History of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers

1861     |     1862     |     1863     |     1864     |     After


Summary of Service

The official history of the regiment, "Three Years in the Army," by Charles E. Davis, Jr., published 1894, is the primary source for most of this abbreviated history of the '13th Mass.' There are many other sources however. I have in particular relied on soldiers' letters & reminiscences for the Darnestown & Williamsport period of the history as Davis is relatively silent about this time. Eventually I intend to post at this site a bibliography of source material on the 13th Regiment.

Prologue; From the Regimental History of the 13 Mass:

The present generation has no conception of the consternation that prevailed among the people of the North when the startling news was received that Fort Sumter had been fired upon. It aroused the patriotic indignation of the community to the highest pitch of excitement.

Up to this time most people were skeptical about the possibilities of a war. Threats of secession had often been made before, by politicians of the South, without being carried into effect. The feeling of hatred that existed toward the North was not fully appreciated except by comparatively small numbers of persons. Although the air was filled with rumors of war, they were generally believed to be nothing more than the irrepressible mutterings of disgruntled politicians. Therefore, when the announcement was made that Fort Sumter had been fired upon, it awoke the public mind to a realization that rebellion and secession were at hand. Public meetings were held in every town and city. Resolves were passed condemning the outrage, coupled with an expression of determination to avenge the insult to the national flag.

Such a display of bunting in Boston was never seen before. Across every street, at the mastheads of vessels lying in the harbor, in the horse-cars and on express-wagons, and upon private houses could be seen the American flag floating in the breeze; and, indeed, every opportunity was taken to give expression to the prevailing sentiment by displaying the national emblem.

On the 14thof April Fort Sumter surrendered.

The 19thof April, which is one of the days sacred to American history, on account of the battle of Lexington, this year, received an additional interest from the events that were transpiring. It was celebrated by the ringing of bells, flag-raisings and speeches, a drill on Boston Common by one of the artillery companies, and at noon by the firing of one hundred guns in honor of the day.

While the people were thus actively engaged in celebrating the day, news was received that the Sixth Regiment had been attacked in the streets of Baltimore. The most intense excitement followed. Men gathered in groups about the streets, while crowds surrounded the bulletin boards of the newspapers to learn the particulars.

If anything was needed to arouse the patriotism of the North, it had now occurred. Public meetings were held in various parts of the city. Merchants, lawyers, physicians, and members of other professions met, and offers of service and money were proffered for the use of the State. Large loans were generously offered by the Boston banks and by the banks of other cities, for the State’s immediate use, trusting to the honor of the Legislature to reimburse them, when it met. Numerous offers of money were made to the Governor by private individuals, as aid to soldiers’ families. Nor were women lagging behind the men in enthusiasm. Rich and poor, high and low, all offered their services for the preparation of bandages and lint, the making of garments, attendance in hospitals, or any other service compatible with their sex.

Business seemed, for the time, to be forgotten in the excitement. The minds of men were too much disturbed to give proper attention to other matters.  Only one subject possessed the public mind, - to protect the government from the clutches of traitorous hands.

It was under the influence of these patriotic demonstrations, as exhibited in all the cities and towns of Massachusetts during the first months of the war, that our regiment was enrolled. Many of the young men who left lucrative positions were guaranteed them on their return, by their employers. The generous impulses of all were awakened by the danger that threatened the country.


For information on the organization of the 10 different rifle companies that made up the '13th Mass' click here. Organization.

Fort Independence, May 25th - July 29th

May 25th - The Fourth Battalion of Rifles reports to Fort Independence along with the Roxbury Rifle Company, (which becomes Company E).

June 29th - Five more rifle companies which become Companies F, G, H, I & K joined the 4th Battalion and the Roxbury Rifles at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor.  (Although the regimental history gives the date of June 25th for this event, soldiers' letters & other sources confirm the date June 29th as the date the other 5 companies arrived at Fort Independence).

July 4th - The Fourth Battalion of Rifles is escort to the city government in Boston’s 4thof July parade.

July 16th - The regiment is mustered into Federal Service at Fort Independence, as the 13thRegiment Massachusetts Volunteers, to serve an enlistment term of 3 years.

Read More about Fort Independence.

Departure for Maryland, July 29th - August 1st

July 29th -  The regiment is ordered to the front.  They travel to Western Maryland and the seat of War.

Aug. 1st - The Regiment arrives in Hagerstown , MD.

Aug. 2nd - They march 12 miles to Boonsboro, MD & bivouac in a mule yard about midnight.

Aug. 3rd - They march 16 miles to Pleasant Valley.

Sunday, Aug. 4th - Orders changed to proceed to Sharpsburg, MD;  lay in camp all day.

Aug. 5th - March 19 miles to Sharpsburg & make camp.

