'These heart stirring times'

Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
At last the war’s end was in sight. In her homely way, Regina Shober Gray [1] manages to weave the domestic (“stooping over the old carpet on the backstairs”) with the martial (“though the trump of war be even then sounding the doom of many a brave heart”) in a single entry, with room to notice her son’s jump in height and the latest engagement in Boston society.

A day later, Richmond is relieved, and the Confederate army is on the run.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 2 April 1865: How insignificant amid all the tremendous interests of these heart stirring times seem all the small daily cares & petty duties that fill up a woman’s home life.

I tired myself out one day this past week, putting away furs – brushing them thoroughly, scattering camphor & tobacca with them, wrapping them in linen, and then pasting newspaper over the various boxes; another day, I gave a whole morning to stooping over the old carpet on the backstairs mending every Hair of it, lest unwary feet should be caught in the rags. [It] was not worth the time or the back-ache, but we could not afford the new one – and so! – well, they were weary jobs, and I felt so relieved to get through; another day some pictures had to be rehung – and another some closets & boxes righted up, some shopping done.

And always the endless sewing either by machine or needle; and so it goes on ever – for “trifles make the sum of human things” – and these small matters if neglected would make great discomforts – and so we must throw our energies into them, though the trump of war be even then sounding the doom of many a brave heart, and the knell of hope in many an anxious, quiet home!

[These] small matters if neglected would make great discomforts – and so we must throw our energies into them...

…Regie [Gray][2] writes that he weighed 65 lbs before leaving Boston – and now 75; that he measured 4 ft. 3 in. and now 4 ft. 6 in; a great gain! It has been a blessing to his health, the going to Philad[elphia], but we do miss him sorely here  – the darling boy!

Lily Jackson’s engagement to Major Harry Winsor[3] is announced. Elise Richards[4] sails for Europe … in May – and there joins a German gouvernante, with whom she is to travel a year! What would induce my daughter Mary to go off in that way to join a total stranger? or me, to let her go!

Monday, 3 April 1865: Such glorious news to-day! Richmond is taken at last! at last! Weitzel’s[5] negro brigade were the first Union troops to enter Richmond! a most fitting humiliation for the slaveocracy – a retribution so exactly aimed at the most sensitive spot of southern pride & prejudice as to seem almost poetic in its fitness.

We hear the regiment in which Henry Bowditch[6] is Major was the first to enter – and that our army is received with enthusiastic welcome by a ruined and starving people – only too thankful to escape from the despotism of the rebel government. Petersburg also is in our possession – Grant & Sheridan[7] are both, from different directions, following up Lee’s[8] retreating forces which are supposed to be hastening to join Gen. Johnston’s[9] – in which plan it is to be hoped they may not succeed – as the junction will make them strong enough to hold out for another hard battle yet – and oh, we have had bloodshed enough and more than enough!

[They] must then see that they are doomed & must surrender one would think, without sacrificing more lives.

Grant has little doubt but that he can intercept them; God grant it, for they must then see that they are doomed & must surrender one would think, without sacrificing more lives. The battle which resulted so grandly has been going on since Friday – a murderous slaughter – and oh tomorrow, and for many tomorrows how our eyes will fill and our heart ache over the long lists of killed and wounded.

Mary was to have gone out to pass to-night with Cora Weld[10] – but hearing from a schoolmate that it was rumored her cousin young Stephen Weld[11] was killed, Mary made some excuse to Cora, from whom the girls kept back the report, and who when she hears will understand what seems so capricious in M. To night’s paper has no confirmation of his death.

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] The diarist’s third son, Reginald Gray (1853–1904).

[3] Elizabeth Cabot Jackson (1844–1912) married Henry Winsor Jr. on 9 December.

[4] Mary Gray’s friend Eliza Bordman Richards (1848–1924).

[5] Brevet Major General Godfrey Weitzel (1835–1884).

[6] Mary Gray’s friend Lucy’s brother Dr. Henry Pickering Bowditch (1840–1911).

[7] Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885), Commanding General of the U.S. Army 1864–69 and President of the United States 1869–77, and Major General Philip Henry Sheridan (1831–1888), briefly General of the U.S. Army in 1888.

[8] Confederate General Robert Edward Lee (1807–1870).

[9] Confederate General Joseph Eggleston Johnston (1807–1891).

[10] Cora Weld (1848–1914), who married Harvard professor Francis Greenwood Peabody in 1872.

[11] Colonel (later Brevet Brigadier General) Stephen Minot Weld (1842–1920) survived the Civil War.

Scott C. Steward

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward has been NEHGS’ Editor-in-Chief since 2013. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.View all posts by Scott C. Steward