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Somerville Soldiers in the Rebellion.

by Edwin C. Bennett.
The population of Somerville in 1860 was 8,025, and included in its number many men of widely recognized ability and influence. The magnitude of the impending struggle was not generally understood. Many welcomed it with light hearts, accepting the theory of Secretary Seward, that ninety days would suffice for its satisfactory conclusion.

The Somerville Light Infantry, organized in 1853, had its armory in the second story of the engine house at the corner of Washington and Prospect streets. It had, for five years prior to 1859, been under the command of Captain Francis Tufts, whose martial enthusiasm and skill as a tactician gave it high rank for efficiency in military circles. He was succeeded by Captain George O. Brastow, a very able and public-spirited citizen, with sympathies as broad as humanity. He was frank, but courteous, in his bearing; his discipline was somewhat paternal, but he commanded at all times the respect and affection of his subordinates. The organization was officially designated as Company I, Fifth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. In obedience to orders, this company assembled at the armory April 18, 1861, and enrolled recruits to fill vacancies. Many of them were well-drilled men, formerly members of the militia, and all showed remarkable aptitude for the service. The physical examination was informal, and not by a physician. Zeal and patriotism were recognized as potent factors, and their outward manifestations were given full credence. The rule and gauge cannot be applied to the soul of a man. The regiment reported at Faneuil hall April 20 to partially complete equipment, and on [23] Sunday morning, April 21, 1861, headed by resounding music, marched to the Boston & Albany station, and was soon en route for New York.

I was in this campaign a tourist, with a musket, enjoying the rank and emoluments of a private. We embarked for the South on a steamer on the 22nd, were quartered mainly in the hold upon loose hay, among artillery caissons, and reached Washington via Annapolis about the 26th, and were quartered in the Treasury building until the last days of May. We participated honorably in the Bull Run campaign. The battle of that name, July 21, 1861, was hotly contested for three hours. The enemy's loss in killed and wounded exceeded ours, and their army could have been fought the following day at Centreville, ten miles distant. The result was a disappointment and an awakening. The defeat has been much exaggerated by noncombatants, who followed the army, and have been truthful so far as they portrayed their own cowardice. The company was mustered out July 31, having more than served its three months term. It went under fire when discharge could have been equitably claimed, though the regiment was technically held from date of mustering in at Washington May 1, 1861. The duty rendered by the regiment was of transcendent importance because it was timely, materially aiding in saving the capital from seizure by the Confederates. This would have been a very grave disaster, affecting our prestige everywhere, and would have perhaps given the rebels the foreign alliances that would have secured their independence.

The Fifth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia had nine men killed at Bull Run, and about forty wounded. The Somerville company lost one private, E. F. Hannaford, killed; he was reared, if not born, on Prospect hill, was a very quiet and sedate young man, exemplary in his habits, and attentive to duty. William F. Moore died in hospital at Washington of disease, after the company had left that city. The company submitted uncomplainingly to rigid discipline, and became very proficient in the [24] manual of arms and skirmish drill, and when on patrol duty in Alexandria exhibited patience and tact, and commanded the respect of the inhabitants of every phase of political opinion.

The Fifth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, was again called for duty in September, 1862, and for nine months the company from Somerville was designated as ‘Company B,’ instead of ‘I,’ and had for its two lieutenants Walter C. Bailey and John Harrington, who were sergeants in Company ‘I’ in the three months service. They were excellent officers, brave and kindly, exacting obedience without harassing their men with unnecessary orders, and vigilant in the safeguarding of the health of the command.

The regiment was, during this term, in North Carolina, and in several important movements, marched over six hundred miles, was under fire several times, had eight men wounded, and fully maintained the reputation of the regiment for staid deportment and alert readiness for dangerous duty. It was warmly commended by Major-General John G. Foster, commanding Eighteenth Corps, in a letter to Colonel George H. Pierson, on the expiration of its term. This meant much, coming from the source it did.

On July 25, 1864, the Fifth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was again mustered into the service, on this occasion for one hundred days, the Somerville company being included, and did guard duty at Baltimore in Forts McHenry and Marshall, and other service in that vicinity.

