We’ll begin by stating that the three of us, Tom Churchill, Steve McManus, and Donald Thompson, are not professional historians, nor do we profess to be experts on the Civil War. Suffice it to say, however, we do know more than the average American about a war that was fought from April 12, 1861 to April 12, 1865. And it’s probably a safe bet to say that we know more about the 18th Massachusetts Infantry than anyone on the face of this planet.
A collective bond has held us together for the past nine years, a bond that stems from our mutual interest in the 18th Massachusetts. Steve had one great-great-grandfather, Stephen Thomas, who rose from Captain of Company D to Lt. Colonel of the Regiment. Tom’s great-great-grandfather Edmund Churchill served in Co. E and carried the colors at Fredericksburg, when the Regiment was engaged in the last wave of Union assaults on Marye’s Heights. Donald’s great-great-grandfather Samuel H. Jordan was 19 when he lost his left arm at Bethesda Church, while his third great-grandfather George Washington Thompson was, according to one Pension Examiner, “something of a pension guru” in lending counsel to other veterans on the filing of their claims.
During the past nine years we have literally chased the dead, from Maine to California and points in between, all in an effort to uncover information on our beloved 18th Mass. When we first began we had about ten pages of information on the Regiment. Now we have a working manuscript comprised of over 1700 pages of material. We’ve copied over 900 pension records from the National Archives, collected pictures, and visited cemeteries. Still, in all this, we’re always on the lookout for more information. We know there are surviving letters, diaries, and pictures of men who served with the 18th that we haven’t seen. We know there are descendants of men who served with the Regiment, we haven’t communicated with yet. If you’re a descendant or someone with information on the Regiment, we’re asking you to share it with us. Please keep in mind though, the three of us are average guys all dedicated to our day jobs. Which is another way of saying we can’t offer anything, except our deep gratitude, for any information or copies of material sent to us. We’re also glad to provide information and reciprocate, if possible.
Our goal for the past nine years has been very simple, i.e. to write a history of the Regiment. And to that end we have begun the process of writing the story of the 18th Massachusetts. A history was first visualized in the early 1900’s by veterans of Regiment. In fact, committees were formed for this purpose. But time worked against the veterans, reducing their numbers as each year passed, until on September 1, 1937 the last surviving member of the Regiment, George Wixon, passed away in New Bedford, MA.
We are not suggesting the 18th Massachusetts was unique as a Civil War regiment. The men were like most soldiers and their regiment served as so many others did. They were engaged in battles, battled the boredom and tedium of camp life, relished letters from home, endured long, forced marches through deep mud and blistering heat. They died in places not listed on a modern day map, without loved ones by their sides. Their limbs were piled outside a surgeons tent. They didn’t win the war single-handedly. They weren’t lauded as the bravest of the brave. They were shoemakers, farmers, laborers, jewelry workers, and iron workers, young, old, tall, short, native born and immigrant, all of whom left their homes between 1861 and 1864 and collectively did what they felt compelled to do, to try to keep a country indivisible.
Someone once said that a writer should avoid using the word “interesting,” because ultimately it was up to the reader to decide whether something was or wasn’t interesting. With that in mind, here are some incontrovertible facts we’ve uncovered about the 18th Massachusetts Infantry.
1,421 men were assigned for duty with the Regiment from 1861 to 1864. While Zebah Thayer, at age 63 and a member of the Regimental Band, holds the distinction of being the oldest man to be mustered, all due has to be given to Samuel Morrill, who at 58 years of age was a Private in Co. A. The youngest to serve was 13 year old Thomas S. Dunham. Dunham, who claimed to be 16 at the time he and his father Benjamin were mustered into Co. C on Jan. 14, 1862, was born Feb. 24, 1848 and served until October 2, 1863, when he was discharged due to disability. The tallest was Watson N. Smith, Co. C, who at 6 ft. 6-1/2 inches towered over little George P. Hooper, Co. H, who was measured at 4 feet exactly. 658 men are confirmed to have had blue eyes. 815 are confirmed to have been born in Massachusetts, while Maine contributed 62 men to the ranks. 163 are confirmed to have been born in Ireland, 38 in Canada, 26 in Germany, and 1 in Switzerland. 229 men are confirmed to have been employed as Shoemakers at the time of their muster, while 177 men earned their living by farming. Other skills and professions were represented as evidenced by the fact that there were 21 mechanics, 109 laborers, 29 painters, 43 bootmakers, 5 bookkeepers, 24 teamsters, 16 tailors, 4 cigar makers, and an organ maker.
