Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow was born November 23, 1845, the second son of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Frances Appleton Longfellow. Ernest, or Erny, as he was called in his youth, was regarded by his parents as the less adventurous and more even tempered of their two boys. His mother once referred to him as “an angelic little child, so gentle & good always.” In addition to his older brother Charles, Ernest had three younger sisters, Alice, Edith, and Anne Allegra.
Having demonstrated some skill in mathematics and mechanical drawing, Ernest professed an interest in engineering and hoped to gain appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. When this proved unsuccessful, he entered the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard. At this time, his brother Charles was fighting in the Civil War as a cavalryman and Ernest hoped to follow him into the army and serve as a military engineer. The war ended before Ernest graduated in 1865 though, and he decided upon a career as an artist instead.