Holman Melcher

This letter was written by Lieutenant Holman S. Melcher of the 20th Maine at the outbreak of the Civil War, while he was attending Bates College in Lewiston, Maine:

Seminary March 16 [1861]

Dear Brother:

I must say that I do not feel in the mood for writing, but as it is impossible for me to study I will occupy a few moments this evening in conversing with you, with pen and paper, although if it was not for the name of going to bed at 9, I think I should be about to go.

I am well and think I never enjoyed any better [health] than this term, although it seems that I do not make equeal [sic] progress in my studies. [page break] It was with pleasure that I received yours of the 3d.

You must indeed have had a sharp time at the attack of Sumpter [sic]. I should think it must have been an exciting time and pretty sharp dodging to have got clear of getting hit. I am very glad that you are on the side of the Faculty.

I have been very anxious to hear the result of your [F?]D. Club’s meeting; although H. Cheny [sic] has been here this week. I did not ask him of the result of course.

Well I suppose you would like to hear of matters [and] about the Sem. You recollect that it is the sixth week, the one for the election of officers for the society. (Lit. Fraternity). As we did not like the proceedings of the Temperance meeting, we saw fit to have a caucus and nominate a candidate in opposition to Andrews (W.N.H) although we had nothing against Mr. Andrews, yet it appeared as if his friends were determined to rule (right or no)[.] Mr. Coburn was our candidate [Lemont], and Given the rest of the board. We had the majority 19 to 17, but we found out that they were going to propose names for members who, we believed, would join simply to oppose us, so we thought we would oppose them, till after the election.[page break]
After the meeting we opened, one of our number made a motion to “pass over the literary exercises and proceed at once to the election of officers”—we had this all understood, having just gone from my room where we had been prepareing [sic] for these things but we could only pass over the literary exercises as we could not get a two-third vote on the latter. So all that we could do was to reject them as they were proposed; so they found that if we came to the election of officers they would get beat: and then they commenced to “run” us: they could not find names bad enough to apply to us, we simply explained to the rejected person and the other [page break] party why we had rejected the names proposed, but did not reply to their abuse, although we had the smartest men; Heath, Park, Howard, for example

Sunday Morning 17th

I was broken off last night by the ringing of the ten o’clock bell, and will resume my pen this morning before meeting time.

It is a splendid morning, rather different from the two past days, “snowing, blowing, wheezing, breezing,” till the roads have got quite blocked “up” again.

I suppose you you would like to know how we came out [page break] with our “election”

After they found they could not frighten us into subjection they tried to readjourn, not being able they commenced proposing names as honorary members, and making long speeches so as to pass away the time till ten; we mistrusted what they were up to, so our party got me to go, privately, and get a permit to remain: Prof’s Cheny [Cheney] and Stanton were gone so I got a permit in writing from Mrs. White.

Finding out that they could not adjourn, they continued to propose members, and relieve [sic] each other in speaking till about 12 o’clock,—without letting us come to the choice of officers;—when it was announced that Prof. Cheney was at the door: we gave him an invitation to come in, we then tried to pass to the choice of officers, but could not, so we had to come to a compromise or we should have been there yet for what I know.

(I will say that they offered to compromise first): so the matter was rehearsed before Mr. Cheney by both parties.

We wanted him to be our judge, but he declined, saying that we had better refer it, to three of the trustees; the persons chosen, [Hon.?] Wm R. Frye, J.W. Perkins Esq. and Dr. Garcelon; so a committee was chosen to present the whole matter before the above named gentlemen and abide by their decision.

The committee chosen were as [page break] follows. [Viz?]: Williams, Higgings, and Bedell, to represent their side, and Park, Heath, and myself to represent our party; we were to meet before them Saturday at two o’clock.

The Society then adjourned to meet the next day at 6 o’clock to choose officers:(it was then past one o’clock).

Well the next day the committee started for the village, though the snow-drifts—it being so bad the trustees did not want to come to the Sem—followed by about all of both societies to hear the decision.

As Dr. Garcelon was absent we met in Cilley’s office, he taking the place of Dr. G. [page break] After hearing our pleas they retired and made their decision; the suspense was oppressive while they were absent, I assure you; but they at last returned, and the decision, was in our favor:
It was almost a death–blow to Williams and Higgings, Williams having just stated to the ‘trustees’ that he had never belonged to a party that had got beat, in the Society.

