from The Webster Times, December 2, 1881   (Volume XXIII # 42), 

History of the Slater Guards
The Part That Webster Took In The War Of The States  

Perhaps a little bit of history of the Slater guards, who fought the battles of our country, that she might still remain one and inseparable and a power among the nations of the earth, would not come amiss, also the part that Webster played in the war of the States.

In the early spring of 1861 the workshops, farms, mills, places of business and offices at that time, in this busy town with its some 4,500 population, resounded with the hum of industry, the people quietly pursuing their avocations  When the telegram flashed the startling news, coupled with the clarion war cry, that Fort Sumpter had been fired on, and the brave commander, Major Anderson , has surrendered, supplemented with a call from President Lincoln for 75,000 three months militia, this event completely stopped business, and for a while the people could not fully realize that war was in their midst.

It was however brought into their homes by the enlistment of some half-dozen young men, who left for the seat of the war on the 19th of April, under the command of  Major Charles Devens, Jr., and six also for Boston.  This aroused the people of the town, who on that memorable night held a war meeting in the old “Fenner Hall,”  now known only in the history of the past, and at a subsequent meeting the citizens voted $5,000 as a contribution to the war fund of the nation.

During the days of utter suspense and extreme anxiety steps were taken for the forming of a company of volunteers, when one hundred brave and noble sons of the town signed their names to the roll and went into camp at the “Narrows” on the banks of the lake, situated in the eastern part of the town, when the permanent election of officers occurred.

The company voted that the organization should be known as the “Slater Guards,”  named after and in honor of H. N. Slater, at the head of the well known Slater Works, of this place.  The company made much progress in the manual of arms, and were soon ordered to join the twenty-first regiment, then in camp at Worcester, taking the letter I.   

Some trouble arose in the ranks of Company I, fifteenth regiment then in camp at Camp Scott, in the same city, and the Webster company were assigned to that command, retaining the same letter.  Captain George C. Joslin, a returned three-month officer, was given the command, and in early August, of that year, the brave fifteenth, Colonel Charles Devens, Jr., commanding, left for Washington, the writer being a member of that company.    

The history of the fifteenth Massachusetts is known to the public, and I desire to speak of an incident or two that interests the surviving members of company I.  The Webster company went into camp at Poolesville, Md., soon after reaching the seat of the war, whose military drill brought the company to proficiency for the active service was soon to follow.

Its ranks were several times recruited to some one hundred and sixty-five members, all told, and upon its return to Worcester, at the expiration of its term of service, three years, less than a dozen of its original members were in the ranks.  The company participated in the battle of Balls bluff, losing a number of its members, some of whom were killed while swimming the Potomac, and taken prisoners.  The company was at Winchester, Va., when Gen. Shields routed Stonewall Jackson’s forces, and took an active part with General McClellan  at the siege of Yorktown, and was detailed with the regiment to assist the front line when attacked by the enemy in front of Richmond, Savage’s Station, the seven days fight, and with pope at second Bull Run.

At South Mountain the company was brought up near the ravine just at dark, where they stood in line of battle throughout the night.  At about 3;30 a. m., on the 15th of September, 1862, a voice on the right , in the woods sung out:   “Who commands that regiment?”  The colonel (Kimball) ordered the men to keep quiet, carry arms and be ready for a charge, thinking it was a rebel colonel, who was to open the fight again.  Soon, however, this strange voice cried out” “The Jonnies have skedaddled..

The entire army formed in line of battle on the 16th, and on the 17th of September fought the battle of Antietam..  The fifteenth was in Gorman’s brigade, Sedgwick’s division, and Sumner’s corps, (the  2nd,) and were assigned the second line of battle succeeding General Hooker.

I will not follow the fortunes of the gallant old fifteenth, but will wander back through the dim vista of time, through this battle, (Antietam) in which the Webster company took such an important part, though when under Grant they were under terrible fire, to the eve of September 17, 1862.  The lines were in position, and rations had been issued for three days, preparatory for the struggle of the morrow.  We were informed by the officers that the next day was to decide one of the greatest battles of the war, resulting in the saving of the capital at Washington for the third time. 

The seventeenth was ushered in on a calm, beautiful morning, when not a cloud could be seen in the expansive blue.  The gentile sighings of the autumn breeze wafted the sweet scented magnolia through the rich valley, now laden with the harvest of golden September., so soon to bathe itself in the nations blood, filled the heart with emotions never to be forgotten..

The remarks of one now in his honored grave in Dudley linger with us still.  Lieutenant Frank Corbin, the pet of the company, looking out upon the scene, said: “This is too beautiful a morning to die, yet if I am to fall , God’s will be done.”  How soon to meet his fate he little knew.  But hark! Picket firing, report of canonading, then the quick rattle of musketry, volley after volley, fell upon the ear.  The infantry have advanced on our front and the report of cannon tell us that brave General Hooker has opened the conflict.

On, on charge the fiery hosts, to meet those of there common brothers.  Rapid discharges of musketry tell us of reinforcements.  For nearly four hours the battle raged, and several times Hookers heroes successfully resisted the rebels in that bloodstained corn field, near where the placid stream of Antietam glided silently by.

There is a lull.  Orders come.  Hooker has driven the enemy from their first position, and found them stronger in the second.  Gorman’s brigade are ordered to fall in, in light marching order, with eighty rounds of ammunition  “Forward”!  A half mile brings us to the calm rippling stream of Antietam, its waters running steadily on, empting into the Potomac  We ford it.  “Close up boys.”  On, on we go.  Soon we come up to Hookers men, who had fought and won.

Over the dead and wounded, as the line must not be broken, through the corn field, and over the rail fences, into the little belt of woods.  “Halt!”  “Fire!”  Fifty-two of us Webster boys, fought that morning, fought until but seven remained.  Of the old fifteenth, six hundred strong, not over two hundred remained to tell the sad story.  Sumner rode up, ordered the broken ranks to fall quietly to the rear, and we were relieved by the advancing line and Pickett battery.  I think under the command of Lieut. Derby.  Most of the men were left on the field of honor.

These brave soldiers are gone.  They have left their footprints on the sands of time, a lesson for the nation.  Let us all, every spring time, scatter flowers over their honored graves and revive their memory.  Let us wave the victorious flag in every hamlet throughout the broad land, and teach our children the heroic deeds of their fathers, and say to all nations, “Let us have Peace.”

“Peace, with her olives crowned, shall stretch
Her wings from shore to shore;
No trump shall rouse the wage of war,
No murderous cannon roar.

E. D. C.


15th Massachusetts VI