Beacon Street Diary blog

Henry C. Gould scrapbook: Civil War Era honey mystery

Recently, while processing materials transferred from the Chicago Theological Seminary, I found a small volume that caught my eye. It is a simple commemorative scrapbook / biography made by Mildred Gould on the occasion of her father's death in 1915. Henry C. Gould served as sexton at University Congregational Church in Chicago in the last years of his life, from 1897-1915. He was also a locally known Prohibitionist and Civil War Veteran. Reading the pages of this scrapbook it is clear Henry C. Gould was well loved by his daughter, his family, and his community. The book is filled with heart-filled condolences and stories about his life. But… it is his army record that really stood out to me.

Born in Smithville Flats, New York in 1842, Gould enlisted in the 154th regiment, New York Volunteers, at twenty and later reached the rank of Corporal. He served for almost three years in the Armies of the Potomac, Cumberland, and Georgia under Generals McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade, and Sherman. He took part in the following battles: Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wauhachie, Lookout Valley, Lookout Mountain, Mission Ridge, Orchard Knob, Rocky Faced Ridge, Recaca, Pumpkin Vine Creek, Pine Knob, Culp's Farm, Kenesaw Mountain, and Chattahoochie River.

At the back of the scrapbook, there is section titled Army Record from 1912 with Gould's signature and an amazing story.

"I have the musket which I carried the two years and nine months during which I was in service. It was the only one in my company that did not change hands. I was off duty only once during my term of service, and that time I was sick from eating too much confiscated honey. I did not receive a wound during my service, but was hit in the forehead by a spent ball at the battle of Gettysburg. I was promoted to corporal, May, 1st, 1865."

To be clear — Gould survived Chancellorsville, Gettsyburg, and Sherman's March in Atlanta. He survived being hit in the forehead with a spent shell. The only time he was off duty during his service was due to illness from confiscated honey. It amazes me he could outplay death on the battlefield but be done in by bad honey. By way of confession, I am a backyard beekeeper, so I found this story particularly fascinating. I took some time discussing it with my own beekeeping mentor (we have such things!), trying to figure out the nature of the toxic honey, and we came up with some reasonable theories. The phrase "confiscated" is interesting, since we do not know from whom it was confiscated.

  • It may have been intentionally adulterated.
  • It may have been honey made from the pollen and nectar of poisonous flowers (azalea, for example). That seems unlikely, however, as the concentration of that single source would have to be very high.
  • While honey is generally known for lasting indefinitely under the right circumstances, yeast can grow in it if the moisture content is too high, causing honey to ferment. If the bees were not done curing the honey before it was consumed, it could have caused his reaction. (Under controlled conditions, and with the right yeast present, this is how mead is made.)
  • The honey may not have been what caused his illness at all; eating it may have been a coincidence.

In the end, we'll never know what caused Henry C. Gould's wartime illness, but it is remarkable he survived his time in the army, walked home with his regiment from Virginia to New York, and was able to continue on with his life. Henry C. Gould and Marcia A. Wheeler married in October 1, 1873 in Mexico, NY, and not too long after moved to Massachusetts before settling down in Chicago and having their daughter, E. Mildred Gould. Beekeeping-related mysteries aside, this is a wonderful little scrapbook and memorial to Henry Gould. It depicts his life, clearly demonstrates its impact to those around him, and provides some fantastic insight to the Civil War era.

The scrapbook is now processed and available for patron research.



Second photograph captioned: "Musket, Canteen, Belt, and Cap Box which he carried during the two years and nine months of the Civil War 1862-1865. Taken on the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg – July, 1913"