Going to the War
There is a touching story about a flag made by the young women of the Academy many years ago. In fact, a short chapter was devoted to its cause in Episode 5: Going to the Civil War in The Pageant of Meriden written to celebrate Kimball Union’s Centenary in 1913. It begins with folk of all ages, along with “young fellows in uniform,” arriving on the Hilltop. Twelve-year-old Robbie calls from the doorway of his home to his family inside, “They are going up! Come on! Come on, George! They are all going up!“…
From the same place comes George, in uniform, a young fellow of about nineteen, his father and mother, and his sister, Mary carrying a new flag.
Robbie: Did you help make it, Mary?
Mary: Yes, of course I did. All the girls in the Academy helped make it. Every one did something on it.
Robbie: Let me carry it up, will you?
Mary: No, I will not.
Robbie: Father, can’t I carry it up the hill? I’ll be careful of it.
Father: No, Robbie, you cannot. Be quiet. Mary and the girls have made this flag for the boys of the Academy to carry to the front, and of course Mary wants to carry it up herself. She has charge of it until it is presented to the company.
Robbie: Who is going to carry it in the company?
George: I am.
Robbie: You are? What, in battle? Are you going to carry it in the charges?
George: Yes, unless they hit me.
The episode ends with many sad farewells and George’s father telling him, “… My boy, one last word from your father. It is hard for your mother to say good-bye to you. Think of her always, and do your duty for your country. Never flinch. And that will be a comfort to your mother–whatever happens. God bless you!”
In the true story, according to The Kimball Union newspaper of 1911, fourteen members of the Class of 1862 went “from the graduating platform” into Lebanon, New Hampshire, where they were mustered into Company E of the newly formed Ninth New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. Among them was class Valedictorian Oscar Robinson, who had been born and raised on a farm in Cornish, New Hampshire, as had his father and grandfather before him. He opened his Commencement address with patriotic words to his classmates, many of who would soon be engaged in battle. “Classmates the parting hours has come! The old chapel bell has summoned us for the last time!! Already perchance our thoughts have wandered far beyond the distant hills where quiet homes and loving friends would bid us speak the sacred parting word…we realize that we are called to serve no other bonds of friendship than those formed by engaging in a common pursuit, striving for a common goal and reaping a common reward.”
The young women of the Academy made a silk flag, five feet by eight feet, with the embroidered words “Animo et Fide,” (Courageous and Faithful), and presented it to their male classmates just before they left Meriden. Robinson later wrote, “It was a sad meeting and one never to be forgotten by those present.” They carried the flag to Virginia for their first campaign, but were told to send it home as regulations did not allow flags at a Company level as it would cause confusion among the ten companies and reduce firepower by the same number. They sent the flag and brass eagle that sat atop it to Professor Abel Wood at KUA and cut the staff into pieces, one for each KUA soldier of Company E.
Robinson, who rose to the rank of Captain, felt grateful that he returned from the war unscathed having fought in all but one of Company E’s campaigns. He entered Dartmouth College and roomed with his KUA classmate and comrade at arms, Franklin Burnham. He graduated with honors in 1869 and taught at Albany High School in Albany, NY, for 25 years. He was a very
successful and popular teacher; he was promoted to Principal in 1887, the same year he received a Ph.D. from Dartmouth.
Professor Wood held onto the tassel and silk cord from the flag, but gave the brass eagle to Burnham and the flag to Robinson who displayed it each year on Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays and Memorial Day. He wrote, “On those occasions the old flag is always in evidence and greatly revered by all the teachers and pupils. It is much worn and very frail.” He added of the motto, “No words could better express the sentiment of the boys who carried it forth from the old Academy in the darkest days of the Civil War.”
He always fondly remembered his days at KUA, as revealed in a hand-written letter he wrote in 1902 in which he said he would not be able to return for reunion. He wondered if [even] one of his classmates would be there. “Probably not. – We numbered 11 girls and 26 boys at graduation. It was during the darkest days of the Civil War & 18 of our 26 boy graduates – almost every able bodied man immediately entered the Union Army. I believe it was the ‘banner class’ for patriotism. In fact the school flag was presented to us which we carried South & I am the proud possessor of its tattered remains. It bears on its fold in golden letters the appropriate motto ‘Animo Et Fide.’ – But these things belong to a past generation, they are ancient history, few of those survive to whom such items are of interest.”
Oscar Robinson passed away on July 11, 1911, the last Ninth New Hampshire Infantryman from KUA. As for the old flag, “At his funeral it rested on his casket and was buried with him.”