Sunday, November 8, 2009

Notre Dame's Civil War Student-Soldier-Poet

Several Notre Dame students enlisted in Union regiments at the outset of the Civil War. Of their record of service, one wartime student wrote, "Many of them became distinguished; many more took their place in the private ranks, content so that they did their duty well."

One of those student soldiers was Timothy E. Howard; one historian has referred to him as the "consummate Notre Dame man."

Howard was born on a farm at Northfield, Michigan, in1837, one of seven children born to parents that were natives of Ireland. He attended the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame, from which he graduated in 1862.

On February 5, 1862, he enlisted in the Twelfth Michigan Infantry, and two months later was severely wounded at Shiloh and disabled from further service.

Howard returned to South Bend and accepted a position with Notre Dame, having a distinguished career as a professor and as a lawyer.

Howard was also a poet, and published a small volume, Musings and Memories, in 1905. Among the poems in his collection was "Convalescent," in which he described the Battle of Shiloh, where he was wounded, and his recovery in the hospital:


Through the open hall door comes a balm to my pain;

For the fresh winds of morning are fanning my brain;
And hilarity, borne from the groups on the porch,
Tells the wounded and dying there's joy in the world;
As there will be while life has a spark in his torch,
Though ten thousand an hour were to Tartarus hurled.

Ah, now I can see them. Two sit on the step;
And one leans by a column; one plucks at the nep
That is growing beneath; and two, I am sure,
Are talking of home; their voice is so pure,
And so low, that no soldier could ever mistake;
Such tones the loved only and absent may wake.

And some are more boisterous, telling of fight,
And the way that we put the bold foemen to flight.
How their eyes are now flashing, those gallant young boys.
Hear great Indiana and grand Illinois,
Minnesota and Iowa, Kansas afar,
Ohio and Michigan, boasting of war.

And dark-haired Missouri, now joined in the fray,

With a twinkle in his eye, as he sits on the plinth,
Says, we nearly were granted and prenticed that Day
To the Southmen, with Beauregard, hot from Corinth.

So the brave, mellow lads while away the bright morn;
And their stories recounting, their deeds are new born
So they live the brave battle all over again,
Or whisper of firesides, for still they are men.


And I am better, too, at length.
Kind heaven daily gives me strength;
And now I long to tread the grass,
To look upon the trees and skies,
To jostle people as they pass,
And catch the friendship of their eyes.

Dear God, how long within this ward
I wait, where death still stands on guard;
Where still o'erhead, and down the stair,
The shuffling feet their burden bear,
Some farmer boy that bravely died,
With kindly strangers at his side.

And I? Nay, then, I 'll not repine;
But pain shall still my soul refine;
Though long, so long, this cot I keep,
With bandaged wound, and feverish sleep,
And utter weakness, unto death—
The quivering eye, the feeble breath.

Yes, I am thankful. Maimed and dead
Have rested here, on many a bed;
But life and limb to me are spared,
And faithful hands for me have cared.
And now, this heaven-like morn of May,
Comes laughing life from death's decay;
While breath of flowers, and limpid air,
And songs of birds, my gladness share.

The lengthened miles before me lie,
Where the rushing train full soon shall hie.
And I shall walk the well-known street,
Where every sod my foot shall greet;
And I shall lift the dear old latch,
Where glistening eyes for me do watch;
And I shall stand in the open door,
Where welcome waits me, o'er and o'er.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Where Do "Fighting Irish" Come From?

In doing research for my forthcoming book, Notre Dame in the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010), one of the questions I wanted to answer is where the school's wartime students came from.

Fortunately, the excellent archives at the University of Notre Dame has an online student index tool that covers the years 1849-1912!

The tool allows you to search by last name as well as other keywords. I used the index to mine all the student data by state and country for the academic years 1860-61 through 1865-66.

Typical entries look like this:

Those names - Robert A. Pinkerton and William Pinkerton - are interesting on several accounts. First, they are in the photo below (from Library of Congress), although it was taken a few years before they began their studies at Notre Dame. Second, they are the sons of famed detective and Union spy Allan Pinkerton!

Some summaries of the data are provided below. A full table, listing enrollments by state and year, will be in the book. Some interesting patterns do emerge, though. Consider the total enrollments by year:

1860-61 = 203
1861-62 = 220
1862-63 = 274
1863-64 = 405
1864-65 = 543
1865-66 = 659

Note that enrollment continued to increase during the Civil War years. This was no small accomplishment, as many colleges faced decreasing enrollments or had to close altogether.

Notice also the breakdown by region below. Not surprisingly, Indiana and Illinois account for about half the students; throw in Michigan and Ohio and you are up above 70%. Still, notice that the "Border" states and even Confederate states contributed a fair share of students!

Midwest/Plains = 79%
Far West = 1%
Northeast/New England = 7%
Border States = 7%
Confederate States = 6%

Foreign = <1%

Those sectional differences would lead to some wartime fisticuffs on campus, but that's a story for another day!

This wasn't a "scientific" survey by any means and I did have to make some compromises along the way. For example, the enrollment figures include those for the college proper, the minims in the grammar school, and the orphans and destitute in the trade school. Furthermore, I counted each student for each year they were enrolled. For some students this was single year (they counted once) and for others it could be as many as five terms (and they were counted five times).

The other interesting thing to contemplate are the individual stories: What of the single student from Virginia enrolled in 1860-61 but never to return again? What of the students who were there in 1861 but didn't return until later? Why was there such an increase of students from Tennessee late in the war?