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Ancestral Heroes, Your Ancestors, Fathers, Mothers, Grandfathers, Grandmothers, Uncles, Aunts, Friends, Who Served in the Civil War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, Gulf War.... and defended our freedom.
Emerson, Stephen Goodhue
STEPHEN GOODHUE EMERSON. Private 1st Mass. Vols. (Infantry), July, 1862; killed at Chancellorsville, Va., May 3, 1863. THE following extracts are taken from the autobiography of Stephen Emerson in the Class-Book. They are given at some length, because in no other way can the traits of his simple and manly nature so well be shown. "I was born on the I7th of July, 1838, in Chester, New Hampshire. My father's name was Nathaniel French Emerson, and he was also a native of this town, as well as my grandfather, John Emerson. Up to 1858 my father owned a large farm in Chester, and I was brought up a farmer's boy, which I have always esteemed a circumstance to congratulate myself on, though, in many respects, likely enough, it was not so. At any rate, they were happy years, and gave me, perhaps, a good degree of bodily strength, and a great mass of pleasant recollections pertaining to rural scenes, farming occupations, the pleasant vicissitudes of the seasons, and a thousand other happy things of that nature, which I shall carry with me all my life. If I were ever to be a poet, I would go back to those halcyon days for the material of my poetry; and now, my affection for the soil, for the plough, the scythe, and the apple-basket is still fresh, and, as far as mere propensities go, I would love to be a farmer now better than almost anything else. But these particulars are unessential, and I pass them over. "I attended district schools, &c., until I was thirteen years old, when I first became interested in study at a school kept by Silas W. Moore of Chester, who was an expert teacher, and drew out my ambition remarkably. Then I attended Chester Academy for three years (also under him), and studied Latin and Greek somewhat, and in 1855 went away to try my hand at school-teaching in Salem, New Hampshire. "I was now thinking of going to college, not from any special circumstance that I know of, excepting that I liked study and such pursuits pretty well; and, on the other hand, my father's financial prospects were not favorable. But I had an impression that, having only one life to live, it was best to commence it wisely and deliberately, and furthermore that a college education would add much to one's power of enjoying life, even a farmer's, through opening literature to him, and cultivating his taste. "I fitted for college at Phillips Academy, Andover, (Dr. Taylor, principal,) entering the second middle class there in the spring of 1855, and graduating in 1856. Then I deferred going to college, and taught school that fall and winter, two terms in Effingham, New Hampshire, which is on the Maine line, up near the mountains. This was a pleasant period, and my success was very good; but it was by accident that I went so far back out of the world. I spent that summer at home again on the farm, and in the spring of 1858, a year and a half after graduation at Andover, entered the Freshman Class at Harvard College, one term in advance. " Captain John Emerson, my grandfather, was the son of Samuel Emerson, who came to Chester from Haverhill, Massachusetts. Samuel was the son of Jonathan Emerson of Haverhill..... Jonathan's sister, Hannah, was Mrs. Dustin of Haverhill, who was carried away into Canada (as I have the story) by the Indians, in their descent upon Haverhill, and who killed her captors, and made her way home through the wilderness..... My father has been a teacher for quite a period of his life. Then he carried on business in Boston.... In the financial crisis of 1857 he failed, and is still involved, to some degree, in the troubles resulting therefrom. This has made me difficulty in my educational course, though no serious hardship; nothing which I am not better for. "My mother before her marriage was Clarissa Goodhue. She was daughter of Stephen Goodhue, who resided in Hebron, New Hampshire, and afterwards in Newton, Massachusetts..... " My college course has been attended with difficulties, more or less (of a pecuniary kind), all the way. I have depended on the College somewhat for assistance. I practised [sic] economy by way of boarding myself for a while towards the commencement of the course, and I held the office of monitor in the Junior year. Last winter (1860-61) I taught school fourteen weeks in Putnamsville, Danvers. It was a very pleasant school indeed. I like the bus.iness of. teaching so much that I would almost be induced to follow it for life, if there were not another pursuit akin to it which has higher claims and attractions..... "My college life has been uneventful; yet there is one event which, as being of the greatest interest and importance to me, I must not pass over here. In February, 1860, about the commencement of the second term of the Junior year, there occurred a change which related to the inmost feelings and affections of my heart, - a change towards God. I humbly thank Him for such a change. The beginning was small, but light and peace have grown in my mind since. It promises greater and happier things to me in the future. It was through my relation with the Chestnut Street Society in Chelsea, and through the efforts of its pastor, the Rev. Mr. Plumb, that this was brought about. I have been connected with that society, Sabbath school, &c., through most of my stay here, and have been a member of the church there since last July. I have spent my Sabbaths mostly at home in Chelsea. " My intention now is to prepare for the ministry, and I, shall go to Andover for that purpose either immediately or in the course of a year or two, after teaching, it may be, awhile. But