I might add that we had the sympathy of most of the Philos.

We returned and our party immediately had a secret [“secret” is crossed out] meeting and decided—as we had had the decision in our favor to vote for Andrews, so as to remove all trouble if possible: we elected him, but he would not stand, so we put in our ticket.

There are many things of minor importance I would like for you to know; which I will tell you when I see you; for I have already wearied your persistence, but I will simply say that it so happened that the Academy boys were there that night so that the affair is getting quite public.

When we returned from the decision Sat. we were received at the Sem. by “three cheers “from the disinterested boy; “of course” that did not make us feel any worse:xx but enough.-------

I have not much more to write, as I suppose you saw my letter that I wrote home, [page break] but I will say in regard to the Temperance Association, that it “still lives,” and has a board of officers, Howard being president.

I gladly received a letter from home last Thursday.
I recite Latin and Analogy to Prof Cheney and admire him as a teacher.
I like him as a teacher better than any to which I have recited in this Institution
Our Teacher’s Lyceum is quite interesting: it holds its meetings Tuesday evenings.
There are also lectures, Thursday evenings which are quite interesting. Mr. Dresser lectured last Thursday. Dr. Garcelon will next.

I hope to be remembered in your prayers. Write often: Yours truly

Please excuse the horrid writing as I have written in haste. [written on the side of the last page]

[Envelope is postmarked Lewiston, ME, March 18, and is addressed to “Mr. Nathaniel Melcher, Bowdoin College, Brunswick Maine”…..Also printed on the official envelope is: “Maine State Seminary, Lewiston—Calendar, 1861, Spring Term since April 18th, 1861, Summer Term commences Apr. 30th, 1861, Summer Term closes July 11th, 1861, Fall Term Commences August 20th 1861.]

*Top Left of each sheet of paper has a seal impressed into the paper featuring lions, crest and the word “Bath.”

Information about the Melcher and the letter

Holman S. Melcher Letter written at the Maine State Seminary March 16, 1861.

Holman S. Melcher (1841-1905) attended Bates College (Maine State Seminary) from 1858 to 1862 according to the Seminary Catalogues. His brother, Nathaniel Melcher, also attended the Seminary before enrolling at Bowdoin College.

Melcher later went on to serve in the 20th Maine Infanty during the American Civil War, where he wrote a series of letters to Nathaniel at Bowdoin, describing the War. Except for this letter, Melcher’s letters and diaries were published in 1994 in With a Flash of his Sword: The Writings of Holman S. Melcher 20th Maine Infantry by William B. Styple of Bell Grove Publishing. Most of Melcher’s writings are at Bowdoin’s Special Collections Libary. Significantly, Melcher’s published writings suggest that he and not Bowdoin’s Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was responsible for the famous bayonet charge at the Battle of Gettysburg (Little Round Top) in the Civil War. Melcher eventually went on to become a successful businessman and mayor of Portland, Maine.

Holman Melcher wrote this letter (11 pages long…three separate sheets of paper) on March 16 and 17th of 1861 to Nathaniel Melcher, his brother, at Bowdoin. The letter is postmarked March 18th. The letter primarily describes the recent election of Literary Fraternity at the Seminary, and the controversy over the election. The members of the society appealed to Prof. Cheney (Oren Cheney) to judge the dispute but he recommended that they present their case to a panel of three Seminary trustees: Alonzo Garcelon (doctor and future governor of Maine), William Frye (future U.S. Senator and Congressman), and J.W. Perkins (attorney). Melcher’s group eventually prevailed.

The letter also mentions the ongoing attack on Fort Sumter which culminated several weeks later in the official start of the Civil War. Additionally, Melcher expresses his high opinion of Oren Cheney. Further references are made to the Teacher’s Lyceum featuring lectures by Dr. Garcelon and Mr. Dresser. Other brief references are made to the Temperance Society and to the “Philos,” possibly another literary society (female?) at the Seminary.

Other people mentioned in the letter include:
Seminary faculty: Professor Levi Stanton and Mrs. White
Fellow students: Lemont, Andrews, Coburn, Heath Park Howard, Williams, Higgings, and Bedell.
Others: [C]illey, Horace Cheney (student at Bowdoin, President Cheney’s son, Bates' librarian)

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