: Wife of General Sherman (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1936), 264.
(3) William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, vol. 1 (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1886), 377, 373.
(4) Letter, Ellen Sherman to William T. Sherman, October 1863 (n.d.), CSHR 2/109, UNDA.
(5)McAllister, Ellen Ewing, 268.

Learn more about the Sherman family and Notre Dame in previous posts here and here and here

Learn more about Fr. Carrier of Notre Dame in previous posts here and here

Thursday, September 19, 2013

150 Years Ago Today - A Notre Dame Hero at Chickamauga

“I am still alive, and that’s saying enough to be thankful for.” - 1863 Letter from Orville T. Chamberlain, 74th Indiana, to his parents, following the Battle of Chickamauga

The Battle of Chickamauga was fought 150 years ago this week, September 19-20, 1863

Notre Dame student-soldiers and chaplain Fr. Peter Cooney were there.

Among the student-soldiers was recent graduate Orville T. Chamberlain, who earned the Medal of Honor for courage under fire in the battle.

His story is below in an excerpt from my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010).

A Perilous Journey

In mid-August 1863, the 74th Indiana Infantry regiment—then occupying middle Tennessee— moved south as Major General William Rosecrans consolidated his scattered forces and successfully forced the Rebel army out of Chattanooga. Confederate general Braxton Bragg was determined to reoccupy the city and launched an attack on the Union army in mid-September. Late on September 18, 1863, the 74th Indiana struck out on an all-night march on the Chattanooga Road and arrived at Chickamauga early the next morning. The official report declared that the regiment halted and took a hasty cup of coffee—“‘hasty’ indeed it was, for the few who got any,” Orville T. Chamberlain recalled. (1)

On September 19, the regiment was placed in line of battle. During the fighting in the morning and the afternoon, the men of the 74th Indiana had discarded their knapsacks and blankets. “We never saw them again,” Chamberlain remembered, and when they bivouacked that night they had no food or water, little to make themselves comfortable and were also under orders not to start fires. “Some succeeded in getting some straw. More had to sleep on the bare ground,” Chamberlain wrote, adding that “[i]t was very cold…All were worn out by the terrible experiences of the day. It was a terrible, cheerless, cold, desolate, miserable night.” (2)

The next day, Chamberlain recalled, “We were lying behind our hastily built breastworks, lying as flat upon the earth as we could flatten ourselves, to avoid the fire from the enemy’s musketry which was turned upon us…Every movement, or exposure invited and received a storm of bullets from the vastly superior force of the enemy in front,” Chamberlain recalled. At this point, the regiment was sorely in need of more ammunition, and Chamberlain informed Lieutenant Colonel Baker that the 9th Indiana Infantry had a large supply of ammunition. “He knew I was well acquainted with Company C of that regiment and asked me if I would undertake personally to go that Regiment and beg what ammunition I could and bring it back, if possible, to our Regiment. I told him I would make the effort, which I did successfully.” (3)

Successful, indeed: Orville T. Chamberlain earned the Medal of Honor for the feat (though it took more than thirty years to secure the award). His own words and even the official citation -

“While exposed to a galling fire, went in search of another regiment, found its location, procured ammunition from the men thereof, and returned with the ammunition to his own company”

belie the danger involved. A more fitting description of the episode appeared in a family history many years later:

On the field of Chickamauga, the Seventy-fourth and Tenth Indiana had been lying in the outer trenches under constant fire. Five lines of Confederate Infantry were lined up against one in the trenches and the Unionists were not only outnumbered but out of ammunition. Every time one of their number raised his head, a sharpshooter sent a bullet after it. Ammunition was wanted and knowing that the Ninth Indiana, a mile and a quarter away on the firing line, had plenty, Lieutenant Chamberlain gathered all the haversacks he could secure and started on his perilous journey. The moment he rose to his feet and started, there was a fusillade of bullets fired at him as he passed down the line; but he still kept on, running low on the ground, dodging from stump to stump and boulder to boulder, crawling over open spaces like a snake and bounding like a rabbit, he finally reached the trenches of the Ninth; loaded his pockets and haversacks; arranged for a wagon-load of ammunition to follow as quickly as possible, and was off again through the rain of leaden bullets, which followed his course back to his regiment where he delivered the ammunition to his commanding officer. While he received several slight wounds, his hat was shot away and his clothing riddled, he escaped serious injury. (4)

