In 1863, he ran off to enlist as a private in the Union Army during the Civil War, and eventually received a commission as a lieutenant in a cavalry regiment. Miraculously, he survived a bout with malaria and what could have been a mortal gun shot wound to his back, which he received while on campaign in Virginia. The bullet traveled across his back, nicked his spine, and exited under his right shoulder. He missed being paralyzed by less than an inch.
He knew his father disapproved of him fighting, but went anyway. He wrote a letter to his father saying, “I have tried to resist the temptation of going without your leave but cannot any longer.”
Charles Longfellow went on to become one of the earliest American tourists in Japan. His journal offers a rare picture of the Asian nation opening up to the world after centuries of isolation. Charles was independently wealthy with inheritances from his grandfather, Nathan Appleton and his mother, and spent the rest of his life traveling the world. He died in 1893, in Cambridge from pneumonia and is buried in the family vault in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. The souvenirs of his travels and his uniforms and accoutrements from his service in the Union Army are at Longfellow House in Cambridge, Massachusetts.