Chelmsford Historical Society
The War Begins, 6th Regiment


The latent treason that had been ripening its poison for forty years in the southern portion of the Republic, on the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States proceeded to overt rebellion. It was confined to resolutions and words, until April 12, 1861, when it assaulted the flag of the country. The telegraph flashed the tidings as soon as the act was perpetrated; so that on the same day that the guns of South Carolina were turned on the gallant garrison in Fort Sumter, they found echoes in twenty million loyal hearts. The anxiety and excitement that everywhere prevailed were terrible. A handful of soldiers had been forced to surrender to thousands of traitors, and the entire people were resolved to punish the perpetrators to the bitter end. Civil war was inaugurated; and the President called for a special session of Congress, and for seventy five thousand men to "rally round the flag," and rush to the defence of their country and government. The response was magnificent. The plough, the loom, the ledger, the bar, the pulpit, all the avocations of ordinary life, were abandoned; and men of all conditions and circumstances flew to arms, and gave their cheerful response to the call of the nation's Chief Magistrate.

First to offer its services; first to reach its State's capital; first to reach the nation's capital; first to inflict suffering on traitors; first to attest its sincerity with its blood, was the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteer Militia.


When it seemed probable to far-seeing men that there would be trouble with the refractory spirits in the South, and while the most of people did not foresee the coming storm, a meeting was called at the suggestion of Maj. Gen. B. F. Butler, of the officers of the regiment, to arrange for future contingencies. It was held in the American House, Lowell, January 21, 1861. At that meeting, Major B. F. Watson presented a resolution, pledging the services of the regiment to the Government; and the proposition received the unanimous support of the officers. It was carried to Boston by Gen. Butler, who was then in the Massachusetts Senate, and was by him read in the Legislature. The resolution reads as follows:

Resolved, That Col. Jones be authorized and requested, forthwith, to tender the services of the Sixth Regiment to the Cominander-in-Chief and Legislature, when such service may be come desirable, for the purposes contemplated in General Order No. 4.

This was probably the first act of the volunteer militia of the country to meet the approaching strife. The readiness of the regiment to meet the danger thrust upon the nation is largely, perhaps entirely, due to Gen. Butler's sagacity. When the time comes to write the history of the war, his name will fill a space second to that occupied by but few others. In devotedness to his country, in fertility of resources to overcome new and trying emergencies, in complete success where most would have failed, Gen. Butler has had no superior, if he has had an equal.


When at length the call came, telegrams and expresses flew to all parts of the command, notifying the members of the regiment; some of the officers Col. Jones among them riding all night on their patriotic errands. The "Middlesex villages and farms" then heard the pounding of hoofs and the alarum cry of danger, as in the olden time they had listened to the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The official call came April 15th, as follows:

ADJUTANT GENERAL'S OFFICE, Boston, April 15, 1861.


Sir, I am directed by His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief to order you to muster your regiment on Boston Common, forthwith, in compliance with a requisition made by the President of the United States. The troops are to go to Washington. By order of His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief.

WM. SCHOULER, Adjutant General.

The members of the regiment, when its numbers were fully made up, were scattered over four counties, Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk and Worcester, and in more than thirty towns; and yet, with but few hours notice, the bulk of them mustered early on the morning of the 16th, and the rest within a few hours after, making in all about seven hundred men and officers, ready at this first call to don the armor of actual war.

Source: "Historical Sketch of the Old Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers during its Three Campaigns" by John H. Hanson, Chaplain of the 6th Regiment, published in 1866. This book is online at

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