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Medford artillery.

ONE organization, of military character, at one time existed that has never found place in Medford annals, though its time fell just previous to the revision of Brooks' history by Mr. Usher. We refer to the Magoun Battery.

In the preparation of this sketch the writer has consulted the records of the selectmen, the published annual reports of the town officers, records at the State House, and the files of Medford and Boston papers. He has also conversed with numerous citizens, some of whom were members of the company, but has been unable to find any trace of the records made by its clerk.

The existence of the company grew out of no military exigency, but from the old-style noisy celebration of Independence Day, which required a salute fired at morning, noon and night. In 1870 and 1871 this was by ‘George Nichols' old gun’ (as we are told), each time at an expense of $50. In 1872 (see town report) the payment was to Mr. Nichols, ‘$55.50, 3 salutes, 37 guns each.’ In 1873 $100 was paid the 3d Light Battery, M. V. M., for similar service, and the increasing expense may have been the incentive to the gift of guns to Medford, that at last, disused, disappeared from public knowledge and notice.

Prior to and during the Civil War many vessels carried an armament, for protection in foreign seas and against Confederate cruisers. One of these was the Swallow, owned by Thatcher Magoun of Medford, which had two brass cannon (six pounders), mounted on low wooden carriages after the usual manner of ships' guns.

Mr. Magoun, in a letter to the selectmen, signified his desire to present the same to the town, for the purpose [p. 26] of salutes, if they should deem the gift acceptable. Receiving a favorable reply, a letter of presentation followed and was received by them, as of record of June 27, 1874.

The board voted to receive the cannon and make an acknowledgment with thanks, and further voted ‘to place the cannon in charge of the committee on almshouse’ (italics our own). Two days later the committee reported the guns received and stored at the almshouse. Though Medford ‘had the guns and the money too,’ they continued to be lodged at the almshouse, and the town paid Battery C $100 for a salute on the Fourth of July, $8.90 for cleaning guns, and $15 to ‘UncleDavid Simpson for meals for the battery men.

‘And now appears’ a citizen, Charles Russell by name, and others who urged the formation of an artillery company to take charge of the Swallow battery and use it in accordance with the intent of the donor. As such an organization was not a part of the State militia, its status was much like that of the old fire companies, and yielding to their desire, the selectmen on November 7, 1874, record the signing of a petition to the Governor for a license to form an association to care for the guns. Who was to present the same, or whether it ever reached the Governor, is not known, as inquiry at his office reveals nothing. Evidently such an association was or had been formed, as a week later a petition was received from members of the Swallow Battery, asking for the guns to be placed in their care and possession. Whether they were so placed, or remained guests at the almshouse, is uncertain, as nothing more appears of record until April 5, 1875, when it was voted that the Magoun battery be housed in the building of S. H. Pearce & Co. The next week Captain Russell appeared again, asking for authority to procure a place of storage for a few weeks. An appropriation of $850 had been made to purchase equipments for the guns, and all but forty cents was expended therefor. This included gun-carriages, ammunition wagon, and ‘one artillery saddle.’ It has been said that the guns, [p. 27] which were but four feet long, looked, on these carriages, rather diminutive to experts, but by the average layman this was unnoticed.

On April 19, 1875, occurred at Lexington the first of the centennial celebrations. This was attended by the Magoun Battery, which took the place assigned it in the procession, and also on June 7th it attended the centennial of Bunker Hill, in Charlestown and Boston. This last was the company's busy day, as James M. Usher and others had asked for a salute at West Medford, as well as at the center of the town, which was fired at morning and night.

On June 28 some of the East Medford people asked for a share of the noise, and as the western section wanted more on July 5, the selectmen settled the matter by directing Captain Russell to fire with both guns at the center.

