Book Chat
"Harvard's Civil War:
The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment"
Richard E. Miller

This chat took place in the Civil War Home Chatroom on 10/19/08 and covered Chapters 1,2,3, & 4

10/19/2008 9:06 pm (et) 20thMass: Anyone have any thought on Chapter 1.

10/19/2008 9:07 pm (et) shapbruin: Every time I read about Gen. Bartlett standing, with his body shattered by the war for all to see, and all of those luminaries in stunned silence, I lose my breath.

10/19/2008 9:08 pm (et) shapbruin: Few gave as much of themselves to the war as he did.

10/19/2008 9:08 pm (et) shapbruin: both physically and mentally.

10/19/2008 9:08 pm (et) Susansweet: I was amazed that two hundred Harvard grades who had served were at the event.

10/19/2008 9:08 pm (et) Babs: It seems that the whole crowd lost its breath.

10/19/2008 9:09 pm (et) 20thMass: He really went through hell.

10/19/2008 9:09 pm (et) shapbruin: It's hard to imagine; you read about all the hardship and trauma he went through as part of the 20th, you'd think that's enough

10/19/2008 9:10 pm (et) shapbruin: his conviction was such that he led another regiment through some of the bloodiest and most grueling service imaginable during the Overland Campaign, the 57th Mass

10/19/2008 9:10 pm (et) Susansweet: For Shotgun's purpose we are discussing Harvard's Civil War by Richard F. Miller , Chapters 1-4.

10/19/2008 9:10 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Not knowing anything about the 20th Mass before this book, it was hard to keep track of all the names, especially when one doesn't yet know their history.

10/19/2008 9:12 pm (et) Susansweet: I liked him starting at the end at Commemoration Day at Harvard , then going to the beginning.

10/19/2008 9:12 pm (et) Babs: Linc, I agree. We almost need a family tree to keep track of all of those Lowells.

10/19/2008 9:13 pm (et) 20thMass: Interesting starting at the very end of the war but I think the Chapter shows who was involved with the regiment. For instance Rev. John Palfrey who was a kid when Washington was president had a son who was an officer in the regiment.

10/19/2008 9:13 pm (et) shapbruin: Susan, I agree, makes you feel like you're about to read about something truly exceptional, important, and memorable.

10/19/2008 9:13 pm (et) Susansweet: Cabos Lowells and Lodges , all are related in some way or other.

10/19/2008 9:13 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: The Lowells are just the beginning, it seems most all are connected somehow.

10/19/2008 9:13 pm (et) Susansweet: All those Boston names some Colonial , Some revolution.

10/19/2008 9:13 pm (et) Susansweet: Revere , Warren ,

10/19/2008 9:15 pm (et) 20thMass: Can't forget Holmes.

10/19/2008 9:15 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Actually, now that we're going to be going into chapter 5, I think I WILL make myself a "cheat sheet" to keep track of everyone.

10/19/2008 9:15 pm (et) Susansweet: He also tells us in this chapter which officers died .

10/19/2008 9:15 pm (et) shapbruin: And Paine (grandson of Robert Paine).

10/19/2008 9:16 pm (et) Susansweet: That is the name I was missing and the cousin of the Macy's of Macy's department store.

10/19/2008 9:17 pm (et) shapbruin: Even though the first chapter drenches us with names familiar in US History, the chapter closes in such a fashion that we just begin to see how diverse and complex this regiment was.

10/19/2008 9:18 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Yes, Susan. I wish he hadn't done that. I guess a lot of civil war buffs would know already who didn't survive the war, but some of us didn't know who survived.

10/19/2008 9:18 pm (et) Babs: Not sure if it was in chap 1 (I think so) that after the war the officers and enlisted men did not mingle in their veteran organizations.

10/19/2008 9:19 pm (et) 4eyes: Sorry to ask, where was this regt. recruited from?

10/19/2008 9:19 pm (et) shapbruin: 4 eyes, wonderful question, the next chapter covers it.

10/19/2008 9:20 pm (et) shapbruin: The reg, unlike those that preceded it in Mass and across the North, was not all from one part of the state.

