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XII. Abstract of town reports on the behavior of returned soldiers.

At the close of the war the happy thought occurred to Adjutant-General Schouler of addressing a circular to city and town officers, inquiring as to the conduct of the returned soldiers, some of whom, it must be remembered, had then been at home for several years. This circular was as follows:—

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Adjutant-General's Office, Boston, Dec. 9, 1865.
To the Selectmen of.

Gentlemen,—As a matter of public interest, I am endeavoring to ascertain what proportion, if any, of the returned soldiers belonging to your town have been guilty of any crime since their return home; or whether their habits have been better, or worse, than they were before they entered the army.

I have sent a copy of this to the chairman of each board of selectmen in the State; also to the mayors of the various cities, and to others. My purpose is to gather the sentiment of the State in regard to our returned soldiers. My opinion is that, as a body, they are as good men now as they were when they enlisted in the service of their country.

I intend to use the information I may obtain upon this interesting subject in my next annual report, which I am now engaged in preparing.

Please answer my inquiries as soon as you can. I would be pleased, also, to have you state any opinions on the subject you may entertain.

Respectfully yours,

William Schouler, Adjutant-General.

Answers to this letter were received from 324 towns, being all but eleven of those addressed. Of these answers 113 were to the effect that the returned soldiers showed social and moral improvement; while 8 testified to the contrary, although in very various degrees and sometimes on trivial points. All these replies, or the essential portions of them, are printed as follows. From the remaining towns replying, there was only the statement that no change was visible, for good or evil, in the returned men. These replies are not here printed.

It is to be noticed that the Adjutant-General indicated in advance his own opinion, when writing his letter, and that this might have had an influence on some answers. Yet those who know the spirit of local independence generally prevailing in Massachusetts towns will not attach very much of weight to this consideration; and in many cases the officials go so much into detail as to leave no doubt of the sincerity of their verdicts.


Favorable testimony.


The soldiers that went from this town and have returned are better men every way for having been in the war.

John F. Arnold, Chairman Selectmen.


In our opinion, they are more industrious than before the war.

Elijah D. Allen and J. G. Freeland, Selectmen.


I think there would be no risk in my saying that most of our men have been more industrious since their return than before, and would say, as respects our younger portion of soldiers, there is a great reform.

Ezra Ingram, Chairman Selectmen.


Most of our men who have returned from the war are better and steadier than they were before enlisting, and attend to their daily duties better.

Charles F. Rocxwood, Chairman Selectmen.


To-day, as a body, they are better men than when they enlisted in the service of their country.

J. N. Pike, Chairman Selectmen.


The men, as a body, are better citizens than they were before enlisting into the service.

William S. Jenkins, Chairman Selectmen.


Those who have returned to their homes in this town are as good men, if not better, than when they volunteered.

William A. Stearns, Chairman Selectmen.


As a whole, they are more industrious and better citizens than they were before they enlisted.

Stephen W. Carter, Chairman Selectmen.


I am of the opinion that the discipline they have received in the service of their country has been beneficial rather than otherwise, and in many cases a marked improvement has evidently been made.

William Bassett, Chairman Selectmen.


As a whole, they are a better class of citizens than when they enlisted.

John F. Hale, H. B. Britten, Selectmen.


The returned soldiers, as a whole, will exhibit a greater number where there is a marked improvement in their general behavior and morals, than there is of those who have been made worse.

J. S. Needham, Arthur cook, Selectmen.


As a general thing, their habits are full as good and in many instances, we think, very much better, than before going into the army.

William S. Wyles, J. S. Blair, Selectmen.


A majority are better men than before they entered the army.

A. L. Tyler, Chairman Selectmen.


I am not sure but that they are better; indeed, my observation inclines me to that opinion.

Charles Robinson, Jr., Mayor.


My own opinion is they are rather better men as a whole.

Joseph Reed, Chairman Selectmen.


The habits of the returned soldiers belonging to our town are as good as when they left for the war, and in some cases better.

Charles W. Knox, George S. Williams, B. B. Eastman, Selectmen.


They are as good men, and in some cases better.

P. Bryant, Chairman Selectmen.


The habits of our returned soldiers are better than before they entered the service.

