Recently Library of Congress added new photographs to the online archives of the Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. Scrolling through, we found this wonderful image of a Civil War dad and his young son:
The man in uniform is Assistant Surgeon William F. McCormick who served at Lovell General Hospital in Rhode Island. His young son poses contentedly with “papa” for a brief moment before his father must return to military and medical duties.
During the Civil War, men answered their country’s call – leaving behind homes, wives, and little ones – to fight for their beliefs, earn a better wage, or because they could not avoid conscription. A popular northern song from the era, reflected a soldier’s answer to the call for more troops to fill “Father Abraham’s armies.”
We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more,
From Mississippi’s winding stream and from New England’s shore.
We leave our plows and workshops, our wives and children dear,
With hearts too full for utterance, with but a silent tear.
We dare not look behind us but steadfastly before.
We are coming, Father Abraham, three hundred thousand more!
As we celebrate the dads or father-figures in our lives, remember the fathers of the Civil War era who left their “children dear” and marched away “with but a silent tear” to fight a war that their little ones did not understand. Many came home – on furlough or post-war – to reunite with their families; many did not. Good fathers keep their children safe, and many Civil War soldiers believed their battles would keep their children safe or preserve and advance their beliefs for freedom or a strongly united nation.
At this point, we don’t know much about Surgeon McCormick and his son, but their photograph serves as a special tribute and reminder to the joys and trials of fatherhood during the Civil War. The long separations, the knowledge of fighting for a future or a child’s safety, and the joy of coming home to the clamorous voices celebrating, “Father’s home at last!”