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The 21st Massachusetts Infantry in Howard County

Service at Annapolis Junction and Relay House, 8/30/1861-12/18/1861

Primary Sources
Archival and Secondary Sources

The 21st Massachusetts was formed in Worcester County, Massachusetts, from several pre-War militia units, and two newly formed companies. Leaving Massachusetts on the 23rd of August, 1861, they reached Baltimore on the 25th. While encamping at Patterson Park in Baltimore City (“an unpleasant, dusty place”), a portion of the regiment was sent to the Relay House, a few miles outside the city on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

On the 29th of August, six companies of the 21st were removed to Annapolis, Maryland, to be quartered in the United States Naval Academy. The remaining four companies were detailed to Annapolis Junction, on the Washington Branch of the B&O Railroad and the spur line to Annapolis. Their duty was to guard the railroad.

Writing in the Boston Evening Transcript, a soldier using the non-de-plume “BOSTON”, described their duty:

“No man, foot or horseback, is allowed to pass without inspection, our lines, and any article contraband, which he may have in his possession, is of course forfeit.”

The 21st relieved the 1st Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry (“a poorly drilled Pennsylvania regiment”) at Annapolis Junction. The 1st were sorry to leave the area “as the officers said that whiskey was plenty, and the pretty girls and inhabitants generally had been very friendly to them.” However, the local residents were not as friendly towards the Massachusetts men, perhaps in response to the Baltimore Riots of the previous April.

Although the unit encountered no combat in the largely pro-secessionist county, deaths and injuries occurred. On the train ride from Baltimore to Annapolis, Private Frank B. Marcy, of Company F, fell from the train while attempting to climb from inside the cars to the roof. He lost an arm. In early September Lyman C. Gibbs, from Company C, was killed by standing too close to a passing train. A few weeks later, Lieutenant Charles K. Stoddard was shot and killed while attempting to pass a picket in disguise; the young soldier who shot him, H. C. Wester, was exonerated by the Lieutenant before he died. Josiah W. Hayden, of Company K, was also shot and killed by a guard.

Private Henry Brown, writing his parents on October 20th, bemoaned “I am not very well. I have just got over the measles. I do no do duty nights. I was sick abed for 2 days. I went to the hospital. I came back yesterday.”

In a subsequent letter, Brown described a typical week:

“Suppose we go on guard duty on Monday, our company at 9 AM. We have three reliefs. They go on for two hours a piece, making eight hours a piece. The next day we have until 1 PM to clean our guns and rest. Then one hour of knapsack drill from 1 to 2, then battalion drill from 3 to half past 4. Immediately after, dress parade. Three roll calls a day. The next day, morning drill from 10 to half past 11 and the rest as the same day as before. Saturday, on guard again. Saturday afternoon we have to clean up if not on guard. Sunday morning is inspection. The officers inspect everything and if there is anything we don’t have, we get it. We go to church in the afternoon. ”

Service along the railroad was often arduous, soldiers camped out in small tents or slept outdoors with little but a rubber blanket between them and the ground. Trains passed 24 hours a day carrying Northern regiments to combat. As the trains would pass, soldiers standing guard would shout “What unit is that?” and cheer units from their state. Passing regiments would throw Northern papers out the window for the soldiers to read.

Like other Northern regiments who camped in Howard County, sickness was a regular occurrence. In early November 38 men belonging to two companies of the 21st were on the sick list at Annapolis Junction.

While four companies remained on guard near Annapolis Junction, the rest of the unit drilled at the Naval Academy, in Annapolis. Charles F. Walcott, who wrote a history of the unit after the War, described helping a runaway slave escape to the North:

“We soon fell into disfavor with our friend Governor Hicks. One of his slaves had been seen to be passed by the guard into the Academy grounds, and the governor came in person to get him. Receiving no assistance from Captain Walker, the officer of the day, the governor complained to Colonel Morse, who at once summoned the captains to his headquarters: the colonel, after commenting severely on our base ingratitude to the governor, if we ran off one of his negroes after his kindness in saving us from the red hot shells of Fort Sumter, ordered the officer of the day to have the buildings searched until the fugitive was found. Captain Walker, however, met the emergency like a man; saying that he did not come South to hunt slaves, he tore off his sash, threw it on the floor, and told the colonel to detail another officer for that sort of duty. Every captain was in turn detailed for the duty, and each followed Captain Walker's example in refusing to undertake it. The angry governor said that he would go to General Dix, and if necessary to Washington, for redress, and left us, with the warm assurance that we should be sorry for that day's work. Meanwhile, the innocent cause of this pleasing little episode was hidden in a chimney in one of the buildings, and escaped as soon as it was dark, in a boat which some of the men kindly stole for him in the town. Although, first and last, we ran a good many negroes out of Maryland, we had more fun out of this case than any other.”

On December 18th, the four companies on duty at Annapolis Junction were removed to Annapolis, and the entire Regiment was together again for the first time since August. They had received orders to join the “Burnside Expedition” to North Carolina.

Walcott wrote of his time in Maryland “Although we were proud of our long and impressive front of stalwart men and of our opportunity for active service, many of us had very pleasant memories of our healthful country experience in Maryland, in which chickens and other luxuries had not been uncommon; and we had found many kind and attentive friends among the country people, how now and then made merry at a husking, enjoyed a negro prayer-meeting, or taken part in some other convivial or novel occasion. Take it all together, however, we heartily welcomed the new departure.”

The 21st would go on to served in the battles of Roanoke Island, New Bern, 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg before moving to the Department of the Ohio and serving in Kentucky and eastern Tennessee.

units/21st_massachusetts_infantry.txt · Last modified: 2019/06/21 17:25 by admin