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Nowadays, fortunately, we in the civilized West are most unlike the Ancient Spartans when it comes to fathers, sons, and war.

Upon the birth of a male child, Spartan soldiers came to the house and examined it carefully to determine its strength.

The baby was bathed… in wine… rather than water, just to see its reaction. If a baby was ‘weak’, the Spartans simply left it, exposed, out on the hillside, or they took it away to become a slave (helot).

Infanticide was common in ancient cultures, but the Spartans were particularly picky about their children. It was not just a matter of the family; the city-state decided the fate of the child. Nurses had the primary care of the baby and did not coddle it.

Whether he’s been ‘coddled’ or not, assuredly, every son manages at some time to surprise his Papa. Sometimes the operative word is not merely ‘surprise’ but rather ‘shock’.

This measures as just that.  In March 1863, an 18-year old young man strode out of his family home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

With nary a peep to his parents, he took a train bound for Washington, D.C., some 400 miles (644km) south. Why? To join the War Between the States by serving in President Abraham Lincoln’s Union Army.

The son was Charles Appleton Longfellow. His Papa, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was informed by a letter dated 14 March 1863, after Charles had left.

I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer,” Charles wrote. “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good“.

LongfellowCharlesAppleton[Charles Appleton Longfellow]

Charles (b. 9 June 1844) was the eldest of six children born to Fannie Elizabeth Appleton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the celebrated literary critic and poet.

LongfellowHenry_Wadsworth_Longfellow_by_Thomas_BuchananLARGE[Father, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]

There were four more children in the Longfellow household: Ernest aged 17, Alice aged 13, Edith, 10, and Allegra, 8. Another baby had died in infancy.

We normally don’t think of the Longfellows as ‘pioneers’, or much less of the medical sort.  But, Ladies, consider this!

Alice, the Longfellows’ third child and first daughter, was delivered while her mother was under the anesthetic influence of ether — the very first documented use of such in North America.

Less than two years before he went off to war, Charles’s mother, Fanny, had tragically died after her dress caught on fire.

After trimming some of seven year-old Edith’s beautiful curls, Fanny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress.

The longed-for breeze off the Atlantic gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress. She was immediately consumed in flames.

In her attempt to protect Edith and Allegra, she ran into Henry’s study next door. He frantically attempted to extinguish the flames with a nearby, but, alas, undersized throw rug.

Failing to extinguish the flames with the rug, he tried to smother them by throwing his arms around Frances. Result: severe burns to his face, arms, and hands.

Fanny Longfellow died the next morning (10 July 1861). Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral. (Incidentally, the trademark full beard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow arose from his inability to shave after this tragedy.)

Indeed, there were times Henry feared that he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief.

The first Christmas after Fanny’s death, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.

A year after the incident, he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.

Longfellow’s journal entry for Christmas Day 1862 reads: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.

Upon Charley’s arrival in Washington D.C., he sought to enlist as a private with the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. The commander of Battery A wrote to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for written permission for Charley to become a soldier. ‘HWL’ (as his son referred to him) granted the permission.

Longfellow later wrote letters lobbying influential political friends for his son to become an officer. But Charley had already impressed his fellow soldiers and superiors with his skills.

On 27 March 1863, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, the Army of the Potomac. Later he was severely wounded with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes.

Over two months later, in mid-August, he rejoined his unit having missed the gore of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg (1-3 July 1863).

Hoping the war might soon end, on Christmas Day of 1864, Henry wrote the words of the poem, ”Christmas Bells”.

Why?  Perhaps Lincoln’s re-election, talk of a possible defeat of the Confederacy, etc. Motive is mere speculation.

LT Charles Longfellow did not die that Christmas; he lived. His father’s writing this carol is not attributable to any such notion.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweetest songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)

Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them Peace on earth, good will to men
And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth”, I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is NOT dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth,
Peace on Earth)
The wrong SHALL fail, the right – prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men
And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we’ll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells are ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men

It has been 150 years since the guns fell silent in the War Between the States.

Across the planet, however, death-cultist enemies of a ‘religious’ (sic) fanaticism, barbarity and viciousness unseen for over a thousand years have found their beyond-radical End Times voices, ultra-modern armaments and their feet. They seek nothing but the most vile and violent End of Civilisation as we know it.

Peace on earth?  Good will to men?

One can, of course, always remain hopeful.

To my family and dear friends, a bit of another, perhaps my favorite Longfellow poem, The Children’s Hour, sums up my feelings, especially at this time of year:

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

To all my kind readers, warmest wishes for a Very Happy Christmas!

—###—
Hat-Tips:

The Hon. Louis Gomert, Member, U.S. House of Representatives for Texas’ First District
Website: http://www.gomert.com
Twitter: @replouiegohmert
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Louie-Gohmert/50375006903

Maine Historical Society
Website: http://www.hwlongfellow.org/
Twitter: @mainehistory
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mainehistory

Justin Taylor, Ph.D. and The Gospel Coalition
Website: http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2014/12/21/the-story-of-pain-and-hope-behind-i-heard-the-bells-on-christmas-day/

The Longfellow Society
Website: http://www.dlstewart.com/longfellow/LFSociety.htm