Massachusetts in the Civil War

Massachusetts in the Civil War The Commonwealth of Massachusetts played a significant role in national events prior to and during the American Civil War. Massachusetts dominated the early anti-slavery movement during the 1830s, motivating activists across the nation. This, in turn, increased sectionalism in the North and South, one of the factors that led to the war.

Once hostilities began, Massachusetts supported the war effort in several significant ways, sending 159,165 men to serve in the army and navy. One of the best known Massachusetts units was the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first regiment of African American soldiers (led by white officers). Additionally, a number of important generals came from Massachusetts, including Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, who commanded the Army of the Potomac in 1863, and Edwin V. Sumner, who commanded the II Corps.

In terms of war material, Massachusetts, as a leading center of industry and manufacturing, was poised to become a major producer of munitions and supplies. The most important source of armaments in Massachusetts was the Springfield Armory.

The state also made important contributions to relief efforts. Many leaders of nursing and soldiers’ aid organizations hailed from Massachusetts, including Dorothea Dix, founder of the Army Nurses Bureau, Henry Whitney Bellow, founder of the United States Sanitary Commission, and independent nurse Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross.


1. Massachusetts sent a total of 159,165 men to serve in the war. Of these, 133,002 served in the Union army and 26,163 served in the navy. The army units raised in Massachusetts consisted of 62 regiments of infantry, six regiments of cavalry, 16 batteries of light artillery, four regiments of heavy artillery, two companies of sharpshooters, a handful of unattached battalions and 26 unattached companies.

On April 15, 1861, Governor Andrew received a telegraph from Washington calling for 1,500 men from Massachusetts to serve for ninety days. The next day, several companies of the 8th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia from Marblehead, MA were the first to report in Boston; by the end of the day, three regiments were ready to start for Washington.

While passing through Baltimore on April 19, 1861, the 6th Massachusetts was attacked by a pro-secession mob and became the first volunteer troops to suffer casualties in the war. The 6th Massachusetts was also the first volunteer regiment to reach Washington, D.C. in response to Lincoln’s call for troops. Lincoln awaited the arrival of additional regiments, but none arrived for several days. Inspecting the 6th Massachusetts on April 24, Lincoln told the soldiers, “I dont believe there is any North…..You are the only Northerners here.

Given that the 6th Massachusetts reached Washington on April 19 (the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which commenced the American Revolution) and other Massachusetts regiments were en route to Washington and Virginia on that date, the first militia units to leave Massachusetts were dubbed, “The Minutemen of 61.” The advanced state of industrialization in the North, as compared with the Confederate states, was a major factor in the victory of Union armies. At the start of the war, the Springfield Armory was one of only two federal armories in the country. The armory produced the primary weapon of the Union infantry during the warthe Springfield rifled musket. By the end of the war, nearly 1.5 million had been produced by the armory and its numerous contractors across the country.

Another key source of war supplies was the Watertown Arsenal, which produced ammunition, gun carriages, and leather military equipment. Private companies such as Smith & Wesson enjoyed significant U.S. government contracts. The Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicopee became one of the nations leading suppliers of swords, side arms, and cannons, and the third largest supplier of heavy ordnance.