Henry Sweetser Burrage

  by Renee Gamache, '01


I find myself on the threshold of a new year. Before me is this mysterious and unknown. As I set out to explore its secret windings I propose to take with me this book in order that I may note more carefully the various objects of interest which the future conceals, and record my own thoughts and feelings by the way. It promises to be an eventful year.

January 1861 found America on the brink of Civil War, and Henry S. Burrage, pen in hand, faithfully recorded the current events in his diary at Brown. He could hear the latest news before the public, for he reported on public lectures for the Providence Journal and was often in the office when a dispatch arrived.

By January, seven states had seceded from the Union, led by South Carolina. In February these "wayward sisters" were united as the Confederate States of America with Jefferson Davis as president. Over the next few months, four more states would secede, bringing the total to eleven as tensions grew and the population realized that war was inevitable.

Yet for the most part, life went on as usual for the students of Brown University. They had other pressing concerns, such as passing Professor Gammell's class.

William Gammell, class of 1831, was Professor of History when Henry Sweetser Burrage attended Brown. Once, in mid January, "Old Gam" did not appear for his usual fear-inspiring lecture, and the whole senior class rejoiced. Henry used this extra time to cram for finals.

Every Saturday morning the students filed into the recitation room on the first floor of University Hall for Gam's class. The first half hour of class was spent reciting the previous lecture, and each student was required to talk about a portion of it. Gam would survey the room, pick his first target, and watch as the lad tried not to forget any major point which he had discussed -- if the Professor had to ask him to clarify, or remind him of a major issue, he would be marked down a point. The next student would discuss in greater detail the first major point, and so on around the room, from William Henry Ames to George B. Yandes.

One Saturday, January 12, Gam had assigned yet another "outrageous lesson," this on top of all the final exam preparations which plagued the students: twelve paragraphs in addition to fifteen review paragraphs due on Monday. The men hurried out of the room, mumbling to each other about the unjustness of it all, when the voice of William Henry Randall, one of Henry's closest friends, cried out loud and clear, "That's the meanest lesson ever given in this college!" The students looked over the shoulders to see if Gam had heard the outburst. He probably did.

Evidently, Professor Gammell did not believe that any other studies existed outside the realm of History. Certainly no other study was nearly as important! The first day of classes for the second semester, 1861, Gam had only eight young men in his Political Economy class. Eight fellows took their seats. The professor waited. The boys waited. The professor looked at his watch, waited some more, and then finally asked where the rest of the class was.

"They have taken other studies," some said.

"What other studies are there?" he exclaimed.

Every morning, Henry arose at five to prepare for recitation, reading Hallam's Constitutional History. It should come as no surprise that Saturday morning recitations annoyed the student population. Very often the young scholars, unprepared for recitation, plotted together to ask multiple questions to waste time. This scheme usually worked, the class feeling triumphant if no more than two men had time to "be called up."

The curriculum during this period was rigid, and consisted of English, Latin, French or German, History, Philosophy, and Mathematics. The seniors gathered together for a meeting one night and decided to approach Dr. Sears, president of the University, with their demands that he abolish Saturday morning recitations on the grounds that there was not enough time to prepare for them.

With mock battle-cries of "fifty-four forty or fight," Henry, along with Albert Newell Drown and Charles Mason Stead presented their case to "the Dr.," and suggested that if the faculty did not wish to abolish Saturday morning recitations entirely, then an easier course should be offered instead. The Dr. agreed to present it to the faculty that night. Wouldn't Old Gam have a fit!

Yet Old Gam didn't have a fit, because he was not at the meeting. Consequently, brave Henry S. Burrage went in to see Professor Gammell personally to see what could be done. Unfortunately for the class of 1861, and despite the fervent prayers and blessings from his classmates, Henry was not successful. Not this time.

