The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Fathers and Sons: Oliver Wendell Holmes

What was the train trip like?

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. tells the reader about the train trip and his constant eager search for his son: the article is entitled “My hunt after ‘The Captain.’” Numerous times he could have bumped into his son, but time and again circumstances thwart a meeting. First the son is released from the camp hospital at Antietam and sent to Philadelphia; on chasing thither, Oliver Wendell Holmes finds that his son has been sent elsewhere. Finally, however, comes the magical moment when, as if it had all been planned, magically or otherwise, they meet on a train.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. mused at length. How could such an atmosphere of distance emerge between them? Why had they not sprung to each other, full of rejoicing? The answer, quite likely, is that they came from an upper-class group, the so-called Boston Brahmins, who did not go in for that kind of emotional display. The son not only recovered from his wound, he lived to be ninety-three and served for many years on the bench of the Supreme Court.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (left) was a physician and author, and his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., was a noted U.S. Supreme Court associate justice.


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