A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

The War Begins

This website presents letters, photographs, and broadsides from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The items presented here provide examples of the great cost to families from Massachusetts in the first two years of the Civil War, 1861-1862.

Following the surrender of Fort Sumter, S.C., on 13 April 1861, Northerners rallied behind President Lincoln’s call for states to send volunteers to preserve the Union. Across Massachusetts, young men rushed to enlist. Some were abolitionists; all were Unionists wanting to serve their country and to experience the glory of combat while they could. They believed the war would be short: a battle or two and the Confederacy would fall back into the Union.

Empire Course! broadside        To Arms! To Arms! broadside

Civil War regiments were formed based on networks of friendships and alliances. This led to enormous camaraderie within the ranks as young men marched off to war with siblings, friends, school and work mates, but also led to equally enormous grief as the horrifying cost of the war fell heavily upon these same networks of families and friends.

These young men enlisted with a sense of adventure and unquestioning patriotism, but could not have anticipated the bloody aftermath of early conflicts—the Battle of Ball's Bluff, the Peninsula Campaign, the Battle of Cedar Mountain, the Battle of Antietam—and the horrifying loss of life and optimism. Due to the high number of casualties from Massachusetts and elsewhere, the Union sought to recruit many more soldiers.

Bust of John AndrewJohn Albion Andrew served as governor of Massachusetts throughout the Civil War, holding the office from January 1861 through January 1866. After taking office, Andrew began efforts to raise funds and gather troops to ensure that his state was prepared to offer assistance to the Army of the United States. Andrew was a leader among the chief executives of northern states in furthering the Union cause during the Civil War, as well as a stalwart supporter of Abraham Lincoln and his policies.

Exhibition: October 2011 to January 2012

The Massachusetts Historical Society's exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862 follows a small group of officers--husbands, brothers, and friends of the first families of Massachusetts--through the first years of the Civil War. 

MHS Commemorates the Civil War

The Massachusetts Historical Society is recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with online presentations of manuscripts and photographs selected from its collections, as well as programs, exhibitions, and educational materials. Visit our subject hub.