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Walt Whitman Served the Union... And the Confederacy!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 15, 2022 3:05 am

Walt Whitman Served the Union... And the Confederacy!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 15, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Marshall Field's favorite gift wasn't the one that caused his name to be forever associated with Chicago's premiere museum, or even his massive chain of department stores he built after years of trial, error, and fire--but a small library bearing his name in the small town of Conway, Massacussets--the hometown he left in search of prosperity. Hillsdale professor Kelly Scott Franklin tells the story of how one of America's foremost literary figures was a volunteer on both sides of our nation's Civil War.

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Time Codes:

00:00 - Marshall Feild, The Birth of the Modern Department Store, and a Small Town Library

35:00 - Walt Whitman Served the Union... And the Confederate!

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This is Lee Habib and this is our American stories to show where Americans the store and the American people search for the American stories podcast go to the iHeartRadio app to Apple podcast or ever you get your podcast up next. The story of a retail innovator, Marshall Field was born in 1834 in Massachusetts today. Many people know feels name because of his famous department stores or maybe after the Chicago Field Museum bearing his name with visibility in his hometown, lets people know about became fields favorite gift you tell the story of field is Jonathan Boesch and creator of the documentary, a gift of prosperity.

Let's get into the story.

My name is Jonathan Boesch and I was born in a town called Greenfield, Massachusetts. I live near Conway Massachusetts I am mad documentary filmmaker and I'm also a local historian when I move back to the area and 2014 night was out in the Boston area doing work a few times I had to go through the town of Conway Massachusetts and I remember Conway you have this beautiful New England downtown area and nice little colonial style town and then at one end of the town you have this triumphant epic building which just stood taller than anything else this building, which is a library is very unusual. So I went out there as a librarian like you know I've always driven past this place. What is this and she gave me a whole history of who Marshall Fields was in. I just was assertive.

Like wow I was blown away think that he built this library for his hometown in contributed a lot to the department store business and to the Chicago area, Marshall Field was born in 1834 to a family of farmers and as soon as Marshall Field to walk and talk. He began working on the farm. By the age of six years old. He was driving cattle milking Cal's raking hay and performing a lot of other chores that were commonly done by boys his age when he was about 15 years old. He lost interest in the farm life he probably just did not enjoy it. He felt he had a higher calling and dimmer, he felt like he had a future in Conway Massachusetts so his father. I got him a job at a general store that was run by a gentleman named James Whitney Marshall field only lasted two weeks.

Mr. Whitney told Marshall Fields. Father your sons a well-meaning kid but he has no business working in dry goods. So Marshall field return back to the farm for a little bit and then after 1851 he decided to give the dry goods venture. Another shot a few years earlier one of his older brothers.

Joseph's left Conway for Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Pittsfield was one of the largest cities in western Massachusetts. Joseph relocated there and got him practice ship at Pittsfield's leading dry goods store which was owned by a gentleman named Deacon HD Davis. So Marshall field went out to Pittsfield talk to Joseph and Joseph help get an apprenticeship at HDD considers general store. He loved to work. So every day. Of those five years, Marshall field and Joseph slept and lived in a small room above the store and took full advantage of the apprenticeship to learn everything about running the story, Marshall Field's most common customers were the wives of farmers. It was through bargaining with these women that he learned how to buy sell in accurately judge customers and acquire unique skill of selling goods to women. He really is specialized in it he became extremely knowledgeable in what women wanted to buy a could easily assist them with selecting merchandise and this specialty caused him to cause many women customers to come directly at Davis's store, and specifically asked for Marshall Field's assistance because he treated them probably with more respect as customers, not just as a farmer's wife.

He was doing stuff that was revolutionary but he was a young man that I think he wanted, assertive, explore the world a little bit more and heard about Chicago, Illinois, and how is becoming quite the newest boomtown for many people, his brother Cerda gave him his blessings and that year he did end up leaving for Chicago in 1856, Chicago was a pretty young city at the time and when he originally got there he fell, he made the mistake of a lifetime.

He couldn't get him apprenticeship.

