by Carolyn Ravenscroft, DRHS ArchivistOn May 23, 1861 a town meeting was held in Duxbury to discuss the formation of a company of one hundred men to answer the call of the President. After many rousing speeches the citizens voted to offer a bounty of $100 to each man who enlisted. Despite the patriot fervor and the inducement of cash, there was one man who felt obliged to abstain from joining the fight. Twenty-three year old, Irish immigrant David Crossley Meechan was reluctant to leave his wife, Laura (Alden), who was expecting their second child, and his young daughter, Mary. He thought it best to let the single, unencumbered men be the first to enter the fray. However, once Gershom Bradford Weston, the town’s leading citizen, learned that there were 15 to 16 men from the Ashdod, Tinkertown and Tarkiln areas of Duxbury who would only enlist if the red-headed Irishman did as well, he made Meechan a proposal. Weston offered to look after David’s wife and children for the duration of the war if he would persuade his fellow West Duxbury friends to enlist. Meechan obliged and because of it he was given the rank of corporal with the promise of a promotion to sergeant.
The newly formed company was comprised of 90 men, more than half of them Duxbury boys. They spent much of June drilling under William H. Winsor of Plymouth. By July they were ordered to Readville, a section of Hyde Park, just outside Boston, to join the rest of the 18th Massachusetts. The Duxbury boys would become part of Company E under Capt. Thomas Weston of Middleboro. William H. Winsor became 1st Lieutenant but unfortunately, Meechan’s promised promotion to sergeant was not fulfilled. This slight, coupled with a corporal’s minimal pay and added duties, would later induce Meechan to tear the chevrons from his coat and insist on becoming a private. An act he sorely regretted.
Meechan, along with his Duxbury comrades left Massachusetts for Washington on August 26, 1861. They marched through the streets of New York with much fan fare as the band played “John Brown’s Body”. As Meechan and his friends made their way through Baltimore they itched to fight with the Rebel leaning crowds who taunted them. It wasn’t until they reached the Capitol that the reality of their plight began to set in. According to Meechan’s diary, the men encountered early enlistees whose three months had expired who “told us woeful tales of their hardships.”
These “hardships” are enumerated in Meechan’s diary transcribed by his descendent Evelyn Alden Ryerson Hathaway. Food was scarce, nights were unbearably cold or intolerably hot, depending on the season, and sickness was always prevalent. There were seemingly endless days spent on picket lines, drilling or on “fatigue duty”. These were small distractions compared with the horrors and confusion of battle. During the course of his four years in the Union Army Meechan saw more than his share of action including Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. He was wounded twice, shot in both the face and knee.
His diary also gives us a glimpse into the camaraderie and lighter side of a soldier’s life. Ham Wadsworth of Surplus Street, Duxbury, for example was always quick with a joke, once calling a horrible soup “fried water.” In March of 1861 Meechan and his fellow Duxburyites found oysters in the salt water near Hampton, VA. After a day tramping bare-legged in the mud they had more oysters than they could carry. That night they supplemented their rations with “oysters raw, boiled, roasted, fried and stewed.” And, on a spring day in 1863 the soldiers of the 18th played a game of baseball against the 22nd Massachusetts and won to much rejoicing. You can almost imagine the crack of a make-shift bat as the boys spent an afternoon pretending the war was far away.
Meechan was captured along with his Duxbury friend, John “Jack” Southworth (see prior blog post), during the Battle of the Wilderness on May 9, 1864 and imprisoned in Andersonville, GA which he called “the most horrible bull pen that ever human beings were shut up in.” He was by Jack’s side as he died of dysentery on June 25, 1864, commenting “never felt so affected in my life, he seemed like a brother to me.”
After suffering in various prison camps for ten months, David Meechan was exchanged for Rebel prisoners on March 5, 1865 at Wilmington, NC and honorably discharged on March 16th. He had been away for almost four, long years. The baby (Abigail, b. 1861) his wife had been expecting when he left for the front lived only three years, having died before her father laid eyes on her. After the war David and his wife had two more children, Isabelle (b. 1866) and Samuel (b. 1868). When Laura died these young children were adopted by the Sheldon family on Washington Street and Mary, the eldest, was apprenticed to the family of Meechan’s old Lieutenant, William Winsor. David Meechan was married a second time in 1872 to Adeline Lewis Briggs and moved to East Haven, CT. David and Adeline had three children: Jessie Lewis (b. 1875), Walter (b. 1877) and George (b. 1879) . David Crossley Meechan died at age 71 in 1909 and is buried in the Mayflower Cemetery, Duxbury.
Much of the above information is from Big Davey the Brave by David Crossley Meechan and Evelyn Alden Ryerson Hathaway.