Hello, history mates old and new. Here are two new nuggets for you:
“Soldier’s Heart.” Today it might be known as PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But doctors in the 19th century classified the anxiety and palpitations that many Civil War veterans suffered as Soldier’s Heart. I just learned the evocative old term in The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic, a 2011 book by military historian Barbara Gannon. According to Gannon, more than 34,000 Civil War vets received disability pensions for Soldier’s Heart maladies, with an untold number of others going undiagnosed. Not only soldiers were affected. Gannon profiles a war nurse named Lucy Nichols who developed ongoing “palpitations of heart and fainting spells.” As Gannon writes, “In all American wars, nurses like Nichols may have suffered from Soldier’s Heart, an accurate description of the mental agony inherent in giving your heart to sick and wounded soldiers.” I was touched by Gannon’s story of a second nurse, Elizabeth Fairfax. She and Lucy Nichols had been slaves in the South and managed to link up with Northern regiments during the war. Both moved North afterward and joined integrated G.A.R. posts for comradeship. Gannon quotes from a local profile of Elizabeth Fairfax: “When Memorial Day came she always marched beside the boys, trudging along on bare feet, wearing a rusty black dress and an equally decrepit bonnet, her expression of mourning. She carried a bunch of flowers in one hand, and an American flag in the other, and was never an object of derision.–rather [inspired] reverence.”
“Bleak and Embarrassing.” My newly launched research into the history of housing discrimination in my current town of Lower Merion, Pa., is pushing forward. I’ve found that the developer of one nearby subdivision restricted all of his 173 parcels to members of “the Caucasian Race.” This was set out in a deed covenant in 1925, during the rise of the so-called Second Ku Klux Klan. A search for a possible direct link turned up the sorry fact that Lower Merion did have an active Klan membership. And that their incitement led to an ugly case of homicide back then. On the evening of July 3, 1924 — the eve of July 4, mind you — 200 Klansmen rallied on a hill overlooking a black and Italian neighborhood and set a large cross ablaze. According to newspaper accounts, a frightened black lady called the police. Two officers arrived at the hillside, which is on the campus of Haverford College. When they tried to stop two figures in the darkness, gunfire was exchanged and both cops were hit, one of them with a wound that would kill him two months later. The Klansmen scattered and no one was apprehended. The police chief publicly “declared war” on the Klan and issued a shoot-to-kill order. Klansmen soon began talking — and claimed that as many as 30 Klans members were on the police forces in Lower Merion, Radnor and Haverford! A final shocker was that the person who confessed to the killing was a local black man. In a 1928 confession, he said he had grabbed his World War I revolver and rushed to the hillside that night to put out the flames as the rally was breaking up. In the darkness, the fellow mistook the police officers for angry Klansmen and exchanged gunshots. He was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served a minimum sentence of three years. In 2012, local officials honored the slain officer, Francis X. Roy, with a plaque and remarks that “at a time that was bleak and embarrassing in our history, he went forward and did his job and he paid the ultimate price.”
Book News. One talk is scheduled this summer — on Tuesday, July 17, at 2 p.m., at the Wayne County Historical Society, 810 Main St. in Honesdale, Pa. That will be my 42nd appearance in support of Embattled Freedom. Following the summer slowdown, I’ve got five more talks on the schedule and several others in the works.