None of the stores out there really seemed interested in his ideas. A lot of the buildings were crudely built stores reserve get-rich-quick type deal everything out. There was just sort of growing. It was a very different place than what it is today. It was a like Boston and New York City which have been around for a while and because it was a fairly new city you didn't quite have established names the way you did in Boston. Their New York City and there was just a lot of ambition out there, and I imagine a lot of people saw this as servant new opportunity to make a name for themselves to hopefully at the store that would rival some of these other places and because it was assertive midway through the lie, the travel routes he had people coming from all over the place to settle their so I think things were deftly not working out. From the way he thought they were when he originally went out there. Fortunately, his brother Joseph came out to join him. He managed to get certain when is been an agent for them I think. And Joseph approached Cooley weds Worth and Company, which was the city's lead dry goods store and Joseph introduced Marshall field and they must've seen something in them because they hired him for him apprenticeship, and we been listening to Jonathan Boesch and tell the story of Marshall field and he grew up on a farm in the middle of the 19th century and by the age of 15. The new farming life wasn't for him to try the world of dry goods were filled. The first time was brother Joseph who would play a part in Marshall's assent got him to go to Pittsfield, Massachusetts where he learned he had a talent starting to understand what women want. When we come back more of what happens next with Marshall field in Chicago with his brother Joseph. You and Elinor can store folks if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past. Know that all of our stories about American history. Reward innovation culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College place for students studying all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. If you kick at the Hillsdale tools that will come to you with a free and terrific online courses go to and we continue with our American stories and or story on Marshall field.

Let's return Jonathan Boesch and more of this remarkable story when Marshall Field became an apprentice in the business of dry goods. He was given an opportunity to learn the business from the experts to learn the trade and learn how I do things devoted a lot of time today apprenticeship. He barely had a social life.

He never went out drinking. People began the sort of know the Sam I think his employers started to respect him a lot more. They didn't just see them as another apprenticeship.

They started to really pay attention in him and because Marshall field was very focused on the dry goods business. He was paying attention to trends he was paying attention to how people by any began noticing the coming panic of 1857, which was regarded as the world's first financial crisis and one which was triggered by the United States growing at a tremendous rate, resulting in an over expansion of it of our domestic economy and the decline of the international economy because more goods are being produced here in America. Not as many are being produced overseas by Marshall predicted the panic and prior to its arrival.

He successfully persuaded his employers to do away with the risky unreliable credit system that was in use around Chicago Cooley weds Worth and Company was one of the few stores that made it through the panic following the panic.

This store reorganizes Cooley farewell and Company and to thank Marshall field. They awarded him a junior partnership. They were very impressed with them.

People were becoming a no him and they saw that he was a very talented young man.

So with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 Marshall Field was presented with new challenges, but his expertise in selling dry goods was recognized as more valuable to the Union Army than sending them off to be shot at soldiers needed uniforms they needed sleeping materials, eating materials, decks of cards.

In some cases, little things to help keep the Army looking good, but also to help keep spirits high. You don't have happy soldiers, the chances of you winning are not very good. They needed anything they could. That would help them win the war. He was not personally responsible for the victory. The Civil War's contributions were important piece in the puzzle to help the Union army declare victory every little thing that everybody did helped out and this was how he helped out with his patriotism and enthusiasm in selling dry goods. So after they American Civil War, Marshall Fields career sort of hit a dead end at Cooley Farwell and Company, and he had envisioned he wanted to be like the big store of Chicago. I have a store that was larger than any in New England and for whatever reason he recognize they couldn't do that through the company and why he needed to do to make that happen was to start his own store in the realize that he had a lot of the experience by helping out with the panic of 1857 and probably with the Civil War, which did boost his image, he said, now's the time to do this because I'm becoming more popular on becoming the big name, so he got word of a gentleman named Potter Palmer who ran one of the Cooley farewells and companies pay competitors and around this time.

In 1865. His health was kind of declining and his doctor told Mr. Palmer that he needed to get out the dry goods business so he was looking to retire from it and take up a different trade Marshall field got word of it. He approached his friend Levy leader about taking advantage of this opportunity to open up a dry goods store and they respectively sold vector Junior partnerships to Cooley Farwell and Company join Potter Palmer.

Two years later once Potter Palmer sure to show them the ropes of everything and they were ready to depart Potter Palmer respectively left the partnership and the company was renamed field and leader Marshall field was now basically one of the people running the company add to key had visions that he wanted to put into practice.

He had come to know how I treat people and he had a lot of philosophies on how to sell dry goods to people and do so in a manner that was pleasant and respectful to the buyers is several philosophies they put into place was give the lady what she wants and the customer is always right, he allow people to return merchandise, which was rarely done in those days, and one thing he did was eliminate haggling. He encourage people to come in and browse the store without being annoyed to buy things. Some places you will go shopping and you are expected to buy something here you you could go in and browse and you're welcome to stay look at things, try things out and it was a pleasant experience and office clerks were trained to be very polite and friendly because he wanted people to be comfortable shopping there, and what this hard work.

He really began to build and even become more well-known to the city around Chicago. The marble palace was a building that Potter Palmer had built Palmer admired what Marshall field was doing and he approached him and say I have this new spectacular building that I think would really add to the shopping experience in Marshall field bought the place. The marble palace as it was referred to round the city was a massive six-story ornate building.

