For 4 years, between 1861 and 1865, civil war raged across America. In that time it is calculated that over 10,000 military engagements took place, ranging from brief skirmishes and raids, to sieges and battles involving whole armies. Wherever they occurred they marked the land and a generation, creating sites and places that are remembered and revered to this day. On this day at our Civil War Monument we remember West Brookfield in the Civil War and the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
The 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was comprised of 1000 men made up from militia companies that came from 10 Worcester County towns. Company F was from the Brookfields. The 15th regiment saw action in nearly all the major battles that took place in the Eastern Theater of the war and was among the 6 regiments in the Union army that sustained the heaviest losses throughout the entire struggle. Their first engagement came only three months after being mustered into service on October 21, 1861, at the battle of Ball’s Bluff. The 15th sent 625 men across the Potomac River and suffered 302 casualties.
After a winter of little activity and a spring spent near Harpers Ferry the regiment, which was now part of the 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac, took part in the peninsula campaign where in June of 1862, they engaged in the battles of Fair Oaks, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale, and Malvern Hill. During the summer when efforts by the Union troops to reach Richmond failed, the armies moved north where on the morning of September 17, 1862, at Sharpsburg, MD, the Battle of Antietam took place. Here the 15th Regiment suffered their most severe loss of the entire war. In less than 20 minutes it suffered 343 casualties. On this bloodiest single day in American history, a day that would see over 23,000 casualties, the 15th Regiment suffered the greatest losses of any regiment on either side. Losses from West Brookfield were: Justus C. Wellington killed in action; William L. Adams, Albert W. Livermore, and William E. Vanever, mortally wounded in action.
After being lightly engaged and suffering few casualties in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the 15th was again called to take a critical role at the center of the Union lines at Gettysburg. On July 2 and 3 of 1863, they suffered 143 casualties or 62% of the 239 men they took into battle. A figure exceeded by only 4 other regiments in this pivotal battle of the war. Edward W. Prouty of West Brookfield was mortally wounded in action on Day 2. He died July 15 at Gettysburg. During the fall and winter, the regiment took part in actions at Briscoe Station, Mine Run, and Mortons Ford.
In May of 1864, the 15th Regiment took part in their last campaign where they saw severe action in the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna River, and Cold Harbor, suffering casualties in each battle. William A. Mullet of West Brookfield was mortally wounded at the Wilderness.
On June 22, 1864, 77 members of this regiment were captured near Petersburg. Some of these men were sent to Andersonville Prison where several died from starvation or disease. Charles A. Gleason was captured at Petersburg and died on November 8, 1864, a POW at Andersonville, GA.
On July 12, all remaining members of the regiment were prepared to return home where they were to be mustered out. Only 85 men, or 5% of the 1765 men who had belonged to this regiment could be assembled to muster out. Throughout the war, few regiments were more actively engaged or suffered greater losses than the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Sources: 15th Information, Bob Ducharme. West Brookfield information, Nancy Parker, WBHC