Frederick Sherman, a classmate of Henry's, once asked him if he would go to Professor Dunn of English to see whether or not a mistake had been made in his grade. The Professor showed Henry the papers, and the two quickly realized that his standing on the paper was higher than the official record. Henry returned to Sherman with the good news that his class rank was indeed higher than reported.

Henry, in a sense, was an ambassador to the Professors of Brown University. On March 31st, he wrote:

"Had a long talk with Professor Lincoln this morning in the library which I enjoyed much. Would that the intercourse between the Profs. and the students were more frequent and free...Would that the time might come when the Profs. here will labor as strenuously to make their personal character felt as well as their intellectual."

Every day before dinner Henry found time in his busy schedule to walk downtown to the Library to read the paper. He noted that the chasm between North and South grew daily. In January, Henry spent his break in Boston, and one day he went to attend a convention held by the Anti-Slavery Society.

A large crowd was spilling out of the temple, congregating around doors and windows. Henry edged his way through the mass of bundled bodies, giving an occasional elbow to the ribs or friendly nudge when necessary as he weaved his way between those who seemed to forget which way they were going, and so had decided to plant themselves firmly on the stairs. He could hear shouts from within. The din of a hundred voices echoed off the walls and balconies. Bodies leaned over the gallery to heckle with their comrades on the main floor who seemed to be at the temple for the sole purpose of disturbing the meeting. This mob was mainly located in the back of the hall. The front was occupied by the anti-slavery side.

"Oh I wish I was in Dixie! Away! Away! In Dixie-land I'll take my stand, to live and die for Dixie!" sang the mob gleefully. In the center of this pandemonium was a platform on which stood Phillips, Quincy, and other leaders of the anti-slavery movement, along with their friends and associates. They looked on calmly and waited for the impromptu chorus to take a break.

Henry Hugh, a handsome young man about twenty-four years old, stepped on stage to speak. He was greeted with cheers from the front of the hall and hisses from the back. The chorus resumed their stirring rendition of Dixie so that it was impossible for him to speak.

Just when the anti-slavery side was getting completely fed up with the mob's success in disturbing the proceedings, Mayor Wightman and a large police force marched in. He forced his way to the platform amid cheers from the mob. It took several moments for him to silence the crowd. He waved a piece of paper in his hand and announced that he had "a writing" from the trustees who ordered him to break up the meeting -- more cheers from the mob -- on account of disorderly and riotous behavior.

"Let's hear what that paper has to say!"

"Read what it says!"

"We want to hear for ourselves!" the anti-slavery side shouted.

The mayor read his instructions to the crowd. A band of persons had entered the temple to disturb the meeting, the trustees said. The trustees wished him to quell the mob.

The din began once again as neighbor commented to neighbor that he wasn't supposed to break up the meeting, that's not what the trustees wanted at all, he was only supposed to get rid of the troublemakers in the galleries and in the back. Why didn't he do it right away?

Mayor Wightman stood on the platform for a few moments, listening to the hum of voices; occasionally a few notes broke through the buzz, sung by die-hard Land of Cotton lovers who'd live and die for Dixie. Finally he decided to carry out his true orders, and the most easily spotted mob members were routed out. The police checked the galleries where most of the trouble seemed to originate.

Mr. Hugh began his speech again. From the back he looked like a mime, for his voice could not carry over the catcalls, groans, and hisses of the remaining folk who had managed to escape the mayor and his men. Reporters crowded around him to take down his speech, one he speedily concluded. Henry turned to go home. He couldn't believe that in a nation like the United States, one founded on such ideas as freedom of speech, there would be so many people intent on denying others that right.

Perhaps Henry was thinking of this incident as he worked on his class poem later that month. It was winter break, and he was visiting relatives in Roxbury. His mind was anywhere but on his poem.

