‘The flower of our manhood’

Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
The Civil War was drawing to a close, but there remained much suffering in store for Regina Shober Gray[1] and her circle:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 12 February 1865: Tomorrow Huntington Wolcott[2] goes off, as Lieutenant, to join his regiment, and enter on his new career. He is only 19, and leaves an indulgent and affluent home, a life of the most sheltered & cultivated refinement, for the rude privations of camp life. God protect him, the brave lad, morally and bodily.

He is but 8 or 9 months older than my Frank;[3] how thankful I felt when the war broke out nearly 4 years ago that my boys were all too young to go – but now, it lingers on so wearily & yet so necessarily, that I often think I may yet have to send my treasures in faith & trust as so many brave hearted mothers have done ere now. Dr. Gray however says Frank’s college course must be finished first – then will be time enough for him to think of the army if needed – now, he has not the physique for it either – and is only 18 last fall too.

Sunday, 12 April 1865: The Death-Angel has taken from us the flower of our manhood – almost the old Egyptian plague – the first-born of every household; for hardly is there a family in the land, North or South, that has not its dead to mourn for. The fight last week at Bentonville[4] with Sherman’s[5] advance cut down two more young friends – Lieutenant Storrow[6] & Captain Grafton[7] – and yest[erday] brought news of Charley Mills’s[8] fall in the beginning of the battle now raging round Richmond. He was fearfully wounded more than a year ago – and for months went about on crutches; and might well have felt himself exempt from future service, but he rejoined his regiment; was home some 6 weeks ago on furlough – so genial, manly and jolly – and now his “warfare’s done”!

“[He] felt tempted to fall in love with every woman he met – they all seemed such angels!”

I remember his telling Fanny Gray[9] then that “when he first got home on a furlough he felt tempted to fall in love with every woman he met – they all seemed such angels! but that gradually his nerves quieted down, and he learned was there was great safety in numbers; but that he was sure that, if people’s happiness in Heaven was merely, as some say, to consist in following out what had made them most happy here, that he should, if he ever got there at all, be always coming home on furloughs!”

Even after the war’s end its effects were felt:

Sunday, 11 June 1865: We are all pained to hear of young Huntington Wolcott’s death yesterday, of malaria fever,[10] contracted in camp in Virginia – another fair young life sacrificed – and so needlessly, for he only joined last winter, has been in but little peril from actual battle – but struck down by this fell foe to northern constitutions. Only 19 last winter, so tenderly nurtured & trained, so beloved by all who knew him – so bright, genial, & handsome. I remember the day before he left to join his regiment he passed up Beacon St., in his military dress, with his father,[11] ahead of Dr. Gray & myself, and we could not but admire the fine bearing & erect firm carriage of his tall, slender, almost boyish form – and it is laid low for ever. An irreparable loss to poor Roger,[12] his only brother – they two have been so closely united.

Continued here.


[1] Hedwiga Regina Shober (1818–1885) was married to Dr. Francis Henry Gray 1844–80. Entries from the Hedwiga Regina Shober Gray diary, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections.

[2] Lieut. Huntington Frothingham Wolcott (b. 1846).

[3] The diarist’s eldest son Francis Calley Gray (1846–1904), a junior at Harvard College.

[4] In North Carolina.

[5] Major General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891).

[6] Lieut. Samuel Storrow (1843–1865) died on 16 March.

[7] Capt. James Ingersoll Grafton (1841–1865) died on 16 March.

[8] Major Charles James Mills (1841–1865) died at Petersburg on 31 March.

[9] Dr. Gray’s niece Frances Loring Gray (1843–1919).

[10] Huntington Wolcott died on 9 June at Milton of typhoid fever, aged 19 years, 4 months, and 5 days (Massachusetts Vital Records, 1865, Milton, 184: 217).

[11] Joshua Huntington Wolcott (1804–1891), who was married to Cornelia Frothingham 1844–50 and to her sister Harriet in 1851.

[12] Roger Wolcott (1847–1900), Governor of Massachusetts 1897–1900.

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

5 thoughts on “‘The flower of our manhood’

  1. How very eloquently expressed! War does take our young and leaves sorrowing families. It seems humans never learn from the past.

  2. It always makes a difference to put a name and face onto tragedy, as Mrs Gray has so eloquently done. My own great-grandfather, James Quinlan, died of malaria contracted while serving along the Virginia-North Carolina coast with the 13th NY Heavy Artillery. My grandmother was ten days old. The suffering of war cannot be overestimated.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.