The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts: A Nineteenth Century Perspective


The Military Historical Society of Massachusetts held its first meeting at Boston's historic Union Club on February 7, 1876. The Society's founder, John Codman Ropes, was a Napoleonic scholar, historian, and prominent Boston lawyer. Unable to enlist in the Civil War, Ropes strove to understand the struggle for which his brother gave his life at the Battle of Gettysburg. Ropes and the other founding members wished the object of the Society to be "the investigation of questions in military history and specifically the Civil War..." The exhibition began with Volume I of The Proceedings of the Society - an imposing black-bound volume, recording in careful handwritten script the actions of the Society's meetings. Following the ledger is John Codman Ropes' "Deed of Sale," transferring his personal library, historical documents and collection of artifacts to the Society. The Society would take possession of this material following the completion of the construction of the Armory of the First Corps of Cadets on Columbus Avenue. The Armory remained the home of the Society until 1965, when the collection came to Boston University. Also shown was a first-draft page by an unknown author on "The Regular Infantry at Gettysburg" to be read before the Society, as well as post-war correspondence between General William Tecumseh Sherman and Brigadier General William F. "Baldy" Smith dated 1886.

Ropes' Napoleonic interests were revealed in letters from the Director General of Military Conscription dated December 14, 1813 and a letter from the Commander of the Legion d'Honneur dated August 20, 1813; an example of "the last and only seal" used by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte during his exile on the island of St. Helena; a swatch of fabric from his deathbed curtains; and two hand-colored satirical etchings of the Emperor - enduring nightmares in one, and rallying his rat-supporters on his exile island of St. Helena in the other.

The exhibition concluded with more Civil War-related material: a map of Union and Confederate positions during the Second Battle of Bull Run, highlighting the movement of Major General Fitz John Porter's troops, shown with a photograph of Porter. Also shown was correspondence from Porter to Ropes dated 1881. There was a map of the Battle of Gettysburg sketched by Ropes along with his book, The Army Under Pope, from 1881. The exhibition concluded with a letter and hand-drawn map from Joseph Gills Eaton to John Codman Ropes regarding a battle in Santiago Bay during the Spanish-American War with Eaton as Commander of the USS Resolute.

This exhibition is no longer on view.