April 1861: "And finally ... we leave the Old Bay State to do which we can to sustain her character for heroic deeds untarnished ..."

By Elaine Grublin

Letter from Charles Bowers to Lydia Bowers, 28 April 1861

Letter from Charles Bowers to Lydia Bowers, 28 April 1861

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    In this eight-page letter written to his wife Lydia, Charles Bowers offers a detailed description of his journey from Concord, Massachusetts to Washington as a member of the Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in response to Abraham Lincoln's first call for troops. He describes all facets of the journey: departing Concord for Boston on 19 April 1861; travel by train from Boston to New York City and by ship from New York to Annapolis, Maryland, where he views the USS Constitution at sea traveling north to the safety of the harbor in Newport, Rhode Island; a 20-mile overnight march from Annapolis to Annapolis Junction; and finally his arrival by train in the "beautiful Federal Capital of the nation" on 27 April. Bowers also offers insight into his motivations for joining the regiment and the hardships faced by the men on their long journey, and expresses wonder at being offered "a genuine corncake, made by the hand of a real slave" in Maryland.

    According to notes made by his daughter Francis in 1923, Charles Bowers was forty-eight years old and the father of six children when he volunteered to serve as the third lieutenant in Company G of the Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, also referred to as the Concord Artillery. When his three-month term expired he returned home to Concord and began actively recruiting a company of his own. In June 1862 he once again departed Concord as captain of Company G of the Thirty-Second Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He served with this company until after the end of the war.

    Bowers' two oldest sons also served in the Union army. Along with his father, twenty-year-old William Bowers answered Lincoln's first call for troops, enlisting as a private in the Concord Artillery. After his three months of service ended he also returned to Concord, eventually reenlisting with the Forty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in August 1862. He served with this regiment until he was discharged for disability in February 1863. In June 1862, Charles Bowers' second son, eighteen-year-old Charles E. Bowers, enlisted in his father's company, Company G of the Thirty-Second Massachusetts. He was wounded at Gettysburg and was eventually discharged for disability. According to his sister Francis, his death several years after the end of the war was a result of complications from the wounds he received at Gettysburg.

    The Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was mustered into federal service in Washington on 1 May 1861 and remained in that city for four weeks. On 25 May the regiment transferred to a camp near Alexandria, where it remained until it marched toward Manassas, Virginia in July. After engaging in action at the First Battle of Bull Run, the regiment returned to Washington before travelling back to Boston where it was mustered out of service on 31 July 1861.

    Sources for Further Reading

    The Charles Bowers letters consists of over 400 pieces of Civil War era correspondence. The collection is primarily letters from the elder Charles Bowers to his wife, but there are a number of letters from the younger Charles to his mother, as well as a number of letters written to Charles by various acquaintances in Concord.

    Nason, George W. History and Complete Roster of the Massachusetts Regiments: Minute Men of '61. Boston: Smith & McCance, 1910.

    Roe, Alfred S. The Fifth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry In Its Three Tours of Duty 1861, 1862-1863, 1864. Boston: Fifth Regiment Veteran Association, 1911.