Frank Harlow Day 2014

Last Saturday was the 10th annual Frank Harlow Day. The 10th! It’s hard to believe we’ve been embarrassing ourselves before our friends and townspeople for that many years, honestly. And, while everyone jokes about how we always have horrible weather, it really hasn’t been that bad other than the first year when it snowed and the second year when we had a monsoon.


dale addressing the troops for carole knits

I have the usual collection of photos to share with you. As we have done for the past 3 years, we encouraged adults and children in town to come and enlist in the 29th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Each person who does that is given the name of an actual soldier from our town and they portray that soldier throughout the event.

this is your right for carole knits

They are instructed in the ways of Civil War soldiers. I call this photo “This is your right” and if you’ve seen the movie “Glory” you will know why.

roll call for carole knits

When roll is called, our participants – from the littlest to the biggest – respond with a loud “present, sir” when their soldier’s name is called. It’s my favorite part of the day.

march to cemetery for carole knits

After roll call they all marched across the street and through the cemetery to Frank Harlow’s grave. Frank isn’t actually buried there (you can read more about that here if you’re so inclined) but there is a marker for his family and Frank’s name is listed.

colors at the monument for carole knits

The colors are posted at the monument and Dale says a few words.

ann and dale with wreath for carole knits

This year our friend Anne placed the wreath on Frank Harlow’s marker. It was her first time as a reenactor and I’m pretty sure she had a blast. She was rockin’ that dress and apron, too.

gun salute for carole knits

The “real” reenactors (the ones with actual, ya know, guns) fired a salute to Frank Harlow and all of the fallen soldiers.

taps for carole knits

And then our friend Ted played taps.

march back for carole knits

They then all marched back through the cemetery and to the Common where they were dismissed by their captain. It’s always sight to behold and I’m so honored to participate in this day.

remember the ladies for carole knits

We spent the rest of the day knitting and sewing, talking and swapping stories of other reenactments, and just generally enjoying each other’s company. I call this photo “remember the ladies” because we’re the ones who really do all of the work. Right, Dale?

Speaking of Dale, prior to this year’s event, he had been saying this year would be the last. I was pretty sure he didn’t mean it, though, and it was confirmed on Saturday morning when he uttered the words I had been expecting all along

. . .  next year . . .

Frank Harlow Day, 2012

I kind of feel like my blog has been hijacked by all this Civil War stuff but I would be neglectful if I didn’t tell you about this year’s Frank Harlow Day. For the first time since holding this event we decided to have it on our town common. Now, I may be biased since I have been pushing for this change for years, but I have to say it was such a good decision. We were more visible, it was more picturesque, and everyone (even Dale) agrees that we should hold it there for all of our future events.

Anyway, I spent the better part of Friday morning doing some baking – peach crumb bars, cherry pie and pumpkin bread and then we set up our camp on Friday afternoon. It was a bit rainy but we managed and Dale actually slept in our tent that night. (I’m no fool, I went to my nice warm, comfortable bed which was less than 1/4 of a mile away.) For the event on Saturday we had fair weather – it was cloudy but it didn’t rain – and we had a great turn out of reenactors and spectators. We set up a recruiting station and everyone who wanted to participate “signed up” and received the name of a Civil War soldier from our town who enlisted.

We had some, errrr, interesting recruits. But I’m betting they learned a bit about what it was like to be a soldier and I’m also betting they had a pretty good time.

Dale and our good friend Doug did a roll call and the names of our soldiers were read and each participant assigned to that soldier’s name responded with a loud “here!” It’s actually a very cool moment during the day and we think it’s a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of these men from 150 years ago.

The best part of the day, though, was when my friend Wendy presented the reproduction flag that our town’s Historical Commission hired her to paint. It’s an exact replica of the 29th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry flag and Wendy painstakingly created it from partial photographs and information. Of course you can’t actually see Wendy in that photo – she’s shy and standing by Dale’s shoulder – but you can see what an amazing job she did painting this flag.

Once the flag presentation was done the company marched across the street to the cemetery to pay respects at Frank Harlow’s grave. (It’s not really his grave but you already know that.) Dale said a few words and they fired a salute and then our friend Ted played “Taps.” There were more than a few tears shed, I can tell you that.

The soldiers then marched back through the cemetery and over to the common for the remainder of the afternoon. We relaxed a bit, talked to spectators about camp life during the Civil War, did some socializing and knitting and . . . wait, there was one other thing . . .what was it . . . oh, now I remember . . .

Celebrated Kentucky Derby Day!

The Frank Harlow Story, A Post By Dale

My guest blogger today is my darling husband, Dale and he’s writing about his connection to Frank Harlow, a Civil War soldier from our town. Get yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, this is a long story. It’s a good one, though.