Read about their departure for the front.

Camp at Sharpsburg, August 5th – August 20th

Aug. 6th - Twenty-five men from Companies A & B are sent to Antietam Creek;  Company C is sent to Shepard’s Isle;  Companies E & H are sent to Blackford’s Ford;  Company I to Dam 4 of the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal.

Sunday, Aug. 11th - First Religious Services in camp.

Aug. 14th - 13th Mass. pickets at Antietam Ford are fired upon by the enemy across the river;  (4 - 4:30 p.m.).

Sunday, Aug. 18th - Pay Day.  At Shepherdstown Ford, some of the boys in Company E set fire to a large mill across the Potomac River because enemy cavalry would gather there and take shots at them.

Aug. 20th - The detached companies are ordered to return to Sharpsburg.

Read More about the Camp at Sharpsburg.

Aug. 21st - March 7 miles to Boonsboro; (6 p.m. - 10 p.m.).

Aug. 22nd - March 8 miles to Middletown & rest, then march 5 miles to Broad Run.

Aug. 23rd - March 15 miles to Sandy Hook.  Company I sent to guard the river ford at Harper’s Ferry two miles up river.

Camp at Sandy Hook; August 23rd – September 2nd

Aug. 24th - Edwin Smith (Co. K) is the first man of the regiment wounded (by an over zealous sentry).  He eventually dies from the wound in 1863.

Aug. 31st - Splendid meteor shower is seen in the sky.  In the evening Company I men cross the Potomac River and take 3 horses and 2 men captive.

Sept. 1st - Three companies are officially detached from the regiment.  Company C is ordered to Monocacy Junction to guard the railroad and river crossings, under command of Captain John Kurtz;  Companies I & K to (opposite) Harper’s Ferry, under command of Major J.P. Gould.   These companies will remain detached until October 31;  the other 7 Companies are ordered to Darnestown, Maryland.

Read more about Sandy Hook.

Sept. 3rd - Sept. 5th - The 7 departing companies travel to Darnestown, MD to join with Major-General Nathaniel Banks, Commander of the Military Department of the Shenandoah.

Detached Companies, C, I, & K; Sept. 1st - Oct. 31st

Sept. 2nd - Harper's Ferry;  Companies I & K skirmish at Beller’s Mill, near Harper’s Ferry.  Capt. Shriber and his men, are attacked by cavalry.  One man, George Brown is injured.

Sunday, Sept. 15th - Harpers Ferry;  Members of a scouting party under command of Lt. David Brown, Co. I, are attacked along the towpath of the C&O Canal opposite Pritchard’s Mill.   John L. Spencer of Co. I, becomes the first man killed by enemy fire.

Sept. 12th - 17th - Monocacy;  Between these dates, several members of the Maryland legislature are arrested at Frederick, for allegedly plotting a vote of secession at their next scheduled meeting, September 17.  Captain Kurtz and Company C assist in the arrests in some way, although specific details of the role they played are missing.

Sept. 25th - Monocacy;   Captain Kurtz of Company C resigns to accept a commission as Lt.-Col. in the 23rd Mass.  First-Lieutenant William Jackson is promoted to Captain in his place.

Sept. 28th - Monocacy;  At night, Company C is ordered to be ready to proceed by rail to Point of Rocks to assist Colonel John Geary who expects a Rebel attack.  At midnight the boys board the cars and wait for orders to move out.  At daylight the orders have still not arrived so they disembark and wait.  The call does not come.

Sept. 30th - Monocacy;  Co. C moves to Harper's Ferry to re-enforce Companies I & K.

Read more about the detachent at Monocacy.

Early October - Harper's Ferry;  Abraham Herr, a prominent citizen, with strong Union sympathies, owned a mill on Virginius Island adjacent to Harper's Ferry.   His mill was disabled and 20 - 30 thousand bushels of un-milled wheat lay about the premises un-processed.   He contacted Major Gould and offered the wheat to the Government, which offer was enthusiastically accepted.  To harvest it, details of men from the regiment and impressed citizens from the town were instructed to load the wheat onto barges to be sent down river to Washington.  Confederate Cavalry Col. Turner Ashby was keeping a close eye on these activities and decided to attack and put a stop to the work.  On the Union side, Col. Geary of the 28th Pa, commanding troops in this area, kept a sharp watch over Harper's Ferry - on the look out for just such an attack.  This lead to the battle of Bolivar Heights, on October 16th.

Oct. 16th - Harper's Ferry;  Battle of Bolivar Heights; Companies C, I & K.  Confederates ride up from Charlestown to assault the Union troops at Harper's Ferry.  Companies I and K are positioned near Herr's Mill at Virginius Island.  Col. Geary, commanding the Union troops brings up re-enforcements to repell the attack,  including Company C, of the 13th.  He advances through the town of Harper's Ferry, and Bolivar and a sharp skirmish ensues.  The Confederates eventually retreat.

