Monday, March 28, 2011

The Perfect Gift for Civil War Catholic Sister-Nurses: Two Big Guns! What?!

Lift the great guns from the snows that enfold them,
Heat the great furnace,—War’s echoes must cease;

Swift in the might flames melt them and mould them

Into one image—Our Lady of Peace

Testaments to the epic story of Notre Dame in the Civil War can be found from the country’s capital city to an Indiana town to the battlefield at Gettysburg to the campus itself. Indeed, I have written before about the Baldwin monument in Elkhart, IN (here) and the Fr. Corby monument at Gettysburg (here and here).

Perhaps the most unusual (and earliest) of the memorials to the Notre Dame community's service in the Civil War were the twin captured Confederate cannons—named “Lady Polk” and “Lady Davis”—that found a home on the campus of St. Mary’s. The guns were large experimental rifled cannon, each more than ten feet long, weighing more than seven tons and designed to fire solid shot that weighed more than one hundred pounds. The guns were placed in Rebel forts on the Mississippi River but fell into the hands of the Union navy in early 1862. Later in the year, Commodore W.H. Davis, commanding the Western Flotilla, wrote the
following order:

"I wish you to stop at Island No. 10 and take on board the fragments
of a gun known as the Lady Davis, which burst in the hands of the
rebels. I wish you to stop again at Columbus and to take on board
the fragments of a gun known as the Lady Polk, which also burst
in the hands of the rebels…they are to be placed at the disposal of
Sister Angela, superior of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who are the
principal nurses in our military hospitals, and that they are to be recast into a statue of peace for one of the religious establishments of which Sister Angela is the superior.
" (1)

The cannons were delivered to Cairo, Illinois, in the care of Captain A.W. Pennock, who wrote to Mother Angela that he would “be very happy to keep here the guns…subject to any directions or orders which you may think proper to give me.” The cannons were then transferred to the naval yard in Mound City, Illinois, where they remained for some time before finally finding their intended home at St. Mary’s. They sat on the grounds under the flagpole flying the Stars and Stripes, and students often had their photos taken sitting on the “Ladies.” (2)

Mother Angela’s original plans never
came to pass: instead of being crafted into a monument of peace, the cannons actually went to war again. In September 1942, the sisters offered the guns to the government as salvage ore. Mr. L.J. Harwood—
chairman of the Salvage Committee, Civilian Defense Council, St. Joseph County, Indiana—wrote to thank the sisters and St. Mary’s Academy for their thoughtfulness:

"I frequently have occasion to observe people who possess a tremendous

amount of negative patriotism. That is, they are patriotic enough to give away some of their holdings if a large amount of pressure is put upon them. This gesture of yours, however, is quite different from this. I believe that you recognize that patriotism does not end until the object needed is finally secured. In this case the cannon are of no avail until they are melted, and if it had not been for your noble gesture, they probably
would have remained on your campus until after the duration." (3)

In her 1881 collection, Crowned with Stars, poet Eleanor C. Donnelly paid tribute to the sisters’ wartime service and to their unique monument in “The Cannon in the Convent Grounds":

See, where they lie 'mid the frosts of the Winter,
Just as they lay 'mid the grasses and flowers

All these long Summers,— a War-breathing cen ter.

Mocking the calm of these woodlands of ours.

Nearly two decades of peace have been numbered

By Time (the old clerk) on his chaplet of years.

Since first in this sylvan seclusion they slumbered.

Sprinkled with blood-drops and shining with tears.

O'er the cold metal, now rusted and rimy.
Year after year the green mosses have crept;
Silvery sweet, thro' yon tubes, dark and grimy,
The bells of St. Mary's their echoes have swept.

Oft on those arches the robin sat singing
The song of the Spring to the mate on its nest;
Athwart the black nozzles, the Summer wind winging,
Breathed perfume and balm from the groves of the West,

Gently the dead leaves have fallen upon them
With delicate whispers of rest and release;

And even the snow-flakes, thick-fluttering on them.