It is keenly regretted by veterans and many others that the present local company, which is every way worthy of public esteem, does not belong to the old Fifth, so long the pride of Middlesex County; and it is hoped that, eventually, the old affiliation may be resumed, and the organization strengthened in popular affection, as the direct heir of the name and traditions of a noble past.

The Thirty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers were mustered into service for three years August 12, 1862. It included a Somerville [25] company, known as E, commanded by Captain Fred R. Kinsley, with Joseph J. Giles, first lieutenant, and Willard C. Kinsley, second lieutenant. The above had all been in Company I in the three months campaign, as had also several of the rank and file. The regiment was transported to Washington, and upon the arrival of the Fifth Corps early in September, 1862, at Arlington Heights, opposite Washington, I obtained a leave of absence for a few hours, and, leaving the Twenty-second Massachusetts Volunteers, my regiment, sought my friends in the Thirty-ninth. They were in fine trim, and greeted me cordially, and insisted upon presenting me a supply of much-needed underclothing. My gaunt appearance, the result of the hardships of the peninsular campaign, must have impressed my hosts more than I then supposed, as my friend, Lieutenant J. J. Giles, recalls it even now, and describes it with racy humor.

We pushed on, however, with grim determination to grapple with Lee at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, the Thirty-ninth doing duty on the line of the Potomac at Washington and elsewhere, until it joined the army at the front, July 13, 1863, after the battle of Gettysburg. It was with the Fifth Corps during the campaigns of 1864 and 1865, an excellent regiment, in which the Somerville company was unsurpassed. The regiment lost in action sixty-six men killed; the wounded were about two hundred and fifty. The Somerville company lost nine officers and men killed, or who died from wounds, and twelve who died from sickness or in prison. Andersonville found among its victims some of the flower of our youth. One man, John S. Roberts, is classified as missing August 19, 1864. He undoubtedly was killed in the battle at Weldon railroad on that day. Willard C. Kinsley, who attained the rank of captain, was, I believe, born within our limits in what was then Charlestown. His character was unique in many respects. His nature was gentle and loving, and the crucible of war seemed only to develop these high qualities. He was not of a martial temperament, but his devotion to the cause and his conscientiousness [26] were so inspiring that he was equal to all emergencies. Honor was dearer to him than the life which he lost at Five Forks. He was a noble type of the peaceable, inoffensive t citizen under arms, from a sense of duty, in defense of his country.

It is now my province to recall the service rendered by those not in the organizations closely identified with this community, but who were counted on its quota, in most instances, and had been residents of the then town prior to the war. They were dispersed through over forty battalions and batteries, the largest number (twenty) being in the First Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry; over three-fourths of those who were killed or died of wounds from Somerville were in this class, and they were the sole representatives of the town upon the firing lines of the Army of the Potomac from August, 1861, to July 13, 1863. They also were conspicuous at Roanoke Island and Newbern; also in the navy during that period, and in the Department of the Gulf. Somerville was very liberal in its care of all who were dependent upon its soldiers, wherever serving; but its greetings and courtesies were wholly for the local companies associated with it in the public mind. This custom very generally prevailed throughout the state. I know of but one exception, when, in Virginia, at Camp Misery, just before the first battle of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, the Twenty-second Massachusetts was visited by an agent, representing, I believe, Dorchester, Mass. He had a list of all soldiers from his community, and extended kindly greetings to those he found, made careful notes regarding them, and took messages for friends and relatives. He had also visited the general hospitals in Washington and elsewhere. His mission was an agreeable surprise to those favored, and had an excellent effect upon all with whom he conversed. I note the above incident as a lesson for the future, if unhappily it should ever be necessary for the city to again send its sons to war. [27]

It should be our duty, at this late date, to recall their patriotism, and bestow our meed of praise upon this element, which has in many respects been ignored in the past.