Nearly a month after the battle, Orville finally had a chance to pen a short letter home. Despite the brutal autumn fighting in Georgia and Tennessee, he assured his family by writing: “I am still alive, and that’s saying enough to be thankful for.” (5)

The same sentiment could be said for all of the Notre Dame men and women serving in the war at the end of that pivotal year.


(1) Letter, Orville Chamberlain to General E.A. Carman, undated (postwar), Files, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia (hereafter CCNMP).
(2) 113. Ibid
(3) Letter, Orville Chamberlain to General E.A. Carman; Letter, Orville Chamberlain to General H.V. Boynton, November 26, 1895, Files, CCNMP.
(4) Civil War Medal of Honor Citations,; Eunice M. Barber, The Wright-Chamberlin Genealogy: From Emigrant Ancestors to Present Generations (Binghamton, NY: Vail-Ballou Company, 1914), 62. 
(5) Letter, Orville Chamberlain to Father, October 16, 1863, Chamberlain Papers, Box 1, Folder 11, Indiana Historical Society.

You can read more about Orville T. Chamberlain in previous posts here and here and here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Notre Dame at Vicksburg (and...Vicksburg at Notre Dame)! Part I

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg has justly received significant attention this week but it may have taken a bot of the air out of another important anniversary: the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Confederate forces at Vicksburg, Mississippi, to the Union army under Ulysses S. Grant, after a nearly 50-day siege.

In 1995, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Vicksburg National Military Park with a group that included my best friend, Curtis Fears.  It was a memorable trip - seeing the battlefield, the monuments, the cemetery, the USS Cairo, and staying the night in a historic home.

The siege and surrender of Vicksburg was also memorable for Fr. Joseph C. carrier, a priest fromthe University of Notre Dame that was serving as a chaplain with the Union army.

You can read some introductory material about Fr. Carrier in a previous post here.

Below is an excerpt about Fr. Carrier's experiences at Vicksburg from my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010):

The Chaplain and the Beleaguered City
An Excerpt from
by James M. Schmidt
Fr. Joseph C. Carrier

Ellen Sherman, wife of William T. Sherman, asked Father Sorin to send one of his priests to her husband’s army. Her brothers, General Hugh Boyle Ewing and Captain Charles Ewing (the general’s foster brother and brother-in-law, respectively), were also in the army at Vicksburg. As devout as their sister, they had both expressed a wish to have a priest assigned to Grant’s army, which was without a Catholic chaplain in all its ranks. Father Sorin sent Father Joseph C. Carrier immediately to oblige her fervent hope that the chaplain would “get down there in time to prepare many a poor soul for the last dread journey.”(1)

The general had explained in his letter from Vicksburg to his son, Willy, at Notre dame, that a costly battle with the Confederates could be avoided if “their provisions will give out, for no person can get out or in Vicksburg without our consent, and if they have nothing to eat, they will starve or give up.” Only days later, the Confederate army at Vicksburg did surrender, after a forty-seven-day siege. Father Carrier got a firsthand look at the conquered city the day after the surrender. He secured a souvenir—the last issue of the city’s newspaper, printed on wallpaper—which he sent to Father Sorin as “a memento of a beleaguered but now fallen stronghold…[to] show all future generations to what extremities the Confederates were reduced.”(2)

