Minie Balls:
Short Anecdotes & Stories of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry

First Advance (July--Oct. 1861)
Second Advance (Feb.--Mar. 1862)
Autumn, 1862
Fairfax Station (December, 1862)
Stafford Court House (January--May, 1863)
Westward, Ho!
Tullahoma, Tennessee
The Road to Victory

[This is an ongoing project. Other entries will be added as I get to them.]

FIRST ADVANCE (July-October, 1861)

An Undress Parade

When the 2nd Massachusetts crossed the Potomac River for the first time, none of the men ever dreamed they would make this same crossing several more times. The crossing was something of a lark for the officers and soldiers, who divested themselves of their trousers. The scene struck Capt. Richard Cary as comical in the extreme. "I did wish some of Beacon Street-dom could have been there to see."

Patterson's "Grand" Army

Gordon marched his regiment to Martinsburg to join the Army of General Patterson. "The ranks were full, a thousand men, marching in close time to the music of a full band, which echoed through the streets." But what he saw upon his approach shocked him. "As the regiment proceeded, mobs of men, some with shreds of uniform, others with shreds of clothing, lined the roadway and squat upon the fence-rails. I could but look with amazement upon this disorganized mass which formed the grand army of General Patterson as they rushed from field and wood to stare and gaze at the band, the uniform, the steady marching of them men, and their grand equipment."

Hail, the Conquering Heroes

The 2nd Massachusetts Infantry was the first Federal regiment to enter Harper's Ferry, VA, after its evacuation by the Rebels. Shortly after his arrival, Gordon was presented with an American flag by the ladies of the town. The sacred banner had been sent off to Frederick, MD, for safe-keeping. Gordon and his officers assembled in the square, along with the color-bearer and regimental band, to accept the tribute. Maj. Dwight could not help attaching a great deal of symbolic significance to the event. "Virginia gives an American flag to Massachusetts, and Massachusetts restores the blessings of that flag to Virginia."

Wanted: Regiment With More Discipline and Less Whiskey

While riding in the company of Lt. Col. Batchelder of the 13th Massachusetts, Major Wilder Dwight came upon a regiment whose members had been liberally supplied by the local taverns. "The whole regiment was drunk....A perfect pandemonium was the scene they presented." Dwight and Batchelder did the best they could do for the regiment's beleagured colonel, "but when one soldier, in a quarrelsome or pleasant vein, shot another through his body, and a third broke the head of fourth with the butt of his musket, we thought discretion the better part of valor, and did not wait to see what the fifth would do."


SECOND ADVANCE (February-March, 1862)

A Ceremony of Significance

After entering Charlestown, VA, for the second time during the war, Chaplain Quint officiated at a public service. While he was glad to see the men "attentive and reverent," it was the place where the service was being held that made the occasion a memorable one: it was the court-room where John Brown had been tried and convicted. Now, seven companies of Massachusetts soldiers filled the room. "There, for the first time in many a month in this town, did prayer go up for the President of the United States, the restoration of peace, the supremacy of law, and the freedom of our country from its sins....Let us hope that, as Massachusetts men occupied that place, so Massachusetts honor, freedom, and chivalry may yet imbue this whole section with principles which will recognize public morality."

Some Interesting Letters

While in Charlestown, Lt. Robert Gould Shaw was among the officers quartered in the offices of the Hon. Andrew Hunter, the man who had prosecuted the John Brown case. Finding piles of letters and papers relating to the famous case, Shaw, whose parents knew many of the correspondents, read some of them. He found, "letters from Govenrnor Wise, President Buchanan, Mrs. Child, and from people in all parts of the country, some interceding for Brown, and some hoping and praying that he would be executed without delay. There is one from a detective who went to Montreal after Dr. Howe, saw him at the hotel, but didn't like to do anything about getting hold of him. Another, from an anonymous correspondent in New York, says that Sanborn and T. W. Higginson were the principals in the plot; another tells a long story about Brigham Young, and says that he was at the bottom of the whole thing."

A pre-war lawyer, Capt. Samuel Quincy found the records of the trial fascinating reading, and wrote home "although my opinion of the crime remains the same, I think that the whole prosecution was conducted in the spirit of a wolf-hunt rather than that of the impartial administration of justice."

There's No Fire Like Friendly Fire

Capt. Sam Quincy's company took part in a flour-hunting expedition a short distance from Winchester. The results of the foray were disappointing--turning up only 15 lbs. of flour. Then, having heard about a large mill about 8 miles beyond Smithville, the commander of the expedition, Col. Thomas J. Lucas, of the 16th IN, decided, "without any push on & take it with but 10 wagons & about 20 cavalry." Although Rebel cavalry were reported to be in the area, Lucas took the mill and as much of its contents as he dared, being so far from friendly lines. On the way back, said Quincy, "our cavalry which we had left in Smithfield, seeing us coming back by a different road, took us for the enemy & commenced to fire on our column." Fortunately, the shots found no targets "and the mistake was doscovered just as we were about to give them a volley in return."

The Enemy Is In the Eye of the Beholder

When the 2nd MA left Charlestown, it was in haste as the 2nd Corps brigade of Gen. Willis A. Gorman, who Capt. Edward Abbott described as a "crazy ex-congressman" was reportedly threatened with attack while on his way to Winchester. According to Lt. Henry Scott, Gorman had seen an unexplained cloud of dust on a distant hill and panicked. "Scared as he could be, he ordered up the artillery, sent a shell into them, and they scattered. By and by in came an old farmer and wanted to know what we were firing at him for. According to the proclamation we didn't come to destroy property or interfere with citizens peaceably following their vocations, and surely there was nothing rebellious in threshing wheat."

The 2nd Massachusetts Press

One of the companies of the 2nd Massachusetts was quartered in an old printing office during its stay in Winchester. Lt. Charles Morse got a few chuckles over some of the bulletins thereafter issued, such as: "Confederate notes to be had at par" "Hard bread to be exchanged for chickens," and "Gas wanted by Company D, for the Union Theatre."

Lt. Perkins Buys Some Cigars

While the 2nd Massachusetts was encamped around Winchester, VA in early 1862, Lts. Stephen Perkins and Robert Gould Shaw walked into a local shop where Perkins bought some Virginia cigars, which the proprietor assured him he had recently procured in Richmond. Upon opening the package, the two officers found that each bore the legend, "Manufactured by A. Radden, Saugus, Mass." The shopkeeper was very much astonished at this, said Shaw, who remarked, "If they go to Massachusetts for cigars, no wonder they don't succeed very well with other manufactures."


AUTUMN, 1862

Goodbye Colonel Andrews

The death of Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight at Antietam was a devestating blow to Col. George Andrews, who wrote to his wife shortly after the battle, "since I have lost Dwight the Regiment no longer appears the same." Indeed, the 2MA now bore little resemblence to the regiment that had left Massachusetts a year and a half earlier. The last of the regiment's original field officers, Andrews was ready to move on. On 4 October, he was detailed to take command of a brigade. Charles Morse deemed the regiment's loss to be the army's gain. "I think he will have the best brigade in the army." What he admired the most about Andrews--who had graduated at the top of his West Point class--was that he had earned his promotion on his own merit B>"without political influence or wire-pulling." Andrews was eventually assigned to the staff of MG Nathaniel Banks, who had been trying to obtain his services for nearly a year.

Hail, Quincy!

When Capt. Samuel Quincy emerged from captivity, he did so as the Colonel of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. With the departure of Andrews and the death of James Savage (who had advanced to the rank of Lt. Col. upon Dwight's death, but who himself died in rebel hands of the wounds he had suffered at Cedar Mountain), Quincy inherited the reins. Until he could recover enough from his wounds to assume his duties, the regiment was commanded by Lt. Col. William Cogswell. The regiment's new major was Charles Mudge.

General Gordon, please recover quickly!

The strains of a long campaign broke General Gordon's health after the battle of Antietam. While home recuperating, command of the brigade fell to Col. Silas Colgrove of the 27th Indiana. Henry Bruce Scott, Gordon's cousin, was soon complaining that Colgrove "doesn't know his nose from his elbow" and charged that it was "only by his staff punching him severely that he can be made to do anything."

Moving Up the Ladder

At Camp Andrew in May of 1861, Anson David Sawyer was ranked 10th on the list of 2LTS in the 2MA. By November of 1862, he was 10th on the list of captains, having advanced 20 grades in a year and a half. No one, remarked Capt. Charles Morse, could complain that "he has not had promotion enough to satisfy him during the last few months."

A Sombre Thanksgiving

The regiment's second Thanksgiving Day in the field was celebrated on a bright and sunny day, but the observance, in comparison to the one a year previous, was a quiet and melancholy affair. So many of their friends, "the very best had, both as comrades and as military men," as Shaw described them, had fallen on the field of honor.

An Undercurrent of Trouble

Henry Scott kept the recovering Gordon apprised of the goings on in his old regiment. He warned him that all was not well and confided to him that Lt. Col. William Cogswell, although a good officer, was "drunk half the time," including during a grand review of the Army of the Potomac. "Grafton had to stay with him all night and he got back at noon not more than half sobered...Russell & Shaw & Morse, the old standbys, were only induced to refrain from doing something in the matter by the prospect of your speedy return."

While there is no reason to doubt Scott's candor with his own cousin, it must be said that neither Morse nor Shaw--both prolific letter-writers--ever eluded to any intemperance on the part of Cogswell.


FAIRFAX STATION (Dec., 1862--Jan., 1863)

The Army of the Potomac Beckons

Under Burnside's reorganization of the Army, Slocum's Corps became part of the Army of the Potomac--sort of. On December 9th, it was attached to Franz Sigel's "Grand Reserve," which was positioned to defend Washington. While not thrilled by the prospect of acting as the Reserve to the Reserve, Capt. Shaw was "glad to join the main army." Anything was preferable to prepetual picket duty.

The Luck of the Draw

Finally called for to join the attack upon Fredericksburg, the corps was suddenly countermarched to Fairfax Station, which was reported to have been threatened by the enemy. Capt. Morse was disgusted. "The most that could have been lost by losing that place would have been some 50,000 rations, yet this seems to have been a sufficent reason for preventing us from joining the main army." Then came the dreadful news from Fredericksburg. Maj. Charles Mudge was grateful that the 2nd MA had been spared the senseless slaughter, convinced the regiment would have been annihilated. "It never turned from the enemy without orders yet, and by the help of God it never will;--if it had been ordered to charge at Fredericksburg, it never would have come back."

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Just after Christmas, the weather turned bitterly cold. In an attempt to keep warm at night, Captains Shaw, Russell and Morse huddled together under their three blankets. It was not, according to Shaw, the ideal solution. "It was my turn to be in the middle last night, and I should have slept beautifully, if, in their efforts to keep warm, they had not squeezed me unmercifully between them."

Morse thought that his family would find it amusing to see them "sitting around a fire trying to eat our breakfast or dinner before it freezes hard; dippers of water soon become iced, and yesterday we enjoyed the luxury of frozen buttered toast and frozen sardines."

Suffer the New Volunteers

As he shivered in Virginia Chaplain Quint was distressed to read in the papers about the sufferings of the Massachusetts troops currently stationed in New York. "We read that 'the men have passed the last 2 nights in barracks and tents, sleeping on straw, without any stoves to take the keen edge from the air!' Poor fellows! No stoves! The 'keen edge from the air!' How could they survive!....Poor men at East New York. 'Barracks and tents!' 'Straw!' Why didn't they board at the Astor? or say, the 5th Avenue, which is thought to be a tolerable hotel? A sad thought strikes me; have they been furnished yet with umbrellas, or rubber shoes, or parasols for warm days? have arrangements been made for hair mattresses, or feather beds?....These things should be looked into immediately, immediately!"

Winter Quarters, Like It or Not

The officers of the 2nd MA finally put their men to constructing log huts, even though they had not been given orders to do so. Said Morse, "We never have had any assurances that we were likely to stay here, but we learned sometime ago that it was always best to keep our men employed on something rather than to have them lie still in camp." Each abode (there were 12 per company) was furnished with its own fireplace. When they finally left their camp on January 19th, they afterwards received, according to Quint, a "very polite note from the officers of the regiment which inherited it."

The Gallant Few

Christmas day was so mild that the men of the 2nd MA sat out of doors quite comfortably for their celebration. Using a clothing-box as a table, Capt. Shaw and his fellow officers dined on oysters, chickens, potatoes, and all manner of delicacies sent from home. As he looked around, Shaw could now count only about a dozen "old Seconds," and wondered "how many there will be when we go home."


STAFFORD COURT HOUSE (January-May, 1863)

The Sunny South???

The comforts and diversions the men of the 2nd MA had enjoyed the previous winter in Frederick, MD, were but a dim memory in the slush and mud of Stafford Court House. Until their log huts could be constructed, they shivered in their meagre shelter tents. During one storm, the snow blew in all over the troops. It was a shock to Capt. Morse to see them the next morning at reveille "trying to stand up in the ranks trembling from head to foot."

Out on guard duty one night during a bad storm, Lt. Crowninshield reported that several of his men "came very near to being killed," by falling trees. He offered no objection when his men built fires on their posts in order to keep from freezing to death.

Crowninshiled devised his own method of keeping warm. He hooked (explaining "We never steal in the army, we hook or take"), a stove from MG Slocum's inventory to keep his tent warm, but very quickly learned that "the wicked never prosper." In the midst of a snow storm, his illicit acquisition caught fire and burnt off the front of his tent. "I immediately returned the stove whence it came, and concluded to lead a better life and steal no more."

There's No Place Like Home

With the prospects of a furlough virtually non-existent, the recently engaged-to-be-married Capt. Robert Shaw began to wish himself a small wound since he could not get home any other way. He acknowledeged, however, that there were drawbacks to such furloughs, since they were "very likely to be of a kind which we would rather have postponed for some years to come." He would get home sooner than he thought when he accepted the Colonelcy of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

When Will Our Great Man Arise?