85 men were killed in action, including at least 28 who were married. 42 died of their wounds, including at least 13 who left widows. The oldest man to die as a result of hostile action was Capt. George Ruby, then age 46, who was killed at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, while the youngest was Solon B. Smith, who was 17 when he died of his wounds on October 7, 1864. The first man from the Regiment to be killed in action was Joseph M. Jordan, Co. H, on June 27, 1862 at Gaines Mill. Jordan was one of a number of men who had been left behind in camp when the 18th was assigned to an expedition led by Gen. George Stoneman. When Porter's Fifth Corps was attacked at Gaines Mills, Jordan joined with the 9th Mass. Infantry and was killed while this regiment was engaged in a bayonet charge.
Henry Harlow of Co. G, a 20 year old Farmer from Hanover, MA was the first of 126 to die of disease, when he passed at Halls Hill, VA on October 9, 1861 due to Typhoid Fever. There were 34 confirmed deaths from Typhoid Fever and another 25 confirmed to have died of Chronic Diarrhea. Oscar Guild’s life ended in its 15th year, snuffed out by Typhoid Fever, the same disease that felled Thomas Churchill, then age 54. One of the more poignant stories involves Jesse Lewis Swift, Co. E, who was 16 when he was mustered on August 13, 1862. Swift, who was wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, was one of 11 men from his Company cited for bravery during the battle. A year and a half later he was taken prisoner at the battle of the Wilderness and survived five months in captivity before dying of Scurvy and Chronic Diarrhea at the Florence Stockade in South Carolina on November 5, 1864.
316 men were discharged due to physical disability and another 88 due to wounds. Of the men discharged for disability, 65 would enlist for further military service, not including those who were transferred to the Veterans Reserved Corps. 31 of those discharged on account of their wounds would likewise enlist after their stint with the 18th Mass. One story that stands out is that of Charles W. Simpson. Born Nov. 10, 1844 in Roxbury, MA, Simpson was a 17 year old Farmer when he enlisted at Readville, MA on August 17, 1861. 5 ft. 4 in. tall with a ruddy complexion, blue eyes, and light brown hair, he was engaged with the regiment in 1862 battles fought at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Shepardstown, and Fredericksburg. Wounded in the left arm at the battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, he was discharged due to his wounds at Boston, MA on Feb. 27, 1863. After securing an Invalid Pension, Simpson enlisted for a second time with the Regiment on Dec. 31, 1863. He was wounded again at the Chickahominay River on June 7, 1864, while on picket duty. When the majority of three year enlistments expired and most members of the regiment were mustered out, he, along with the remnants of the 18th Mass. were transferred to the 32nd Massachusetts, Simpson being assigned to Co. B. Simpson was wounded for a third time and taken prisoner at Hatcher's Run, VA on February 6, 1865. He was paroled on Feb. 19, 1865, but succumbed to his wounds, dying at Annapolis, Maryland on February 22, 1865. He is interred at Annapolis National Cemetery, Grave #: 546, Section L, Grave number 70.