When a portion of the three years men re-enlisted in the winter of 1863 and ‘64, local attachment asserted itself, and the veterans almost unanimously gave their old homes as the places to be credited with their names upon their respective quotas. The organizations enlisted for three years in the early stages of the war were gradually winnowed by arduous campaigns. The commissioned officers of companies were drawn largely from enlisted men of proved merit, and the government was compelled, by the exigencies of the contest, to utilize these staunch battalions and batteries to the uttermost. They never failed to fight with steadfast courage, were proof against demoralization, and even when reduced to one-fifth of their original numbers would advance to the assault with undiminished intrepidity. The Army of the Potomac was a wonderful fighting machine, leavened by the early volunteers, and Somerville cannot afford to forget them, though they were widely dispersed. I shall now briefly mention a few of those who should be specially commemorated.

Luther V. Bell was physician in charge of the McLean asylum for several years, and a leader in town affairs, and of recognized influence in the politics of the state. He was possessed of large means, but went to the front as surgeon of the Eleventh Massachusetts Volunteers. He visited us, the Fifth M. V. M., before the battle of Bull Run at Alexandria, and proffered his skill and purse to the Somerville company. He rose to the rank of division surgeon, in charge of the medical service for three brigades, and, being in feeble health, died from sickness caused by exposure February 11, 1862.

Martin Binney served in Company I, Fifth M. V. M. (Somerville company), and in the Tenth Maine, and also in the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts, was captain on General Nelson A. Miles' staff at battle of Reams Station, Va., August 25, 1864, and was very severely wounded. He was noted for his cheerfulness and intrepidity. [28]

Edward Brackett was a graduate of the Somerville High School, and a law student when he joined Company I, Fifth M. V. M. He entered the Tenth Maine; was mortally wounded in September, 1862. He had been commissioned second lieutenant, but had not received his commission, when hurt. He possessed a fine presence and rare ability, and, had he been spared, would have had undoubtedly a distinguished career, both in military and civil life. His memory is still cherished by his old associates and admirers. He was always a gentleman, in word, deed, and thought.

Irvin M. Bennett, my brother, who enlisted in the Twentythird Massachusetts when seventeen years old, is a native of Somerville. He was promoted corporal, and assigned to the color guard after the regiment has seen service, which shows the estimation in which he was held. He enjoyed the confidence of Lieutenant-Colonel John Chambers, and was detailed to drill all the recruits, and was recommended for a commission in the United States colored troops. Though excused from duty for sickness, he advanced to the assault at Cold Harbor June 3, 1864, on the color guard, and was shot in the right arm, and carries the ball yet. His captain told me that Irvin was the best man in the regiment on the skirmish line. We did not meet during our terms, as he was wounded shortly after the Twenty-third came from North Carolina to join the Army of the Potomac.

Frederick A. Galletly, a native of Somerville, killed in the Twenty-third Massachusetts before Petersburg August 5, 1864, was a very brave soldier. His brother, James Galletly, served with the Thirty-first Massachusetts in Louisiana, and had the reputation of being very intrepid; he died in 1899.

J. Frank Giles was in Company I, Fifth M. V. M., in three months service; was sergeant-major of First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, and when as infantry it encountered the Confederates at Spottsylvania, Va., May 19, 1864, he was severely wounded in the foot; he also is a native of this city. [29]

Joseph Hale, a member of Company I, Fifth M. V. M., after the Bull Run campaign, enlisted in the Eleventh Regiment Regular Infantry, was in all the campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, was commissioned, and when he died, in 1899, was the senior captain of infantry, and would have soon been promoted to rank of major. His death was caused by fever contracted in Cuba.

Henry C. Hammond, also of Company I, joined the Third Massachusetts Battery, was made corporal, and distinguished himself by his coolness and bravery at Games' Mills June 27, 1862.

Richard Hill, a son of James Hill, a member of the school committee prior to 1849, enlisted as a private in the First Massachusetts Cavalry, was promoted to sergeant, and wounded at Aldie, Va., in June, 1863. He called on me just before the army crossed the Rapidan into the wilderness May 4, 1864. His bearing and appearance were those of an ideal cavalryman; like many Somerville men, he had his special theory. He said the rebels could shoot as long as we could, and that our cavalry should charge with sabre, and not use revolvers or carbines until the enemy turned in flight. I believe that he was correct, under then existing conditions, and knew that he had the intrepidity to exemplify his opinion. He died in New Jersey several years ago.