This was the question posed by Capt. Shaw after 2 years of ineffectual Northern generalship. And with Burnside fading slowing into the west, Capt. Morse wondered who would be the next in line. "Lord save us from Hooker, at all events!" But when Hooker was indeed installed as the head of the Army of the Potomac, Morse accepted his fate. "We've got to stick to him till the next one is put in."

A Higher Calling

Cousins Harry Russell and Robert Gould Shaw joined the 2nd MA about the same time, and left the same time--Harry to become Lt-Col in the 2nd MA Cavalry and Rob to become Colonel of the 54th MA Infantry. It was with great reluctance that Shaw took his leave from the 2nd MA and had, in fact, initially turned down Gov. Andrew's offer. Recently engaged to be married, Shaw's mind was on other things, nor was he convinced he was ready to command any regiment--let alone one composed of black men whose willingness to fight even he doubted. In changing his mind, he wrote to his finace: "I feel convinced I shall never regret having taken this step, for while I was undecided I felt ashamed of myself, as if I were cowardly."

Morse was sorry to see his friends leave. "We four fellows, Curtis, Russell, Shaw and myself are pretty well separated now, but I believe we each feel the same interest in one another as if we were all together as we used to be." The others had left for promotions, and Morse admitted that he, too, harbored ambitions to "rise above my present rank, for without conceit I know I am competent to command something bigger than a company." Patience would eventually pay off for Morse and he would one day command the 2nd MA.

Comings and Goings

The Winter of 62-63 saw a number of other officers depart from the 2nd MA. Capt. Fletcher Abbott, who had been absent since the battle of Antietam due to a bad bout of dysentery, finally resigned. One of the "orignal Seconds," Capt. George Bangs, who had never been entirely healthy during his service, also gave it up. Back in Boston, Robert Shaw found Bangs, "in a state of despondency difficult to describe or even imagine. He says he thinks sometimes that he is going to become insane--and if he doesn't take up another train of thought, I think there is some danger in it."

Eugene Shelton was appointed Commissary of Subsistance. Lts. Browning and Miller were discharged because of the wounds they had suffered at Cedar Mountain. Both joined the Invalid Corps. Lt. James Kent Stone was diabled by disease. Lt. Charles Mills, shot through both legs at Antietam, resigned, but later returned to duty with another regiment, only to fall at Hatcher's Run in 1864.

At Shaw's request, Dr. Lincoln Stone left the regiment to join the 54th MA.

A Visit From Old Abe

In early April, the 12th Corps was reviewed by President Lincoln. Chaplain Quint thought him a decent rider. "He dashed on through mud, swamp, and ditches, without the slightest hesitation, evidently to the disadvantage of some of his followers." He described Lincoln as dressed all in black "with a curious article on his head, the upright part being cylindrical, very much like a section of a stove pipe," which Quint judged could only be very painful to the head.

Col. Quincy joked that his Commander-in-Chief was so "dreadful plain" that he "scared my horse out of his wits & Col. Cogswell's charger after the first glance refused to look at him."

Henry Scott was far less amused by Lincoln's countenance and was struck by "the sad lines in his face, as if his responsibilities weighed heavily on his face."

Quincy Quits

During the battle of Chancellorsville, it became evident to everyone that Col. Samuel Quincy was not physically able to hold the field. At least, that is what he told his family. "The effect of the recent campaign upon my lameness has been more serious than I had hoped," he wrote, adding that twice during the battle "when I was necessarily dismounted I was entirely unable to keep up & do my duty to the regiment." He concluded that it was therefore his duty to resign from the regiment in favor of "those who are physically more competent than myself for the terribly arduous duties of such a position."

Capt. Francis Crowninshield saw things a little differently. After cautioning his family not to "breathe it to a soul" he revealed that during the recent campaign, Quincy had demonstrated himself "entirely incompetent to command" and that during the battle "did not seem to know what he was about,"--compelling Maj. Charles Mudge ("his courage no one doubts") to give all the orders. In the aftermath, "the line officers requested him to resign."

All that Charles Morse would say about the matter was that with Lt. Col. Cogswell away, a "healthy field officer is very much needed." Quincy's resignation moved Morse up to the rank of Major, and although Gen. Slocum made him "2 or 3 very handsome offers," Morse was hestitant about leaving the old Second, believing that "the majority there worth a Colonelcy anywhere else."

Fun & Games

One of the great amusements taken up by the 2nd MA during its time at Stafford CH was baseball. Francis Crowninshield reported that the officers of the 2nd and those of the 3rd WS had a game every night after supper. "We all enjoy it much, it reminds us so much of the Boston Common and the days before we were tied down to military discipline."


This page hosted by GeoCities Get your own Free Home Page