Have swelled, in their turn, the soft chorus of Peace

Come, put your ear to these lips, black and hoary.
List to this voice, breathing ruin no more;

The harsh tones grow sweet as they tell of the story

Of Mercy's blest part in the pageant of War;

Tell of the nuns of historic St. Mary's,

Binding the camp and the hospital bloom

With Heaven's own glory : like minist'ring fairies,

Shedding God's sunlight thro' suffering's gloom.

Floating, sweet saints, on the dark winding waters.

Alone with the wounded, the dying, the dead,

Christ of the Holy Cross ! bless Thy dear daughters,

Brave help of our heroes who battled and bled!

Lift the great guns from the snows which enfold them.

Heat the vast furnace,—War's echoes must cease;

Swift in the mighty flames melt them and mould them

Into one image — Our Lady of Peace !

Tranquil and tender from out the dark iron,

Soon the dear face on her children shall shine;

Grandeur and grace not of earth shall environ

The form of our Mother, the sinless, divine!

Trophies of Death in Life's' image dissolving,

Beautiful Peace veiling visions of gore,

Praise to our God! while the years are revolving,

Madonna of Peace ! thou shalt leave us no more!

You can see photos and read more about this and other Notre Dame Civil War monuments in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010).


(1) Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 23, 364–65; an excellent essay on the genesis of the guns, the misnomer of “Lady Davis” and their disposition can be found at John Ross, “Columbus, KY: Gibraltar of the West,”
(2) Anna S. McAllister, Flame in the Wilderness: Life and Letters of Mother Angela Gillespie, C.S.C., 1824–1887 (Paterson, NJ: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1944), 201.
(3) Ibid, 341.
Eleanor C. Donnelly, Crowned With Stars (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University, 1881), 129–31.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mother Angela - A VERY Rare and Exceptional Woman

"[Mother Angela is] a woman of rare charm of manner, unusual ability, and exceptional executive talents.” - General Ulysses S. Grant

I have written on this blog about several aspects of Notre Dame's contributions and experiences during the Civil War, including the Holy Cross priests that served as chaplains, the students who served as soldiers, and life on campus.

Another interesting and essential part of the story is that of the Holy Cross sisters from Notre Dame and its sister-school, St. Mary's Academy, who served as nurses.

Just as Father Sorin proved to be a steady and inspiring influence to the students and Holy Cross priests and brothers at Notre Dame, so too did the Holy Cross sisters and St. Mary’s have an equally influential figure in Mother Angela Gillespie. Born in 1824 in Pennsylvania, Eliza Marie Gillespie was the daughter of a wealthy and prominent family. Her kin included brother Neal (Notre Dame’s first graduate) and the politically connected Ewing family of Ohio.

Eliza finished her early schooling in Washington, D.C. Beautiful,vivacious and energetic, she might have become politically connected and powerful herself through marriage, but instead she pursued a religious vocation and joined the Sisters of the Holy Cross in 1853, taking the name Sister Angela. In addition to her piety and charity, Sister Angela also had considerable business and executive talents, having managed her stepfather’s farm. Father Sorin thought her the ideal candidate to be superior of St. Mary’s Academy, a position that she assumed in 1855.

The call for the Holy Cross sisters to serve as nurses came on the eveningof October 21, 1861, when a horseman galloped to the campus of Notre Dame carrying an urgent request for Father Sorin. Sorin read the message to himself and then, by the light of his lantern, walked over to St. Mary’s Academy. Once there, he asked for Mother Angela and read her the message. Within hours, she and five companions were bound bytrain for southern Illinois.

Mother Angela and her “little army” arrived in Cairo, Illinois, where they reported to General Ulysses S. Grant, who had his headquarters in the city. One of the sisters remembered meeting the famous general:

"[He] shook hands most heartily with each Sister. Over the hand of Mother Angela he bent with the chivalry of a soldier worthy of leading a host to victory. Looking at his visitor with a kindly smile, he said:“Mother Angela, I am very glad indeed to have you and your Sisters with us.”…[T]he general asked Mother Angela if she and her companion nurses could be ready to report for duty that night at the military hospital in Paducah [Kentucky]…[She replied] that he had but to express a wish and it would be obeyed at once."