G. H. Knapp, Chairman Selectmen.



None are worse, but a large portion are of much better habits.

J. Q. A. Lothrop, S. J. Beal, Z. Rich, Selectmen.


My opinion is that their character and habits stand better in our town than when they enlisted.

D. C. Smith, Chairman Selectmen.


Taken as a whole, they are certainly no worse citizens; we think they are better.

J. C. Howes, Chairman Selectmen.


As a general thing their having been in the army has been a benefit to them rather than the reverse.

A. L. Smith, Chairman Selectmen.


I know of several cases where they are much more orderly and temperate in their habits than formerly.

George W. Coburn, Chairman Selectmen.


They have been benefited by the discipline of army life. In a number of instances there has been a marked improvement in character and habits.

E. S. James, Chairman Selectmen.

East Bridgewater.

As a general thing, I should think their habits improved, as they are temperate, very industrious and a good class of citizens.

George Bryant, Chairman Selectmen.


Their habits are as good, and in some instances better, than they were before they entered the army.

D. W. Bartlett, Chairman Selectmen.


They have rather been improved than otherwise by the discipline to which they have been subjected.

F. Taber, Chairman Selectmen.


Some of them, young when they enlisted, and somewhat wild and fickle, have come home strong-minded young men, and have all, without exception, engaged in some useful employment.

Thomas Lewis, Jr., Chairman Selectmen.


They are certainly no worse than before the war, and in many cases an improvement is manifest. It is a remarkable fact that, out of so many young men who went into the service from this town (being nearly one thousand), so few have returned with their characters tarnished, or their moral habits degraded.

J. W. Kimball.


I think, as a general thing, there is an improvement in conduct.

A. S. Kemp, Chairman Selectmen.


I believe that a majority of our returned soldiers are better men to-day than they were at the date of their enlistment.

T. C. Hurd, for the Selectmen.


As a body the soldiers are as good, and in some instances better, than they were before they enlisted.

J. G. Ray, Chairman Selectmen.


I know of several cases where I believe that the service had a most decided influence for good. When they enlisted they were wild and unsteady boys, but on their discharge they returned home apparently changed men. I believe that the war has not had an immoral influence upon our soldiers, as a general thing, but on the contrary, where it has demoralized one, it has elevated two.

M. A. Gates, Chairman Selectmen.


It is the opinion of the selectmen that there has been a decided improvement in the manners and morals of many of the men who enlisted from this town; and that the contrary of this cannot be said of any of our returned soldiers.

A. White, Chairman Selectmen.


Most of the foreigners return improved, and have more ambition and self-respect, and, upon the whole, both natives and foreigners have returned improved, and with higher and better views of life and duty.

H. Stevens, Chairman Selectmen.



In regard to their habits, we are of the opinion that twenty of them have improved; that they are men of more character; about seventy of them are about the same as when they entered the service; and about ten of them are worse.

N. Ladd, Chairman Selectmen.


So far as I know, they are better men than before they enlisted.

E. Edson, Chairman Selectmen.


We think their habits are better, if anything, than they were before they entered the service.

H. H. Whitman, Chairman Selectmen.


We have good reason to believe that their morals and habits, taken as a whole (except, perhaps, the habit of profanity), are as good as they were before they entered the army.

N. B. Butler, Chairman Selectmen.


So far as our town is concerned the morals of our soldiers engaged in the war are improved.

Salem Parks, B. R. Coit, Selectmen.


Most of them have saved considerable from their bounty and pay, which has encouraged them to greater industry and better habits, therefore, better citizens.

C. Haskins, Selectman.


The selectmen are unanimously of opinion that our soldiers, as a class, have returned better men and citizens than they were before they went.

Hammond Reed, Chairman Selectmen.


So far as my observation extends, they have returned home vastly improved in personal appearance and gentlemanly manners and bearing, and thus better fitted for the duties of citizens.

William Wheeler, Chairman Selectmen.


It is my opinion that our returned soldiers are better men than when they entered the army.

J. S. Eaton, Chairman Selectmen.


Those who returned are better men than before the war.

F. M. Marston, H. B. Heyward, Selectmen.


On the whole, we can say that our soldiers are morally as good as before, while intellectually and bodily there is a decided improvement.