The American Civil War first caught my interest over fifty years ago during the centennial in 1961. I was ten years old and loved to read about the Civil War – I even convinced my family to take a vacation to Gettysburg in 1963 to witness the centennial celebration of that momentous battle. Little did I know I was starting an incredible journey that would interest me for years but especially when I met Carole and we quickly discovered that we shared a fascination with this time period. Carole really encouraged me to read more on the subject and in 1998 we visited Gettysburg together for the first time. It was the 135th anniversary of the battle and we were both caught up in the idea of becoming reenactors. It was around this time that my interest was truly rekindled and I started reading everything I could on the subject.

In the spring of 2000 I was reading The Last Full Measure by Jeff Shaara. I was in the middle of the chapter that describe the Battle of Ft. Stedman and I was particularly interested in this because it was a battle I had never heard of until then. As I was reading, Carole came in to ask me if I wanted to go for a walk with our new puppy, Dixie. I set the book down on the kitchen table and we headed out. As usual our walk took us to the Town Common and then down into the old cemetery. With my new Civil War interest I was more aware of our many graves from that time period and one in particular caught my eye. It was up a little grade from where we normally walked but for some reason I was drawn to it. the small white monument was the marker of a family plot and as I read the names I was quite surprised to find that one of the names was of a young soldier who was killed in action in 1865 at the Battle of Ft. Stedman. You can imagine my shock and I couldn’t help but be struck by this coincidence.

Or was it fate? This story is really just beginning.

Later that summer we were camping in Plymouth and I was reading the book Specimen Days and Collect by Walt Whitman. This book is really a series of short observations from Whitman’s personal Civil War experiences. One story is called “A Yankee Antique” and it tells the tale of a brave young soldier who refused to surrender when his company was surrounded by Confederates at Ft. Stedman. When asked to comply by a rebel officer, the hero of the story says, “not while I live!” Both men fired their weapons and both fell dead, side by side. As I read the story I couldn’t help but thinking how odd it was to be reading about Ft. Stedman again. Whitman then describes how the boy’s father came to recover the body and bring it home to Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Of course Plymouth County is large but my town and my cemetery are in it. I was definitely intrigued now and when we returned home from our camping trip I took the book with me and rushed to the grave I had found back in the spring. Could it be the soldier from Whitman’s story? I flipped the book open and read the name, Calvin Francis Harlow. Then I looked at the inscription on the grave and it said, Calvin Francis Harlow – a match. I was shocked and had goose bumps as I stood there and read Whitman’s story out loud. It just seemed like the right thing to do although I probably looked like an idiot to anyone passing by.

And here’s the thing – this grave is less than a mile from our house, less than a mile from where I grew up and have lived my entire life. I’ve been by it countless times as this was my shortcut home from school for years. Now, though, it was special, now there was a story, and now I wanted to share the story with others.

So I did. I told friends and co-workers. I told family members and friends of family members. I told people on the street and basically anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. Mostly, though, I told fellow reenactors. One of them, a friend named Hal, listened with great interest and when I finished he said, quite simply, “so what are you going to do with this story?” I thought about it and I realized that Hal was giving me a charge – it was time to do something more with this story.

I started doing some research on Harlow and was fortunate enough to be put in touch with his great nephew who lived on Cape Cod. Calvin was this man’s uncle and he knew about the Walt Whitman story. I asked if there was a photo of Calvin and he said he’d send me a copy of one he had and then he asked me if I was interested in reading some of Harlow’s letters home. I was speechless; it is a researcher’s dream come true to find primary sources! Along with his official military record, the Walt Whitman story, and the personal letters, I had some pretty interesting stuff to share and I learned a lot about this young soldier. Calvin was 18 when he left home in May of 1861, less than one month after the war began. He was in the 29th Mass Vol Inf Regt Co C and after three years of service he reenlisted to see the war through. In his four years of service he saw a lot of action, fighting in several of the major battles. By late 1864 he was promoted to 1st Serg of his company and was at Petersburg, VA. It was there that he made his heroic stand and was killed on March 25, 1865, just two weeks before the war ended.

