|from The |
| THE FIFTEENTH REGIMENT
The heroic remnant of the Massachusetts 15th arrived home Thursday afternoon, its full term of service having expired. Some of its surviving members are still detained in hospitals by sickness, or have fallen into the hands of the enemy. Many, alas, how many! were with the regiment at its departure three years ago, with hopes as exultant, and step as elastic as the best, whom no sound will awaken to glory again! Today let them all be remembered in the tribute of public respect paid to their regiment by the grateful people whom it has represented on many hard fought and memorable fields!
The 15th was the first full regiment organized in Worcester county for three years, a term which it was then devoutly believed would exceed the duration of the war. It was mustered into the United States service on the 12th of June, 1861, and left Worcester for the scene of active military duty on the 8th of August following. The first march of the regiment was on the 26th of that month when it left camp in Washington for Poolesville. Its first bivouac was on the road that night. The first death in its ranks occurred at the end of the march, when the regiment lost Melvin Howland, of Blackstone, "A fine fellow, of marked ability, and much beloved."
The usual camp and picket duties were assigned to the regiment, from Conrad's Ferry to Harrison Island, till the dreary day of Ball's Bluff. This was the 21st of October. It was a day of sacrifice for our gallant regiment; but it did not shrink from the fiery trial, Of six hundred and twenty five men who crossed the river but three hundred and thirteen returned unharmed. Twenty eight officers and men were killed outright, seventy were wounded, and more than one hundred were captured and spent a long weary captivity in Richmond. This was the beginning of its hardships.
The fall and winter passed without exciting incident. In the early Spring the regiment was transferred to Washington, and thence to the peninsula, to take part in the famous campaign. Three men were lost to the siege of Yorktown. Here, too, Colonel ( now General) Devens left the regiment to take command of a brigade, leaving Major Kimball in command. The regiment was soon after called into action at Fair Oaks. The division to which they belonged was ordered to the support of Gen. Casey (May 31). They encountered a foe flushed with victory and confident of easy success, and three times drove them back in disorder. The battle resulted in the flight of the rebels, leaving their dead and wounded on the field, which our men occupied that night. Here the Fifteenth lost five killed and seventeen wounded.
Then followed a trying and terrible month, fatigue duty never so trying, picket duty never so arduous. Sickness, too,, began to decimate the ranks, and hospitals threatened to be as populous as the camp. June 27th began the series of seven days battles which ended in the retreat of the entire army to the James river, and its ultimate transfer to Washington. During these disastrous days our men were constantly exposed, but escaped with the loss of eleven wounded and twenty six missing. Of their conduct there was but one testimony. Gen. Sedgewick gave credit to the Fifteenth for "the brilliant bayonet charge which routed and drove the enemy from their portion of the field" at Fair Oaks, and at a later period he wrote "The Fifteenth, Nineteenth and Twentieth are regiments of which Massachusetts and the country have reason to be proud. For myself I ask for no better troops." Gen. Sully who commanded the brigade during the closing days of the peninsula, bears testimony to "the gallant conduct of the Fifteenth in battle, and the cheerfulness with which they endured the extraordinary fatigue."
Brief rest for the regiment. Late in August the entire army left the peninsula. it was the fortune of the Fifteenth to be exposed to constant marching and skirmishing till the battle of Antietam closed the years campaign. Here (17 September) Sumner’s division was ordered to the front to follow up the success achieved by Gen,. Hooker. The Fifteenth was in the front line of the division and fought with desperate courage. Fate however seems to have followed them here, and after twenty minutes of fearful carnage the order to fall back was given. The division was repulsed with heavy loss. The regiment alone which took six hundred and six officers and men into the battle, lost sixty-five killed and two hundred and fifty wounded, some of whom subsequently died. The enemy did not follow up their success, but soon after evacuated, leaving the field in our hands.
The regiment wintered near Falmouth, sending out heavy details for picket duty during the winter and spring. It took active part in Hooker's spring campaign, but sustained no material loss. Summer brought the battle of Gettysburg and the never to be forgotten marches that preceded it. The Fifteenth was brought into action late in the afternoon of the second day (2d July). With another regiment of the brigade (deployed?) a little in front of the main line and erected a temporary barricade. The rebels about sunset made a furious assault. Having driven in the Third corps they speedily gained the flank of this advanced detachment of the Second. By some fatality which seemed to select this command for its special vengeance, grape and case shot from our batteries began to tear with destructive effect through the ranks of the Fifteenth. Thus exposed in flank and rear it was compelled to fall back.
The next day the battle was renewed. The shock was terrible. Late in the afternoon, when the rebel line showed signs of wavering, the colors of the Fifteenth were ordered to advance, the remnant of the regiment rallied to their support, and, as if by one impulse, the whole line pushed forward with a shout, and carried the position. The rebel army was defeated. Here the regiment took into action less than two hundred and fifty men, and lost twenty-two killed, and nearly a hundred wounded, some of whom have since died.
The vicissitudes of the regiment during the third and last year of its service have not been less trying than those we have recorded. Its record, if painful, has been glorious from the beginning to the end. No soldier who has shared its fortune will ever blush when its gallant deeds are celebrated in the holidays and festivals of the good time coming. No regiment can display a roll of truer heroes than those who have fought under its colors, and contributed to its renown. Ward, Haven, Simonds, Gretchell, Spurr, Jorgensen, Grout, and a great many others, officers and privates, who live in the grateful remembrance of us who knew them, and in the imperishable records of the country they served, are the custodians of its fame. They speak still by the example of devoted valor which prompted them to render the last and best service a man can give to his country:
"Stand by the flag!---immortal heroes bore it
Through sulphurous smoke, deep moat and armed defense,
And their imperial shades still hover o're it---
A guard celestial from omnipotence.
Stand by the flag!---though death shots round it rattle,
And underneath its waving folds have met
In all the dread array of sanguine battle,
The quivering lance and glittering bayonet.
Stand by the flag!---all doubt and treason scorning---
Believe, with courage firm, and faith sublime,
That it will float until the eternal morning
Pales, in its glories, all the lights of time!"