Two Brothers, Two Captains: Samuel and Charles Doten, Part II

Fortress Monroe at Hampton Roads, Virginia

Fortress Monroe at Hampton Roads, Virginia

In part one of this story, we saw two brothers, Captain Samuel and Captain Charles Doten recruit the first two companies to depart Plymouth for service in the Civil War. Both companies ended up in the 3rd Massachusetts garrisoned at Fortess Monroe in Virginia. Charles’s “Standish Guards” had signed on for 90 days, while Samuel’s “Plymouth Rock Guards” had signed on for three years.

The 3rd Massachusetts served a relatively uneventful 90 day term of duty in Fortress Monroe and the village of Hampton, Virginia. On July 16, 1861, most of the regiment was ordered  to return to Massachusetts. Capt. Charles Doten and the Standish Guards went home. We have no record of any parting sentiments between the brothers. But one can presume it must have been difficult for Charles Doten to return to Plymouth, leaving behind his brother who still had years of service to fulfill.

The Standish Guards were welcomed home to Plymouth on July 23, 1861 with great ceremony. Capt. Charles Doten made brief remarks of thanks and concluded by saying, “Many of us will now return to the war, and, if necessary, the Standish Guards will all respond again to their country’s call.”[1] Charles Doten would remain captain of the Standish Guards through the summer of 1862 and worked to keep them well equipped and in a state of preparedness should they be summoned. But, eager to return to the front, he privately sought another command.

At Fortress Monroe, Samuel Doten and the Plymouth Rock Guards were, for a time, a company without a regiment. Eventually, in December 1861, they were assigned to the new 29th Massachusetts Infantry, becoming Company E of that regiment. After more than a year at Fortress Monroe, the Plymouth Rock Guards, along with the 29th Massachusetts, were thrown into the fighting outside of Richmond in the midst of the Peninsular Campaign in June 1862.

Curiously, when the 29th Massachusetts joined the Army of the Potomac, they were assigned to the famed Irish Brigade. The 29th Massachusetts was made up of men descended, largely, from old-stock English families. Given the social circumstances of the era, contemporaries and historians alike have pointed out the oddity of throwing such a unit together with three regiments of New York Irishmen. There was some friction, but once the 29th Massachusetts proved itself on the battlefield they were praised and accepted by their Irish brothers-in-arms.[2]

Capt. Samuel Doten and his company would see their first combat during a skirmish outside Fair Oaks Station, Virginia on June 15, 1862. Their first battlefield casualties were a shocking experience. A bit later, after his company had fought in the Battle of Gaines Mill on June 27, 1862, Capt. Samuel Doten wrote home, conceding that the Peninsular Campaign had failed yet remaining optimistic, “Just at this time the cause of liberty and justice has for the time being met with a check, but not a defeat…Now’s the day and now’s the hour, slavery must die; freedom must triumph. Northern hearts and northern hands must make willing sacrifices…”[3]

Back in Plymouth, Capt. Charles Doten had been writing letters for months to politicians and militia officials seeking a commission in a new regiment. Going rather far out on a limb, he even wrote Senator Charles Sumner in hopes of obtaining a transfer to the Regular Army. Sumner wrote back somewhat tersely, “The Secretary of War has no commission now to bestow. Last Saturday he was obliged to refuse a large number of members of Congress who pressed special cares upon him…Why not apply to Gov. Andrew?”[4]

A new call for troops came from Lincoln on July 1, 1862 after the failure of the Peninsular Campaign seeking 300,000 volunteers to serve for a term of three years. One of the new regiments formed to answer this call was the 38th Massachusetts. Charles Doten obtained a captaincy in the new regiment and was given command of Company G. The new company of Plymouth men departed for their training camp on August 15, 1862. If they expected to join the fight to capture Richmond, they were in for a surprise. After serving a few months of guard duty around Baltimore, the 38th Massachusetts would be directed by the War Department to a very different front—the Department of the Gulf.

Ironically, just two weeks after Charles Doten departed, his brother Samuel returned home on sick leave to Plymouth on August 31, 1862. He had fallen ill at the close of the Peninsula Campaign and was sent home to recover. The Old Colony Memorial reported, “Although Captain D. looks thin and worn, he is impatient be again in the field leading his brave comrades against the rebels, and will join them at the earliest possible moment.” Samuel remained in Plymouth for nearly two months, leaving to rejoin the 29th Massachusetts on October 20, 1862. He was, fortunately, spared the terrible Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862 during which the 29th Massachusetts made a harrowing charge with the Irish Brigade and suffered high casualties. It was one of the worst fights of the war for that regiment.

Capt. Charles Doten and the 38th Massachusetts arrived in New Orleans early in January 1863. The men of the 38th Massachusetts were at first pleased with the warm winter and the unique atmosphere of the Crescent City. Charles Doten cheerfully wrote his wife that he had become the second most senior captain, and was “crawling along up to the dignity of a Major.” But shortly after their arrival, sunny skies gave way to daily, torrential rain. The camp became a sea of mud and the conditions severely unhealthy. Casualties from disease quickly mounted. Charles Doten’s health declined, and only two weeks after their arrival in New Orleans, he was seeking transfer to different duties—the Army Telegraph Service.

His commanding officer, Lt. Col. William L. Rodman, agreed to offer the following recommendation to the Telegraph Service:

Much as I deplore the idea of losing the valuable services of Capt. Doten in a regiment in which I take pride, I cordially recommend him to your favorable consideration. Ill health alone I know would induce the Capt to leave a command recruited by himself among the best men in the vicinity of Plymouth Rock and which by its excellence bears testimony to its commander’s skill and faithfulness. [5]

“Bayou Plaquemines” by Joseph Rusling Meeker, as seen in 1863. The 38th Massachusetts and Capt. Charles Doten marched through and camped in this region in March 1863.

“Bayou Plaquemines” by Joseph Rusling Meeker, as seen in 1863. The 38th Massachusetts and Capt. Charles Doten marched through and camped in this region in March 1863.

Before the transfer was authorized, the 38th Massachusetts packed up and moved north towards Baton Rouge on March 5, 1863. Capt. