Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The First Days of the Civil War at Notre Dame - Part I - "Blood and Thunder"

This week marked the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Within days, President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to put down the rebellion.

It was a week of great excitement at the University of Notre Dame as it was in homes, towns, and other campuses around the country.

One of Notre Dame's very first graduates - Neal Gillespie (Class of 1849) - stayed on at the school to study for the priesthood. He was also brother to Eliza Marie Gillespie, who would become Mother Angela (you can read about her in a previous post here).

On April 19, 1861, Fr. Gillespie wrote his mother of the atmosphere on campus in the days following Fort Sumter. An excerpt of the letter appears in Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010):

“Here all are well except those who are taken violently with the war fever, which epidemic rages in these northern climes in spite of the gloomy weather as fiercely as in the sunny south,”
wrote Father Neal Gillespie to his mother from Notre Dame on April 19, 1861, just days after the surrender of Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln’s first call for troops. “Some of the students perhaps will go to fight the battles of their country,” he added but guessed that “the number will…be very small.” He reported, with chagrin, that “the excitement has sadly interfered with the lessons of some of the hotheaded ones” but wrote with admiration of two young boys—family friends—who “[took] the matter coolly, as sensible young men” and did not “exhibit a very bellicose spirit nor vapor much about ‘blood and thunder’ and the ‘cannon roar’ and such like.”

Source: Letter, Neal Gillespie to mother, April 19, 1861, Thomas EwingManuscripts (CEWI), Box 3, University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA).]

I will post more this week about how the students of Notre Dame reacted to the news of Fort Sumter!

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