150 years ago today, the “Duxbury Company” (aka Company E of the 18th Massachusett Infantry) departed for the front with the rest of their regiment. There were, in Company E, approximately 54 men from Duxbury. Having spent most of the summer drilling in front of Town Hall and marching to Kingston and Plymouth, the Duxbury boys were ordered in July to report to camp at Readville (near Hyde Park) in Boston.
These 54 men, the first group to enlist from this town, ranged in age from 17 year-old Howland Bonney (he lied about his age, telling the recruiter he was 18) to 48 year-old John Alden. The average soldier was 26. About two-thirds of them were shoemakers. Nearly all of them were privates. However, two had been mustered in as corporals, and two as sergeants.
The highest ranking soldier in this Duxbury group was 1st Sergeant Joseph E. Simmons, a 22 year-old shoemaker. As 1st Sergeant, he was the ranking non-commissioned officer in the company and had numerous important responsibilities in assisting the officers and running Company E. Simmons would eventually be promoted to 1st Lieutenant but was killed in action on August 30, 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
Of this group of Duxbury men, very few came through the war unscathed. Five were killed in action, two died as prisoners of war, two died of disease, four were discharged due to wounds and 23 were discharged due to disability (typically, this was due to disease). This left only 18 out of the 54 (precisely one-third) who made it through their three years of service relatively unharmed.
Any real notion of battle or hardships was probably far from their minds when they departed Boston on August 26, 1861. Surely, there must have been some anxiety, but the pomp and celebration that accompanied their departure, and particularly their passage through New York City, boosted their spirits.
The 18th Massachusetts boarded a train at Readville in the afternoon of the 26th and by the next morning, August 27, they had arrived at New York. It was tradition for units on their way south to here disembark and parade through the city. The enthusiasm exhibited by New Yorkers and the crowds in that metropolis were enough to take the breath from many a bucolic Massachusetts lad.
Private David Meechan of Duxbury, a member of the 18th Massachusetts, recalled their march down Broadway. “Never a regiment marched through New York City could equal the appearance of the 18th Massachusetts Regiment…The people seemed to get wild with excitement…Many ladies were waving their handkerchiefs, tears streaming down their faces, crying out, ‘God bless you boys. God bless old Massachusetts. You’ll make your mark…’ I believe we could have cleaned out two regiments of South Carolinians at that time, such was our puffed-up-ed-ness.”
They marched through the city singing “John Brown’s Body”…a thousand men singing in unison. It was an experience unlike anything those Duxbury shoemakers and fishermen had known and something they would long remember.