Walking Tour of Harvard’s Military History

A Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization History Team Project

Harvard University has a long and distinguished history of military service.  Harvard students, alumni and faculty have served in uniform or in support of the military in every conflict since King Phillip’s War in 1675-1676.   The buildings and grounds of Harvard University have served as barracks, headquarters, training sites, research labs, and defensive works.  This walk explores Harvard’s military history by visiting monuments built to honor those who served and stops at several locations with military significance.  

1.) As you leave the Information Center and cross Massachusetts Avenue, the Wadsworth House stands to the right.  General George Washington occupied this house when he first arrived in Cambridge in July 1775 to take command of the Continental Army from Major General Artemas Ward (H 1748).   The siege of Boston and occupation of Harvard buildings by the Continental Army caused the College to move to Concord for the 1775-1776 academic year.  

2.) Walking into Harvard Yard, you will approach four buildings in use during the Revolutionary War.  From 1775 to 1776, Massachusetts Hall, Harvard Hall, Hollis Hall and Holden Chapel were barracks housing approximately 1,600 Colonial soldiers while more troops set up temporary shelter on the grass in the Yard.   Harvard was well represented on both sides of the Revolutionary War.  Of the 899 Harvard graduates who fought in the War, 199 were Loyalists.  21 Harvard men died during the War while on active military duty.  

3.) As you cross Harvard Yard, look left at the roof of Holworthy Hall, which was built in 1812.  The slate for the roof was initially supplied from Wales.  Because trade with Britain ceased during the War of 1812, the roof was finished with slate from New York.  Also during the War of 1812, the British captured and burned the College’s sloop, Harvard, used to transport firewood down the coast from Maine.  The captain of the sloop was imprisoned in England for six months.  Books ordered from Britain were not delivered during the war.   44 Harvard men served in the war , among them Joseph Lovell (H 1807, H MD 1811), a medical officer in the U.S. Army.  He also served in the subsequent Black Hawk and Seminole wars and was appointed Surgeon General of the U.S. Army, a position he held from 1818-1836.  

4.) Pause in front of University Hall.  The Harvard Washington Corps, a student run military company first organized in 1769 stored muskets here during the War of 1812.  The weapons were state funded and provided by Governor Elbridge Gerry (H 1762).  The student members of the Corps drilled in uniform and fired a salute to celebrate the end of the war in 1815.  

5.) John Harvard Statue – The model for the statue was an undergrad named Sherman Hoar (H 1882, HL 1884) whose uncle seven generations removed , Leonard Hoar, was Harvard’s 3rd college president (1672-1675).  Sherman had a distinguished legal career after Harvard, serving in Congress from 1891-1893 and as US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts from 1893-1897.  On June 7, 1898 he was elected to the Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association Executive Committee, which provided supplies and other assistance to soldiers from Massachusetts fighting in the Spanish American War in Cuba.  He died in Concord four months later of typhoid fever, likely contracted while visiting the sick and wounded in military hospitals. During his short tenure, Sherman Hoar accomplished many vital tasks on behalf of the Aid Association, to include acquiring a hospital ship with permission to fly the Red Cross flag; shipping medical supplies, clothing, and food to Santiago, Cuba; two trips military hospitals in Virginia and New York; and securing War Department funding of transportation, rations, and sleeping cars for furloughed soldiers. He returned home from his second hospital trip exhausted and was soon too ill to work. He never recovered and died on October 7, 1898.
The Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association adopted a tribute to his memory, which ends with the following words:
“To the soldiers of the war he gave his life with unswerving devotion; for their comfort and welfare he labored unremittingly, cheerfully obeying the call of duty and forsaking all to earn the reward of an approving conscience. Their gratitude will keep his memory ever fresh, and his career will be to them an embodiment of the highest ideal of civic duty and Christian virtue.”
6.) Boylston Hall – Harvard’s first Union volunteers reportedly lined up here in April 1861 to serve in the Civil War.  

7.) Widener Library – Two murals commemorating World War I hang in the main staircase as you enter Widener Library.  John Singer Sargent painted “Death and Victory” and “Coming of the Americans” in 1922

8.) Memorial Church – Dedicated on Armistice Day 1932, the church was a gift of the alumni to the University in memory of those who died in World War I.  Plaques and inscriptions inside the church honor Harvard’s dead from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

9.) Memorial Hall – When the Civil War ended in 1865, alumni raised money to build a memorial for the Harvard men who died fighting for the Union.  1,358 Harvard men wore Union blue and 304 wore Confederate gray.  The building was completed in 1878.

10.) Major Henry Lee Higginson, Class of 1855, donated $150,000 in 1899 to build the Harvard Union, now called the Barker Center.  The building served a dual purpose.  It met the long identified need for a university social club open to all Harvard students, alumni, and faculty and was also a memorial to the Harvard men who died in the Spanish-American War of 1898.   Their names are inscribed on a plaque with a large eagle above the door as you exit the center of the building.