10/19/2008 9:20 pm (et) 20thMass: Association of Officers of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry did not allow non Harvard officers at the reunion.

10/19/2008 9:20 pm (et) shapbruin: The men came from all sorts of locales; farms, cities, etc, and all sorts of jobs. This made for an incredibly diverse group in all respects.

10/19/2008 9:20 pm (et) Babs: I got the impression that the class system post war remained more intact than in other regiments or at least in other states.

10/19/2008 9:21 pm (et) 20thMass: After all they went through there were still class lines.

10/19/2008 9:21 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: After all they went through together, are you saying not much had changed , shap?

10/19/2008 9:21 pm (et) Susansweet: It's Boston.

10/19/2008 9:22 pm (et) shapbruin: LF, how do you mean?

10/19/2008 9:23 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Well, they had a class system of sorts before the war, and I assume the book is going to show how everyone fought together and bonded during the war, then after the war those who fought returned to the same class system.

10/19/2008 9:25 pm (et) shapbruin: LF, the sociologic basis and progress of this regiment is extremely complex and fascinating. There were some groundbreaking things that occurred (officer selection, regimental construction, etc)

10/19/2008 9:25 pm (et) shapbruin: There were also some things that nearly broke the regiment along lines of class, political opinion and immigrants vs "natives"

10/19/2008 9:28 pm (et) shapbruin: Coly, what do you think?

10/19/2008 9:28 pm (et) 20thMass: This is brought up in Chapter 2 so we should move there.

10/19/2008 9:28 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: We'll be discussing the first two things later, but I guess I was just surprised to find that after the war, everything returned to as it was.

10/19/2008 9:29 pm (et) 20thMass: There was a division in the regiment between immigrants and natives, Blue bloods and the common worker but what really caused a division was the copperheads and the abolitionists.

10/19/2008 9:30 pm (et) shapbruin: LF, keep in mind that most of the men present at the beginning weren't alive at the end, Only 44 of the original 800+ from 1861, and by the end of the Overland Campaign it was mostly conscripts.

10/19/2008 9:32 pm (et) shapbruin: Coly, interesting how the fight over slavery didn't seem to effect the original Harvardian's, esp Abbott and Holmes.

10/19/2008 9:32 pm (et) shapbruin: Since they were so far apart in opinion.

10/19/2008 9:34 pm (et) 20thMass: They were good friends but there were others who didn't get along at all. Macy and LeBarnes couldn't stand one another.

10/19/2008 9:34 pm (et) 4eyes: I have a book somewhere about a company of union soldiers raised from Cape Cod. They fought at alot of battles and the one guy was wounded in the face at Fredericksburg in the Union movement at clearing the town before the real killing started the next day. I think they belonged to the 20th.

10/19/2008 9:35 pm (et) shapbruin: Fair point.

10/19/2008 9:35 pm (et) 20thMass: I think you are talking about Josiah Murphy but that is down the road.

10/19/2008 9:36 pm (et) 4eyes: He was Irish? Wounded under the right eye?

10/19/2008 9:36 pm (et) shapbruin: What do people think were the primary things keeping these disparate men of varying backgrounds and opinions not only from killing each other, but organizing into a fighting unit?

10/19/2008 9:37 pm (et) 20thMass: Yes

10/19/2008 9:37 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Chapter 2 continues the introductions, but now includes the Germans. I have another question also. Being from Mass, it would seem that most of the recruits would be abolitionists of some degree, wouldn't they?

10/19/2008 9:37 pm (et) 20thMass: They needed one another to survive.

10/19/2008 9:37 pm (et) shapbruin: Their food was terrible, the languages were varied, their fate was indeterminate. Just seems incredible to me.

10/19/2008 9:37 pm (et) shapbruin: Coly, do you think they realized that yet?

10/19/2008 9:37 pm (et) 4eyes: I read this ten years ago and I just went to look in my collection so I must have given it to my Dad and not gotten back.

10/19/2008 9:39 pm (et) 20thMass: I don't think they knew what war was like but I am sure they had a good idea what was going to happen.

