Henry Lee Higginson - Family and Early Life

Family and Early Life

Higginson was born in New York City, the second child of George and Mary (Cabot Lee) Higginson, and a distant cousin of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. When he was four years old his family moved to Boston. George jointly founded a brokerage as a junior partner, was extremely patriotic, and never owned a house or a horse of his own until within a few years of his death. Henry’s mother died of tuberculosis, from which she suffered for some time, when Henry was 15. Henry graduated from Boston Latin School in 1851, only after withdrawing twice due to eye fatigue problems. He began studies at Harvard College, but withdrew after 4 months when he again experienced eye fatigue and he was sent to Europe. Upon returning to Boston in March 1855, Henry's father secured a position for him in the office of Messrs. Samuel and Edward Austin, India merchants, a small shipping counting house on India Wharf where he worked as the sole company clerk and bookkeeper.

Henry Lee Higginson entered the Union Army on May 11, 1861, as second lieutenant of Company D in Colonel George H. Gordon's 2nd Massachusetts Regiment. In the First Battle of Bull Run, his regiment was ordered to hold the nearby town of Harpers Ferry. Higginson was commissioned major in the cavalry on March 26, 1862. On June 17, 1863, the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry engaged the soldiers of General J.E.B. Stuart and General Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry at the Battle of Aldie. During this battle, Higginson crossed sabers with one of the enemy and was knocked out of his saddle with three saber cuts and two pistol wounds. As his wounds slowly healed in Boston, he married Ida Agassiz, daughter of Harvard professor Louis Agassiz, on December 5, 1863. Though he retired from the military with the title of "Colonel", he was commonly addressed as "Major" for the rest of his life to avoid confusion with an older cousin known as Col. Higginson.

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