The building opens on October 12, 1868 and there was a huge event in the city of Chicago, an event described in the local newspapers is a dazzling assemblage of wealth, beauty and fashion unparalleled in Chicago's history customers, mainly the ladies whom the store was built to serve reported to have gasped at the marble palace filled with cosmetics, furniture and other household appliances. I imagine with the architecture which had a lot of marble and was just in those days, very beautiful.

Look at people. These women must've felt like kings and queens just going then there in addition to all of this Marshall field, the successful businessman. He was had matured out of his shy quiet self into a more sociable person and mingled with new customers during the grand opening in the days following an overnight.

The store is located at the marble palace had become Chicago's most popular spot.

He had everything going for him and then on the evening of October 8, 1871 he got word that this was about to change that all of this legacy. This empire that he was building was in danger. He learned about a nasty fire that started on the south side of Chicago that was quickly consuming the crude buildings are Chicago, Illinois, and were listening to Jonathan Boesch and creator of the documentary the gift of prosperity about the life of Marshall fuel and by the way we learn here about the importance of apprenticeships. So much for college. There is learning from the experts in real pros and billing himself up, not just a resonant real work and life skills in the business of dry goods. By 1857. He has this impulsive feels the coming of the nation's first real financial panic is insight to get his employer to get rid of the risky credit system probably save the company. He was rewarded with a junior partnership but feel wanted more saw himself had a vision of himself as the owner of a big store and of course that vision often as it happens here in this country with great entrepreneurs and innovators.

It opens its own marble palace filled with cosmetics, appliances, closing everything any woman would want field move from shoddy self. The men of the town in 1871 there was news of a fire in his life. Well was about to change the life of this big city was about to change only come back. What happens next in the life of Marshall fuel the store and his city on our American and we continue with our American stores in the final portion of our story on Marshall fuel. When we last left off a massive fire broken out in the city of Chicago and all of Marshall field.

Hard work was at risk with continue with the story you got word that all of this legacy. This empire that he was building was in danger. He learned about a nasty fire that started on the south side of Chicago that was quickly consuming the crude buildings are Chicago, Illinois.

This store was his life. This business was his life and he did not want to lose anything. So immediately he went down to the store. People were fleeing left and right. He was able to arrange a salvage operation with his remaining employees and by the time the fire had come to the building. It completely wiped out this massive beautiful building.

Fortunately there jumping into action to save as much as they could. Did payoff he was able to rescue a small percentage of merchandise as well as a lot of the company records to where they could reopen and through hard work, taking risks, and the business having a vision they were able to move back into another building. A year after the fire but for almost the next decade. It was rough. There was stuff that probably would live because anybody you give up if it wasn't him. They moved around to several different locations because they thought one point because the fire destroyed one part of the city that another part was going to serve become the new shopping hub so they moved to one part of the city didn't quite happen. The Singer sewing machine company built another building that was just as fancy indoor named as what Potter Palmer had in the embodiment and fate in fire hit them again. Fortunately from there they were able finally settled down in Marshall field was able to finally pursue opportunities that he wanted to pursue the good finally focus more on building up his business, his store really began to grow and grow during the 1880s and 1890s in field built a handsome 13 story structure that open to the public in 1893, had a cafeteria for luncheons, a gymnasium, a music room with live musicians playing throughout the day to help relax employees and even had a hospital you know if you work for Marshall field you were going to be taken care of in by the turn-of-the-century. Marshall field was worth.

What would be considered today $60 billion, so there were numerous investments in Marshall field made Marshall Field's most notable gift was his contribution of $1 million to help the recently chartered Columbia Museum of Chicago become reality to the city and appreciation of Marshall Field's gift. The museum was renamed the field Columbia Museum and this inspired him to really do something special for the town of Conway Massachusetts. So, Marshall Field was a person who I think was very proud of his roots growing up. He had a lot of respect for and even kept in touch with a lot of the people in Conway.

Even though life didn't quite turn out from the way I think the family and vision friend like he didn't hold any grudges against the community at all, and Conway had a small library during this time. A lot of these towns their libraries weren't really what they word today or even Roy.

During the 20th century they were little rooms and buildings that had a collection of books, people would pay to be members of this library type group and the collection of books would move around to different houses of fortunately and not just Conway by the law. These towns it was very common for one of these collections of books to go up in smoke and the building was destroyed by fire and town started its own library.

However, though at the time the collection was being house in the room that was located in the town hall building, and this was an old building that was built in the 1850s, and he felt that his town deserved a lot better.