116 men are designated as deserters, most of the desertions occurring after September 1863. Seven of those men are reported to have “deserted to the enemy,” including four who joined the 10th Tennessee Infantry. What those four men have in common is the fact that they were recruited for Confederate service while being held as Prisoners of War at Andersonville, GA. It’s easy to surmise that their decision was based solely on their desire to escape the terrible conditions at the prison. The instinct to survive is no more telling than in the saga of Thomas Richmond of Company A. Born at Ware, MA, Richmond was an 18-year-old Farmer from Russell, MA when he enlisted at Boston on August 30, 1861. He was engaged with the Regiment in 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run and then absent sick from Nov. 19, 1862 to April 30, 1863 due to chronic diarrhea and rheumatism. Rejoining the Regiment, Richmond was wounded on May 8, 1863 at the battle of Chancellorsville and also saw action at Rappahannock Station in November of that year. He was wounded for a second time on June 3, 1864 at Bethesda Church, VA, where he was taken prisoner. Held as a POW at Richmond, he was transferred to Andersonville on June 5, 1864. On or about Nov. 10, 1864, while still a prisoner at Andersonville, he took the oath of allegiance and enlisted in the 10th Tennessee Regiment of the Confederate Army. This regiment was engaged in battle with Union forces at Egypt, Mississippi on Dec. 28, 1864 and Richmond, after being taken prisoner, was confined at Alton, Illinois. Again, probably to secure his freedom, he enlisted in Company B of the 5th U.S. Volunteers on March 17, 1865, but subsequently deserted on August 27, 1865. His wife Harriett was later rejected in her claim for a Widow’s pension due to her husband’s listed status as a deserter.
120 men who enlisted at the start of the war were mustered out of service on September 2, 1864 when their three-year enlistment expired. Another 87, mustered into service on August 24, 1861, accepted the inducement of a re-enlistment bonus in January and February 1864 and were transferred to the 32nd Massachusetts Infantry, when the 18th Massachusetts ceased to exit. Of those men, 58 were present at Appomattox Court House and witnessed the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The story of the 18th Massachusetts didn’t end with the conclusion of hostilities, however. Most veterans, 634 by our count, permanently returned to their homes in Massachusetts and picked up their lives. Others scattered to the wind, settling in towns in Nebraska, Kansas, California, Illinois, and Oregon, while nine took up residency in former Confederate States. Joseph Merriam, an Assistant Surgeon, traveled the furthest, establishing himself in Iquique, Peru, where he married, fathered three children, served as U.S. Consul, and is buried. Melvin Leach ran a clothing store in Hebron, NE and still has descendants residing in the town. Three men, George Dean, Ernest Jennings, and Edward Onion all resided in Salt Lake City, where they were a machinist for a railroad company, carpenter, and antique dealer respectively. Others lived shadowy and nomadic existences, like William H. Holmes. In early July 1901 Holmes, then 62 years of age, wandered into the town of Amherst, N.H. and was dead three weeks later of Tuberculosis. His wallet empty and with no family members able to contribute to the cost of his burial, he was interred as a stranger to that town, the cost being borne by the local G.A.R. Post. In reference to the Grand Army of the Republic, 307 are confimed to have been members and four posts in Massachusetts were named in honor of 18th Massachusetts veterans, the Joseph W. Collingwood Post No. 76 in Plymouth, the Charles W. Carroll Post No. 144 in Dedham, the Timothy Ingraham Post No. 121 in Hyde Park, and the George H. Maintien Post No. 133 in Wrentham. Ingraham was the only one of the four to survive the war. Two of Collingwood’s daughters became teachers, while his middle son became an agricultural writer of some note. Carroll lay mortally wounded on the field at Second Bull Run for three days before drawing his final breath, while Maintien lies buried at Andersonville.
Our research efforts and this Web site are but small tokens of our respect for the 18th Massachusetts. They are representations to history and the world that the men and the colors they marched with so proudly are not forgotten. Each year, on the Sunday closest to December 13th, we honor the 18th Massachusetts by presenting a wreath at ceremonies marking the anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg. Most recently we began extending the same honor to the 110 men of the regiment who fought at Gettysburg’s Wheatfield by placing a wreath at 18th’s monument on Ayers Avenue.