Emily Dickinson's Confederate Uncle

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"Clad in Victory" by Virginia Dickinson Reynolds
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By the time I had heard this story, we were not taking the consequences of this rather unfriendly advertisement seriously, of course, as the war was long over, and my father was very much alive, although he fought through three years of that bitter conflict.

The passionate strain in the Dickinsons which produced the white heat of Puritanical virtues in New England, made of my father an enthusiastic and unreconstructed "rebel" in the Confederate States.

The only member of the Amherst family who consistently communicated with our own particular branch was Katherine Dickinson, sister of Edward and my grandfather, wife of Mr. Daniel Sweetser, and the mother of Mrs. Edward Winslow of New York. "Aunt Katie" was an opulent myth during my childhood, for she always sent me lovely and mysterious Christ- mas boxes each year. When my father was a small boy, he often expressed an ardent wish to "marry Aunt Katie", so there was, at least, this slender thread of love between the political antagonists in our family. This slight personal background is necessary in order to explain my first meeting with my dis- tinguished cousin, Martha Bianchi.

A little more than twenty years ago, while motoring from Canada to Connecticut, I happened to land in Amherst, quite casually, and I was anxious to see the house in which my grandfather was born--the same one in which Emily lived. I entered one of the local banks to enquire the way to the Dick- inson house.

In the friendly, helpful, New England manner, an elderly gentleman, with a magnificent white beard, asked me a few questions, and gradually, between the two of us, we established the fact that I was born a Dickinson, but had never been in Amherst before, and that I had a desire to view, from the out- side, a building which had exercised a vital influence on my being to say the least. The venerable gentleman was more than kind. He was interested in my story and insisted upon telephoning Madame Bianchi, and explaining who I was. I was shy of that introduction, because I had the idea that the


from Guests in Eden (New York: Zeta Chapter, Phi Delta Gamma, 1946)

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Transcription and commentary copyright 1999 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
Maintained by Lara Vetter <lv26@umail.umd.edu>
Last updated on June 12, 2000