The Old First Massachusetts Coast Artillery In War And Peace Part 1

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The Old First Ma.s.sachusetts Coast Artillery in War and Peace.

by Frederick Morse Cutler.



When Chaplain Minot J. Savage first listened to the "March of the First," inspiration fired his soul; the music was repeating a message to him. Was there something in the brazen voice of the horns, a magical harmony of sound with sense; or was it merely the loyal Chaplain's imagination? At any rate this is what he heard:

"We're brothers of all n.o.ble men, Who wear our country's blue, We brothers find in any race, Where men are brave and true.

But we've a pride in our own band, And we are all agreed, Whatever grand deeds others do, The 'Old First' still shall lead.

So while our feet keep music time, Our hearts are proudly beating An echo to Man's forward hope That never knows retreating."

And now, whenever "Adjutant's call" sounds and the companies move into line with the precision and rhythmic swing characteristic of well-trained troops, they also hear the message which was written down for them by the Chaplain many years ago, "The Old First still shall lead." They hear and believe.

Today it becomes the privilege of another Chaplain to set forth in this little book the reasons why the Old First believes in itself. We shall see how the present grows out of a long and n.o.ble past. Back in Civil War times observers noted that the regiment was one to be proud of; there was a large proportion of sensible, solid men who enlisted because it seemed duty, whose patriotism was not silly or vulgar, but strong and serious. Today likewise the Inspector General reports that the personnel is unexcelled; only men of good character are enlisted; standards are very high. And for the largest part the men are not in the service for any personal profit to themselves--there is too little pay to make money the attraction. They are soldiers at the sacrifice of their own leisure, and often of their comfort. A modern National Guardsman is averse to boasting or heroics--he is the most matter-of-fact citizen of all. But surely the Chaplain will be pardoned for saying, what the Guardsman would be most reluctant to claim, that in the old regiment patriotism is not a matter of words, it is made up of deeds.

Ma.s.sachusetts looks in large degree to the command for the coast defence of Boston. America's center of wealth and manufacturing, the Commonwealth holds the key to the whole country. Within a radius of two hundred miles from Boston is manufactured practically every kind of supply and equipment; while New York, the world's center of wealth and finance, is only slightly more than two hundred miles away. To possess Ma.s.sachusetts would afford hostile invaders the best possible base; the Coast Artillery is an essential factor in the defence of Ma.s.sachusetts.

Coast artillery affords the most magnificent team-sport in the world.

Three officers and sixty-seven men work together in firing the twelve-inch rifle, and each contributes something essential to the success of the shot. Twelve inches is the bore of the rifled gun; forty-two or more feet the length; $45,000 is the cost, and the carriage represents an investment of $40,000 more. It is loaded with three hundred twenty-five pounds of powder, and a projectile weighing more than half a ton, costing upwards of $150, and sufficient in itself to destroy a hostile wars.h.i.+p. The target, the moving target, at which the shot is fired, floats on the water at a distance of eight to sixteen miles; and without the use of powerful is all but invisible.

Range and direction (azimuth) are determined by a combination of most delicate scientific observing instruments. Now the great gun swings majestically into place. "Fire!" A concussion follows as if many railroad trains were coupling--mighty, stunning. Then ensue seconds of eager watching from the battery, but not many such; for the projectile travels twice as fast as sound itself. Up spouts a column of sea water beside the target. A _hit_. And this will be repeated once per minute until the enemy is put out of action.

Camping, shooting, gymnastics, hiking, fencing, horseback-riding, and even boating and aviation all enter into the training of the Coast Artilleryman. Opportunity is given to learn much of mechanical, electrical and engineering science.

On its lighter side military life includes b.a.l.l.s, parades, dinners, theater-parties, smokers, and the annual January athletic games. Once in four years there is a trip to the inauguration at Was.h.i.+ngton; lesser excursions occupy some of the intervening time. Most valuable of all are the life-long friends.h.i.+ps formed by men who stand side by side in the service of the country. These endure and keep warm after all else is forgotten.

The better soldier a man learns to be, the better citizen he makes himself. Such training in team-work is of priceless value; this service has become a to business success, and today there is no better recommendation for employment. Civil Service commissioners recognize the enhanced usefulness of the trained soldier by according him preference in government appointments.

