Temporary posting of the transcription originally prepared for Tom Hayes' "Letters of the Civil War".


Saturday Morning, March 21, 1863

p. 2, col. 1

The Fifteenth

The recently issued report of the Adjutant General, embodying as it does in itself a sort of military autobiography of each of the regiments and batteries which Massachusetts has sent out to the war, stimulates in its readers a renewed interest in events which at the time of their occurrence set every Massachusetts heart to throbbing with a wild excitement. Of course in reading it we naturally gives our more especial attention to the regiments from our own community, and made up of our own relatives and associates, -- and we read of the prowess they have shown, the losses they have sustained, the perils they have passed, and the praises they have won, with all the sympathy and pride of neighborhood and clanship.

It is quite remarkable to note how large a part of the history of the war is covered by the annals of the two early and now veteran regiments from Worcester county; the Fifteenth and Twenty-first. One of them was in the front of the victorious actions of North Carolina, the other bore its full share of the profitless gallantry and bloodshed of the Peninsula, and then coming together again after a long and wide separation, both took part in the varied fortunes of a long and active campaign in Maryland and Virginia.

The record of the Fifteenth is a sadly glorious one – more mournful perhaps than any other Massachusetts regiment. Its banner is covered all over with the names of its engagements, and the sight of its thin ranks of haggard men fills the eye of the visitor with tears as it tells of the furious fighting through which they have passed, -- but of almost every battle the result has been disastrous. Other regiments can tell of the exhilaration of a victory, -- the Fifteenth can only speak of the resolution with which it has kept up its spirit after a defeat.

The Fifteenth was organized in this county in June 1861, and encamped in what was then known as Camp Scott in Worcester. It left the State on the 8th of August, with the maximum number of men, splendidly armed and equipped, and commanded by Col. Charles Devens, Jr., now a brigadier-general in the Army of the Potomac. The regiment went through the usual routine of delay at Washington and camp life in the vicinity until August 27th, when it commenced its service with picket duty on the upper Potomac. On the 21st of October, it received its christening of martyrdom in Virginia. The people of Worcester need not be told of the events of that terrible day at Ball’s Bluff, -- they are already engraved upon their hearts with the names of Gatchell and Grout and of Devens and Studley.

After the battle with which its name will always be connected, the remnant of the regiment, -- for only three hundred and thirteen were able to swim across the stream uninjured on that miserable night, -- enjoyed an interval of quiet, -- doing simple camp duty and drill, and filling its ranks by convalescents from the hospitals, by exchange from Richmond, and by recruits from home. On the 25th of February 1862, it again crossed into Virginia at Harper’s Ferry, and spent a fortnight or so in marching and countermarching in the vicinity of Charlestown, Winchester and Bolivar, under Gen. Banks.

On the 22d of March it left Harper’s Ferry for Washington and became merged into, and identified with the great Army of the Potomac from which so much was hoped. It took a part which we cannot pause to describe in all the movements on the peninsula from the first unfortunate delay at Yorktown to the final wonderfully accomplished retreat to the James River. ********** say that the Fifteenth won honor wherever it was given an opportunity to show its bravery, and that its men diminished in number almost to the point reached at Ball’s Bluff.

It rested with the rest of the army at Harrison’s Landing, -- sailed with its division to Alexandria, and marched on the 30th of August to Centreville to reinforce the struggling force of Gen. Pope. It arrived only in time to take the rear in the retreat. But it was no time to pause for rest or reminiscence. The triumphant foe was already on Union soil, and threatening at once the archives of Washington, the uncertain loyalty of Baltimore and the well filled larders and shops of Pennsylvania.

The Fifteenth marched wearily through Maryland, arriving on the battle field of South Mountain too late to take a part in that glorious vicinity, the inspiriting effect of which might have made up for the demoralization of a dozen defeats. It was engaged soon after at Antietam, -- but it was in that part of the field where victory trembled in the balance, and where the setting sun seemed to promise nothing but defeat for the morrow. The flag of the Fifteenth waved all day where the fight was hottest, and its next morning’s roll call showed that it had lost about three fifths of its members in the action.

The regiment rested quietly through the month of October, and took part in the rapid march of the army under McClellan, through the valley of Virginia, -- suddenly terminated by that General’s removal. It shared the suffering of the forced march to Fredericksburg, – and in the terrible slaughter near that city it received its latest chastening of death and disaster.

Appended to the history of the Fifteenth in Gen. Schouler’s report are letters from Generals Sully, Sedgewick, Devens and Howard, under whom the regiment has served, all speaking in the most honorable terms of its conduct in all circumstances and vicissitudes. These will do to describe to the residents of other parts of the State and the readers of future years the character of the command, -- but we to-day in Worcester do not need the praises of strangers to tell us the worth of our brothers and our friends.

We shall speak, in future articles of the history of the Twenty-first Regiment, identified with the Fifteenth in origin and in glory.

(Digital transcription by Susan L. Harnwell, webmaster, 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry)

15th MVI