150 years ago this month, in August 1862, enlistment fever again consumed Duxbury. This second wave of enlistments was even larger than the first that had taken place about a year prior. In August 1862, more Duxbury men went off to become soldiers than at any other time during the Civil War. It is difficult to imagine the excitement, trepidation and general disruption that this must have caused throughout the town. The significance of this month and the prominent spot it occupies in Duxbury’s Civil War history cannot be overstated.
Duxbury’s first wave of enlistment took place during the summer of 1861 when the war had just begun. About 55 Duxbury men signed up for a three year term with the 18th Massachusetts, Company E. A year later, at the beginning of August 1862, these men were in camp with the rest of the Army of the Potomac at Harrison’s Landing on the Virginia Peninsula. They had seen tough campaigning and were hardened veterans by this time. Despite seeing a year of service, due to various circumstances, the 18th Massachusetts had yet to see any severe combat and up to this point there had been no Duxbury fatalities in the war. Sadly, that would change before August 1862 was over. More on that in a future entry.
After the first wave went off, there was very little enlistment activity. Just a handful, perhaps five or six men, signed up individually with various units over the course of the next year. This is not surprising as federal recruiting efforts were virtually non-existent in early 1862 and the War Department, believing the war would come to a swift end, ordered states not to send any more regiments than had already been allowed.
With the setbacks during the Peninsular Campaign in the spring and summer of 1862, all that changed. On July 1, 1862, President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 volunteers for a term of three years. In his message to the Governors he wrote, “[Richmond] we must take with the least possible delay…With so large an army there, the enemy can threaten us on the Potomac and elsewhere.” Massachusetts was required to supply 12 regiments. A quota filtered down to every municipality and Duxbury would have to fulfill its share of volunteers. The patriotic song, “We are Coming Father Abraham, Three Hundred Thousand More,” was published in New York at this time and became a popular rallying anthem.
Duxbury’s response to this call was the recruitment, in August 1862, of 35 men who became part of the 38th Massachusetts Infantry, Company D. They were mustered into service on August 24 and departed Massachusetts on August 26. Ironically, despite Lincoln’s desire for more troops to capture Richmond, the 38th Massachusetts would be sent to an entirely different theater of the war–Louisiana.
On August 4, 1862, Lincoln issued another call for troops, this time for 300,000 men to serve a term of nine months. This call was rather different than the prior in that it stipulated, for the first time in the nation’s history, that a draft would be initiated for any state unable to supply its quota.
Massachusetts responded to this call by re-activating its old militia regiments, as well as recruiting several new regiments. Some of the old militia units had served during the first months of the war for a brief term of 90 days. Now they would require new recruits to fill up the ranks so that they could report for duty. Duxbury sent 52 men to serve in the 4th Massachusetts Militia, Company I. Among them was Captain Henry B. Maglathlin, the highest ranking officer to enlist from Duxbury. Commanding Company I, he was an accomplished man with an interesting career and there will be more about him in a future post. These recruits were not mustered in until September, but the recruiting efforts were well underway in August, adding to the general atmosphere of change, perhaps even upheaval in town. The 4th Massachusetts also ended up serving in Louisiana in the same division with their townsfolk in the 38th Massachusetts. They would see action together in several battles.
In all, 87 men were recruited in Duxbury in August 1862. This represented about 36% of Duxbury’s enlistments during the war. With a population of about 2,500, there were roughly 415 households in Duxbury at the time. Thus, about 1 in 5 households sent a husband, father or son to war in August 1862. It must have been an emotionally charged month that had a tremendous effect on the affairs of the town.