We are pleased to present below the 3rd Place winner of our Civil War Family Story essay contest. The contest ran in the summer and the winners were announced in the fall print newsletter, which was mailed to MHS members last week. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, and two Honorable Mentions, will appear on the blog throughout the week. Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to all the entrants. Judging was made difficult given the volume and high quality of the submissions. (Be sure to read all the way to the end for a special Addendum!)
A Good Man
by Brett Harvey, Brooklyn, New York
Henry Henries was born in Orrington, Maine in 1821, the son of a farmer. Although he was a poor man, Henry’s father managed to send his son to college. By the time he left school, Henry knew he hated the institution of slavery, and that he wanted to be a minister. However, he didn’t have enough education to be ordained as a regular minister. But the Methodist Church was growing fast during the 1800s, and needed ministers, so Henry was appointed a “supply minister” to the Methodist congregation in Lincoln, Maine.
He had met a small, energetic woman in Boston named Abbie Paine, who shared his abolitionist sentiments and liked that he was a minister. They married and moved into a little house next to the Methodist Church in Lincoln, and began to raise their family of two daughters.
In 1861, when President Lincoln issued his call for volunteers for the Union Army, Henry immediately enlisted as a chaplain, in the 8th Maine Infantry Regiment. But his delicate constitution was ill-suited to the life of a soldier. After a twenty-two day journey by steamer bound for Hilton Head, South Carolina, his company encountered heavy gales and found themselves in the middle of the bombardment of Hilton Head by the Union Army. Seventy-two days after he’d enlisted, Henry was forced to resign his commission “on account of declining health.” But Henry Henries was determined to serve, and six months later he was re-commissioned and appointed Full Hospital Chaplain of the new military hospital at Annapolis.
How could he have been prepared for the conditions he found there? Wards were overcrowded, unheated and unventilated. Sanitation was primitive, surgical instruments were unsterilized, doctors moistened stitching thread with saliva and sharpened surgical knives on their boots. Blood poisoning, tetanus, and gangrene were rampant, not to mention typhoid, dysentery and malarial fevers.
Reverend Henries was responsible for religious services, bible study, baptisms, weddings and funerals –above all, funerals. But the most urgent and soul-destroying part of his work was sitting at the bedsides of young soldiers helping them to die. And afterwards, the heart-wrenching task of informing their families of their deaths.
The work took its toll. By November of 1864, Reverend Henries wrote a desperate plea to President Lincoln imploring him to send him an assistant chaplain. He never mentioned his own exhaustion or the deteriorating state of his health. The President, undoubtedly beset with more pressing problems, never replied. Four months later, Reverend Henries was felled by typhoid. Once again forced to resign his commission, he started home to Lincoln, but died in Philadelphia on March 30, 1865. A surgeon who visited him there wrote, “I am of the opinion that [his] fever …was induced by his excessive labors in discharge of his duties…contracted purely through his over-exertion in behalf of the cause in which he was engaged.”
And so, a good man–not a soldier, but a hero in his own way–gave his life for the Union.
The day after Brett Harvey received an email informing her of her 3rd place standing in the essay contest she visited Mt. Hope Cemetery in Bangor looking for her great-grandfather’s grave. She found it and wanted to share the inscription on the back of his stone, apparently composed by Henry’s wife Abbie:
Counting not his life dear unto himself, he labored day and night to relieve the sufferings of our returned prisoners, until he fell a victim of a malignant fever prevalent among them.
Brett shared her thoughts on the inscription with us: “This was a great surprise to me. I knew he was buried there, but had never seen his grave and did not know there was an inscription on the back of it. So everything kind of came together around Henry Henries during my trip to Maine this week. Very gratifying.”