10/19/2008 9:39 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I'd have to agree with 20th (are you Coly?). They needed each other.

10/19/2008 9:39 pm (et) 20thMass: Yes

10/19/2008 9:40 pm (et) Susansweet: I think that as time went on that is what they began to understand . They needed each other .

10/19/2008 9:40 pm (et) 20thMass: Abolitionist or not if you didn't do your job on the battlefield they would look down on you.

10/19/2008 9:40 pm (et) Babs: 4eyes, It must have been a different book. This one only came out three years ago.

10/19/2008 9:40 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Another thing that kept them together was the strict discipline they received in training. They seemed to have a lot of respect for their officers and a willingness to follow orders.

10/19/2008 9:40 pm (et) shapbruin: I think the regiment was also lucky to have bright, aggressive, talented officers at the beginning.

10/19/2008 9:41 pm (et) 4eyes: They have probably the coolest monument at Gettysburg.

10/19/2008 9:41 pm (et) Susansweet: Some were abolitionist others were not. Bartlett wrote an essay which defended the South.

10/19/2008 9:41 pm (et) 20thMass: Col. William Lee had alot to do with forming this regiment.

10/19/2008 9:41 pm (et) 4eyes: Giant puddlestone rock south of the Angle.

10/19/2008 9:41 pm (et) shapbruin: LF, we must have been typing at the same time.

10/19/2008 9:42 pm (et) Susansweet: They were all well trained as we read in the 3rd and 4th chapters.

10/19/2008 9:42 pm (et) 20thMass: And the essay was written the day Dreher received his citizenship.

10/19/2008 9:42 pm (et) shapbruin: Miller credits Lee's decision to base officer selection on merit was one of the most important made.

10/19/2008 9:43 pm (et) 20thMass: Bartlett, Abbott and Hallowell may not become the officers they would become if it not for Lee.

10/19/2008 9:43 pm (et) shapbruin: But then look at how hard Bartlett fought against the South.

10/19/2008 9:43 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I was impressed with the officer selection process.

10/19/2008 9:44 pm (et) Susansweet: Lee seemed to know what needed to be done and mold the men into the fighting group they needed to be.

10/19/2008 9:44 pm (et) shapbruin: Each company ended up being led by a man they could believe had their best interests in mind.

10/19/2008 9:44 pm (et) shapbruin: Including the 2 German companies.

10/19/2008 9:45 pm (et) shapbruin: Lee was probably the only man at Camp Massasoit who had actually fought in war before and knew the importance of good role-modeling and leadership.

10/19/2008 9:45 pm (et) Susansweet: As Miller says Lee knew an officer's paramount duty was the welfare of the ranks and no one not even staff was exempt.

10/19/2008 9:46 pm (et) Susansweet: He enforced the duty.

10/19/2008 9:46 pm (et) 4eyes: If they were sick or disabled there would be none to lead.

10/19/2008 9:46 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: So far the regiment is made up of family members and friends. Were most of the civil war regiments formed that way or was this an exception.

10/19/2008 9:47 pm (et) 20thMass: Lee even gets on Palfrey and Revere a couple of times about their duty.

10/19/2008 9:47 pm (et) Susansweet: Yeah he does.

10/19/2008 9:47 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Sorry, we have two German companies also.

10/19/2008 9:47 pm (et) Susansweet: LF I think it depended on where the regiment was put together.

10/19/2008 9:48 pm (et) Susansweet: Some were made up of neighbors.

10/19/2008 9:48 pm (et) shapbruin: LF, a handful of the officers knew each other, but I'm not sure I'd say the regiment was made up of family members and friends.

10/19/2008 9:48 pm (et) 20thMass: Most regiments were formed with soldiers from the same general area. The 20th were one of the first that was made up of men from different areas and backgrounds.

10/19/2008 9:48 pm (et) Susansweet: Some of the rank and file may have been friends or family too but not with the officers

10/19/2008 9:49 pm (et) Babs: Most regiments were raised in a particular area. So friends and relatives would naturally end up together. I think later in the war it might not have been quite so much.

