Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Gibson Family in the Civil War: Part I

Catherine Gibson and her son Charles moved into the Gibson House in 1860. One year later, the American Civil War began. Enquiring minds sometimes want to know: How was the Gibson family involved in the Civil War, if at all?

The answer is somewhat dissatisfying. We aren’t really sure. Charles didn’t enter the war. And that’s pretty much the extent of our knowledge. Years later, Charles married Rosamond Warren, who included some notes about the Civil War in her memoirs. She was born in 1846, so she was only about 15 when the war began. Here’s what she has to say:

“The war continued for four years, and it seemed to us as if it was going on forever. As we were so young, and had no immediate relatives concerned in it, I have no vital recollections in connection with it, save possibly a visit of General McLellan [sic] to Boston, and later a trip to New Orleans.

“In the winter of 1864 my sister, Mrs. Hammond, was not well, and the doctor advised a trip south, suggesting New Orleans. This seemed rather strange, as the war was still going on. She begged to have me go with her, and my father gave a reluctant consent, to my great delight. My uncle, Dr. Charles Mifflin, also decided to go, and took with him his daughter Eugenia (Mrs. Edward Frothingham), an intimate friend of my sister’s, so that we made quite a little party. We sailed from New York.... The ship was small and leaky, and with one or two exceptions, had a strange set of people on board. I remember that we noticed one horrid man on deck, the day we sailed, who was holding forth about the “Yanks” and abusing everything generally. It seems that after this he retired to his berth laden with bottles, and just before we reached Havana he was taken with delirium tremens. Dr. Mifflin was called in to prescribe, and as he opened the door the man leaped from his berth and rushed by him, slamming the door as he went out and severely crushing Dr. Mifflin’s finger. He then dashed up on deck and tried to jump overboard. Mr. Hammond, however, tripped him up, and he was put in irons and taken to his berth. He died that night and was carried ashore the next day at Havana. All of this was very agitating and unpleasant, and poor Dr. Mifflin suffered a crushed finger for the rest of his life. We were ten days en route, stopping over one day at Havana, which was a heavenly rest to us, as it had been very rough.

“I quote from my journal, written at that time:—

‘Sunday, March 20th, 1864. Can I ever describe the horrors of this day! All awoke deadly sick, and ‘Why did we come?’ and ‘Never again!’ resounded on all sides. It is very cold and we are almost frozen. The rain comes down in torrents, and the whole ship leaks, with water trickling down on us as we lie head to head on sofas in the cabin. Poor Sam and Dr. Mifflin have spent the day holding heads and hands, trying to comfort us, and wiping away rain and tears.’

“Three wretched days ensued, and then:—

‘March 23rd. It has been a lovely day, as calm and beautiful as possible. We have been up on deck all day, and until eleven P. M. under the most lovely moon. A handsome Mr. Martindale with a fine voice sang all the evening, so our day was quite pleasant, considering where we were.’”

From Rosamond’s account of the period, we can tell that she was more than a little sheltered from the war. So much so that she casually went to war-stricken New Orleans! Perhaps the same was true for many Bostonians of her class, Catherine and Charles Gibson included.

Next time: What happened in New Orleans?

by: Katie Schinabeck, Former Museum Guide


Warren, Rosamond Gibson. Recollections of My Life For My Children. Meador Press, 1939.