11.) Loeb House – Originally the residence of Harvard’s presidents, this house became during World War II the headquarters of the Navy V-12 program at Harvard.  In order to produce enough qualified officer’s to run the ships built for the war effort, the Navy launched the V-12 College Training Program at 131 colleges and universities nationwide.  Naval Officer Candidates accepted into the V-12 program were enlisted and earned $50 a month to go to college paid for by the government.  They attended classes and training year round in order to graduate quickly and get out to the fleet.

12.) Lamont Library – The high ground you are standing on outside Lamont Library was a defensive breastwork during the siege of Boston at the start of the Revolutionary War.  The major donor for the library was Thomas W. Lamont (H 1892).  His grandson, Thomas William Lamont II was a member of Harvard’s Class of 1946, but left college early to join the Navy.  He served on the USS Snook, a US combat submarine in WWII that was credited with sinking 17 enemy vessels in her two and one-half years of active service. She earned seven battle stars for World War II service.  She was lost in April 1945 on her ninth combat patrol, in the South China Sea.  Engraved on a small brass plaque in the Lamont Library is Thomas Lamont II's name and "pro patria sua" (for his country). Lamont Library also has several other KIA memorial plaques and the "Farnsworth Reading Room" (on the third floor), named for Henry Weston Farnsworth (H 1912) who volunteered for the French Foreign Legion and was killed in action in France before the US entered WWI.

13.) Dexter Gate – “Enter to grow in wisdom.  Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”

Law School Extended Tour
1.)    Law School Library – Plaques outside the Treasure Room at the north end of the Langdell Hall Reading Room commemorate Harvard Law School students and graduates who were killed serving in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, OIF, and OEF.

Kennedy School, Soldier’s Field, HBS Extended Tour
1.)  Hicks House – Now the Kirkland House Library, the stone marker tells us the house was “Built in 1762, house of John Hicks who was killed by British soldiers April 19th, 1775.  Used by General Putnam for Army Office.”

2.) JFK School of Gov’t – John F. Kennedy served in the Navy during World War II.

3.) Weld Boat House – Named for an influential Harvard family one of whom, Stephen Weld, Jr. , (H 1860) left Harvard Law in his first year to join the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War.  He was discharged in 1865 brevetted a brigadier general after fighting in several battles, to include the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg.

4.) Anderson Soldier-Scholar Bridge – Built in memory of Civil War veteran Nicholas Longworth Anderson (H 1858).  Two large plaques on the Cambridge side of the bridge commemorate his service and sense of duty.

5.) Soldier’s Field was a gift to the University from Major Henry Lee Higginson, class of 1855, who purchased the empty field to give to Harvard in 1890.  Major Higginson volunteered for the Second Massachusetts Regiment of Infantry on April 18, 1861 and transferred to the First Massachusetts Cavalry in October 1861.  He fought at Antietam and Fredericksburg before being wounded at the battle of Aldie on June 17, 1863 when his horse was shot out from under him.  He suffered a bullet wound in his lower back and a sabre cut across his face, which left a scar for life.  Henry Lee Higginson survived the Civil War, but several of his Harvard friends did not.  Look for their names and read the inscription on the granite obelisk just inside the Soldier’s Field gate.  At the dedication ceremony, Major Higginson gave the following speech:

“Now, what do the lives of our friends teach us?  Surely the beauty and the holiness of work and of utter, unselfish, thoughtful devotion to the right course, to our country, and to mankind.  It is well for us all, for you and for the boys of future days, to remember such deeds and such lives and to ponder on them.  These men loved study and work, and loved play too.  They delighted in athletic games, and would have used this field, which is now given to the college and to you, for your health and recreation.  But my chief hope in regard to it is, that it will help to make you full-grown, well-developed men, able and ready to do good work of all kinds – steadfastly, devotedly, thoughtfully; and that it will remind you of the reasons for living, and of your own duties as men and citizens of the Republic.”

6.) Hamilton Hall - Before Alexander Hamilton was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, he was Captain of the New York Provincial Company of Artillery in the Revolutionary War.  He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was General Washington’s aide-de-camp.  Hamilton later commanded an infantry battalion in the Battle of Yorktown and took the objective with a night bayonet assault.

7.) Weeks Footbridge – John W. Weeks was a longtime U.S. Representative and Senator from Massachusetts, as well as Secretary of War in the Harding and Coolidge administrations.

8.) McKinlock Hall – The inscription in stone above the door reads, “In memory of a brave officer who fell in action.  George Alexander McKinlock Jr, France July 21 1918.”  The Roll of Honor in the June, 1919 Harvard Graduates Magazine includes his name: “George Alexander McKinlock, Jr., ‘16, of Lake Forest, Ill., Lieutenant, Marine Corps, killed in action in France, in July, 1918.”

9.) Mather Hall – WWII