Six of the companies come from stations outside of Boston,--Brockton, Cambridge, Chelsea, Fall River, New Bedford and Taunton being represented. Even more truly than the Boston companies these organizations offer advantages of the greatest value; each is the pride of its own home city; each ranks amongst the leading social bodies in its community; and the armories, all fine structures, are popular club houses.

Altho it may be hard to "live up" to the responsibilities of a n.o.ble ancestry and one is ever open to the unkind suggestion that his best is like the potatoes, "under ground," still it is not the fault of a man, nor of an organization, if the record of the past contains worthy, and even heroic, pa.s.sages. Not only is the Coast Artillery the surviving heir to most of Boston's finest militia traditions and honors, but by the consolidation of 1878 it also inherits the proud record of the Third Regiment, the militia force of Pilgrim-land and the Cape. Even a more modest organization than this would be excused for feeling thrills when it remembers "auld lang syne"; and the gentle reader will peruse these pages in vain if he fails to see why.

Some day the command will establish a military museum of its own, in which to display its trophies and relics. Its battle-flags have mostly pa.s.sed out of its reach and are irrevocably in the possession of the Commonwealth. When one visits the Hall of Flags and gazes reverently upon the tattered silk banners of the 1st Infantry, five in number, the 3d Infantry, two of them, the 24th Infantry, two, the 42d Infantry and the 43d and the 44th, two each, and in the Spanish War case the two colors of the 1st Heavy Artillery, seventeen flags in all, one may possibly remember that a Ma.s.sachusetts Coast Artilleryman would be whispering to himself, "Those are our battle-flags." And there are many other colors in the cases, under which members of the command fought during the Civil War--those of the 4th, 5th, 6th, 13th, 29th Infantry Regiments, and the 4th Heavy Artillery.

Indeed the sole battle-flag remaining from the Mexican War, that of the 1st Ma.s.s. Volunteer Infantry, may be claimed as a Coast Artillery trophy, since it was given by those who had borne it into the custody of the veterans who made up the National Guards, the 9th Co. of Coast Artillery. The National Guards eventually surrendered this color to the Commonwealth. No less a personage than Gen. Winfield Scott had been the original donor of the flag.

In some unexplained manner, three colors carried by the 1st Infantry during the Civil War escaped the State collector, and are preserved with religious care at the South Armory. They are the American flag presented by former Boston men who had "gone west" and there organized the National Guard of San Francisco, a blue infantry color presented in 1863 by the City of Boston, and a white State flag retained to replace a lost Commonwealth color presented by the people of Chelsea. As often as May 25 rolls around, veterans of the regiment bear these flags, together with the present National colors of the command, to the hall where the anniversary dinner is held; and under the sacred silken folds the white-haired warriors renew the memories of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, of Gettysburg and Spotsylvania, while they smack their lips over something more savory than the hard-tack and muddy coffee of bygone days. Last winter these same veterans reviewed the Corps in the South Armory. As they came marching on the floor under their tattered battle-flags amid deafening cheers from hundreds of onlookers, strong men could hardly choke back their tears.

Post 23, G. A. R., of Boston, and Post 35 of Chelsea possess some 1st Regiment relics.

Headquarters will contribute to the regimental museum the sleeve of Drum Major James F. Clark's coat, with its wonderful collection of service-stripes indicative of forty-one years' service. Sergeant Clark died in office in 1910. There is also an old commission in a frame on the Headquarters' wall, that of George S. Newell as Colonel of the 1st Reg., 1st Bri., 1st Div., dated May 11, 1839, signed by John P. Bigelow, Secretary of the Commonwealth; and the warrant of Daniel Horatio Belknap as Quartermaster Sergeant of the 1st Reg., 3d Bri., 1st Div., issued July 20, 1824, by Col. Louis Lerow. Between 1831 and 1834 the Roxbury Artillery had been temporarily attached to the 1st Reg., 1st Bri., but in Colonel Newell's day we had no connection at all with that organization; the Fusiliers were a part of the 1st Reg., 3d Bri., in 1824, when Sergt. Belknap was in office.

Partly because it is the oldest company, and partly because it has always been made up of men who "do things," the 1st Company possesses by far the finest collection of historical valuables of all the regiment.