So on the morning of September 9, 1899, citizens of Conway, Massachusetts read an interesting headline that surprise many Marshall field was going to build a library for his hometown of Conway and this was going to be a nice little building that field stated would be as small as demanded by appropriateness, but the finest in New England by both its architecture and literacy resources Saturday, July 13, 1901 was the grand opening ceremony and it was described as a special day that the small town of Conway would greatly remember him would be a building dedication and celebration.

Unlike any other detail of Conway or any other surrounding town or community had ever held and opening address was given by Rev. Charles Beebe Rice gave a long speech praising the gifts of Marshall Field. The last portion was a brief introduction of Marshall field would give his first ever and only public address. Here is what Marshall Field said I am exceedingly gratified to see so many of the citizens of Conway here to take part in the dedication of this building. It is now 50 years since I left you, but I've never lost interest in the town or in its inhabitants and is now my privilege, my great pleasure to present this token of friendship as I now do in the memory of my mother and father, and it blew people's minds away is having this beautiful building that really welcome people made them feel like kings and queens, and they have access to all of this knowledge, a collection of 700 books is nice but with a place like that. Like that's just a free education, five years after Marshall Field opened the field Memorial Library.

He died from ammonia.

He passed away on January 16, 1906 at just the age of 71 while he did have all these accomplishments under his belt, the library, and Conway was really his favorite most personal gift and in his will he left them a massive amount of money. This was described as his favorite active charity. It didn't sound like that a lot of the arts and things that he donated to around Chicago really excited him. But for some reason the field library. The way he gave back.

This really made him very happy he made. He realized he was making a difference to many people and it's like he had accomplished all these things through building the company in Chicago area and this was just something he did for a town in a completely different part of the country that was just highly appreciated and a great job in the editing and storytelling by Monty Montgomery with and assist from Jim Watkins and a special thanks to Jonathan Boesch and creator of the documentary the gift of prosperity that essentially is Marshall story and what a story it is about aspiration about apprenticeship and work in about the American dream, and always that includes our often does generosity and there is this man, this billionaire in his day going and giving his first ever and only public address the small town you left is now 50 years since I left you, but I never lost interest in the town for its inhabitants and so many of us leave small towns to go to bigger places the show is broadcast from the small town of Oxford, Mississippi. Many of us returned to the small town we love the story of Marshall field and the birth of the departments and innovator stories an American dream or story on our Americans and we continue here with our American stories and we love telling stories from the great American literature can probably read Walt Whitman or at least they were supposed to in your high school English class. But even if you've heard of leaves of grass, you've probably never heard this tell, but Hillsdale College Prof. Kelly Franklin brings us it was winter in 1862, and Americans were fighting our nation Civil War in mid-December. The union suffered a disaster at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The entrenched confederates cut down wave after wave of Union soldiers leaving the northern army with 13,000 casualties, more than double those of the southern defenders from the union standpoint, things look pretty bleak for the formerly United States of America news of the casualties hit the papers right away and on December 16, the American writer Walt Whitman learned that his brother George had been wounded at Fredericksburg with no other information.

Whitman set out to find his brother he search the hospitals in DC with no luck until a friend lent him money and got him a pass to the front where George if he were still alive might be found. Then in form with Virginia Whitman located his brother safe and sound with only a minor wound to his face.

But Whitman also saw something else, something he never forgot outside a field hospital. Whitman saw a heap of amputated limbs enough to fill a one horse cart horrified. He wrote in his diary at the foot of a tree immediately front feet, legs, is in human fragments can't ability black and blue swell sickening. By 1862, Walt Whitman had already achieved some fame and some notoriety as a poet that celebrated the human body by the poet of the body he had written in his 1855 book needs of grass, and I am the poet, the soul the man's body is sacred.

The woman's body is sacred, but in that grisly moment outside the field hospital.

Whitman got his first real glimpse of the human cost of the Civil War. It wasn't long before he knew what he wanted to do about it. In January 1863, Whitman returned to Washington DC where he began. Perhaps the greatest undertaking of his life. While the war raged on, threw himself into the task of visiting the sick and men both Northerners and Southerners who languished in the Civil War, hospitals, the union already had many doctors and nurses but Whitman intuitively knew that people need more than medical treatment to get well companionship, comfort, morale boosting even a kind word and as a volunteer Whitman could provide that to the soldiers he worked a part-time job in the mornings and spent the afternoons and evenings in the hospitals talked with the men sat with them. He got a satchel full of little gifts, candy, clothes, fruit, money, tobacco, stamps, and paper for writing letters when the weather was hot. My screen while in the hospitals. Whitman wrote down the names and descriptions of the soldiers in his notebooks along with anything special.