"As Youth, when called the untried world to roam,

Long lingering on the porch of dearest home,


Henry impatiently scratched out the words he had just written with his quill pen, only to rewrite the lines again before deciding whether or not to keep them. Henry's classmates had chosen him to be the Class Poet, and this poem would be read on class day in June. Right now, June seemed too far away to think about, especially when compared with today, the end of January. For once it hadn't snowed today, but the wind was so fierce, blowing snowdrifts two and three feet deep, that the noon train from Boston was seven hours late.

Again Henry crossed out a phrase he wrote, covering up the spindly hand with rapid strokes of black ink. He found working on his poem a bore this particular morning. Out in the streets of Roxbury, people struggled to walk through the drifts against the wind -- all other forms of transportation were impossible.

Cousin Emmie poked her head into the door to check on Henry's progress. She saw Henry's boyish face rest against his hands as a lock of hair flopped over his dark eyes. Eight lines. After a great deal of scratching, Henry only wrote eight lines that morning. At least he was satisfied with how they sounded.

The next morning, writer's block struck again, and after several unsuccessful attempts to begin work on his poem, he deemed the task impossible and gave up. He chose to spend the day visiting relatives instead. He spent some quiet time in the parlor with the paper. Uncle James came in to challenge him to a game of checkers and, never able to resist an invitation to play, Henry got up from his chair and the two men solemnly marched over to the checkerboard. Henry beat his uncle four times; they stopped after Uncle James won a game, presumably a hard-won victory and thus worth just as much as Henry's four previous wins.

On January 13 he arose early, as usual, and took out a fresh sheet of paper. He sharpened his pen and reached for the inkwell. He could smell breakfast cooking downstairs, which reminded him of boyhood memories. While at Brown, he often thought about his blessed home and his loved ones, his cherished friends. "In all my worries it has been my solace," he wrote.

His pen, poised above the paper, quavered a bit while he thought about what he wanted to say. Downstairs, cousin Maria's voice could be heard bouncing around the kitchen, her notes mixing with the chimes of pots and pans. Henry looked around his bedroom, at his bed, his pictures, the four walls that had seen so much of his life. He could hear uncle James, looking for an opponent for another battle of checkers. Family, his family, was the dearest thing to him. He began to write.

..Surveys through falling tears the hallowed Past,

And thinks awhile of hours too sweet to last;

Now turns to gaze on fields of fairest flowers,

The dark-green groves, lost childhoods's happier bowers,

Or stroll in fancy o'er the sloping hills,

Along the moss-grown banks of murmuring rills;

Then bows amid the household throng in prayer,

And silent yields the heart's devotion there.

When Henry returned to Brown on February 16 from winter break, he found a fire burning in the stove and the room all in order. His chum, Isaac Bowen Barker, had arrived on the noon train. Henry put his carpetbag on the bed, took off his jacket, and went to the washstand to wash off all the grime of travel. Unpacking his bag, Henry was glad to see that his bottle of currant wine which his aunt Martha gave him had survived the trip.

Looking around his room, number 38 University Hall, Henry felt like he was home. His books were neatly arranged on his shelf; some were piled on his desk. The pictures of his family on the walls seemed like they were watching over him, keeping him company, for although he was glad to be back at Brown for his last semester, he missed them already.

Henry went to the closet to get some more coal for the stove. He cleaned out the ashes, opened the door to his room, and, as was the practice of the day, promptly disposed of them in the hallway. By the end of the winter, the hall would be rather dirty. No one bothered to clean ashes up until the spring.

Next he took a stroll down the corridors to see who was back. The smell of scorched turnips filled his nostrils -- evidently, a classmate had left vegetables cooking on his stove and had forgotten about them while visiting a friend on another floor.

One evening around nine o'clock, as Henry was struggling to complete another "perfectly outrageous" assignment which Professor Gammell, the old curmudgeon, had given the class, he heard a great clatter on the stairs. A smile spread across his lips. Pandemonium had struck again. It was time for a study break.

He closed his book with a snap and reached the hallway in time to witness an old art box hurtling down the stairs. Whoops and hollers came from above as young rowdies contemplated what they should chuck next. Mitchell tossed out his coal sifter, and as it clanged and banged all the way down to the ground floor, Henry ran to get something from his room.

