The Warrior Poet Camp Constitution, the point of enlistment for New Hampshire's early volunteers. A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, in the War of the Rebellion, Internet Archive.
Edmund Dascomb was born on November 11, 1837 to Samuel and Rebekah in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the youngest of five children. Dascomb grew up in the rural regions of New Hampshire that surrounded Concord, the capital of the Granite State. Dascomb attended high school at Thetford Academy.Sshowing a great value for education from a young age, he wrote to a classmate in 1857: “Remember the scenes and doings of the past term, and from them learn human nature.” Dascomb was a young man of great promise in the world of academia, taking his education further to Tuft’s College, where he spent two years in close application to his studies. However, he was prevented from the completion of his studies at Tuft’s due to poor health, a condition he suffered with throughout his entire life. Dascomb suffered severe eye ailments which caused him to go blind for weeks on end, and which interfered with the rigors of an academic life.
Following his recovery, Dascomb spent five years as a teacher, applying his high values of education to a younger generation, all the while indulging in his own education of literature and the sciences. In his time as a teacher, Dascomb took to poetry and oration, two hobbies that would help him through the next few years of his life. Dascomb held himself to a high moral standard, abstaining from alcohol and women, holding that these “evils” would lead him to an impure life and distract him from his academics and service to the nation. He was described as a great patriot, writing to his friend that, in his mind, “Country first; self after country is saved.” He would use this phrase as his personal motto throughout the American Civil War. In March 1861, Dascomb looked to change his profession to legal practice but found that the path in front of him would not be the one he had anticipated.
When the American Civil War broke out, Dascomb gave into his sense of patriotism and enlisted in the 2nd NH Volunteer Infantry as a corporal of Company G on May 21, 1861, at the age of 23. Having seen his country dangerously threatened by the southern rebellion, he decided to enlist to aid in the cause of the Union. When told that some men must go to fight he replied, “Then why not I? It may cost me much suffering and my life even. But what are these compared with the object to be maintained. To build the ship many lives were sacrificed, and now, to save her from an untimely wreck shall my life be counted too?” On the day of his enlistment, Dascomb wrote a poem titled “The Volunteers Farewell,” where he writes:
From the hillsides and vallies so lovely,
From the friends who to us are most dear,
We are parting, it may be forever,
But out hearts have no room for a fear.
For the voices are calling us onward,
In the name of the free and the brave;
“Gainst the spite and malice of traitors,
They have called us – our country to save.
Dascomb left New Hampshire being to the cheers of those he was leaving behind, his heart full of pride for his nation. He fought with the 2nd NH in their first two engagements at the Battle of First Manassas and the Battle of Williamsburg. At the latter battle, on May 5, 1862, Dascomb was “dangerously wounded” and many thought he would not make it through the wound due to his poor general health. However, he pulled through, gaining a new mindset about the war. No longer did he view the war as a fight for his nation, but began fighting the war for freedom, writing a poem in October 1862 titled “The Price of Freedom” in the wake of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. His wound at Williamsburg offered him a chance to reflect on the sacrifice he was willing to make for his nation and ultimately the freedom of millions of people, writing:
The Price we pay is truly great
For Freedom’s precious boon,
But cheap is this at any cost
Save to the base poltroon.
Disaster’s dark, uncertain hour,
Soon shows the coward’s knave,
Who for a chance to breathe a while
Would yield and be a slave.
God’s ways are just, this much we know
His children are our brethren all,
Deny it though we will-
Our brethren in the right to live,
To labor and enjoy,
This Magna Carta of our hopes
No one shall e’er destroy.
Dedicated to seeing the war to its end and the fruits of Union victory, Dascomb returned to his regiment in August of 1862 to see his unit fight bravely in the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. THe regiment took the two Union losses hard, but maintained high spirits on the battlefield and in camp. Dascomb received a promotion to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on May 1, 1863. A few days following this joyous occasion, Dascomb received orders to begin marching northwards to follow the Confederate Army into the state of Pennsylvania.
The Fight at the Wentz Farm A sketch of the positions on July 2. A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, in the War of the Rebellion, Internet Archive.
The Fallen Volunteer The flags of the 2nd New Hampshire. A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, in the War of the Rebellion, Internet Archive.
News of Dascomb’s death shocked his friends and family back in New Hampshire. His mother and father suffered greatly from the loss of their youngest child, while his sisters mourned the loss of their brother. His professors at Tuft’s College held a vigil for him in celebration of his life and the service he gave to his nation. Back home, his family and friends held a funeral service for the town to mourn the death of their fallen son. One of his friends later wrote of him that “Dascomb was a young man of great promise, and his death is a severe loss to the community and the country… God shall grant that the fall of our lamented friend may be overruled to the furtherance of the glorious cause in which he bled and died; and hasten the day when the Stars and Stripes shall peacefully wave over our entire National Domain.”
Dascomb was originally buried near the 3rd Corps field hospital, following his death there. However, in the immediate months following the Battle of Gettysburg, local attorney David Wills called for a national cemetery for the Union dead. This cemetery became the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where Lt. Edmund Dascomb now lies, honorably.
Following the American Civil War, members of the 2nd NH and friends from home compiled Dascomb’s poems, publishing “Selections from the Poetical Composition of E. Dascomb.” Within the compilation, a dear friend of Dascomb’s wrote a short biography of Dascomb, recounting the honorable and brave man who fell on the fields at Gettysburg. They spoke highly of Dascomb’s character and of his accomplishments as an academic and a military man. The final poem in the compilation is titled “The Dying Volunteer.” The poem, set to music, was sung at Dascomb’s funeral service and read:
I am dying, brother, dying,
‘Mid the wounded and the slain,
And around me forms are lying
Which will never strive again: Much I would but cannot tell thee,
Of a home I cherished dear,
Of the friends I’ve left behind me,
Who will shed the silent tear.
I am dying, brother, dying,
See how fast my lite blood flows,
And I feel my soul is hieing
Where in death ‘t will fine repose;
Farwell father, sister, mother.
Farwell all my friends so dear,
Farewell, world, I seek another,
Gasped the dying Volunteer.
Hayes, Martin A. History of the Second Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers: Its Camps, Marches and Battles. Manchester, NH: Charles F. Livingston, Printer, 1865.
Hayes, Martin A. A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion. Lakeport, NH, 1896.
“Selections from the Poetical Composition of E. Dascomb.” Gettysburg National Military Park Library.
United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 vols. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1880-1901. Ser. 1, Vol. 27, 1: 573-575.
Narrative and map by Savannah Rose, Gettysburg College.