With my research done, I knew what I had to do – I had to make his name known throughout our town. With the help of several friends, some reenactors, and Carole, we made a plan to have a Civil War Encampment and Living History and to call the event “Calvin Harlow Day” in honor of our hometown hero. Our first Calvin Harlow Day was held in 2005 and it rained pretty hard. I still think of it as a success, though, and we decided to do it again in 2006. It rained again, this time with the addition of strong winds and even snow. It became a sort of town joke that it “always” rained on Calvin Harlow Day but we decided to make it an annual event nonetheless. I hoped it wouldn’t rain again but I was a little despondent, I must admit. Carole was the one who figured out the problem, though. One day she came to me and said, “I think you should change the name of the event to Frank Harlow Day. I don’t think he likes to be called Calvin and that’s why it keeps raining.” I thought about this and decided she might be onto something. He signed all his letters “Frank” and his great nephew referred to him as “Uncle Frank.” I didn’t have anything to lose so our third annual event became “Frank Harlow Day” and . . . the sun came out! Frank Harlow Day continues and this coming Saturday, May 5th, we will be hosting our 8th annual. It is a fitting tribute to Frank and the nearly 400 others who left our town to go “save the Union!”

The other part of this story is that during my research I discovered that Frank’s body was never returned to East Bridgewater despite his father’s best efforts to retrieve him. He is interred in Poplar Grove National Cemetery near Petersburg, VA and that is why we took our vacation in Virginia this year. I guess it’s also why I was pretty emotional when we found his grave – I traveled a long way to meet him and it was a bit overwhelming to stand over him and pay my respects. So that’s my story about finding Frank Harlow and keeping his memory alive. I definitely feel connected to him and I feel that all of this was meant to be. This was confirmed for me when I looked up his birth day and found out it was June 26, 1842. You’ve probably guessed already, my birthday is also June 26.

Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe it’s Frank reaching across the years, wanting to be remembered, wanting someone to tell his story.  I am honored to be that person.

Frank Harlow Day, 2011

Saturday was our 6th annual Frank Harlow Day and the first thing I need to do is thank you all for your thoughts and wishes in keeping the rain away. The afternoon was a deluge but the morning was dry and that’s what we really needed.

The reason we needed the morning to be dry was because Dale decided that this year’s Frank Harlow Day would be an excellent way to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. His idea was to reenact the mustering in of the men from East Bridgewater who joined the Union Army.

To that end we invited our reenactor friends along with any men and boys from town to join us on the Common and be sworn in as a soldier in the 29th Massachusetts. Each individual was given enlistment papers with the name of an actual soldier from that time and they then participated in a drill on the Common.

By the time they formed up as a unit they looked pretty good. The reenactors were interspersed with Boy Scouts and volunteers for a total of about 50 men. It wasn’t the 100 Dale had hoped for but the weather kept many away, I’m sure.

Once they assembled they marched around the Common to the Civil War monument and Dale read the roll call of all who had enlisted. I have to tell you, it was quite touching to hear each name called and have someone answer as that person.  Some of the men were killed, of course, and when Dale read those names he told the individual portraying that person their fate. It made for a very somber experience and I think it was a wonderful tribute to those men that their names were spoken aloud and, for just a brief moment, they were thought of again.

The group then left the Common and proceeded to march to Sachem Rock Farm, the site of our reenactment each year. Our Police Chief volunteered to help with traffic and he assembled our local constables to help as well. We so appreciated everyone’s cooperation in getting our little parade up the street.

By the time the soldiers reached Sachem Rock it had started to rain in earnest and the rest of the day was spent trying to stay warm and dry. The boys did organize a little skirmish with some wandering Confederates and we were all treated to some great music from our friends in the Rocky Run Band but the downpours and wind kept things to a minimum.

Nevertheless I would call the day a success. We’re planning on doing the muster again next year and every year until 2015, the final year of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Our goal is to have every soldier who served the Union be represented that year. I bet we can do it, too.


Frank Harlow Day, Year Four

Our fourth annual Frank Harlow Day was a rousing success! The sun was shining and we had an abundance of participants. Union soldiers, civilians, sutlers, musicians, Confederates, horses, Boy Scouts, politicians and spectators were all in attendance.


Our set up on Friday was simple and fast. Even a 12X12 tent and fly goes up quickly when you have such cute help.


We had two new additions to our program this year – musicians and confederates. The musicians are part of a local folk music group called Rocky Run. They made such a difference to the event. Not only did they learn period appropriate music but they even made a concerted effort to dress for occasion.



The addition of Confederates allowed for a tiny skirmish to take place and spectators always love a good skirmish! Those Confederates held the Union soldiers off for a good long while but eventually the odds (20-2) caught up with them and they surrendered.


Dinner Saturday night was a wonderful meal of beef stew cooked over the campfire along with a chicken cooked on a spit, biscuits, and homemade pie for dessert. Eating outside always makes everything taste better!


Here’s my favorite picture of the day, taken by Chris, a blogger I met for the first time on Saturday. See that smile on my face? It’s two fold. First, I’m smiling because I’m waltzing with my husband. Second, I’m smiling because the event is winding down. It’s a lot of fun but it’s a lot of work and I’m happy to put it to rest for another year.

P.S. More pictures on flickr, if you’re interested.

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