He decided to set an old cider keg a rolling; its hollow thumps echoed throughout University Hall, calling all boys to arms. More objects found their way down the stairwell amid shouts and laughter until the young men heard the angry thump! thump! thump! of a pair of rubber boots.

The boots belonged to "Old Pluto" of "the infernal regions," also known as Lemuel H. Elliot of the first floor, the registrar and steward of the building. In his late sixties, Pluto acted as landlord and den father. He tried to prevent the mischievous pranks played by young men with excess energy, or at least keep the chaos to a minimum. All the lads scurried to their rooms, opened their Latin books or "Old Gam's" Political Economy book, and pretended to be engrossed in their studies as an irate Pluto questioned each and every young man about the ownership of the various objects.

It was all in good fun. The students agreed that the best way to bother Old Pluto was to roll a cannon ball, all sixteen pounds of it, down the twelve foot wide hallway and on down the stairs. But "for some reason," according to the students, the university decided to partition the hallway over the summer of 1860, so that in order to get from the north side to the south side, one now had to go all the way downstairs and back up the other side. Rolling a cannonball, therefore, was not as effective. It was the solemn duty of every student to find another way to keep Mr. Elliot on his toes.

At breakfast the next morning in Commons Hall, located in the east central room of University Hall, the men gathered over hot brownbread, crackers and milk prepared by Mrs. Elliot. Lemuel H. Elliot presided at the head of the table, a large knife held in his hand which he used to cut the bread, or to rap on the table should disorder prevail. The students swiftly darted knowing glances at each other and tried not to laugh. Old Pluto surveyed his charges sternly, as if he thought that if he stared at them hard enough, perhaps the guilty party would confess. No one ever did, of course.

Trudging through snowdrifts on a winter morning, Henry could feel the icy wind biting his fingers, nose, and ears as he made his way to the old well outside Hope College. He had spent the greater part of the past month studying; at this moment he was completely disgruntled with text books and professors in general.

The metal bucket attached to a pulley system was completely banged up, since it was a favorite pastime of Brown students to lower the bucket to the surface of the water without filling it, and then let the counterbalance drop, whipping the bucket up until it clamored against the roof of the well. Henry got his water and went back inside before his ears froze, but not before listening to the whssssst! bang! of the metal bucket on its rapid ascent towards eventual destruction.

Back to work. He had more studying to do.

"If there were another year of college with such examinations," Bunker commented, "I should be inclined to leave." Henry thought that he would probably follow.

Henry's life was not wholly devoted to schoolwork. He worked for the Providence Journal, reporting local lectures several times a week. He was involved in the Philermenians, a literary society. He wrote many letters trying to find a speaker for Commencement exercises in September, but after many failed attempts he decided to write the speech himself.

Over the next four months, Henry continued to work a little on his poem every day. He worked on it in the forenoon, after taking a walk with Bunker, before supper, in between letters he wrote to cousin Maria or Uncle James, whenever he was inspired, and whenever he was not. He was working on it in mid-April, 1861, when war broke out.

Fort Sumpter was one of two Union forts within Southern borders, located on Charleston Harbor. Abraham Lincoln knew that supplies would only last so long, and then the fort would have to surrender to the South without a fight. He knew that he couldn't just give Fort Sumpter to the South, yet if he sent reinforcements, the south would interpret this as an act of aggression. The North was determined not to start the war.

Finally, Lincoln decided on a compromise: he sent provisions. The South saw provisions as "reinforcement," and on April 12 the Southern army began a 34 hour deluge of cannon balls on the fort. Crowds on the bank of Charleston Harbor cheered and waved handkerchiefs.

