Category: Civil War

A Memorial Service for President Lincoln

Appleton Motor headline, April 20, 1865
Appleton Motor headline, April 20, 1865

150 years ago yesterday, the city of Appleton held a memorial service in Main Hall for President Abraham Lincoln, who had been assassinated on April 15, 1865. The following text comes from the report in the Appleton Motor newspaper, published April 20, 1865:

On Wednesday morning…our citizens, in order to appropriately participate in observing the solemnities of the funeral of our late beloved Chief Magistrate, whose cowardly assassination appalls the senses…of every true American citizen, formed in procession on College Avenue, opposite Odd Fellows’ Hall, at half past ten o’clock, and marched to College Chapel where an Eulogy was pronounced by His Honor, R. Z. Mason, Mayor of the city.

The procession formed in three columns, preceded by a Band of Music and the American Flag draped in mourning, in the following order:

On the Left – Masons, German Society, …Odd Fellows

On the Right – Returned soldiers, Lawrence Engine Co., in uniform, Students

In the Center – Good Templars, Sanitary Commission, Christian Commission, Citizens

The Chapel and Gallery were filled to overflowing, and the assemblage listened with the utmost attention to a very appropriate and affecting Eulogy. It was voted that it be published in the city papers.

All places of business were closed, and the most of them draped in mourning. The Chapel was very neatly and profusely draped in the habiliments of woe.

Half hour guns were fired during the day, by City Marshal, E. H. Graves.

It was a time of universal sadness.

July, 1861: Company E of the 6th Wisconsin

At this point in the early days of the war 150 years ago, there was much fervor for the Union effort in Appleton. Ernest Pletschke, Instructor in Modern Languages at Lawrence, had organized a company of men that became known as the Appleton Light Infantry. He served as the company’s captain and drilled the men from late April through early July. Because the state had already filled its quota for soldiers, the company was not immediately needed and was disbanded.

Russell Z. Mason, Lawrence University President 1859-1865

At about this time, the first of two units that contained a concentration of Lawrentians was forming: Company E of the 6th Wisconsin Infantry. On Monday, July 1st, 1861, the 41 Appleton volunteers left to join up with a group in Fond du Lac and head to Camp Randall, as described in a July 6th Appleton Crescent article:

“On Monday morning all was hustle and hurry to prepare for the ceremonies for the volunteers leaving that day for Fond du Lac and Bragg’s Rifles. Soon after noon the crowd commenced assembling at Reeder Smith’s park. At the park, the ladies formed in a line, each armed with a beautiful bouquet and a package, the latter containing towels, pins, needles, thread and other conveniences. The music struck up and the men were marched to the head of the column of ladies, where they halted and listened to a song by the Misses Merriman, after which President Mason of Lawrence University made a few appropriate remarks, encouraging them in the noble cause in which they were about to be engaged…

With cheers upon cheers, family farewells and the warm, earnest clasp of the hand, the heartfelt ‘good bye’ and ‘God bless you,’ the ‘all aboard,’ and then the shriek of the Iron Horse and they were gone.  With them goes the prayers of many a warm heart for their success and return when the traitorous hosts of the rebels shall have been humbled and punished for daring to trample on the Star Spangled Banner.”

Of these 41 volunteers, seven had been enrolled at Lawrence, mostly in the Preparatory Department. The 6th Infantry went on to become part of the famous Iron Brigade. You can read more about the 6th Infantry, including a full history and roster, from resources at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Main Hall meeting, April 1861

Following the firing on Fort Sumter in April of 1861, Lawrence officials and Appleton community members called for a meeting in the chapel of Main Hall. In a speech delivered at the Lawrence semi-centennial celebration in 1897, Col. J.A. Watrous recalled the proceedings:

“I remember that President Mason presided; I remember that graduates and others from neighboring cities came to attend the meeting; I remember the speakers. The first was Professor Henry Pomeroy, a man great in mind and patriotism, but small of stature. The flag of the Union was there as we see it here. After a few words of introduction, Professor Pomeroy, pointing at the stars and stripes, said, and with a tremble in his voice: ‘If that flag goes down never to rise in honor again, it will be the greatest misfortune to civilization that has ever overtaken it.’ He then enumerated some of the  many disasters that would follow the overthrow of the government of the United States. Drawing himself up to his full height, and throwing his head back, he again pointed to the flag and said: ‘Fellow citizens, I say to you that that flag shall not go down in disgrace. I say to you that the patriotism of the people of the North is such that every dollar and every man will be placed at the service of Abraham Lincoln in restoring peace.’ After this grand and patriotic flight there was an outburst by the audience that fairly made the building shake, well as it is founded. Such clapping of hands, stamping of feet and hurrahing were never before heard in Appleton. When quiet was restored, Professor Pomeroy, looking to heaven and raising his right hand, said: ‘I am not going to ask any of these people to go to the war, but I am going to ask some of them to come with me to the war.'”

This last line of Henry Pomeroy’s is the one most often repeated in contemporary accounts of this meeting. His speech and others “all bore fruit,” reported President Russell Z. Mason in a later recollection, in the form of “numerous enlistments.”

Lawrence in the Civil War

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter, the opening action of the American Civil War. Like other academic institutions during these years, Lawrence was greatly affected by four years of the most brutal war that the country had yet seen. William F. Raney notes in his The History of Lawrence University, 1847-1925: “About 81,000 men from Wisconsin served in the armies of the Union at one time or another. To this number Lawrence made its contribution, both in those who left college and in those who, because of the war, never got there at all.” (82) Every graduating class from 1858 to 1870 included students who served. The war also had tremendous effects beyond the front lines. Main Hall served as a meeting place for the wider Appleton community during these years, where patriotic speeches were delivered and women met to coordinate aid for families of soldiers. Though classes continued at Lawrence throughout the war, the college struggled with plunging enrollment and other problems that lingered years beyond the end of the war.

To commemorate this extended sesquicentennial, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the stories of Lawrence students and faculty from 1861 to 1865. This is the inaugural blog post of what will be a series of posts exploring this part of Lawrence history. If you have any particular aspects of this history that you are interested in hearing more about, let us know in the comments.