10/19/2008 9:50 pm (et) shapbruin: Babs, remember that the 20th was not one of these regiments, which makes their experience in 1861 so unique

10/19/2008 9:50 pm (et) Susansweet: I think you are right Babs, as they lost members the new ones would not be from the same areas.

10/19/2008 9:50 pm (et) 20thMass: Many Harvard alum in the regiment.

10/19/2008 9:51 pm (et) Babs: Shap, got it. Thanks for clarifying.

10/19/2008 9:51 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: You are all so right. I humbly withdraw the statement.

10/19/2008 9:52 pm (et) Susansweet: Wish I knew more about the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-38.

10/19/2008 9:52 pm (et) Susansweet: Never heard of it til now .

10/19/2008 9:52 pm (et) Susansweet: Lee was sent there to observe.

10/19/2008 9:53 pm (et) Babs: I think I have heard of it, but that's all. No details.

10/19/2008 9:53 pm (et) shapbruin: I may have missed this, but were the enlistment durations for the regiment varied?

10/19/2008 9:53 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I wonder how many men who were a part of the Canadian Rebellion fought in the Civil War. We never see it in anyone's prewar history.

10/19/2008 9:54 pm (et) shapbruin: Miller never mentions it early on, and later only alluded to enlistment terms ending and men needing to reenlist.

10/19/2008 9:54 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Don't remember seeing enlistment durations.

10/19/2008 9:54 pm (et) Babs: Darn good question. I have a book about Canadians in the CW. Of course I have not read it ($1.00 for Harry).

10/19/2008 9:55 pm (et) 20thMass: I believe they did have a three year enlistment.

10/19/2008 9:55 pm (et) shapbruin: Getting back to regimental cohesion, I would bet that most men enlisted for the full three year enlistment.

10/19/2008 9:55 pm (et) Susansweet: Coly think you are right , somewhere it seems that was mentioned.

10/19/2008 9:55 pm (et) shapbruin: I bet there were precious few 90 day men.

10/19/2008 9:55 pm (et) 20thMass: I believe most regiments formed after Bull Run was for three years.

10/19/2008 9:56 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Interesting how Lee changed all the officers enlistment dates to the same date when he was assigning them.

10/19/2008 9:56 pm (et) 20thMass: No seniority issues.

10/19/2008 9:56 pm (et) shapbruin: When you know you're gonna be working and fighting together for that long, you've gotta find a way to make it work.

10/19/2008 9:56 pm (et) Babs: Smart move.

10/19/2008 9:57 pm (et) Susansweet: I thought that was a masterful move. Make them all equal in seniority.

10/19/2008 9:57 pm (et) shapbruin: I agree, a brilliant stroke, though it wouldn't keep succession issues off the table later.

10/19/2008 9:58 pm (et) Susansweet: Those first recruits were described as a pack of Board and North Street Roughs.

10/19/2008 9:59 pm (et) shapbruin: Anyone know of images of the original regimental flag? Does it still exist?

10/19/2008 10:00 pm (et) 20thMass: Check

10/19/2008 10:00 pm (et) shapbruin: It's not there.

10/19/2008 10:01 pm (et) shapbruin: Also, anyone know the translation for "Fide et constantia.

10/19/2008 10:01 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: You would think the book would have a picture of it, although I'm just thrlled to be able to read the maps in this one.

10/19/2008 10:02 pm (et) Babs: Yes! I didn't have to get a magnifying glass.

10/19/2008 10:02 pm (et) Susansweet:

10/19/2008 10:03 pm (et) Susansweet: Picture of the flag there.

10/19/2008 10:03 pm (et) shapbruin: LF, my only complaint with what is otherwise a masterful book is the paucity of images besides carte de visites.

10/19/2008 10:03 pm (et) 20thMass: I think that is Latin but not sure what it means. There are websites that translate from one language to another but don't know the link.

10/19/2008 10:04 pm (et) shapbruin: It is Latin, I've been looking but can't find.