Indeed fully one-half of the regimental museum is already collected, and belongs to Capt. Joseph H. Hurney's organization. In their room one sees Capt. J. J. Spooner's original commission signed in 1784 by Gov. John Hanc.o.c.k, the first flag carried by the company--a flag with fourteen stars, the complete parchment roll of members from the very beginning, a drum which helped to keep up the company's courage at Blackburn's Ford and Bull Run, specimen uniforms and arms showing the development of military skill and taste during each period of the company's history, and a small cannon captured by Was.h.i.+ngton from the British at Yorktown in 1781, and at Williamsburg in 1862 taken from the Confederates by a company of ours.

Shooting, military and athletic trophies almost without number adorn the walls of Headquarters and of each company room; but these can hardly be included in a regimental museum. The 6th and 7th Companies hold Knox trophies as proof of their preeminent excellence in artillery work, and will doubtless resent any suggestion of contributing them to anyone else; certainly other companies have been trying hard enough to get this, and have not succeeded even for a single year. But the museum will have the 2d Company's original drum, dated 1798, and with it the first flag. Their most valuable possession is a Stuart oil portrait of their "patron saint," George Was.h.i.+ngton. The same company also display a set of ancient by-laws inherited from their predecessor, the Independent Light Infantry, and perhaps also a set of their ancient breast-plates.

If more is demanded, members of the company will fill their lungs and emit the old "tiger" yell or growl; and this is certain to prove sufficient so far as the 2d Company is concerned. The 3d Company room does not contain much of historical interest. Their proudest possession is an entry on the records of the Governor's Council dated May 11, 1787, wherein it appears that a pet.i.tion presented by Thomas Adams and fifty-three others was granted, and that a military company, the Independent Boston Fusiliers, was formally established in the eyes of the law. On the following Fourth of July the Fusiliers received their charter from Gov. James Bowdoin, while formed on the slope of Bunker Hill, and forthwith regaled themselves as guests at the hospitable table of Gov. (to be) John Hanc.o.c.k. Maj. James W. H. Myrick, Commander of the Fusilier Veteran a.s.sociation, is custodian of the original 3d Company records.

We shall see that the Coast Artilleryman has reason for singing "The Old First still shall lead"; but the historian faces a difficulty when he essays to explain who the Coast Artillery are, anyway. Three different regiments are consolidated in the present body--which was the original?

But see, what's here! The regimental museum will solve even this vexed problem of genealogy. A resolve by the General Court of Ma.s.sachusetts, duly engrossed and framed, together with an order of the Council approved by Gov. John L. Bates on April 6, 1903, not only certifies that the First Regiment of Ma.s.sachusetts Volunteer Militia responded to the call of the President of the United States in April, 1861, for troops to suppress the rebellion, but also, and more importantly as concerning our present difficulty, that the First Ma.s.sachusetts Heavy Artillery are the "successors" of the regiment of 1861. Blessings upon the head of the man whose influence secured this legislative action! The historian may tread fearlessly in full a.s.surance that the Coast Artillery is the First Infantry of Civil War fame, and that other ancestry is, if not collateral, at least not in the line. A complete genealogy of the command will be found elsewhere in this book.

One explanation is in order before proceeding. On April 25, 1842, the companies were designated by letter; on Nov. 1, 1905, they ceased to be designated by letter, and were numbered in order of charter-seniority.

Altho all company and regimental history between 1842 and 1905 was recorded in terms of company letters, since 1905 the letters have rapidly pa.s.sed into oblivion; and today have become almost entirely forgotten. For the purpose of interpreting the past in terms intelligible to the present, it seems best to translate letters into numerals--to speak, in other words, of the 1st Company rather than Company or Battery D. And now, the prelude being finished and the audience all having visited the museum, let the performance go forward.