Charles M. Miller, a descendant of James Miller, who was killed on the slope of Prospect hill April 19, 1775, by the British, on their retreat from Concord, died from disease in Virginia June 15, 1864, while a member of the Eleventh Massachusetts Battery.

James Millen, an uncle of the Galletly brothers, was an excellent soldier and an intelligent man. We were the only Somerville men in Company G, of the Twenty-second. He was killed by a cannon ball at Mechanicsville, Va., June 26, 1862.

Fletcher Nelson, a nephew of Captain Thomas Cunningham, was in Company I, of the Fifth M. V. M., and subsequently in the Twenty-third Massachusetts. He was inordinately fond of [30] reading, and of undaunted courage. He was mortally wounded at Dairy's Bluff May 16, 1864, and died in Richmond, Va., June 11 following.

Edward L. Oilman, the only son of Charles E. Oilman, late city clerk, was in Company G, First Massachusetts Infantry, and discharged for disability. He returned home, and died, after a long illness. Those who contracted disease and wounds in the service, and were discharged therefor, and never regained health, but soon passed away, should be added to the appalling list of our sacrifices for the Union.

William D. Smith, who lived in the ‘Hawkins Block’ on Bow street, and attended the Prospect Hill school for many years, was noted for his ready wit and genial qualities. He enlisted in the Chelsea company of the First Massachusetts Volunteers, and was killed in a gallant assault upon the enemy at Yorktown April 26, 1862.

George W. West, long a resident of Somerville, and a lieutenant of the Somerville Light Infantry, soon after its organization, became colonel of the Seventeenth Maine during the war, serving with great distinction. He died last year at Athol, Mass.

William W. Wardell, of the First Massachusetts Cavalry, was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant in that regiment, and died from wounds May 28, 1864. He was a very fine officer.

Charles D. Elliot, appointed civil engineer in the Army November 23, 1862, and assigned to the Department of the Gulf, was on duty on staffs of Generals Franklin, Ashboth, and Grover, and under fire in the battle of Bisland, siege of Port Hudson, and expedition to Sabine Pass. He retired from the army on account of malarial sickness, and was especially commended in letters from General Grover and Major D. C. Houston, chief engineer Department of the Gulf. The Engineer Corps of the regular army was a privileged class, influential enough to prevent those of equal ability from civil life, whose aid was indispensable, from being commissioned; but these assistants were not exempt from peril for that reason, but did their full share of hazardous [31] duty. The nine engineers from civil life, including Mr. Elliot, who served at the front in the Department of the Gulf in 1863–‘64, lost in action three killed and one wounded; also one from disease contracted in the service. The sixth, we fervently hope, will survive very many campaigns in the Somerville Historical Society.

John H. Rafferty, a son of the late Patrick Rafferty, well known and honored for his public services, resided in Somerville when he joined the Ninth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as second lieutenant. He was very efficient, and soon made first lieutenant, and was in command of his company at the battle of Malvern Hill July 1, 1862, and was then mortally wounded. He was a very brave officer, and his memory is cherished by the survivors of that noble regiment.

Thomas Mallahan enlisted from Somerville in Company D, Ninth Massachusetts Volunteers, served three years, was an excellent soldier, brave and faithful; was wounded three times; has held a responsible position with a Medford-street meat packing firm for over thirty years.

Edward K. Pepper, a son of Edward Pepper, who was for many years an esteemed citizen of this community, was badly wounded on either the Congress or Cumberland in the engagement with the Merrimac in Hampton Roads March 8, 1862.

Our homage is especially due to the enlisted men, who, devoid of hope of personal advancement, animated solely by patriotism, fought with untiring persistency, confident that we would win eventually by mere attrition, not knowing, at the close of a day's combat, whether to congratulate themselves or not on being alive, when, as in the Virginia campaign of 1864, the contact with the enemy was close, and the struggle almost unceasing and apparently interminable.

It is our duty to aid in preserving the facts of which we are cognizant relative to the deeds of those of our city who were participants in the war which will ever be an epoch in history. I hope this contribution will be regarded as of some value.

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