The guns and equipment were housed somewhere temporarily until late in the year, when a building was erected for the town by William Stetson, at an expense of $600, upon the Swan lot, known as the ‘Pit,’ where is now Governors Avenue. The company preferred this location to one on Union street, and the matter was left to the discretion of selectman Hooper, who foreseeing possible exigencies, there placed it, the highway men building the foundation therefor, thus securing a storage place beneath for some of their apparatus. It was a serviceable structure, and the selectmen reported that in the latter respect it would prove an entire success. A view of it may be found in the Medford Mercury. The company were given leave to finish a room in its second story at its own expense. This was fitted up as a gymnasium, for the men were well drilled, and as one said recently, ‘We were it, and always had a fine, good time, and enjoyed the exercise, drill and public parades to the full.’ They had their seasons of gayety and pleasure like other organizations, ‘firemen, military and civic.’

It is unfortunate that no files of the Medford Journal or the Chronicle are to be found, as these covered the [p. 28] time of the company's history, but a few references to the latter's functions are found in the first volume of the Mercury. In those former papers were accounts of things then transpiring of interest to Medford people of today. In 1876 Edwin C. Burbank was in command, in 1878 George T. Sampson, and in 1880 Julian D'Este.

On September 17, 1880, the battery appeared in the third division of the great procession at Boston's two hundred and fiftieth anniversary. We have been told that on that, or some similar occasion, its remarkably fine appearance was noted by someone on the reviewing stand, or by the State authorities, who are said to have ordered its dissolution. Certain it is that in September of the next year the battery fired minute guns on Medford common on the occasion of President Garfield's funeral, and this was possibly their last appearance in public as an organization.

On June 21, 1882, the selectmen received a communication from the company relative to its disbandment, and of the property in its possession including cartridges for a salute. The selectmen voted that a salute be fired on July 4, using half the cartridges in the morning and the rest at night, the ex-members of the battery to do the firing. Next, the clerk of the battery was directed to turn over the keys of the building to the clerk of selectmen after the salute. In the printed report of the selectmen for 1882 the battery is said to have been dissolved by order of the Adjutant-general of the Commonwealth. It was currently reported in Medford at that time that such was the case, as the association was not of the militia, and consequently an illegal organization not entitled to bear arms; that Medford selectmen were liable to, or threatened with, prosecution, etc.

No record of any such order appears on the books of the selectmen, nor yet can be found in the Adjutantgeneral's office. The financial reports of the town show various expenditures for artillery supplies, collations, saddle, powder, silk and flannel—covering a period of eight years. [p. 29]

Meanwhile the people were becoming tired of noise, and when (after the disbandment) some one petitioned for a salute on July 4, the selectmen voted ‘to do so if some responsible person furnish the powder.’

Just before this they had voted ‘to allow Mr. Allen to use the wheels of the Magoun Battery.’ Heman Allen was the chief of the highway men, and so it is reasonable to conclude that the wheels of the guncar-riages and ammunition wagon, and the harnesses, were worn out in the more useful service of that department. As to the ultimate fate of the somewhat famous saddle we are unable to say.

Who furnished uniforms, sabres and other military toggery that was used in the public parades we cannot say; probably the company provided itself with such, but the town horses drew the guns on some occasions, on others the town hired horses for the purpose.

It is really true (as has been said) that the men wore coats cut in style of evening dress; by some at times they were called the Swallow-tail Battery. They were at first called the Swallow Battery (from the name of the ship), but the tail was simply an appendage, and was applied in the same spirit of banter as was the burlesque ‘Muldoon Battery’ in an Antique and Horrible parade that attracted much attention.

On December 1, 1884, the selectmen voted ‘that the guns of the Magoun Battery be placed in charge of Captain Clark's command,’ i.e., the Lawrence Light Guard. May 28, 1888, Captain Clark reported that ‘the guns were exposed to the weather and ought to be covered.’ This was referred to ‘Mr. Clark’ (William P. Clark, chairman of the board). On April 2, 1889, Mr. Clark was made a ‘committee on the care of and placing the guns in position at the library.’ Two weeks later he reported, ‘the library committee desired no further action.’ January 2, 1890, that committee was invited to confer with the selectmen, and on the 28th James A. Hervey appeared thereabout. He stated, ‘the committee do not consider the grounds a suitable place’ (the local press [p. 30] has quoted him, ‘the library is neither a fort or an arsenal’), and suggested that the guns be sold and books bought with the proceeds.