A group of men were a.s.sembled in the living room of a prosperous looking Roxbury farmhouse on March 22, 1784. Altho they had met several times previously during the winter, they showed by both word and bearing that they were actually engaged in transacting their most important business on the present occasion. General William Heath, owner of the house, presided. As everyone in Roxbury well knew, the General had lately returned from war, where he had enjoyed the privilege of close companions.h.i.+p and friends.h.i.+p with no less a person than the commander, Gen. George Was.h.i.+ngton, himself. Another of the company was a wealthy young merchant of Roxbury, an ex-Cadet, John Jones Spooner, who stood in the relations.h.i.+p of son-in-law to Gen. Heath. Amongst others were Jonathan Warner and several more Revolutionary veterans; also two prominent members of Roxbury society, Joseph Pierpont and John Swift.

Well might these men look important for they were engaged in presiding over a birth--the birth of a National Guard company--today the oldest National Guard company with continuous history in America.

As soon as the company had been born, and was reported to be "doing well," it was christened. "The Roxbury Train of Artillery" was inscribed with due form and ceremony upon the first page of its record book. Who was then sufficiently far-sighted to foresee that on June 30, 1916, the same company would take the Federal oath as the "1st Company, Coast Artillery Corps, National Guard of Ma.s.sachusetts"? A company in those days was commanded by a captain with the rank of Major; and this office was promptly conferred upon John Jones Spooner. Jonathan Warner became the "Captain-lieutenant," and Joseph Pierpont and John Swift were elected the other two lieutenants, as at that time authorized. Warrants were issued to four sergeants; four musicians were appointed, twenty-four men were detailed as cannoneers, eight as pioneers, three as drivers--and when two bra.s.s four-pounder cannon had been issued to them, the Roxbury Artillery were ready for any kind of a fight or frolic. It was not to be until Aug. 30, 1849, that Gen. H. A. S. Dearborn would suggest the famous motto now borne by the Company, "In time of peace prepare for war." No one can question however but that the sentiment of the motto has always controlled 1st Company activities.

Major Spooner subsequently resigned his command, was succeeded by Capt.

Warner; and himself became a minister of the gospel.

Those were the days immediately following the Revolutionary war; and in America during such seasons the commanding military official is sure to be "general apathy." Owing partly to the absence of other organized companies, and partly to the skill and enthusiasm of the Roxbury men, the Artillery were in frequent demand. On October 15, 1784, they turned out to fire a salute in honor of a distinguished visitor, Gen.

Lafayette. The Boston Train of Artillery, afterwards the 8th Company, came into existence May 7, 1785; and these two organizations shared the honor of escorting the Governor and members of the General Court on July 4, 1785, and again the year following. The fact is, these were the only two active military companies in or around Boston at the time. On one of these occasions Gen. Heath noted concerning his proteges that they "made a good appearance and performed their exercises well." An army travels upon its stomach, and a good soldier attends carefully to the subsistence part of his work. The 1st Company displayed true soldierly instincts by including, from the very beginning, commissary exercises amongst their other activities,--in other words, at the conclusion of the parade "they dined together." Music was furnished for these military displays by the only band then in Boston, one consisting of Hessians who remained behind from Burgoyne's army, under the leaders.h.i.+p of Frederick Granger.

Let the narrative pause a minute while we paint in a background for the picture. Do we understand who the militia are? Citizen-soldiers, citizens who serve as soldiers when necessary, without relinquis.h.i.+ng their civil occupations, part-time fighting men--such have always been the chief reliance of free peoples when it becomes necessary to defend their territory or to enforce their sovereign will. In British dominions this military force received the name of "train-band" about 1600, and began to be called "militia" in 1660. Moreover their service was both compulsory and universal--at least it was so in theory. Each citizen was required by law to provide himself with a "good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet, and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack." Thus armed and equipped, he was expected to present himself four times a year for a day's training.

It is customary to heap ridicule upon the militia. Cowper described "John Gilpin" as a "train-band captain," and taught us to laugh at him.

Yankee Doodle, with its "men and boys as thick as hasty puddin'," is a parody on the American militia. In truth appearances were against them in the olden times. Their history began away back in the days when military costume consisted of an iron hat and a steel vest. When, about 1700, armor pa.s.sed out of use, the militiamen, to prove that they were true conservatives, refused to subst.i.tute any other uniform clothing.

Consequently they did not look soldierly. But the Yankee Doodle militia under Johnson at Lake George administered a stinging defeat to the French regulars. We have been abundantly taught of late how American military history fairly bristles with evidence that the militia system is faulty. So be it. Now it is time to point out another lesson from the same history, namely, that when American militia have fought under favorable conditions, with some shelter, and with an auspicious beginning to the action, they have often manifested a valor that makes the world marvel, a valor unequalled except in the annals of legendary warfare.

