Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South

By Smith, John David | Historical Journal of Massachusetts, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought for the South


Smith, John David, Historical Journal of Massachusetts


Crimson Confederates: Harvard Men Who Fought far the South. By Helen P. Trimpi. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2010. 380 pages. $59.00 (hardback).

This interesting reference book, an alphabetically-arranged biographical register, resulted from the compiler's curiosity. An expert on Herman Melville, Helen P. Trimpi wondered how many Harvard College alumni had served the Confederacy during the Civil War, where and how they fought and, if the soldiers had not perished in the war, how they lived and what they accomplished in their postwar lives.

Digging deeply into the Harvard University Archives, the records of the Harvard Law School, the soldiers' combined service records at the National Archives, and other primary sources, she compiled as many as 600 potential Confederates with Harvard connections. Trimpi excluded from consideration about fifty men for various reasons, including that they had died before the war or because of advanced age. For example, Charles Carter Lee (born in 1798 and a member of Harvard College class of 1819), General Robert E. Lee's oldest brother, was too old to have served in Confederate forces.

Additional research in numerous published primary and secondary sources, including government documents, Civil War rosters, and biographical directories, helped Trimpi reduce the number of Harvard Confederates to 357 entries. They came to Cambridge from the South as well as the North and studied at Harvard College, the law and medical schools, and the Lawrence Scientific School. The Harvard alumni in gray included two major generals, thirteen brigadier generals, and a number of influential engineers who supervised the construction of important southern fortifications. Several hundred other possible Crimson Confederates, Trimpi explains, remain unconfirmed and hence undocumented.

Trimpi introduces her book with an excellent contextual history of early attempts to document Harvard's Confederate Civil War veterans. Not surprisingly, heated debates ensued among the school's alumni, faculty, and staff over whether to commemorate, memorialize, or even recognize its Confederate dead. These politically, racially, and sectionally-charged debates continued to rage - with no clear resolution - well into the late twentieth century.

Trimpi credits Henry Nichols Blake, an 1858 Harvard Law School graduate and a veteran of the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, Army of the Potomac, with compiling the most authoritative lists of Confederate Harvard soldiers in the Harvard Graduates Magazine and Harvard Bulletin in the years 1909-1914. …

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