George F. Allen, Chairman Selectmen.


Their habits are not worse; I am more than half inclined to think they have improved.

Luther Hatch, G. M. Baker, Selectmen.


Their habits are full as good, and in some cases better.

Parker R. Litchfield, Clerk of the Board of Selectmen.


Their habits are as good, if not better, than before they entered the army.

B. F. Shumway, Chairman Selectmen.


Taken as a whole, we feel that they are better than otherwise.

William Daniel, Chairman Selectmen.


The habits of none are worse than before; some are better. They are more industrious than before they entered the army.

John L. Bell, Chairman Selectmen.


I conclude, therefore, that they are no worse for having been soldiers; in many respects they are better.

Ira N. Goddard, Chairman Selectmen.


There are a number of instances here of young men who were decidedly hard cases when they enlisted, who have returned much improved.

O. H. Munson, Chairman Selectmen.

Mount Washington.

The habits of many have been improved.

Oran C. Whitbreck, Chairman Selectmen.



I do not hesitate to say that the general condition of the soldiers, and those dependent upon them, is much better than before the war.

C. B. Travis, Chairman Selectmen.

New Bedford.

They have conducted themselves not only as well, but better, than before they entered the army.

George Howland, Jr., Mayor.


In many cases the men are improved from what they were when they enlisted. If all the soldiers who have returned to Massachusetts since the close of the rebellion have conducted themselves as well in other parts of the State as they have here, there has been clearly and decidedly a visible improvement in that class of men compared to what it was before the rebellion commenced.

George W. Jackman, Jr., Mayor.


Some of them, I think, are much improved in their habits; none to my knowledge are worse.

Thomas Rice, Jr., Chairman Selectmen.


My opinion is that they are better men than they were before they entered the service.

Galen Orr, Chairman Selectmen.

New Salem.

The habits and morals of the returned soldiers are as good, and on the whole better, than when they went to the war.

Elijah F. Porter, Chairman Selectmen.

New Marlborough.

Upon the whole, their habits have been better than they were before they entered the army.

Warren Walker, Chairman Selectmen.

North Reading.

According to my knowledge and belief, their habits are better.

Daniel G. Abbott, Chairman Selectmen.


We are of the opinion that, generally, there has been an improvement for the better; none worse.

Silas D. Harrington, Chairman Selectmen.


The remark is often made, and the conviction is general, that the men have returned with better habits than when they went.

E. Warren Pierce, Chairman Selectmen.


In no case are their habits worse, but in some cases better.

William B. Goodnow, Chairman Selectmen.


It is my opinion that their habits have been better on the whole.

W. H. Winter, Chairman Selectmen.


No worse, but, upon the whole, we think them better citizens than before.

S. S. Gifford, Chairman Selectmen.


As a body, the returned soldiers of Quincy are better men now than when they entered the United States service.

Ebenezer Adams, Chairman Selectmen.


I fully believe as a general thing that their habits have been improved.

J. White Belcher, Chairman Selectmen.


I have made inquiries from those who do not sympathize with the Republican party; they are free to say that the soldiers have come home improved, without an exception.

George cook, Chairman Selectmen.


The remark is made almost daily in regard to some soldier that ‘there is more manliness and dignity of character about him since he went to war.’

Henry DENN1S, Jr., Chairman Selectmen.


As a body their habits are no worse than when they left; some of them have greatly improved in that respect. One man, who was a pest in society, came home at the end of three years a reformed man, with about six hundred dollars saved from his wages and bounty, and has been sober and industrious ever since.

E. H. Potter, Chairman Selectmen.



As good citizens as before they went, and in some cases I think better.

William W. Clement, Chairman Selectmen.


On the whole, they are better citizens than before their enlistment.

H. G. O. Ellis, Chairman Selectmen.


My short experience in the army led me to expect that the discipline which was necessarily enforced there would have a beneficial effect on the men composing the army, and my experience the past year, as marshal, has given me no reason to change my mind.

R. Skinner, Jr., City Marshal.


Their conduct has been as good, if not better, than before they entered the army.

William H. Newhall, Chairman Selectmen.


It is my opinion that there is a marked improvement in the character of many of them, both social and moral.

H. Snow, Chairman Selectmen.


Their habits, in many instances, have been improved; they are more industrious and good citizens.

O. Johnson, Chairman Selectmen.


As a body they are as good, if not better, than they were when they enlisted.

J. H. Davis, Chairman Selectmen.


On the whole I am constrained to say that the war has made our men rather better than worse.

P. Torry, Chairman Selectmen.

South Danvers.

The police say, that in several cases of individuals who were troublesome before going to the war, there has, since their return, been a marked change for the better; the subordination and restraint to which they were subjected in the army enabling them to govern themselves at home.

J. Poor, Chairman Selectmen.


As to their habits, as a whole, we are decidedly of the opinion that they have undergone a change for the better while in the service of their country.

Z. E. Coleman, Chairman Selectmen.

South Scituate.

None seem the worse, but many better, than they were before they became soldiers. It seems due to the soldier that some public notice should be taken of this remarkable and most gratifying fact of the absence in them of that demoralization which we surely had good reason to fear.

S. Tolman, Jr., Chairman Selectmen.


The habits of the men generally have been better than before entering the service.

L. Hill, Chairman Selectmen.


I think I can safely say that they have improved; certain am I that they are as good citizens as before.

E. Sawyer, Chairman Selectmen.


We have made a thorough investigation, and find that, as a whole, they are better members of society.

John Hill, Chairman Selectmen.


Take the soldiers that we sent to the war, as a body, they are not only as good men now as they were when they enlisted, but even better.

M. Warner, Chairman Selectmen.


We think none of them are any worse, and many of them are better than when they enlisted.

J. Adams, Chairman Selectmen.


I think there has been an improvement in those who were somewhat irregular in their habits.

T. P. Hurlburt, Chairman Selectmen.


They are not any worse citizens than before they became soldiers, but many of them are more orderly and better behaved men than before their enlistment.

Robert Crossman, 2d, City Marshal.



I was one of the class of men who, at the breaking out of the Rebellion, thought that most of the soldiers who returned from the war would be good for nothing to the community; and I have observed their conduct since with some interest, and am glad of this opportunity to say that every one that went to the war from this town, and returned, is as good a citizen as on the day he enlisted; and in three cases I think there is a decided improvement.

John W. Work, Chairman Selectmen.


From close observation and inquiry, I am clear that the habits of our own citizens who went into the army have been better since their return than before they became soldiers.

Leonard Huntress, Chairman Selectmen.


I think some have improved in morals. I know of none who have grown worse.

Jacob Foster, Chairman Selectmen.


In some cases we think the character and habits of those returning have been improved.

Oliver Proctor, Stillman Haynes, Abel G. Stearnes, Selectmen.


In not one case do I know of their being worse than they were before they entered the army; but fifty per cent. of them are better than they were before they entered; the other fifty per cent. remain about the same.

Ebenezer Swan, Chairman Selectmen.


I have said many times that not one of our boys came home morally worse than when he went out, and a large majority came home much better.

Velorous Taft, Chairman Selectmen.


The returned soldiers are better in their habits.

B. Snow, Chairman Selectmen.


As a class, they are more thoughtful and better men.

F. M. Stone, Chairman Selectmen.


Those the most reckless before enlisting, we think, in some cases at least, more willing to submit to good order and regulations than before enlisting.

Thos. D. Wood, Chairman Selectmen.


In a number of cases, young men who, prior to their enlisting, spent most of their time in saloons and drinking-houses, have, since their return, obtained steady employment and faithfully pursue their labors. As a general answer I should say that but a very small proportion have been guilty of crime since their return home, that their habits are no worse, and in many instances are far better.

H. B. Lewis, Chairman Selectmen.


My own private opinion candidly is, that instead of being contaminated by the scenes of the field and the camp, they are better fitted and qualified to perform the duties of good citizens and members of society than they would have been had they remained at home during the war.

Alonzo S. Fiske, Chairman Selectmen.


As a whole, the service of their country has had a salutary effect upon them, and will make them better men through life.

Rufus A. Dodge, Chairman Selectmen.

West Springfield.

I think their habits are better than they were before they entered the army.

A. D. Bagg, Chairman Selectmen.


The morals of our returned soldiers are better than they were before they entered the service of their country. This is the opinion of the inhabitants of the town generally.

