I find myself on the threshold of a new year. Before me is this mysterious and unknown. As I set out to explore its secret windings I propose to take with me this book in order that I may note more carefully the various objects of interest which the future conceals, and record my own thoughts and feelings by the way. It promises to be an eventful year.
January 1861 found America on the brink of Civil War, and Henry S. Burrage, pen in hand, faithfully recorded the current events in his diary at Brown. He could hear the latest news before the public, for he reported on public lectures for the Providence Journal and was often in the office when a dispatch arrived.
By January, seven states had seceded from the Union, led by South Carolina. In February these "wayward sisters" were united as the Confederate States of America with Jefferson Davis as president. Over the next few months, four more states would secede, bringing the total to eleven as tensions grew and the population realized that war was inevitable.
Yet for the most part, life went on as usual for the students of Brown University. They had other pressing concerns, such as passing Professor Gammell's class.
William Gammell, class of 1831, was Professor of History when Henry Sweetser Burrage attended Brown. Once, in mid January, "Old Gam" did not appear for his usual fear-inspiring lecture, and the whole senior class rejoiced. Henry used this extra time to cram for finals.
Every Saturday morning the students filed into the recitation room on the first floor of University Hall for Gam's class. The first half hour of class was spent reciting the previous lecture, and each student was required to talk about a portion of it. Gam would survey the room, pick his first target, and watch as the lad tried not to forget any major point which he had discussed -- if the Professor had to ask him to clarify, or remind him of a major issue, he would be marked down a point. The next student would discuss in greater detail the first major point, and so on around the room, from William Henry Ames to George B. Yandes.
One Saturday, January 12, Gam had assigned yet another "outrageous lesson," this on top of all the final exam preparations which plagued the students: twelve paragraphs in addition to fifteen review paragraphs due on Monday.