In the Providence Journal, Cunningham's Euporium ran an ad exploiting the event:


neither is


But filled with an overflowing stock of

Furniture, Feathers, Carpeting,

Oil Cloth, Crockery, China

Tin Ware

Stoves, Cutlery, Clocks


House Furnishing Goods

In his diary on April 12, Henry wrote, "At all events the attack was commenced not by the government: On the heads of those who have thus plunged the country into war be the blood which is to flow."

The next evening, Henry was at the Providence Journal's office when a dispatch arrived stating that a Confederate flag was waving over Fort Sumpter. The next day the paper issued an EXTRA.


Charleston, April 13.

Cannonading is still going on fiercely at all points, and from the vessels outside and along our coast.

Sumpter is on fire.

On the next page, Cunningham's Euporium ran a different ad: Fort Sumpter is Taken! but Cunningham's Euporium yet stands.

Finally, those who chose to trivialize the past few month's events realized that war was upon them. Lincoln called for 75,000 militiamen, and men were turned away as they rushed to enlist for the "ninety days war."

It would be, perhaps, obvious to state that the students of Brown were not interested in their studies in late April. Some were thinking of their classmates who had enlisted and were now on their way to Washington. Others daydreamed about enlisting themselves, if the war should last until after they graduated. Some couldn't wait, and rushed to join the army anyway, despite advice to the contrary from the professors.

Wednesday, April 17th was "a day long to be remembered in college." The Union flag was raised over University Hall as the militia band played "The Star Spangled Banner" and the city of Providence looked on. Dr. Sears appeared on the steps of Manning Hall and the crowd from every part of the main green nudged their neighbors and nodded towards the Doctor to indicate that he was about to speak.

"I depreciate civil war. I regret the necessity that is imposed upon us. But the time for deliberation is past: every man is called upon to show himself worthy of the country of his birth. It is fitting that the young men who are here to learn -- to learn to be patriotic, I would hope -- and who have everything at stake in this crisis, should show that they appreciate the inestimable blessings which they have inherited from a brave and noble ancestry."

As Henry looked on that bright April morning, and as he joined his friends as they sang "America the Beautiful," he felt a great wave of pride for his country swell through him. If he were called to serve, he would be ready to go.

The following Saturday, Henry and his classmates reluctantly entered the recitation room for Professor Gammell's class. None were in the mood to recite. It is doubtful that any would have known what to recite, anyway, since their attentions were focused elsewhere.

Professor Gammell walked in, took his place at the large table at the front of the room, and surveyed the class. They couldn't see him, however, because the table was so large and was situated on a platform. They watched his knees.

Old Gam stood up, cleared his throat, and then announced to the class that there would be no recitation today as it was clear that everyone wanted to be downtown to see the troops off. Before this joyous news had time to sink in, Professor Gammell left, perhaps to be the first one downtown.

Henry and the rest of the campus joined other spectators from the city to watch the troops drill in the streets. Henry spotted Fred Sackett in the ranks of the infantry and had a chance to chat about the mob in Maryland. Governor Hicks had telegraphed Governor Sprague, the governor of Rhode Island, to warn him about this mob, and to advise him to take another route. Sprague replied, "We will cut our way through."

A sea of blue tunics lined up at Exchange Place at one o'clock. Gray pants and a black felt hat, turned up on one side and fastened by a shield, completed the uniforms which the women of Providence had sewn for the troops.

After Reverend Bishop Clark prayed over the troops, the Stars and Stripes were unfurled and the men presented arms. They began the march to Fox Point, through a wall of people who were waving handkerchiefs and calling out blessings, to the steamship which would carry them to Washington. In spite of himself, Henry noticed that he was crying. He looked around to see if anyone saw him, and realized that no one did: they were too busy watching the troops and crying themselves.

During Gam's class the young men wrote letters to their classmates already serving their country. Almost daily Henry went downtown to read the papers or watch the troops drill or see a new regiment off.