Benjamin Oliver, Chairman Selectmen.


There is, on the whole, an improvement in their habits.

Samuel B. White, Chairman Selectmen.


Their habits, if changed at all, have changed for the better.

O. R. Clark, Chairman Selectmen.



As a body, I think their improvement great.

C. R. Taft, Chairman Selectmen.


They are better citizens than before.

A. E. Thompson, Chairman Selectmen.


On the whole, I think their morals have not deteriorated, but of the two have improved.

Sumner Smith, Chairman Selectmen.


The habits of such returned soldiers are better rather than worse than they were before entering the service.

James Humphrey, Chairman Selectmen.


Some of them, I am positive, exhibit a decided improvement, and a few of them, who were considered a little fast before the war, are now among the most industrious and respectable of our citizens.

E. P. Brownell, Chairman Selectmen.


First, among many young men, of whom I have had a personal acquaintance, serving in the army has been of immense benefit to them by giving them that discipline and respect for authority which enables them to become far better men than they would have been without it. This conclusion applies to those men whose personal characters were unformed before they entered the service, and whose civil training was leading them into loose notions which confound liberty with license. Second, that when a man possessed a well-formed character before his service in the army, as a man who was really a good, respectable citizen before he enlisted, when he returned he was a far better one. Third, those who were trained to evil deeds before their service have returned quite fixed in their evil habits, not improved for the better in any degree.

P. Ball, Mayor.


I am of the opinion that their habits are better. They seem to be more industrious, persevering and anxious to obtain something more than their daily wants.

Samuel Matthews, Chairman Selectmen.

Unfavorable testimony.


That portion of the returned soldiers who at the time of their enlistment were of age to have acquired habits and characters for themselves, apparently returned as moral, upright men as when they entered the service. A portion of them who entered the army young, from sixteen to twenty years of age, have apparently returned more addicted to the use of strong drink and profane language than when they entered the service.

Van R. Swift, Chairman Selectmen.


None of the returned soldiers of this town have been guilty of any crime since their return home, to the best of our knowledge and belief, and we have good reason to believe that their morals and habits, taken as a whole (except, perhaps, the habit of profanity), are as good as they were before they entered the army.

N. B. Butler, Chairman Selectmen.


I am happy to state that no one of our returned soldiers has been complained of for misdemeanor since their return. We would most cheerfully endorse the opinion as expressed by your Honor, with one exception, viz.: the use of tobacco.

G. Broad, for the Selectmen.


None of our returned soldiers have been guilty of any flagrant violation of the laws, and, perhaps, a large majority of them have not been seriously contaminated by their army experience; but I am sorry to say that we have several of our younger soldiers, who left home steady, industrious young men, and have returned dissipated, unwilling to work, and far from having been improved by their army experience.

A. L. Burdett, for the Selectmen.


I have no knowledge that any of our returned soldiers have been guilty of any crime since their return home, and I am of the opinion that being in the army has not made any marked improvement in their habits. I am sorry to differ with you, however, in regard to the returned soldiers as a body. So far as my knowledge and acquaintance with them in this part of the State extends, I think the tendency has been to demoralize and dissipate them.

W. D. Witherell, Chairman Selectmen.


South Danvers.

There seems to have been, since the return of the soldiers, an increase of crime generally in the community; but, after a somewhat extensive investigation of the matter, I do not find that the remark applies to this town, or to its returned soldiers; and yet I know no reason why it should be an exception.

J. Poor, Chairman Selectmen.


The habits of most of the men are as good now as when they enlisted. A few, I have no doubt, were improved by being connected with the military service, while a small number, belonging to a class of men not likely to improve under any circumstances, came out of the army ‘seven times worse’ than they were when they entered it. The habit of using intoxicating liquors too freely seems to me to be the one acquired or confirmed by those made worse by being in military service.

F. D. Brown, Chairman Selectmen.


Only one has been guilty of any criminal act, but we must be under the painful necessity of saying that their experience in camp life has not appeared to increase in many of them the habits of temperance and industry.

James T. Ford, Chairman Selectmen.

[The full reports, from which the above extracts are taken, may be found in the Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts for the year ending Dec. 31, 1865, pp. 141-218.]

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