"Dugouts" in Vicksburg
Of the city, Father Carrier wrote to Father Sorin that “there is not one single house in the whole city which has not been more or less damaged,” adding that “[it] really saddens one to see so many ruins.” He located the Catholic church in Vicksburg, which he happily reported “was but slightly injured.” Indeed, one Vicksburg citizen remembered that while the “soaring light spire and gold cross” of the church was one of the most prominent features of the town, it was “never defaced by the fire of the enemy,” though he was not sure “whether this was chance or intention.” (Surely General Sherman did not have such “control” over cannonballs; it’s equally sure that he would not risk the ire of his devout wife or his zealous but genial chaplain by purposely aiming at the church tower!) Father Carrier met Father Henzi, the weary but friendly assistant pastor—a fellow Frenchman—who “had lived for fifteen days in his cellar…for fear of the shells.”(3)

Upon returning to camp, Father Carrier learned that the army was departing right away. “It really had been painful for me to pull down my tents and leave my nice cozy quarters! I had become strongly attached to the place,” Father Carrier recalled. The days-long march in the hot and humid Mississippi clime was debilitating. Absent their wagons, “we had neither tent nor beds but we had the canopy of heaven…and the bare ground,” Father Carrier wrote Father Sorin. Food was also scarce—“not a cracker to crack,” he wrote—but Father Carrier took it all with good cheer. “Bah! This is for a follower of the Holy Cross a mere bagatelle [trifle],” he wrote Father Sorin, adding, “We…resumed our march, strictly fasting, although it was neither Lent, nor ember day, nor vigil.” The Union army chased remnants of the Confederate army out of Vicksburg and then encamped on the Big Black River.(4)


(1) Letter, Ellen Sherman to William T. Sherman, June 8, 1863, William T. Sherman Family Papers (hereafter CSHR), 2/107, University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA).
(2) Letter, William T. Sherman to William T. Sherman Jr., June 21, 1863, CSHR 2/170, UNDA; David P. Conyngham, “Soldiers of the Cross,” David Power Conyngham Papers (CCON), 1/08 (un-paginated typescript), UNDA
(3) Conyngham, “Soldiers of the Cross.”

Next: A very special letter written by Gen. William T. Sherman  to his son Willy, who was then a student at Notre Dame in the minim (elementary) program!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Holy Cross History in N'Awlins!

Earlier this month I had the great pleasure of attending the 32nd Annual Conference on the History of the Congregations of Holy Cross, sponsored by the Holy Cross History Association, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

I've written about the great resources of the Association previously (here).

The conference was great on many levels: I met some really nice people, heard some really interesting lectures, got to give one of my own, and got to experience New Orleans for the first time.

I've provided a synopsis of the lectures below.  

As I have explained before, one of the great resources of  the Association is that the papers given at the conferences are available for a nominal cost ($1.00).  I encourage you to browse through the list here (through 2011).  You may find something that intersects with you own historical interests!

This years papers included:

"Effects of Katrina on Marianites' Property and Ministries" - Sr. Clarita Bourque, MSC

"Edmundus" - Br. John Doran, CSC

Holy Cross in Acadia: What You Can Do With Eight Dollars" - Fr. Paul LeBlanc, CSC

"Holy Cross and Catholicism in the North" - Sr. Cecile Charette, CSC

"They Did Their Duty Well: Notre Dame Student-Soldiers in the Civil War" - James M. Schmidt (me!)

"Brother Theodolus: Reluctant Martyr of New Orleans" - Br. George Klawitter, CSC (all the lectures were terrific, but I have to say this was my had an exceptional connection to our city of New Orleans and to the yellow fever epidemics of the 19th century, which is a special interest of mine)

"St. Agnes School: The Jewel of Jefferson, Louisiana" - Sr. Rosemary Wessel, MSC (A story about a former speakeasy/dance hall/gambling hall turned into a church and school?!?! What's not to like?!?!)

"Holy Cross in Central Texas and Northern Mexico" - Fr. Peter Logsdon, CSC

"Holy Cross Religious Survive Katrina" - Br Walter Gluhm, CSC

Next year's conference is in Notre Dame, Indiana - keep an eye here on the blog for details!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Notre Dame and the Civil War" - St. Patrick's Day Rafflecopter Giveaway!

Let's celebrate St. Patrick's Day and the "Fighting Irish" with a Rafflecopter giveaway of TWO signed copies of Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway