Tag Archives: Civil War

Sixth Massachusetts in Baltimore

April 19, 1861: Lowell soldiers killed in Baltimore

On a small patch of grass wedged between two busy streets in front of Lowell City Hall sits a twenty-five foot high granite obelisk. Few passersby know that this monument commemorates nineteen year old Luther Ladd and twenty year old Addison Whitney, two Lowell mill workers who, along with Sumner Needham of Lawrence and Charles Taylor of parts unknown, were the first soldiers to die in the American Civil War. Fewer still realize that Ladd, Whitney and Taylor are actually buried beneath the monument, right in front of City Hall.

While our neighbors may commemorate Patriot’s Day by recalling the opening battles of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord – not to mention the Marathon and an early Red Sox start – some in Lowell devote a few moments each April 19th to remembering the members of the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a unit drawn primarily from Lowell and Lawrence, and their struggle in Baltimore on another April 19th. Here’s what happened.

Shortly after learning that the South Carolina militia had attacked Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers from the northern states to come south to suppress the rebellion. Because of the foresight of Governor John Andrew and Lowell’s Benjamin Butler (a general of the Volunteers) the Massachusetts troops were well organized, well equipped, and ready to leave on short notice.

The train carrying the regiment left Lowell on April 17, 1861, just two days after the surrender of Fort Sumter. Because Washington, DC, was garrisoned by only six companies of regular troops and fifteen companies of local militia whose pro-Southern sentiments made them more of a threat than an asset, the Sixth Regiment was ordered to proceed to the capital as quickly as possible.

The quickest route to Washington led through New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, a city with extensive economic, social, and cultural ties to the south. The configuration of the rail route through Baltimore heightened the risk of confrontation. Trains coming from the north arrived at the President Street Station. Individual cars were then decoupled and drawn by horse a mile through the city to Camden Station (adjacent to the current Camden Yards baseball stadium). There, the cars would be reunited with a locomotive and continue the journey southward.

Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at 5:00 P.M. on April 18, Colonel Edward F. Jones, the commander of the Sixth Regiment, learned of the likelihood of violence in Baltimore and formulated a plan designed to avoid confrontation. Rather than remain the night in Philadelphia, the regiment would depart at 1:00 A.M., placing it in Baltimore at first light, when the troublemakers would still be asleep. Once there, the entire unit would dismount from the train and quickly march through the city to Camden Station. The logic of the plan was clear since an entire regiment would likely intimidate any mob that appeared.

The plan went awry before the troops even reached Baltimore. Crossing from Delaware into Maryland, the ten cars of the train were floated across the Susquehanna River by ferry. Although Colonel Jones failed to realize it at the time, the cars were reattached to the locomotive in a different order, leaving Jones in the fourth car of the train, not the first. When the train finally arrived in Baltimore, the railroad workers immediately began shuttling individual cars through the city. By the time Jones realized what was happening, his unit was scattered throughout Baltimore, and all he could do was wait and hope that the cars all reached Camden Station intact. The first seven cars did just that, but their passage had alerted city residents who took to the street, blocking the way of the final three cars. A captain took command of the troops in those cars, got them off the train and led them through the streets and the ever-growing crowd. Bricks and then bullets soon followed the insults of the crowd. Four soldiers were killed; thirty-one were wounded. The men of the Sixth returned fire, killing twelve and wounding an untold number of civilians. After reaching the relative safety of Camden Station, the regiment reformed and continued on to Washington where its men were welcomed as heroes and housed in the Senate chamber.

The riot in Baltimore gave the Sixth Massachusetts an early prominence that was eclipsed by the enormous scope of the war and that regiment’s limited participation in it. At the time, however, Ladd, Whitney, Taylor and Needham were seen as “the first martyrs of the great rebellion” and provided the North with symbols to rally around. The men of the Sixth Regiment were not professional soldiers. They were ordinary citizens who came from all walks of life, from lawyers to laborers. Some died during the war, others never returned to the Merrimack Valley. Those who did return, however, made countless contributions both big and small to their respective communities throughout the post-war period. We still feel their influence today.

Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Organized ~ January 21, 1861

From the archive:

On this day ~ January 21, 1861 ~ Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Organized

This is a repost from last year… but an important reminder of the formation and role of the Sixth Massachusetts with many volunteers who were Lowell millworkers.

MassMoments reminds us that on this day – January 21, 1861 – the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was formally organized. In early January 1861, as civil war approached, the men of Massachusetts began to form volunteer militia units. Many workers in the textile cities of Lowell and Lawrence were among the first to join a new infantry regiment, the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, when it was formally locally organized on January 21, 1861. The men met regularly to drill. In March, they were issued uniforms and Springfield rifles and told to be ready to assemble at any time. When Fort Sumter was attacked on April 12th, the men of the Massachusetts Sixth knew their days of drilling were over. And the rest is history – the history that is being remembered now as the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. There have been many posts on this blog about Lowell and the Civil War as part of the remembrance.

On This Day...

…in 1861, the Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was formally organized. With war approaching, men who worked in the textile cities of Lowell and Lawrence joined this new infantry regiment. They were issued uniforms and rifles; they learned to drill. They waited for the call. It came on April 15th, three days after the attack on Fort Sumter. They were needed to defend Washington, D.C.. The mood when they left Boston was almost festive. When they arrived in the border state of Maryland three days later, everything changed. An angry mob awaited them. In the riot that followed, 16 people lost their lives. Four were soldiers from Massachusetts. These men were the first combat fatalities of the Civil War.
Read the article here at MassMoments.com.

Civil War Flag Discovered at LMA

A framed and tattered flag from the Civil War was recently unearthed at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. The elaborate frame notes this citation:

“Under this flag at Clinton, L. A. (?) June 3rd, 1863 Solon A. Perkins was killed”

History sleuths are at work getting all the information on the soldier, the battle and the Lowell connection.

There are more photos available on-line at Tory Germann’s  Gallery.


Note: Guy Lefebve just posted this gravestone photo for us on my FB post.  Photo by Barbara Poole.


‘Butler’s Book’ (1892)

Arguably Lowell’s most prominent historical figure, Benjamin F. Butler published his memoirs in 1892 under the title “Butler’s Book.” A. M. Thayer and Co., Printers, Binders, & Book Publishers of Boston, offered the autobiography to subscribers, not an unusual system in that day. The book is 1,154 pages long, counting the intricate index. Butler, a Governor of Massachusetts and a Major-General in the Union Army during the Civil War or, as he names it, the War of the Rebellion, was born in New Hampshire but grew up in Lowell, including attending the new Lowell High School beginning in 1830. Following is an excerpt from the chapter “Early Political  Action and Military Training” in which he describes meeting and marrying his wife, Sarah Hildreth. Note the travels of his wife, a professional actress, in the late 1830s and early 1840s, and further note that Mrs. Butler accompanied her husband the soldier “in every expedition in the War of the Rebellion, and made [him] a home wherever [he] was stationed in command.”—PM


“In the year 1839, I made the acquaintance of Fisher Ames Hildreth, the only son of Dr. Israel Hildreth, of Dracut, a town adjoining Lowell on the north side of the Merrimack River. That acquaintance ripened into an affectionate family friendship which terminated only with his death thirty years afterwards.

“Dr. Hildreth had a family of seven children, six of them being daughters. The eldest, Rowena, was married in 1836 at a very early age to Mr. Henry Read, a merchant of Lowell. The two youngest children were then merely schoolgirls. Fisher invited me to the family gathering at the Thanksgiving feast of that year, and there I first met Sarah, the second daughter. I was very impressed with her personal endowments, literary attainments, and brilliancy of mind. Dr. Hildreth was an exceedingly scholarly and literary man. He was a great admirer of the English poets, especially of Byron, Burns, and Shakespeare, and had taught the great poet’s plays to his daughter, who, in consequence, developed a strong desire to go upon the stage. Her father approving of this, she appeared with brilliant success at the Tremont Theatre in Boston and the Park Theatre in New York, her talents for delineation of character being fully acknowledged by all. She was taught her profession by Mrs. Vernon, a very accomplished tragedienne. Mrs. Vernon was assisted by Isaac C. Pray, Esq., himself a writer of plays, and it was in the leading part in one of Mr. Pray’s dramas that Miss Hildreth first appeared upon the stage.

“When our acquaintance began I had never seen her on the stage, her home life being sufficient to attract me. She declined to leave her profession, however, until I had ‘won my spurs’ in my own profession, and had become provided with the means of making a home for both. But a most cordial and affectionate intimacy was maintained between us. In the spring of 1843, I visited her at Cincinnati, Ohio, where she had been welcomed and honored as a star. There we became engaged. We were married on the 16th of May, 1844, at St. Anne’s Church in Lowell, by the Rev. Dr. Edson, its Rector.

“We made our home at Lowell from that time until her very sad and untimely death in 1877. There were born to us four children: Paul, the eldest, who died in April, 1850, at the age of four years and ten months; a daughter, Blanche, born in 1847, and a son, Paul, born in 1852, both still living; and a son, Ben Israel, born in 1854, who departed this life on the first day of September, 1881, the day he was to have gone into partnership with me in the practice of law in Boston. . . .”

Sarah Hildreth Butler and Benjamin F. Butler

Pres. Obama Announces New National Park at Fort Monroe, Praises Civil War Gen. Benjamin Butler of Lowell

Lowell National Historical Park Supt. Michael Creasey and Asst. Supt. Peter Aucella have both called attention to the President Obama’s announcement of the newest National Park at Fort Monroe in Virginia, which mentions the historic decision by Lowell’s own General Benjamin F.  Butler to declare Southern slaves as contraband of war and “served as a forerunner of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.”—PM

THE WHITE HOUSE, Office of the Press Secretary: For Immediate Release November 1, 2011



Known first as “The Gibraltar of the Chesapeake” and later as “Freedom’s Fortress,” Fort Monroe on Old Point Comfort in Virginia has a storied history in the defense of our Nation and the struggle for freedom. Fort Monroe, designed by Simon Bernard and built of stone and brick betweenm1819 and 1834 in part by enslaved labor, is the largest of the Third System of fortifications in the United States. It has been a bastion of defense of the Chesapeake Bay, a stronghold of the Union Army surrounded by the Confederacy, a place of freedom for the enslaved, and the imprisonment site of Chief Blackhawk and the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. It served as the U.S. Army’s Coastal Defense Artillery School during the 19th and 20th centuries, and most recently, as headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

Old Point Comfort in present day Hampton, Virginia, was originally named “Pointe Comfort” by Captain John Smith in 1607 when them first English colonists came to America. It was here that the settlers of Jamestown established Fort Algernon in 1609. After Fort Algernon’s destruction by fire in 1612, successive English fortifications were built, testifying to the location’s continuing strategic value. The first enslaved Africans in England’s colonies in America were brought to this peninsula on a ship flying the Dutch flag in 1619, beginning a long ignoble period of slavery in the colonies and, later, this Nation. Two hundred and forty-two yearslater, Fort Monroe became a place of refuge for those later generations escaping enslavement.

During the Civil War, Fort Monroe stood as a foremost Union outpost in the midst of the Confederacy and remained under Union Army control during the entire conflict. The Fort was the site of General Benjamin Butler’s “Contraband Decision” in 1861, which provided a pathway to freedom for thousands of enslaved people during the Civil War and served as a forerunner of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Thus, Old Point Comfort marks both the beginning and end of slavery in our Nation. The Fort played critical roles as the springboard for General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign in 1862 and as a crucial supply base for the siege of Petersburg by Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 and 1865. After the surrender of the Confederacy, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was transferred to Fort Monroe and remained imprisoned there for 2 years.

Fort Monroe is the third oldest United States Army post in continuous active service. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It provides an excellent opportunity for the public to observe and understand Chesapeake Bay and Civil War history. At the northern end of the North Beach area lies the only undeveloped shoreline remaining on Old Point Comfort, providing modern-day  visitors a sense of what earlier people saw when they arrived in the New World. The North Beach area also includes coastal defensive batteries, including Batteries DeRussy and Church, which were used from the 19th Century to World War II.

WHEREAS section 2 of the Act of June 8, 1906 (34 Stat. 225, 16 U.S.C. 431) (the “Antiquities Act”), authorizes the President, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and to reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected; . . . NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK  OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 2 of the Antiquities Act, hereby proclaim that all lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, which is attached to and forms a part of this proclamation, are hereby set apart and reserved as the Fort Monroe National Monument (monument) for the purpose of protecting the objects identified above. . . .

All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of this monument are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, leasing, or other disposition under the public land laws, including withdrawal from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws, and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing. Lands and interests in lands within the monument’s boundaries not owned or controlled by the United States shall be reserved as part of the monument upon acquisition of ownership or control by the United States. . . .

Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to revoke any existing withdrawal, reservation, or appropriation; however, the monument shall be the dominant reservation. Warning is hereby given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, destroy, or remove any feature of this monument and not to locate or settle upon any of the lands thereof.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.


Limited Edition Ladd & Whitney Broadside: Lowell Gallery

Guy Lefebvre’s Lowell Gallery is offering for sale for $35 a limited-edition print of a prose sketch about the Ladd & Whitney Monument that he invited me to write on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. The broadside combines the writing and a vintage image of the Ladd & Whitney Monument. To order a copy in a 16 x 20 mat ready for framing, visit the Lowell Gallery on Jackson Street or contact Guy at lowellgallery@earthlink.net 

Memorial Day Address: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Here’s the text of the famous 1884 Memorial Day speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the Boston-born Civil War veteran who served on the US Supreme Court.

His parents were the doctor-poet Oliver Wendell Holmes and abolitionist Amelia Lee Jackson. He enlisted in the army in his senior year at Harvard College.

Of Lowell note is that his best friend in college was Henry Livermore Abbott (1842-1864) of Lowell, a highly respected Union officer who was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in May 1864. He was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General at 22 years old.

Henry Livermore Abbott in uniform.jpg

Henry Livermore Abbott (1822-1864) is buried in the Lowell Cemetery.

Joseph A. Nesmith on Henry Livermore Abbott (1931)

“. . . There was at the time of the Civil War, a group of young men and women hardly more than boys and girls, who frequented our house, played croquet on the lawn and bowled in the long, low bowling alley; old when I remember it, and covered from chimney top to threshhold with trumpet vines and rambler roses. It faced the broad walk which ran through the garden, bordered on each side with hollyhocks and a variety of old-fashioned flowers and shrubs . . . .

“Henry Livermore Abbott was one of the boys who wrote his name in chalk on the walk of the bowling alley, and later wrote it large in the annals of the Civil War. Him alone of the young men I can remember. He was wounded early and sent home on a furlough; our garden was a pleasant place to convalesce in. He was a graduate of Harvard in the class of 1860. His brother Ned was killed in the battle of Cedar Mountain. Henry fought in the seven days fight before Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, in which his regiment won laurels, and fell in the Battle of the Wilderness: wounded three times, he did not leave the ranks. He was a lad of great promise.

“There is a quaint red leather box in the house, containing his photograph and clippings from many newspapers. Many poems were written, inspired by his bravery and the love of his friends for him. In removing a photograph of him from its frame, I found concealed behind it a lock of hair carefully preserved in tissue paper. Which of my sisters put it there I can only guess. No story of our house, however brief, is thinkable that did not bring him to mind. By our family he was never forgotten. Every tribute or poem written after his death, his photograph in uniform before he left, and the first summons to appear at the Armory are still treasured. His grave and that of his brother Ned have been decorated by some member of the family every Memorial Day for sixty years or more. . . .”

—Joseph A. Nesmith, “The Old Nesmith House and Some of Its Guests” (August, 1931) Published by the John Nesmith House Alumni Foundation, ca. 1990.