The sisters left right away and arrived in Paducah that evening, where they met General Lew Wallace (whose request for sister-nurses had prompted the governor’s message to Father Sorin), who commanded a brigade and its three hospitals in the area. The surgeons were characteristically dubious of having women in their wards, but they were soon impressed with Mother Angela. She reorganized the wards “with almost military precision,” and the sisters scrubbed the floors free of blood, put fresh linen on the beds, bathed the sick and prepared an appetizing and nutritious diet in the kitchen.

In mid-December 1861, Mother Angela returned to St. Mary’s to gather another group of sisters.

One of the sisters remembered Mother Angela assisting a surgeon at the Mound City hospital:

"Mother Angela was assisting Doctor Franklin with a difficult operation, the precise accuracy of which would determine the life or death of a soldier. A little chloroform had to suffice to dull the agony of the probing. Both surgeon and assistant leaned intently over the patient. Suddenly a red drop fell on Mother Angela’s white coif. Another and still another fell until a small stream was seeping through the ceiling. But true to her Celtic ancestry Mother Angela remained motionless, with thoughts concentrated on the delicate surgery. At last the final stitch was taken; two heads rose simultaneously. Not until then did the doctor realize that a crimson rivulet from the floor above had fallen steadily upon our Mother’s devoted head, bathing coif, face, and shoulders in blood."

Over the course of the war, Mother Angela might be found scrubbing floors or assisting in surgery as desribed above, but even behind the scenes Mother Angela was exercising her considerable influence and executive abilities by placing trusted subordinates in charge of other hospitals and writing friends, strangers, officers and politicians for supplies. Perhaps, though, it was her example of confidence and humility that did the most good:

“There are some people who can inspire others to do what ordinarily speaking is impossible; Mother Angela was one of these,” one sister wrote. “Her faith and courage never recognized limitations; hence the nature, the magnitude of her achievements and those of her Sisters.”

You can read more about Mother Angela and the other Holy Cross sister-nurses in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010).

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Holy Cross History Association: An Excellent Resource

At the heart of the story of the University of Notre Dame is the story of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the founding Order of the university and the Order to which her brave Civil War chaplains and sister-nurses belonged, as told in my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010).

One of the great resources at my disposal while researching and writing the book was the Holy Cross History Association.

According to their website (here), the mission of the Association is to:

"...promote and stimulate historical study of and research on those religious communities which trace their origins to the Rev. Basil Moreau of LeMans, France; to discover, collect and preserve historical manuscripts; to print, publish and cause to be distributed, papers, books, writings, reports, articles and data bearing on or in any way relating to the Congregations of Holy Cross."

The Association accomplishes the goal by publishing a newsletter and sponsoring annual conferences (information about the 2011 conference can be found here).

Among their very best resources is the availability of the presentations given at the annual conferences at a very nominal cost (only $1 plus postage!).

A list of the papers is here and members also receive an excellent guide to the papers by person, place, or subject.

Just a few of the papers I found helpful were:

"Holy Cross Communities in the Civil War" by Rev. James T. Connelly, CSC, 16pp. (1993)
"Grace under Pressure: Sisters of the Holy Cross, 1861-1865" by Ms. Barbra Wall (2000)
"Holy Cross Military Chaplains in World War II" by Rev. Joseph A. Kehoe, CSC, 19pp (1995)

and others

Even if you are not writing about the Holy Cross order, Notre Dame, or specific personalities (priests, brothers, sisters, etc.) per se, do consider browsing the available papers because they might enrich other research you are doing, including regional studies, as the mission of the Congregation has since extended well beyond the campus of Notre Dame to include cities and institutions all across the country over the past almost 170 years.

Other resources on the website include an excellent Bibliography (PDF here) of over 100 pages and many hundreds of citations.

Membership is only $5 (here) and I have happily been a member for the past couple of years and will continue to support the Association as a member.

