Story of Harriet Beecher Stowe - R. B. MacArthur

As a Patriot

Civil war was declared in April, 1861; and the whole nation was immediately plunged into mourning. No one thought it would be a long war, and many even declared that three months would see the end of it. The first volunteers enlisted for a period of three months, little dreaming that it would be four years before peace would again descend upon this fair land.

Frederick Stowe responded to the first call for volunteers, contrary to the wishes of his family and friends. He was in college at the time, studying medicine under Oliver Wendell Holmes. Doctor Holmes wanted the boy to remain in school until he had completed his course, and then go to the front as a doctor, for good physicians were sorely needed by the Government. But Frederick rebelled against this plan, saying that he, a Stowe, would be ashamed not to go at once after the stand his mother had taken in the cause of the slave. So reluctantly they let him go, and he joined Company A of the First Massachusetts Volunteers.

He was in camp at Cambridge for a time, and while he was there his mother was called to Brooklyn on important business. She stayed at her brother Henry's house, and one day he came in with the announcement that the boat bearing the First Massachusetts Regiment had sailed for Jersey City, from which place the soldiers were to go by train to Washington. Mrs. Stowe and her sister-in-law promptly went down to Jersey City where they found the soldier boys dining in the great depot. After a time they succeeded in getting permission to go inside, and remained two hours with Frederick and his cousin Henry Beecher. In a letter home describing her experience, Mrs. Stowe says she found her son strangely changed, for he had become a man over night, and all the other soldiers had grave faces beyond their years.

Again in November of 1862, she saw this dear son, when by special invitation she had gone to Washington to attend a Thanksgiving dinner provided for the crowds of fugitive slaves who had taken refuge in that city. He was now Lieutenant Stowe, having won his title by bravery on the battlefield, and his family was very proud of their soldier boy. He obtained leave of absence for a week, and his mother was allowed to be with him for that time.

This Thanksgiving dinner for the slaves was a never-to-be-forgotten sight for Mrs. Stowe. There were hundreds of refugees who had sought protection within the Federal lines, and for some of them this dinner was the first decent meal they had had in their lives. Great tables groaned with food of all descriptions, and as fast as one crowd had been fed all they could eat, the tables were surrounded by another group of hungry negroes. One blind old slave, called among his followers "John the Baptist," prayed for humility among his people, lest they, in the gladness of their liberation, might forget the God who had saved them from the oppressor. Then the whole gathering sang that slave song, forbidden by the South because of its power to rouse the black man to rebellion:

"Oh, go down Moses,

Way down in Egypt's land!

Tell King Pharaoh

To let my people go!

Stand away dere,

Stand away dere,

And let my people go!"

Mrs. Stowe had another very important reason for going to Washington at this time, and that was to interview "Father Abraham" in person, and to ask him if the Emancipation Proclamation was to become a reality, for she did not wish to call the attention of the women in Europe to such an issue if it were to "fizzle out at the little end of the horn," as she was afraid it might do. She had no difficulty in obtaining an audience with the President, for the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Salmon P. Chase, had belonged to the Semi-colon Club in Cincinnati at the same time she had been a member, and was glad of the opportunity to present her to his. Chief. Mrs. Stowe's son Charles and daughter Harriet went with her, and neither ever forgot this wonderful experience. They were conducted through the East Room up the stairs to the President's private reception parlor. There was a bright fire burning in the fireplace, and when the visitors entered the room, the President was sitting before it, warming his hands. He looked so bowed down and sad that the little party involuntarily drew back, fearful of intruding; but Mr. Chase led them forward and introduced Mrs. Stowe.

The President rose quickly, and eagerly grasped her hand, exclaiming, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" They had a pleasant hour together, sitting apart from the others in a convenient window seat; but of her interview, Mrs. Stowe never gave a full account. Perhaps it was confidential; but at any rate, Mrs. Stowe received the information she had come to get, and at last was able to write a reply to the address of the English women spoken nearly ten years before. Mr. Lincoln made it very clear to her that the emancipation of the slaves was his goal, and though perhaps his words were not the same, he said in substance what he afterward repeated in his Second Inaugural Address, "If this struggle were to be prolonged till there was not a home in the land where there was not one dead, till all the treasure amassed by the unpaid labor of the slave should be wasted, till every drop of blood drawn by the lash should be atoned by blood drawn by the sword, we could only bow and say, 'Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints!'"