This militia existed, in 1784, thruout Ma.s.sachusetts (and Maine) as nine divisions of approximately five thousand men each. The first division was stationed in Boston. And, alas! all divisions were temporarily inactive.

The oldest volunteer militia company in England, as well as its "ancient" daughter in America, have as part of their t.i.tle the word "Honorable." Militia rendered such military service as the law demanded.

Volunteer militia went beyond this, and in addition uniformed themselves at their own expense, drilled frequently, and held themselves in readiness for parades and ceremonies, and, in sterner vein, for disturbance of the peace and for war. As the basis of every volunteer army our country raised was found the organized, volunteer militia. No wonder that esteem and distinction have attached to this service. Since 1908 the force has borne the t.i.tle, "National Guard," a name going back to the citizen soldiery who defended Paris in 1789 and who were commanded by Lafayette, a name brought to this country in 1824 by Lafayette himself and then first adopted by the N. Y. 7th Reg., and in 1862 taken by all the organized militia of that state, in 1903 extended thruout the United States, and in 1916 officially subst.i.tuted for all other t.i.tles in Ma.s.sachusetts.

Why was it necessary for the Roxbury men to organize their company?

Could not the U. S. regular army afford America sufficient protection in 1784? Regular army! So far as Congress could control the matter, there was no regular army in 1784. A determined effort had been made the year previous to wipe the force entirely out of existence, to muster out every Continental remaining over from the Revolutionary war. Thru some oversight one single company, that formerly commanded by Alexander Hamilton and now "Battery F of the 3d Field Artillery," had escaped.

Perhaps because they were standing guard over valuable stores at West Point and elsewhere, perhaps because the mustering-out officer ran short of blank forms--for some unexplained reason one company survived. This single company const.i.tuted the entire U. S. army in 1784. This one company is the only military organization in America having continuous existence, which antedates the Ma.s.sachusetts Coast Artillery. Moreover the situation was only slightly better later. In 1787 there were only 1,200 regulars, in 1798, 2,100, and at the opening of the Civil War, with a national area almost equal to the present, less than 10,000. Were not Gen. Heath and the Roxbury men justified in taking steps to strengthen the forces of government?

If we may now resume the narrative, we note that the Dorchester Artillery, the 4th Company, was organized in 1786. Material was preparing out of which the future regiment might be built.

1786 and 1787 were years of threatening and storm in Ma.s.sachusetts. In consequence of the war, people found themselves burdened with debts and taxes. They complained that the Governor's salary was too high, the senate aristocratic, the lawyers extortionate, and that the courts were instruments of oppression, especially in the collection of debts. By way of remedy they demanded the removal of the General Court from Boston, the relief of debtors, and the issue of a large amount of paper money.

Daniel Shays, an ex-captain of the Continental army, placed himself at the head of a movement to secure these ends by force, and his effort has come down thru history as "Shays' rebellion."

In December, 1786, he appeared at Springfield with one thousand insurgents, resolved to break up the session of the supreme court. After forcing the adjournment of the session, the insurgents directed an attack against the a.r.s.enal in Springfield. Meanwhile the State government had sent Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, at the head of four thousand militia, amongst whom were included our artillery companies, to suppress the disorder; and on Jan. 25, 1787,--six days after leaving Boston,--the troops arrived in season to beat off the insurgent attack. Shays and his followers were pursued as far as Petersham, where on Feb. 9 all armed resistance was crushed out and the insurgents captured or dispersed.

Since there was such abundant ground for this discontent, it is pleasing to know that the "rebels" were all pardoned, and Shays himself finally awarded a pension for his Revolutionary services. Improved economic conditions due to the new Federal const.i.tution soon removed all danger of such disorder in the future. Please note, however, that winter campaigning in western Ma.s.sachusetts is by no means an attractive holiday experience, and that the members of the command who engaged in this, the first, active service, manifested the same plucky devotion to duty as has characterized them ever since.

The Old First Massachusetts Coast Artillery In War And Peace Part 1

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