Capt. Henry B. Maglathlin, Duxbury’s Scholar Soldier

by Patrick Browne


One of many schoolbooks written or edited by Maglathlin

On January 14, 1863 (150 years ago this week), Capt. Henry B. Maglathlin of Duxbury, commanding Company I of the 4th Massachusetts Infantry, boarded the transport ship Alice Counce in New York City with most of his company. About 52 (or roughly half) of the company was made up of men from Duxbury. They were headed southward.

The Duxbury men who had signed up with the 4th Massachusetts represented a large part of Duxbury’s second wave of enlistment which took place in August and September 1862. A three-year term of service had become the norm for most regiments. However, the 4th Massachusetts was reformed in response to a call from Washington for regiments to serve a term of nine months. This significantly shorter term of service must have been attractive to those contemplating enlistment but reluctant to serve a full three years.

Company I of the 4th Massachusetts was officially organized during a ceremony at Temperance Hall in Duxbury on September 18, 1862. The location is believed to be the name given at the time to the building more commonly known as Sprague Hall which stills stands as a residence at the corner of Washington Street and Beaver Brook Lane. As mentioned, the company largely consisted of Duxbury men but also included recruits from Kingston, Pembroke and other towns.

On September 22, the company joined their regiment at the camp of instruction dubbed Camp Joe Hooker in Lakeville, Massachusetts. They departed Massachusetts on December 27, 1862, ultimately bound for Louisiana, though they first stopped off in New York City on January 1. There was some delay in arranging for transports to bring the regiment to the Gulf and the portions of the regiment, including Company I, were therefore barracked for nearly two weeks at the Battery Barracks in Manhattan.

The man who had been elected to command Company I of the 4th Massachusetts was Henry Bartlett Maglathlin, a Duxbury native and a remarkable individual. Commissioned captain on September 18, 1862, he had been one of the driving forces behind the recruiting and formation of the company.

Maglathlin was born on May 16, 1819 on his family’s ancestral farm on Pine Street. The farm had been granted to his great-grandfather, John Maglathlin, who had immigrated from Scotland in 1712 and settled in Duxbury in 1741. Henry Maglathlin would reside there for most of his life.

He was raised as a farmer and might have lived out a quiet life in rural Duxbury had it not been for his keen interest in academic pursuits. During the 1830s, while most Duxbury lads received the most basic country schooling then entered a practical trade or shipped off on merchant vessels, Henry Maglathlin became fixated with the notion of receiving a college education. To pay for this, he got a job at a cotton mill and also, at age 16, began teaching school. This provided the funds to enroll at Harvard College. He graduated with the class of 1843 then went on to complete studies at the Harvard Divinity School in 1846.

For three years, Maglathlin served as principal of the Waterville Liberal Institute, a classical school in Waterville, Maine founded by the Unitarian Society. He had trouble with his health at this time and was required to quit his post and return to Duxbury in 1849.

That year, upon his return, he began work on his first book, The National Speaker, an instruction and exercise book in public speaking which has since been published in more than 30 editions. This was the beginning of what would be his primary career—the editing and publishing of text books for use in a classical education. Such books were likely in short supply in bucolic Duxbury and we might wonder if he was motivated in part by his experience as a boy growing up in a small town who craved more out of his education.

During the 1850s, he served as an agent for a Boston publishing company and spent a number of years travelling to different parts of the United States and Canada working with various authors. He felt such travels would be beneficial to his health and his ailments did indeed improve. In the late 1850s, he worked with well-known mathematician Benjamin Greenleaf to publish The National Arithmetic, which became one of the leading instruction books on the subject.

In 1854, Maglathlin married Elizabeth Wadsworth in Duxbury. They would have three children. At the time of his going off to war, his children were ages eight, six and one.

He was elected by Duxbury citizens, in 1861, to represent them in the General Court for one term. During that time, he served on the Joint Committee on Education. He also served on the mathematical examinations committee of Tufts College and the Duxbury School Committee. His work in publishing won high praise from academics. After the war, Maglathlin would become involved in manufacturing and took up the cause of labor reform.

In the summer of 1862 when the call went out for more troops, Duxbury looked to Maglathlin to assume a role of leadership. He had absolutely no military training. But he clearly possessed intelligence, had secured the best education available in Massachusetts, could boast of significant accomplishments and evidently held tremendous respect within the community.

Passionate about the cause of preserving the Union, Maglathlin worked to recruit men from Duxbury. When some question arose as to whether or not the town would be able to pay the $100 bounty for each man, Maglathlin, along with Gershom B. Weston, Stephen Nye Gifford and Dr. James Wilde (all pillars of the community), offered to fund the bounties personally.

And so, in January 1863, a forty-three year-old Maglathlin found himself in command of a company of about a hundred men. A scholar turned soldier, he was the highest ranking officer to enlist from Duxbury during the Civil War. By February, the 4th Massachusetts would be in New Orleans and soon preparing to take part in the Port Hudson Expedition.

But that is another story…

[Sources: James L. Bowen, Massachusetts in the War, (1888), p. 145-146; Company I, Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, Nine Months Volunteers, (1863), p. 22-27; Kingston Historic Building Survey, 261 Grove Street; J.J. Beers & Co., Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts, vol. 2, (1912), p. 998-999.]