Mrs. Stowe told him of her hopes and fears, and how the task of writing Uncle Tom's Cabin  had often bowed her down till she thought her health would fail her utterly before she could finish the book; and he in turn confided to her that he did not think he would last long after the gigantic struggle to free the slaves had ended, because the issue meant so much to him that it was taking his very life blood, to watch the terrible conflict being waged between the two factions of his own beloved country.

Like one in a trance Mrs. Stowe returned to her hotel after her interview with the President, and that evening wrote most of her famous Reply. Up to that moment she had not had a definite idea of what she should say to these English sisters, but now the way was clear, and she spoke very plainly indeed, recounting the history of events in our country. up to the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, which was to take effect the following January.

In part she replied thus: "In the beginning of the struggle, the voices that reached us across the water said, 'If we were only sure you were fighting for the abolition of slavery, we should not dare to say whither our sympathies for your cause might not carry us.' When these words reached us, we said, 'We can wait, our friends in England will soon see whither this conflict is tending.' A year and a half have passed, step after step has been taken for liberty; chain after chain has fallen, till the march of our armies is choked and clogged by the glad flocking of emancipated slaves; the day of final emancipation is set; the Border States begin to move in voluntary assent. Universal freedom for all dawns like the sun in the distant horizon, and still no voice from England. No voice? Yes, we have heard on the high seas the voice of a war-steamer, built for a man-stealing Confederacy, with English gold, in an English dockyard, going out of an English harbor, manned by English sailors, with the full knowledge of English government officers, in defiance of the Queen's proclamation of neutrality! So far has English sympathy overflowed!"

The Emancipation Proclamation was officially issued on January 1, 1863. Mrs. Stowe was at a concert in the Music Hall of Boston when the announcement was made from the stage. The immense audience straightway went mad with joy, and during the ensuing excitement, someone discovered that Mrs. Stowe was sitting in the gallery. As soon as the information became generally known, the enthusiastic multitude leaped to their feet, cheered and called her name, waved their handkerchiefs and shouted, until she rose and bowed to the right and left, smiling her gratification and blushing furiously. It was the most triumphant moment of her life!

During this very critical period of our country's history, the Stowes moved from Andover to Hartford, Connecticut. Here, in a beautiful oak grove which she had loved as a girl, Mrs. Stowe built a house according to her own ideas of what she wanted, but without any thought of the practicability of it from an architect's standpoint. She had often dreamed of doing this very thing as she walked and talked with Georgiana May and Catherine Cogswell years before, but she really had never expected to have money enough to make these dreams come true. However, the sale of Uncle Tom's Cabin  alone had brought her thousands of dollars, and with part of this she purchased the land on which to build. The place was finished in the natural wood cut from the oaks and chestnuts which grew in the grove, but it turned out to be a very costly venture, for the house was not practically arranged, nor suited at all to the rigors of a New England winter. Professor Stowe had opposed her plan from the start, and so she received little sympathy from him when her undertaking proved the failure he had predicted it would be.

Before the structure was finished, her daughter Georgiana was married, earlier than she had planned, and the wedding had to take place in the half-completed house, so Mrs. Stowe found herself hurried and harried almost to death trying to do everything at once. Naturally she found little time to write during such strenuous times, although it was mainly her stories that brought in the money necessary to keep this large, impractical establishment going. Years had not taught the author nor the Professor how to handle money any more wisely than when they first began housekeeping. They were easily imposed upon, and responded so lavishly to all calls in the name of charity, and made so many unfortunate business ventures that the thousands of dollars which Mrs. Stove's writings brought her from time to time vanished as quickly as they came, and she never was a rich woman. When her publishers clamored for stories during these busy years, she replied, "Who could write on stories that had a son to send to battle, with Washington beleaguered, and the whole country shaken as with an earthquake?" Yet she finished Agnes of Sorrento  and The Pearl of Orr's Island  during the darkest hours of the war.

Then came the battle of Gettysburg, the decisive battle of the war, and her son Frederick, now a captain, was among those wounded. Mrs. Stowe received a letter from his chaplain telling her that the lad was in good hands, cheerful and quiet, but longing to see some of his family. At the same time, a similar letter reached Reverend Charles Beecher, of Georgetown, Massachusetts, concerning his son, Lieutenant Fred Beecher; so the two fathers started at once for the battlefield. In a few days it was possible to bring the two wounded soldier boys back to their loved ones, where for weeks they struggled with life and death. Frederick Stowe had received a fragment of shell in his right ear, and though seriously wounded, he eventually recovered a measure of health.