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Friday, November 11, 2011

A Mother's Letter

Happy Veterans Day! Our series of Families Affected by Wartime posts will resume shortly, but while we're waiting I thought I'd share an object we showed to the project advisers. In honor of Veteran's Day, which also commemorates the conclusion of World War I, I picked a World War I piece---A Mother's Letter, by Annie Judson Hannigan.

A Mother's Letter is a letter which Mrs. Hannigan sent to the commander of her son's unit, the 104th Infantry Regiment, in April 1918, when the unit was fighting in France. The letter was read to the men of the unit; it was also printed in Hannigan's local paper and then the Hannigans arranged to have it printed up as a pamphlet. Here's Mrs. Hannigan (with a nice inscription to Dr. Rosenbach, whom she knew through her book collector husband).

And here's her letter:

April 13, 1918

Please accept the best wishes of the mothers of the men in your regiment for complete success. We think of the 104th in its time of service without any thought of self or of the things which may happen to our boys to mar them or destroy them. We think only of the more than honor which has come to us to be the mothers of such men. We are asking ourselves--"Are we worthy of the honor their work has already brought to us?" "How can we become more worthy mothers of such good sons."

When my son left this home he took a great big patch of each day's sunshine with him. He has been the tenderest son of an invalid mother. We have been chums for twenty five years--reading, studying, thinking and loving together. I never shed a tear over his being away. I know his great heart could not stand to see love, home, and woman outraged and destroyed. I know he is only a type of every man in your command, and if he dies it is as one of an army of noblemen.

Because you are his war chief and all we could be to him I wanted to speak to you. Daily reports of the 104th at the front show us how splendid you all are and how faithfully you have worked to be ready to do the splendid work you are doing to-day. We send you our most reverent affectionate greeting.

Following the letter is a description of the reading, from an officer in the 104th writing to his wife: "I read this to my men to-night after mess. It made a profound impression on them. it was interesting to watch their faces as I read it. Then I said goodbye to them. Dearie, it was far harder than I thought it was going to be. I have had to father so many of them, it was a hardship to take leave of them. They applauded me and gave me three lusty cheers just like the loyal, faithful men they are. I kept my composure until I turned away, and then I had to set my teeth to overcome the inking feeling that rushed over me."

The pamphlet also includes a patriotic poem from John Hannigan (again inscribed for Dr. R)


A Father's Response
What can one say
When one's only son,
In whom one's hopes and dreams and life are bound up,
Has gone to France, to stay
Perhaps a year, perhaps three years, perhaps forever,
but who is over there to see
That at any cost the Flag is kept flying.
What can one say?

One can say this,--
What a million other fathers to-night are saying,
That is my own strength
And life are of no value to my country
In her fighting line,
I can give a son, and a son too
Who needed no word from me
To give himself.

Hopes and ambitions!
Why, I never dreamt anything so sublime,
I never imagined a destiny for my son
So great as that which he has reached.
He's wearing the uniform
Of an American soldier,
He is interposing his arm and his breast
Between his country and his country's enemies
Nay!
He's clad in the livery of Heaven.
He's fighting for God.
What can one say?

October 1917

All quotations and images are from [Annie Judson Hannigan], A mother's letter. Boston: Press of Geo. Ellis Co., 1919. A 919m

1 comment:

John said...

A wonderful letter to the 104th Infantry Regiment that means all the more when considering the background of this unit. The 104th was an Army National Guard unit from Massachusetts and part of the 26th Infantry Division (the "Yankee Division"), made up of National Guard units from the New England states. The 104th, in particular, was one of the oldest military units in the United States founded in 1639, over 130 years before the birth of our Country.

The boys of the 104th likely all came from central and western Massachusetts, many from the same communities and families. For generations, these cities, town, villages and families have seen their boys go off to fight all the way back to King Phillip's War, the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War.

The connection between Mrs. Hannigan and other parents of the 104th must have been strong not only to their sons but to the unit as a whole and to the other families in their community. I think the "we" she refers to in her letter is her whole community and she later had the letter published in the local newspaper because her pride was her community's pride in the accomplishments of the 104th.

The lineage of the 104th Infantry is today carried by the 1st Battalion, 181st Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts Army National Guard and headquartered in Worcester, MA. The battalion returned from a year long tour in Afghanistan in summer 2011.