Many thanks to them for all that they do!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Patrick McNamara Reviews "Notre Dame and the Civil War"!

I want to thank Patrick McNamara for posting a very kind review (here) of Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010) on his popular "Musings of a Catholic Church Historian from Queens, New York" blog this week, just in time for St. Patrick's Day!

As I've mentioned before, one thing I was aiming for in this book was to craft a story (backed by good scholarship) that would appeal to multiple audiences: Civil War enthusiasts, Notre Dame almuni ("bona fide" and "subway), folks interested in the history of the Irish and Catholics in America, and more. As it turns out, Patrick can count himself among several of those intended audiences, and I am so pleased, honored, and humbled that he found merit in the book!

If you have a history blog yourself, check out his blog (here) and consider adding it to your blog roll (I did at my Civil War Medicine blog!)'s TERRIFIC!

Indeed, Patrick brings some impressive bona fides to his blogging on the history of the Irish and Catholics in American History; from his biography at

Pat received his Ph.D. from Catholic University of American in Washington, D.C. A native of Queens, New York, Dr. Pat McNamara has attended Catholic schools from grammar through grad school and has taught Church History at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, and at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington. His books include A Catholic Cold War: Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., and the Politics of American Anticommunism (2005); The Tablet: The First Hundred Years (2008); and Diocese of Immigrants: The Brooklyn Catholic Experience, 1853-2003 (2004). Pat has appeared in numerous publications, writing on American Catholic history. Pat was an archivist for the Brooklyn Diocese for ten years, and in 2008 was a consultant for the Museum of the City of New York's exhibit Catholics in New York.

You can read the entire review (here). Excerpts are below:

In his wonderful new book Notre Dame and the Civil War, James M. Schmidt tells the whole story of the university’s involvement in the Civil War, and it’s a great story. It covers the priest who served as army chaplains, the Sisters who served as nurses, and the students who fought in the field...

This book is concise and well written. The research is top-notch, and the photos and drawings are wonderful. I learned much I didn’t know...As the first detailed study of American Catholics and the Civil War, this is an important book.

But, perhaps more importantly, it’s an enjoyable book. Anyone with an interest in the Civil War, Irish American history, and the story of Catholics in America is going to love it. Notre Dame alumni will be especially interested. The arrival of St. Patrick’s Day, and with the Civil War sesquicentennial only a month away, makes this the perfect opportunity to purchase this great book, either for others or yourself.

Thanks, Patrick!

Read more reviews of Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory:

Civil War News (here)

Civil War Librarian (Rea Andrew Redd) (here)

Almost Chosen People/The American Catholic (Don McClarey) (here)

Confederate Book Review (Robert Redd)(review and interview!) (here)

Irish in the American Civil War (Damian Shiels) (here)

South Bend Tribune Feature (Howard Dukes) (here)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Notre Dame Civil War Chaplain Profile #4 - Fr. James M. Dillon

I'm pleased to add another installment introducing the Holy Cross priests from the University of Notre Dame who served as chaplains in the Civil War.

See these posts for previous profiles:

#1 = Fr. Paul E. Gillen, CSC
#2 = Fr. Peter P. Cooney, CSC
#3 = Fr. Joseph C. Carrier, CSC

Below is an excerpt from my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010) describing some of the life and ministry of Fr. James Dillon, CSC, as a chaplain in the Union army.

Fr. Dillon and "The Temperance Regiment"

Father James Dillon was in the Northeast on university business in the summer of 1861. While there, he became acquainted with officers who were organizing and recruiting the 63rd New York VolunteerInfantry, which would become part of the famous “Irish Brigade” of the Army of the Potomac. The regiment—like the other core regiments of the brigade—was almost exclusively Catholic, and at the urging of its officers, Father Dillon volunteered to be the regimental chaplain. Father Dillon was “young, but of mature mind, and quite eloquent,” a fellow chaplain wrote, adding that he “was impulsive and ardent, and threw his whole soul into any good work he undertook.”