The selectmen, in report of 1888, had recommended ‘an appropriation of $100 for preservation and care of cannon,’ the same to be properly mounted and placed on the library grounds. This sum was appropriated, and of the amount $2.17 was expended. Also on March 10, 1890, the town voted that the gun-carriages, harnesses and other equipments be sold by the selectmen and that the library committee consider what is best to be done with the cannon and report at some future meeting. On February 17, 1891, the selectmen granted the library committee permission to remove the trucks of the Magoun Battery from the shop of Dawson & Porter to the library or elsewhere, as they may see fit. The ‘trucks’ were the carriages on which the guns were mounted when Mr. Magoun donated them, and on which they were again placed.

We have failed to find any record of sale of harnesses or equipment as above authorized (nor yet of the famous saddle), and we think our conclusions as to their final disposal correct. But what of the cannon that were placed in Captain Clark's charge thirty years ago? Some three years since we learned of their location. Though not generally known, they remain where the selectmen placed them—in the armory of the Light Guard. They are marked 458 and 459 (probably foundry numbers). They are about three and three-quarters inch bore, five and three-quarters outside at muzzle, nine at breech, and four feet in length. On each is cast the figure of an eagle, and in each is cut the inscription, ‘Presented to the Town of Medford, Mass., June 17, 1874.’ No copy of Mr. Magoun's letter of presentation appears in the printed report of town officers, issued February, 1875. We recall it as it appeared in the Medford journal of June, 1874. It was probably overshadowed by the larger and more useful gift of Mr. Magoun of ‘the Mansion [p. 31] House of my honoured father,’ for a library building. Yet the gift of the guns was prompted by a spirit of helpfulness to his town as an economic measure. We scarcely think that the donor expected his gift to become an undue expense to it, or an ‘elephant’ on its hands.

One of the guns shows the effect of an attempt at repolishing, which gives color to the remark, ‘General Lawrence intended to have them polished and placed in the foyer of the armory.’

The library committee evidently removed the trucks ‘elsewhere’ (than the library), but we fail to find any report of its doings ‘to some future meeting.’ In the discussion in town meeting some advocated selling the guns and buying books (with the proceeds) that should be inscribed with the name of Magoun, while others dissented. So it has happened that after forty years the guns remain safely stored away in the basement of the armory, and the Medford artillery company that was honorable is now ancient and almost forgotten.

George Nichols' old gun.

This was a brass gun about two and a half feet long, said to have been used in the Everglades in the first Florida or Seminole war by General Jackson nearly a hundred years ago. Because of this it bore the name Old Hickory.

In later years it was mounted as a ship's gun on the Kate Hastings, one of the vessels of Henry Hastings of Medford. Still later it was given by him to George Nichols, who had it for some years, and who at last loaned it for exhibition in another town. We are told it was to a club, Wild Goose by name. At all events, it went on a ‘wild-goose chase’ and never came back to Medford. After Mr. Nichols got it, it was remounted, Theophilus (Tope) Johnson making an oaken carriage, such as it formerly had.

It was heard often in the ante-bellum days on Fourth of July, election times, and during war time in Medford. [p. 32] Special mention is made of the racket made one Sunday forenoon, on the receipt of news of the capture of Jeff Davis. The gun was placed on the marsh, where is now the parkway and Armory bridge, and the indignation of the worshipers at the Trinitarian Church just across the river was intense as they hastily retired from the building. It is said that threats of prosecution of the firing party were made, and also that there was one, at least, that stood ready to reimburse the delinquent if fine was imposed by the court, and in the light of then existing sectarian feeling (now happily passed) it is more than likely true.

All the political parties were served by Old Hickory (for the gun was non-partisan) in election times, including the Bell-Everett, or Union Party, in 1860. It was an open question which made the most noise, the bell hauled through the streets, or the gun. The latter is heard no more in Medford, but the bell is heard hourly every day and night as the clock on the Mystic Church strikes. The gun, like some small dogs, made a big amount of noise for its size, and even outdid the guns of the State battery the town hired. Some ship launchings were not thought complete without a salute as the vessel slid from the ways.

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