Oct. 19th - Harper's Ferry;  Capt. Blackmer (Co. K) leaves for home, his resignation is accepted on Nov. 5th.

October 31st - The three detached companies leave Harper's Ferry and join the rest of the regiment at Williamsport, Maryland.

Read more about the detachment at Harper's Ferry.

Read Major Gould's testimony to the Joint Committee on the War re: Harper's Ferry

Camp Hamilton, Darnestown, Companies, A, B, D, E, F, G, & H,

September 5th - October 9th

Sept. 21st - Darnestown;  The enlisted men play the officers in a game of baseball.  It is not recorded which team won, but a lot of balls were thrown close to Lt-Col. Batchelder.

Sept. 26th - Darnestown;  National Fast Day.  The regiment parade to Darnestown for a review, then back to camp.  Colonel Leonard’s remarks are complimentary.

Sunday, Sept. 29th - Darnestown;  Baked Beans are now the regular Sunday Breakfast.

Oct. 2nd - Darnestown; Division Review by General Banks who is complimentary to the '13th Mass,' but they get other comments due to the yellow glow cast over the regiment caused by their polished brasses.

Sunday, Oct. 6th - Company B is posted Provost Guard at General Banks' Head Quarters.

Oct. 9th - Orders are received to march tomorrow.

Read more about the camp at Darnestown.

Camp Jackson, Williamsport, Md; October 13th - February 29th 1862

Oct. 10th – 13th - The 7 companies at Darnestown march to Williamsport, Md.  During the move they engage in a friendly marching competition with the 12th Indiana Regiment.

Oct. 15th - The regiment is paid off at Williamsport.  Captain Cary, Co. B, is posted Provost Marshal of the town.  His company does provost guard duty.

Oct. 23rd - The Williamsport contingent moves their camp to a much better spot.  They remain here until March 1st 1862.

Oct. 31st - The 3 detached companies C, I, & K take canal boats up the river from Harper's Ferry to rejoin the rest of the Regiment at Williamsport.

Sunday, Nov. 3rd - Chaplain Gaylord preaches in Camp.  According to Sgt. Austin Stearns of Co. K, the Chaplain preaches from the text,  "Company C"  thanking God for that noble company. They were the heroes of the hour for their part in the battle at Bolivar Heights, Oct. 16th.  (No mention is made in the sermon of Co.'s I & K).  There is a little tension between the 4th Battalion of Rifles (Boston) and the "country companies."

Nov. 5th - Company D is detached to Hagerstown, Md.  The resignation of Captain William P. Blackmer, Co. K, is accepted.

Nov. 6th - First-Lieutent Charles H. Hovey is promoted Captain, Co. K.  Hovey is a great officer and will complete his 3 year term of enlistment as Lt-Col. of the regiment.

Nov. 7th - All but 12 men of Co. B return to camp, the rest do provost duty in town.  Co. D returns from detached provost duty at Hagerstown.

Nov. 21st - Thanksgiving Day in Camp. The boys make a big thing of it.

Detachment of Companies A, B, E, & H, to Hancock,  Nov. 26 - Jan. 2, 1862;

Nov. 26th - Companies A, B, E & H are detached and sent to Hancock, Maryland. They will stay there until Jan. 2, 1862.  Company E is sent 5 miles further up the river to Sir John's Run.  Several excursions across the river into Virginia from Hancock are made during this time.

Nov. 30th - Sir John's Run - Company E has a skirmish with the Rebels across the river.  George S, Cheney is wounded in the engagement.

Dec. 4th - Hancock - Captain Clark leads detachments from companies B & H, across the Potomac River to Bath, Virginia to arrest one, Mr. Swan.

Dec. 6th - Hancock - Another expedition crosses the river after 3 a.m. and marches to Bath, Virginia to arrest Johnson Orrick, a Captain in the 33rd Virginian, but he is not found at home.

Dec. 14th - Sir John’s Run - Lt. Joseph Colburn takes 31 men across the river in search of a Confederate Col. Buck.  The Col. is not at home, so they search several houses and return with commandeered poultry & ham. They cover 32 miles in 12 hours, there and back.

Read more about the detachment at Hancock.

Dec. 5th - Williamsport - Co. D ordered to Hagerstown.

Dec. 6th - At Dam #5 of the C&O Canal the pickets are fired upon.