By all accounts, Father Dillon—more than any of Notre Dame’s priests—took particular care to “guard his boys against the prevailing vices.” The worst of these temptations was drunkenness, which was endemic to camp life in the army. In sermons, Father Dillon declared drinking to be the “father of all crimes,” especially among the Irish.To foster good behavior among the men, Father Dillon established a “Temperance Society,” and hundreds of the men in his regiment joined on the spot. The effects seemed immediately beneficial: attendance at religious service increased and incidents of “camp carousals” decreased. Father Dillon was so pleased that he arranged to distribute medals among the men who had taken the pledge.

Like all of the priests Notre Dame sent to minister to the soldiers, Father Dillon was cool under fire. “Father Dillon was always ready to take part in a skirmish or a ride throught he enemy’s country,” a brigade surgeon remembered. Indeed, in one instance, Father Dillon even managed to bring order out of chaos inthe heat of battle (albeit “outstepping the lines of his proper duty”) when he rallied the regiment at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1,1862. The regiment was under fire, and its officers were hors du combat. There was great confusion as to whom they should obey. One of the men exclaimed, “This is Father Dillon’s regiment!” A chorus joined in, yelling, “Yes, yes! Give us Father Dillon!” The good chaplain came forward, assured the soldiers that he would remain with them and then calmly passed among the ranks, informing the men that they should obey the officer now in command.

Father Dillon was not even thirty years old when he joined the army;almost exactly a year later, he was honorably discharged. “Against the advice of the best army physicians he remained in the army much longer than he should have,” Father Sorin wrote a year later, explainingthat exposure in the camps had aggravated lung problems that Father Dillon had endured since his youth. “He went to Europe, but returned after twelve months in about the same state of health,” Father Sorin continued, adding that doctors had advised Father Dillon to travel to California and that “it will take a year to pronounce on the improvementin his health.”

Unfortunately, the relief did not come, and Father Dillon died of complications of his lung troubles only a few years later.

You can learn more about all of the brave priests from Notre Dame who served as chaplains in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory.

Friday, March 4, 2011

March 4, 1861 - Lincoln's Inauguration - A Letter from Notre Dame

Today, March 4, 2011, marks the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States of America.

Not coincidentally, it also sets the stage for my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010), in which I use a letter written by student Orville T. Chamberlain, written on that very day. (You can learn more about Chamberlain in previous posts here and here).

The letter gives a wonderful picture of life on campus. It is part of a collection of more than eighty wartime letters that he wrote to home and friends, now held by the Indiana Historical Society, many of which are quoted in my book.

An excerpt from the Introduction to the book is below, followed by a transcript of that letter. Enjoy.


On March 4, 1861, nineteen-year-old college student Orville Chamberlain wrote a letter home with the opening line: “We are having ‘recreation’ here this afternoon in honor of ‘Old Abe’s’ inauguration.” Apart from mention of the nation’s new president, there was no other hint of campus talk regarding news or politics. Indeed, the balance of his letter related to the timeless concerns of any college student: learning to live on his own, his classmates, his studies, the quality and quantity of the food and—of course—his need for money. When Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter only weeks later, everything changed for Chamberlain and for his school, the University of Notre Dame.

In fact, few institutions of higher education can boast of the
sacrifices made by the University of Notre Dame, which—like Orville Chamberlain—was only nineteen years old when the war began. Over the course of four years, Notre Dame gave freely of its faculty and students as soldiers, sent its Holy Cross priests to the camps and battlefields as chaplains and dispatched its sisters to the hospitals as nurses; some of the boys, men and women made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned. Though far from the battlefields itself, the war was still ever-present on campus, as Notre Dame witnessed fisticuffs among the student body, provided a home to the children of a famous general, responded to political harassment and tried to keep at least some of its community out of the fray. When the war was over, a proud Notre Dame welcomed back several bona fide war heroes—including Orville Chamberlain, who earned the Medal of Honor—and became home to a unique veteran’s organization.

The school’s participation in the Civil War established a tradition of
“Fighting Irish” tenacity on the battlefield by its student-soldiers and spiritual strength imparted by its priests and sisters.