They asked for Henry Benton company E seventh Ohio volunteer award K bed, 44 once a little jelly and orange wounded last Sunday in Chancellorsville and leg saw the bullet and a piece of the bone stump Hardy, Ohio Henry Eberle bed eat award K company H 28th Pennsylvania volunteers. Once a German prayerbook left shoulder pretty bad. Not all of his visits were cheerful of a man named Hiram Johnson from the 157th New York volunteers. Whitman wrote in his notebook.

This is the bed of death, although he supported the union. Whitman left the politics of the war outside the hospital doors and treated the wounded equally in his memoir of the Civil War, Whitman later describes taking care of a 19-year-old boy from Baltimore whose right leg had been amputated.

He writes, as I was lingering soothing him in his pain. He says to me. Suddenly I hardly think you know who I am.

I don't wish to impose upon you. I am a rebel soldier. I said I did not know that but it made no difference visiting him daily for about two weeks after that death had marked him. He was quite a many of the Civil War soldiers died far from family and home. Some of them even died unknown and unidentified. It was the era before dogtags and DNA testing in March 1864, Whitman described one of these cases in the letter to his mother, Whitman wrote of the arrival of a train carrying sickening soldiers mother. It was a dreadful night. Pretty dark.

The wind gusty and the rain fell in touring one poor boy. He seemed to be quite young was quite small.

He grown some as the stretcher bearers were carrying them along and again as they carried him through the hospital gate, they set down the stretcher and examined him and the poor boy was dead.

The doctor came immediately, but it was all no use. The worst of it is to that he is entirely unknown.

There was nothing on his close or anyone with him to identify him and he is altogether unknown mother.

It is enough to rock one's heart.

Such things very likely is folks will never know in the world. What's become of and many men died unknown and many were hastily buried or lost altogether.

In the chaos and aftermath of battle. This meant that families and friends were denied. Many of the rituals of Greek Walt Whitman was also at the height of his career as a poet and during the war he would write poems of grief and mourning that would help him and the nation express those terrible losses. Walt Whitman had worked with words and language for most of his life born on Long Island. He supported himself from a very young age.

Working at a printing shop in a law office and as a teacher, but he soon found his way to authorship, writing, journalism, conventional poems and fiction.

Then in 1855 Whitman published his experimental book, leaves of grass, which violated all the current norms of poetry and celebrated the whole range of human life from democracy to sexuality, lighting and powerful free verse about the body.

The soul nature and city life and the labors of working-class men and women now Whitman had a war to write about and at the end of it. He published a book of more poems called drum taps in one of his best poems vigil strange. I kept on the field one night. Whitman re-creates an imaginary moment of grief and burial for the fallen dead. The poetic speaker describes seeing the young soldier struck down in the heat of battle, unable to stop for the conflict rages on around them.

The narrator charges ahead but returns that night to keep vigil for a boy. He calls both son and comrade loan there and then visualize dimly around the battlefield spreading digital wondrous visual suite there in the free Silent Night the speaker stays with the body all night till lately just lingering of the night, just as the dawn appeared my column. I wrapped in his blanket developed well folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully.

Overhead and carefully under feet and there and then be by the rising Sun. My son his grave is Doug grave ending my vigil. Strange that the jewel of night and battlefield in vigil responding to sins, never again on earth respond vigil for comrade swiftly slain vigil. I never forget when Steve brightened eye rooms from the children around my soldier well his blanket and buried him where he fell like in most of his poems.

The soldier remains nameless, which means that he could be anyone, known or unknown, Yankee or rebel any of the more than 600,000 men perished in the war. Whitman continued to visit the hospitals on and off throughout the war he once estimated that he had visited somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 soldiers. He also wrote that after his time in the hospitals. The pages of his notebooks were actually stained soldiers blood Walt Whitman would have a long and fruitful life and career as a writer right up to his death in 1892, but he always thought about his hospital years is something central to his life. Those three years I consider the greatest privilege and satisfaction, and of course the most profound lesson of my life those years of hospital visits represent a tremendous act of service to his fellow Americans during a time of war.

While we tend to remember him as one of America's great poets Walt Whitman sacrificial charity during the Civil War. Maybe his greatest legacy, but we can also be thankful he was a writer.

Although he once claimed that the real books Walt Whitman's diaries, letters, poems and memoirs constitute a powerful eyewitness account of the moving record of one man's mind and heart. During this bloodied chapter in the story of American history and great job on that Robbie and thank you to Hillsville. Prof. Kelly Franklin were telling us about a great man in the part of his life. So few people know Walt Whitman story. The story of the American Civil War. This is our American story

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