Skirmish at Dam #5 of the C&O Canal, Dec. 7th - 8th

Confederate Major Elisha Franklin Paxton of the 27th Va. arrives at sunset on the Virginia side of the river opposite Dam #5.  His artillery opens fire, surprising & driving away a small force of Union pickets. Paxton attempts to destroy the Dam and disrupt navigation on the C & O Canal.  For 5 hours his men work at destroying the Dam in the ice cold water.  At 11 p.m., Co. C arrives from Williamsport as re-enforcements to the troops at Dam #5.  The opposing sides exchange fire until 2 a.m.  Co. D returns to Williamsport from Hagerstown.

Sunday, Dec 8th - Co. G relieves Co. C at Dam #5.  The Confederates shell the Union troops sheltered by the canal but no damage is done.  The dam-wreckers are under constant Union fire so Major Paxton withdraws. Co. K is dispatched to Dam #4 but while en route they are overtaken and ordered to return to camp.

Dec. 10th - Williamsport - John S. Burnap of Co. K, age 21 years, dies in camp after an illness of 2 weeks.  His father is at his side.

Dec. 11th - Williamsport - Co. C is sent to Dam #5 but recalled before night.

Dec. 12th - Williamsport - Col. Leonard reports to General Banks, 2 regiments of enemy infantry & 2 companies of cavalry with artillery, attacked his 2 companies positioned at Dam #4 of the C & O Canal.  Col. Leonard sends a field gun to their support.

Dec. 14th - Williamsport - Companies D and K sent to Dam #5, but returned the same night.

Dec. 17th - 18th - Williamsport - Company I sent on picket to Four Locks near Dam #5.

Read more about the camp at Williamsport.

2nd Skirmish at Dam #5 of the C&O Canal, Dec. 17th - Dec. 21st

Dec. 17th - Dam #5 again.  This time no less than Stonewall Jackson shows up on the Virginia side of the river in an effort to destroy Dam no. 5 of the C& O Canal.  He hopes to disrupt the canal transportation from Ohio to Washington D.C.   Jackson sends a diversionary force to Falling Waters to throw the Union troops off guard. The rest of his force hides behind the bluffs on the Virginia side of the river across from the dam. Sentries are posted to prevent Union river crossings while his dam wrecking crew goes immediately to work. Col. Leonard suspects that Falling Waters is a diversion and keeps a good number of troops at the dam. Sporadic gun fire is kept up all night.  Worried that the assault at the dam is a diversion for an attack on Romney, Va., Leonard notifies Gen’l Banks.  Banks orders up troops to Col. Leonard’s support.  Co. K is ordered to Falling Waters to support Co. F, already there.

Dec. 18th - Lt. Col. Batchelder marches to Falling Waters with Co's. C, D, & G along with a section of Capt. Best's artillery.  Col. Leonard reports to Gen’l Banks he has enough men at hand to take care of the threat posed by Jackson.  In the morning Confederate artillery blasts a brick house across the river at Dam #5 and scatters Union sharpshooters positioned there.  But Col. Leonard has brought up his own artillery and Union guns of the 4th US Artillery open fire, - catching Jackson’s troops behind the bluff off guard.  Jackson calls up more of his artillery but decides to hold their fire when the Federal shelling stops.  The dam-wreckers have built a stone barrier to protect themselves from enemy fire while they try to knock a hole in the structure of the dam (in freezing cold water) but Union gunfire is still too intense; they can only work at night.  At night Union artillery destroys a mill across the river sheltering Confederate sharpshooters. The conflagration lights up Dam #5.  The Confederate dam-wreckers keep working under terrible conditions.

Dec. 19th - At daybreak, as a ruse, Jackson conspicuously moves his troops with pontoons down river giving the impression he may try to cross.  Col. Leonard follows with his only battery, and some troops giving the dam-wreckers a few hours to work.  But Leonard soon returns in force with the re-enforcements Gen’l Banks has sent from Frederick. They drive the Rebels from the river.  Company K returns to camp at Williamsport from Falling Waters.

Dec. 20th - Jackson’s men are still trying to wreck the dam but give up at 3 p.m. having only caused a few leaks.  Companies D, C, and G return to Williamsport from Falling Waters.

Dec. 21st - As the rebels withdraw Col. Leonard sends troops over the river into Virginia in pursuit.  Two Confederate deserters claim Jackson has a large number of men, discouraging the pursuit.  Col. Leonard reports to Bank’s that the canal boats are running.  Gen’l Banks congratulates Col. Leonard on his defense of the dam.

Dec 22nd - Williamsport; George C. Haraden, age 18 years, (Co. K) dies of heart disease at Williamsport.

Dec. 24th - Col. Leonard writes to Gen’l. Banks that it is “all quiet along my line.”

Dec. 30th - There are reports that the rebs are again at Falling Waters and Dam #5.  Plenty of Union troops guard the area.

Read more about Dam No. 5.

Copyright 2008 by Brad Forbush. All rights reserved.

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