Theodore Lyman — man of science — soldier — and man of the world — touched life at many points. He could draw easily on his varied experience, from a well-trained and well-stored mind. This, added to good looks, charm, and good humor, a ready wit and great tact, made him a striking and telling personality, whether in the camp, a scientific meeting, or social gathering.

Among his many activities, he served, from 1883 to 1885, as a member of the House of Representatives at Washington, being elected on an independent ticket from his Massachusetts district. As he was the only independent member then in Congress, he held there a position of unusual influence. At that time the Harvard Club of Washington celebrated its birth by having a dinner. The first two speakers, a member of the cabinet and a senator, indulged in dry and inappropriate political harangues; and the event threatened to be un diner manque. The chairman next called on Lyman, who regretted that the previous proceedings had been tinged with a levity unworthy of so serious an occasion, proposed to do something solemn, sang a comic song, and saved the day.

The Lyman family of New England is of old English stock. Its founder, one Richard Lyman, came to America in 1681, on the good ship Lyon, which among its sixty odd passengers included John Eliot, and the wife of Governor Winthrop and her children. The first Theodore Lyman, a direct descendant of Richard in the fifth generation, was the son of the pastor of Old York in the District of Maine.1 Toward the end of the eighteenth century Theodore left York, and came to Massachusetts Bay, where he settled in Boston. There he became a successful man of business, and laid the foundation of the family fortunes.

The second Theodore (1792-1849) was born in Boston, and graduated from Harvard in 1810. He was a man of note in the community of his time; had studied abroad and travelled in Eastern Europe, an unusual circumstance in his day; and was Mayor of Boston in 1834 and 1835. In 1820 he married “the beautiful and accomplished” Mary Henderson of New York.

Their only son, Theodore Lyman, the third of that name, and author of the present letters, was born on August 23, 1833, in the well-known family homestead at Waltham, Massachusetts. But almost his whole life was passed in Brookline, where his father afterwards built a house, a pleasant and spacious dwelling, set in ample lawns and spreading elms.

Young Theodore received his early education from private tutors, and spent the years 1848 and 1849 in Europe. His mother died when he was three years old, and the year of his return from abroad he lost his father. This left him at sixteen an orphan, heir to an independent fortune and the Brookline estate. Two years later he entered Harvard with the Class of ‘55. It was natural that one so charming, high-spirited, and companionable should feel himself warmly drawn toward the social side of college life. In his studies, for the first two years, he hovered about the middle of his class. It was not till his junior year that his intellectual ambitions were aroused, and in his senior year his true abilities asserted themselves. For in that year he received the highest marks in the class, and graduated fourth. After leaving college, he turned his attention to Natural History, and worked under Louis Agassiz. Devoting himself to the study of Ophiurans while maintaining a broad interest in the outside world, Lyman became the authority of his day on that group.

In 1858 he married Elizabeth Russell, daughter of George R. Russell, an East India merchant of Boston. Lyman took his bride home to his Brookline house, where they lived some two years, before starting to travel in Europe. There a daughter was born, and there they remained until she was old enough to be brought safely home.

In the winter of 1856, the year after he graduated, Lyman was sent by Agassiz on a scientific pilgrimage to Florida waters. In Key West he ran across Captain George Gordon Meade of the Engineers, who was superintending the construction of lighthouses in that district. In those days a traveller was a rara avis in Florida, and a lonely wanderer found but scant accommodation. Captain Meade had a ship at his disposal, and was delighted to have the chance of offering Lyman the hospitalities of his floating home, for a far less agreeable man would have been a godsend in the wilderness. The Engineer Officer was eighteen years the senior of the Roving Naturalist, but they proved congenial companions, and the intimacy so formed was afterwards maintained.

And thus it chanced that, on his return from Europe Lyman, from September 1863, until the end of the Civil War, was a member of the staff of General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac. The present volume is composed of a selection of Colonel Lyman's letters to his wife from the front. His vivid picture of the life and actions of that army has an added interest from the contrast that it offers to the late World War. Still, the contest was titanic for the times; and during the four years of the Civil War there were mustered under the Union Flag over two and three quarter millions2 of men. This was a far greater proportional drain on the American youth of that day than the drafts for our recent armies. Nevertheless, in no battle of that war was an army of much over 100,000 men engaged. But one must remember that Napoleon had less than 75,000 men at Waterloo, and that the eighteen miles or so of intrenched line before Petersburg could, in 1865, justly be considered vast.

Five years later the Franco-Prussian War taught us to think of battles on a larger scale; while the opening of the century saw Russia and Japan fighting along battle-lines of sixty miles, with armies of half a million. To-day the white races of the world lie panting from a struggle in which armies of millions have wrestled along battle-lines stretching across the Continent of Europe.

Small as they were in the light of our recent experiences, the battles of our fathers might have furnished valuable military instruction for Europe. As Lyman says, it was shown that an army could dig itself in in a few hours, and completely intrench itself in three days. Had the French war office profited by this lesson, and, instead of building what proved useless fortifications, established an intrenched line along the Belgium frontier, there would be to-day, in all probability, no devastated France.


1 Maine was then a part of Massachusetts.

2 This includes re-enlistments and 90-day men.

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