Impatient students anticipated the day when they, too, would wear a blue uniform; in the interim, the entire student body met and decided to form a military company right at Brown so that they could practice drilling and marching. One student proposed "The Wrath of Achilles" as the name. It was not chosen.

Class day, June 13, 1861, started off warm and beautiful. Henry, as Class Poet, and Sumner Upham Shearman, as Class Orator, donned their Oxford hats and gowns and led the class through the college grounds, collected the faculty at the gates, and proceeded on to Manning Hall to the music of the band.

Henry gazed over the assembly of faculty, classmates, and friends gathered on this day to celebrate the class of 1861. He had spent four years within these "hallowed halls," and perhaps for the first time, as he prepared to read his poem, Henry felt an ache, for now it was real to him that he would soon leave.

He began to read; the audience listened attentively. He talked about the joys of boyhood, the importance of family. He related the major events of each of the four years he'd spent at Brown, like the annual freshmen/sophomore football game or Professor Campbell's math class junior year. Finally, he began to speak about the men who were not able to be there with their class.

"While here to-day we walk these loved retreats,

Or turn to scan these old familiar seats,

Lost voices whispering low methinks I hear

In every breeze that softly murmurs near."

Professor Gammell sat with the other members of the faculty and smiled. Professor Dunn, who had worked often with Henry and was always willing to read and edit his work, listened to the lilting words as Henry's voice rose and fell.

"But classmates there are treasures richer far

Than gleam among the glittering spoils of war--"

Bunker and Randall, Shearman and Stevens all thought of their friends who were off fighting this glorious war, a war to preserve the Union. Their hearts swelled with pride.

"Love, gentle love, shall smile along the way

And grander conquests crown each closing day.

And when the dews of life's glad morn are past,

Ere night her fitful shades would o'er us cast,

The soul from star to star shall upward soar,

And bathe in light that fadeth nevermore.

So round the poles the long midsummer's day

At sunset into sunrise melts away;

You look to see the light of evening gone,

And lo, the hues of morn are stealing on."

The crowd applauded heartily as Henry took his seat. This surprised him; he wasn't completely happy with his poem, and he didn't anticipate that they would like it as much as they did.

They liked it so much, in fact, that the next day the Senior class held a meeting where they unanimously voted to publish both the Oration and the Poem.

In early summer, 1861, Henry couldn't know that the following year he would join the Thirty-Sixth Massachusetts Volunteers or that he would work his way up to Acting Assistant Adjutant-General of the First Brigade, Second Division, Ninth Army Corps.

He also couldn't have known that he would become editor of Zion's Advocate or that he would be the Maine state historian. From the time of his graduation until his death on March 9, 1926, Henry S. Burrage was an active member of the Brown community, both as a trustee and a fellow.

But on June 13, all Henry knew was that a chapter of his life had ended. The next few weeks he spent preparing for finals, keeping up to date on war news, and spending time with his friends. All too soon, his time at Brown was over.

As the cars wound round the hills on which the colleges are situated I took a long look on scenes now dearer than ever, and a feeling of sadness came over me as I thought that my life in those old halls was over. Happy have been the years I have spent within their enclosure. Indeed my college attachments have grown stronger as the weeks have rolled away....Farewell -- a long farewell!


.  .  .


Diary of Henry S. Burrage, kept January 1, 1861 - July 3, 1861

Memories of Brown, co. 1909 by the Brown Alumni Magazine Co.

Brown University in the Civil War, by Henry S. Burrage, Providence Press Co. Printers, 1868

The American Pageant, 10th edition; Thomas A. Bailey & David M. Kennedy, copyright 1994 by DC. Heath and Company, pp. 419-461

The Historical Catalogue of Brown University 1764-1934; Published by the University, Providence, Rhode Island; Printed and bound by the collegiate Press, George Banta Publishing Co. Measha Wisconsin, October 1936.

Class of 1861 Photo Albumn

Providence Journal, April 14, 1861

Oration and Poem delivered at Brown University on Class Day, June 13, 1861.