And now, the letter:

March 4, 1861

Dear Friends, We are having "recreation" here this afternoon in honor of "Old Abe's" inauguration and I thought perhaps you would ike to hear from me, so I take the present opportunity to write. I have almost no news to tell from the fact that nothing new happens here, and all the news we get from abroad come in the papers, at which you have a better chance than I do.

Mr. Schutt was down here a few days ago, but he stayed only a very few minutes. I did not see him to speak to him.
Mr. Baldwin was here yesterday, it made the boys feel first-rate to see a familiar face.

I have got fairly domesticated here at last; it takes quite a considerable attention to "learn the ropes" here and even now I have to "do as the rest do" in a great many things. I am studying Algebra, Grammar, Geometry, and I have given up my Arithmetic and commenced German. I shall not study Latin at least for the present. I have fairly started and if my recitations come regularly I shall get along first rate. I occupy the desk next to Hardin and I find him to be a first rate seatmate.

Before I came away from home, Mr. Conn spoke about returning "Livingston's Africa." I expect it ought to be attended to. I expect all the Elkhart boys will go home about the last of March and I expect I will go with them, if I can. At that time there will be no school for about a week, and that will give me a chance to make quite a visit.

I like it pretty well here and would like to stay till I could write my name O.T.C., A.B., if I could. The boys large and small make a business of playing marbles, all their spare time, excepting the time they spend dancing.

Bro. Peter has cured his "rheumatiz" and is on hand again. Father Superior is gone to Chicago.

We have to attend church a great deal here; a week ago yesterday the remarks made suited me exactly.

I would like it Father, if you would send me a copy of "The Times," if convenient. I have plenty of time to read and but little reading matter.

Our diet here is not luxurious, unless you think "luxurious" to be derived from the Latin "lux"
and make it partake of its original signification; still we are in no anger of starvation, and they get up pretty good dinners.

I don't use this paper because I like it but on account of the picture at the head of the letter, which is a pretty good picture of the place.

All the boys insist that (Elkhart boys I mean) the Exhibition on the eve of the 22d did not beat the Omega, very much, but for my part I liked it very well.

Father, you had better speak to Mr. Oakes (if you have not) about that public money, etc.

I have joined the Elocution class but have not declaimed yet.

You know the Dunkards make a great fuss over the ceremony of "feet washing" - well since writing the above they put benches in the playroom and we went in and went "through the mill." Each one had his pail of warm water and a towel.

There is an "office" in the college building where Books, Stationery, and Toilet articles are kept. A new consignment of goods came today.

Father Gillespie reads "notes" every Sabbath evening for lessons, duties, and conduct. My notes were Grammar and Algebra - 2.2.1. Conduct and Geometry -1, pretty good notes.

I got week before last's "Review" yesterday morning and thought it quite interesting. By the way, I suppose you continue to get it regularly, send Tully up after it if you do not.

My health is and has been first rate. Did you have good luck in finding Chord, and if you did not couldn't you write me instructions what to do and how to do it and let me attend to it some recreation day.

Please write and let me know how you are all getting along and tell me all the news - particularly the good news. Please present my compliments to all the friends - providing I have any - and don't forget to write.

O.T. Chamberlain

Tuesday Morning

P.S. - It is pretty good sleighing here this morning and the weather is cold enough to make a person feel quite uncomfortable.
Every Sunday and every Wednesday we have to black our boots. It's a great disadvantage to have big feet, for just as I get one foot done we are called to take our places in the ranks. During recreation hours we cannot go into the Study room unless upon particular business and vice versa. I finished last night the first half of the first book of Geometry.

Wednesday Morning

"Do nothing by halves," so I write this letter in thirds. I received your letter last evening and was very glad to get it. Father Dillon says he will take all Illinois money, but the 4 or 5 banks that are thrown out. I guess I can get along without the Drawers. But I must close or I shall not get my letter sent today. Father Dillon says he will send the note up to the Bank. Tell the children I would like to have them write me a letter.

Yours in a hurry.