When we think of history in New England, maybe the Mayflower’s legendary journey to Plymouth comes to mind or perhaps the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill or even the political dynasties that were the Adamses and the Kennedys. Not many people, however, may be familiar with New England’s involvement in the American Civil War.
Many of the principle cast of the American Revolution came from New England, much of the causative factors in the Revolutionary War came from New England and of course, the war itself, part of it at least, was fought in New England. When the sparks of the Civil War loomed on the horizon as far back as 1820, New England rose to the occasion much as it did during the time of our Founding Fathers—a surprise to many. The only major difference was that the battles of the American Civil War were not fought in the six states of New England, save perhaps St. Albans, Vermont, where wayward Confederate soldiers took a stand on their way to Canada. Major figures of the Civil War also came from this area and we can certainly attribute many of the causes of the Civil War directly to New England roots.
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was a pivotal event that began a downward spiral toward Civil War and it involved New England ties. The statehood of Maine, as it separated from Massachusetts, as well as the number of representatives it sent to Washington, became part of the actual compromise. This doctrine would impact many to come after it, all the way through 1850—only a decade before the war would wreck havoc on America.
William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator newspaper was manufactured and sold on the streets of Boston in 1830 and was the start of the anti-slavery society movement. Garrison would become the founder of the most influential societies of all—the American Anti-Slavery Society. While the newspaper would have less than 500 subscribers in its duration, the crowds came by the thousands to hear the lectures he produced i n halls all over the northeast. Headliners like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and even Harriet Tubman made New England synonymous with abolition, for good or bad.
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book that made her famous as “the little woman who started this big war” while her husband taught Natural and Revealed Religion at Bowdoin College in Maine. She read excerpts in her fireplace-warmed living room to her husband’s eager students, including future Maine general, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. This novel, bootlegged in the South, caused repercussions all over the country and put the trouble brewing in the United States on a global level.
Connecticut-born John Brown felt a calling from God to eradicate slavery with violence if necessary. He returned to New England several times to receive much-needed funds to continue his mission, God’s mission. This included a raid on Pottawattamie Creek, Kansas slaveholders, where he hacked and killed five people. Then Brown moved on to Harpers Ferry, Virginia with additional monies he collected from his Secret Six confederation—five of whom hailed from New England. Captured there by a group of marines, led by Robert E. Lee, Brown was tried and executed in December of 1859 for “inciting servile insurrection”. By then, Brown had already made his name synonymous with abolitionist fanaticism. Even the Transcendentalist community martyred Brown and called him St. John the Just. ~Submitted by Kristie Poehler, Executive Director of The New England Civil War Heritage Foundation (NECWHF)
About The New England Civil War Heritage Foundation
The New England Civil War Heritage Foundation (NECWHF) was founded by Executive Director, Kristie Poehler. The foundation’s mission is to educate people of all ages about what New England did to influence and contribute to the American Civil War.
New England Civil War Heritage Byway:
Taking pride in bringing New England communities together though history, the New England Civil War Heritage Foundation is forming a New England Civil War Heritage Byway which will link all six states through homes of the era, as well as museums, cemeteries, monuments and historic sites. Many sites have already been determined and invited to be part of the byway. The Foundation has partnered with other organizations like New Hampshire Historical Society, Essex National Heritage Foundation, the New England Civil War Museum, and Civil War Boston. In 2012, they hope to register with the National Byways Program to become eligible for interpretive signage, as well as publication of a map and guidebook. The New England Civil War Heritage Byway website is live at www.newenglandcivilwar.org.
The addition of cemeteries and Civil War graves is a new one for the Foundation. “The headstones give historians a point of reference for the time period, and help as an educational tool to learn about the men and boys--that they were fathers, sons, brothers and uncles and were a vital part of the community,” says Executive Director, Kristie Poehler. “Some of these graves are disintegrating rapidly due to the elements and age. The Restore-A-Grave program will help keep the local and regional Civil War ties alive.”
Private Frederick A. Stone is buried in a cemetery in Western Massachusetts. Engraved on the granite is the information that he died at Andersonville, one of the most notorious of all prison of war camps. According to the lists another New Englander, Clara Barton, worked so hard to compile, Stone is actually buried at Andersonville. The grave in Massachusetts is most likely a marker so his family would have closure. He died at the tender age of 21, only three weeks before the war ended. His grave needs to be restored.
“It would be an honor to go into the schools in New England and set up Restore-A-Grave projects for various classes that want to have a more personal look how the Civil War took a toll on New England’s citizens, men and women, on the battlefield and on the home front,” Poehler says.
Educator Kits and Traveling Exhibit:
The Foundation is also working on educator kits that meet Social Studies standards in New England and will also be pertinent for Homeschooling Associations. As part of the kit, there will be a form to register for classes to see a “traveling exhibit” of New England letters, posters, uniforms and other items that one day will become part of an extensive collection.
Over 363,000 New Englanders went to war for the Union and more than 40,000 of them died of disease and wounds received on the battlefield. That’s a staggering 11%. New England was an enormous contributor to the war effort, the causes of the war and New Englanders worked hard after the war ended to rebuild their lives, teach important history lessons and foster economic opportunity. Some examples that the Foundation will be showcasing include mills from Maine to Rhode Island that provided shoes and uniforms, nurses like Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, who penned Hospital Sketches after she returned to Concord’s Orchard House to recover from the illness she contracted at Georgetown Hospital, manufacturers and inventors like Samuel Colt and Eli Whitney of Connecticut and even President Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy and Rhode Island-native, Gideon Welles.
The Foundation encourages anyone who has a connection and interest to visit www.newenglandcivilwar.org. They want to hear from as many people as possible who want to become members and who would be interested in volunteering to help with different projects in the future. They are looking for grave restoration projects, as well as grave restorers interested in a partnership with the NECWHF. An Annual Civil War conference is slated for the near future.
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