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Emma's Essay: A Soldier Boy in the Army

In honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, we thought we would look at an item in our collection from the era of his presidency: a child’s essay about her brother’s letter home from war.

In November 1860, Longmeadow’s eligible voters chose Abraham Lincoln over Stephen Douglas by a vote of 190-81. Within months, southern states had seceded from the Union and the Civil War began. Between 1861 and 1865 approximately 166 young men from Longmeadow enlisted or were drafted into the Union Army, leaving behind friends, parents, and siblings.

At Center School, students were compiling a literary magazine called The Carrier Pigeon. It contained their compositions on a variety of topics like winter sports, apples, fish, and trips they had taken. It was the winter of 1864. Eleven-year-old Emma C. Coomes wrote about her older brother, Harvey, who had enlisted in 1861. Completely absent of any of the patriotism and glory so typical of soldier stories at the time, and with the complete candor only a child can get away with, Emma’s composition is a matter-of-fact telling of how miserable her brother was. By 1864 Harvey Coomes’ battalion, the 5th Connecticut, Company B, had been involved in several significant battles, including Gettysburg. Per Emma’s account, though, the only thing that mattered to Harvey was doughnuts. He had had enough of the coffee and pork provided to the troops morning, noon, and night, and he missed doughnuts.

In school-girl cursive Emma writes of the dispute her brother had with his boss at the docks in Hartford that led him to enlist, and how his three-year commitment now “stuck in his throat.” (spelling and punctuation edited for clarity):

“A soldier boy in the army.

Seeing that [a] great many of you got Brothers to war I will write a little something about my brother. My brother was in Hartford working on the boat. Well Harvey was tending the boat and someone else took care of the boat. The boat got stuck and they couldn’t get it out, and the boss told Harvey to get it out and Harvey wouldn’t, and the boss told him to leave the boat and the boss said that he wouldn’t pay him, and Harvey put his hand into his pocket and pulled out his money and told the boss that there was enough to pay his fair And the boss told him to leave so Harvey started and the boss called him back and paid him and told him to go to work and Harvey said he had left for good. So Harvey came home and talked about enlistment and father and mother didn’t want to have him go, but he did, and for three years, and he told father that the war would be ended in half a year and father told him if he got there he would have to stay there and he has and I guess he wishes himself home again and we had a letter the other day, and he said that all of his company had enlisted but 13 of them and he said that the three years stuck in his throat and it wouldn’t come. We had a letter from him yesterday and he said that he wished that we would send him a box if it wasn’t nothing but a doughnut, for he said that it was coffee and pork in the morning and coffee and pork at noon warmed over and coffee and pork at night for a change so I guess that we will send a box to him. I can’t think of any more to write about him. I only hope the soldiers will get home.


Emma’s pigeon”

Hopefully, Harvey Coomes got those doughnuts he craved so much when he was discharged from service in the summer of 1864 and returned home to Longmeadow. He married and settled in New Haven, CT until his death in 1894, the result of an injury received after a night of drinking in a New Haven saloon. His sister, Emma, married a Civil War veteran herself and moved to Springfield where she lived until her death in 1937.

Carrier Pigeon, Literary Journal, 1864

Longmeadow Historical Society

"A soldier boy in the army" by Emma C. Coomes

Longmeadow Historical Society

"A soldier boy in the army" by Emma C. Coomes

Longmeadow Historical Society

-Contributed by Melissa M. Cybulski, Longmeadow Historical Society

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