A View of the Heavens

Last week, I shared an account from Theodore Lyman, a member of George Gordon Meade’s staff. One of the things I enjoy about Lyman’s writing is that he’s an excellent stylist. His writing is colorful and evocative. Take, for example, this excerpt from a letter he wrote on November 9, 1863, from army headquarters near Rappahannock Station: 

Reveille was beaten so early that, when I popped my sleepy head out of the tent, there were the stars, most magnificent, especially Venus who sat above the moon and looked like a fire-ball. The moon was but a little one, but her circle was completed by that kind of image you often see, only the figure of the Man-in-the-Moon was plainly reflected on this image, a thing I never noticed before. These were the astronomical observations of Lyman, as he stood in the sharp air, clad in a flannel shirt and drawers.

The last line captures Lyman especially well: his shift from first- to third-person perspective reflects more of a poetic than a pretentious nature, but look how quickly he brings it all back to earth by ending the piece standing in his shirt and underpants. As highly educated as he was, he also managed to keep himself pretty grounded.

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Theodore Lyman, Meade’s Headquarters, 1863-1865: The Letters of Colonel Theodore Lyman from the Wilderness to Appomattox, George Agassiz, ed. (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1922), 44.

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