I am very sanguine now about my future. It would not have been much, without such an event as that spoken of above; but with that, my purpose in life is at once clear, my success sure." Emerson carried out his intention of entering Andover Theological Seminary, connecting himself with that institution in September, i861. There, by his quiet earnestness in his duties, he soon gained the esteem of new acquaintances, as he had in his college life gained the affectionate regard of his Class. In the summer of 1862, when disaster had come upon our armies, and thinned regiments were appealing for " more men," his heart was stirred within him; yet he was not one to talk patriotism, and few knew the workings of his mind. He had been away for some weeks to recover from a slight sickness, and one day after his return he was with a knot of fellow students who were discussing their duty in view of the state of the country. The question was rather jokingly asked, " Emerson, will you enlist if we will?" He replied in the calmest tone, " I have enlisted," to the great surprise of those about him, all of whom, it may be added, speedily followed his example. Soon after this, he was mustered in as a private in Company H, First Massachusetts Volunteers. He had enlisted in a new company then forming in Chelsea, but on account of dissatisfaction as to the appointment of officers, and also from a sense of the importance of filling up the old regiments, he obtained a transfer. He was sent to Camp Cameron in Cambridge, July 31, 1862; and in a short time, with other recruits, was forwarded to Fortress Monroe. Owing to the rapid army movements and consequent confusion, he did not reach his regiment till September 4th, when he found it near Alexandria. Not many weeks elapsed before a cousin from Williams College joined his company, whose society proved a great acquisition. The autumn and winter were spent mostly in picket duty and road-building. On December i3th Emerson participated in the battle of Fredericksburg, in which his regiment was mostly employed in skirmishing, and covered the rear when the army recrossed the Rappahannock. His powers of endurance were again tasked in Burnside's attempted advance, which was stopped by the mud; and once more his regiment returned to camp routine near the Fitzhugh House. As a part of Carr's brigade, of Sickles's corps, the First Massachusetts then took part, under General Hooker, in the battle of Chancellorsville, and Emerson's name was in the list of " missing." His cousin had, with him, left a rifle-pit at a critical moment, but, being himself just wounded for the second time, lost sight of him in the excitement. His relatives hoped that he had been captured, but his name was not on the roll of prisoners in Richmond. A friend was sent to recover his body, if indeed he had been killed, but was not permitted to reach the field. The terrible suspicion that he had been burned to death while lying wounded, in the fire which followed the battle, added pain to the deepest anxiety. His classmates, meeting on Commencement day, though mourning him as dead, yet passed resolutions so worded as not to mock the feeble hope yet cherished by his parents. Weary months passed on, and November came before his fate was learned. Then, from a comrade who had been wounded and taken prisoner, the information was obtained that our classmate was instantly killed on Sunday, May 3, 1863. This informant stated that he himself, Emerson and another, not having heard any order to retreat, were the last to leave a rifle-pit which the Rebels had nearly surrounded. As they were retreating, all were shot. A ball passed through Emerson's head, and he fell on his back without a word.
No words were necessary from him in his last moments. His tokens of affection had been distributed before he left home. When an order for an advance came, he had written, "I am very glad of it.... I am ready. Feel as little concerned about me as you can. Commend me to God, and I will try and commend myself to him." He was ready, not merely to fight, but to die. Not in a spirit of reckless daring or braggadocio did he say this. He did not know from experience what such feelings were. He wrote, moved by the solemn conviction that he was in the path of duty, his heart throbbing with a patriotic devotion that shrank at no sacrifice for his country's good. "Let the war go on," he says, "let it take all that it needs, until the Rebellion is utterly crushed. Yet there was no extravagance in his nature. Modesty, gentleness, fidelity, conscientiousness, were his characteristics. He distrusted himself almost too much. Partly this, and more, perhaps, the conviction which he thus expresses, —There are old soldiers by the thousand in the army who deserve commissions." -prevented his yielding to the entreaties of friends and seeking a higher position; and we cannot help honoring the feelings which prompted the words, "If I can engage in one good victorious battle, my place in the ranks is good enough for me." We think of what our classmate was, of his excellent ability as a scholar, and of the weight of his character as a man and a Christian, and picture to ourselves what he might have been in his chosen profession, - honored, useful, and happy, —happy rather in usefulness than in honors. We then recall the last words of his autobiography, - "My success is sure," - and then his early and sudden death. Is this the success of which he was so confident? we ask. Yes, true success; for he wrote not in arrogance or selfsufficiency, but with a calm, steady purpose ever to do and to suffer the will of Him whom he rejoiced to call Master and Saviour. Thus as he looked forward into the future, the tomb was no barrier to real success; death was no disappointment, but rather the entrance upon the consummation of his soul's highest hopes.