10/19/2008 10:04 pm (et) shapbruin: Susan, thank you. I didn't notice the line that says the Fide et Constantia is against the wall and not visible.

10/19/2008 10:05 pm (et) shapbruin: Ah found one, means "faithful and constancy".

10/19/2008 10:06 pm (et) Susansweet: Knew it had to be something like that as Fide is Fidelity and constantia is Constant.

10/19/2008 10:06 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: I found a website that says the 20th had several flags, the first one is not shown. Could find no translation of the latin. Ah, shap, you found it.

10/19/2008 10:06 pm (et) shapbruin: Quite a prescient regimental slogan!

10/19/2008 10:07 pm (et) Susansweet: Well they are Harvard boys after all.

10/19/2008 10:07 pm (et) 20thMass: Does anyone have anything else to add on the first four chapters.

10/19/2008 10:08 pm (et) Susansweet: I need to find the picture of the Cabin built that was painted by Winslow Homer , I don't know that one.

10/19/2008 10:08 pm (et) Susansweet: I love Homer paintings and drawings.

10/19/2008 10:08 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Yes, I do. I found the detail the doctors gave to sanitary conditions and cleanliness exemplary for that time.

10/19/2008 10:08 pm (et) Babs: I liked the story about Paul Revere's life changing experience on Lake Superior.

10/19/2008 10:08 pm (et) Susansweet: Yes that was a good story.

10/19/2008 10:09 pm (et) shapbruin: Where was that story again?

10/19/2008 10:10 pm (et) Babs: page 20

10/19/2008 10:11 pm (et) shapbruin: That's right, thank you.

10/19/2008 10:11 pm (et) Susansweet: I thought it was interesting his reason for fighting was Honor.

10/19/2008 10:11 pm (et) shapbruin: I just love the little nuggets like that one that Miller found.

10/19/2008 10:11 pm (et) Susansweet: Insult to the Union.

10/19/2008 10:11 pm (et) Susansweet: He did his research well it seems.

10/19/2008 10:12 pm (et) shapbruin: His contrasts are amazing, because where Revere was resolute, Abbott was "timid"

10/19/2008 10:12 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Another question (can you all tell I've never read a book about a single regiment before): Was the way the regiment set up on page 42 typical of the way other regiments were set up?

10/19/2008 10:13 pm (et) 20thMass: You mean determining who guards the flanks?

10/19/2008 10:13 pm (et) Susansweet: I don't know this is only the second regimental history I have read and the other one was told in a different way.

10/19/2008 10:13 pm (et) shapbruin: LF, number of companies varied by number of men enlisted. The way they were deployed was at the discretion of regimental officers, and given Lee's reasoning, you can see the importance of good decision making

10/19/2008 10:14 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Yes and also putting the weaker companies next to stronger ones.

10/19/2008 10:14 pm (et) 20thMass: The two strongest companies where on the flanks and the third strongest was in the middle.

10/19/2008 10:15 pm (et) shapbruin: Keep in mind that companies would be shifted around and away from the regiment, ie on picket duty.

10/19/2008 10:15 pm (et) Susansweet: Made sense after it was explained.

10/19/2008 10:15 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: Yes, 20th and was that typical?

10/19/2008 10:15 pm (et) 20thMass: Yes.

10/19/2008 10:16 pm (et) Susansweet: So next week it is two chapters right?

10/19/2008 10:16 pm (et) Susansweet: 5 and 6?

10/19/2008 10:16 pm (et) 20thMass: Yes, Balls Bluff and A Regiment Sundered.

10/19/2008 10:17 pm (et) Lincoln Fan: 5 and 6. The book started out kind of dry but I can't wait to see what these guys do when the fighting starts.

10/19/2008 10:17 pm (et) 20thMass: I guess we can close the book chat for tonight.

10/19/2008 10:17 pm (et) 20thMass: Chapters 5 and 6 are very good.

10/19/2008 10:17 pm (et) shapbruin: What a blast! I've written about the 20th on my blog if anyone is interested: check out

10/19/2008 10:17 pm (et) Susansweet: Thanks Coly for doing the Chat.