One of the charms of Robert Merry’s Museum (1841-1872) is the letters column, which introduced subscribers to each other and to readers in every century after that.  So as the Civil War progressed, editors occasionally informed subscribers of the activities of fellow subscribers serving in the military.

Adelbert Older was a popular subscriber and a budding poet.  He enlisted in the Union army early in the War, but was discharged due to illness.  When he enlisted again, his younger brother enlisted with him.  Both died in 1864, after action at Turner’s Farm, Virginia.  Adelbert lived long enough to be taken prisoner; he died in Richmond, probably of his wounds.  He was not quite 24.

Adelbert was the only subscriber to Merry’s Museum to receive a memorial page in the magazine:  one of his poems, a poem about him, and a stanza from the then-popular “Mustered Out,” by the Rev. William E. Miller.

On this late incarnation of a day originally set aside to remember fallen Union soldiers, let’s think of Private Adelbert Older of the 36th Wisconsin Volunteers.

The zephyrs, idle vagrants,
Come filled with sweetest fragrance;
They shake the blossoms down in showers,
And steal the fragrant breaths of flowers.
The bee, the bright-winged rover,
Is wandering all over
The fields of blooming clover;
He dives deep down in the lilies' bells,
And sips the sweets from their hidden cells.

The brook steals down the meadow,
Through sunshine and through shower,
By buttercups and daisies,
In deep and shady places;
Then, with a sound of mimic wrath,
It leaps along its pebbly path.
Beyond, the green-clothed hilltops lie,
And smile to see the smiling sky.

Deep in the leafy woods,
The shady solitudes,
The timid little rabbit peeps,
The squirrel on the branches leaps.
Each tree stands dim and solemn,
Like some old temple's column,
And through those arches vast and dim,
The wind is chanting a grand old hymn.
We half forget the primal curse,
And peace reigns through the universe.

–Adelbert Older, May 21, 1863





              I'm mustered out!
God of our fathers, our freedom prolong,
And tread down rebellion, oppression, and wrong!
Oh! land of earth's hopes, on thy blood-reddened sod
I die for the Nation, the Union, and God!
              I'm mustered out!

For Memorial Day:

This one is too good not to share, and far too good to let be forgotten.

Several years ago, I bought a few issues of Youth’s Companion from 1865 and became enamored of pieces by “Uncle James.”  They’re gritty, sometimes-intense vignettes and anecdotes about slavery and the American Civil War.  I found copies of almost all the pieces and put transcriptions up at the site.  Who “Uncle James” actually was was anybody’s guess, since that name isn’t in any of the reference books I consult.

A few years later, Judy Albergotti Hines — a researcher in South Carolina — wrote to me. She’d been researching the history of Decoration Day — the early Memorial Day.  And she suggested a bit diffidently that “Uncle James” might have been James Redpath, an abolitionist and journalist who admired John Brown.  Surely, she wrote, this had been noticed by many people.  To which my response was, Well, if it had, they’d certainly kept that information to themselves!

When I wrote to historian John R. McKivigan, he agreed that — yes — given the biographical info Ms. Hines had noticed in the pieces, Redpath probably did write them.

This is what I love about the Internet:  I’d never heard of Redpath; Dr. McKivigan had (probably) never looked at the Companion; Ms. Hines — who knew about both — put them together.  And not only have there been additions to the list of Redpath’s works, but another writer for the Companion has been identified.  (And I’ve been handed a hmmm…, because these pieces and some others appearing in the Companion at that time are very different from other works on the War being written for children; and just why is that?)

Since the identification, I’ve gone through some later volumes of the Companion and realized that Redpath wrote quite a lot about the War — well into the late 1860s.  (He also wrote a short story not about the War.  I think he should have stayed with nonfiction.)  I like his writing about the War:  it’s much less sentimental than other pieces on the subject appearing in periodicals for children at the time.  Perhaps the pieces were read mostly by older readers (early American periodicals weren’t compartmentalized the way we expect), but Redpath wasn’t writing for children as if they were frail panes of glass; he was presenting the truth as he understood it — never a bad thing in writing for children.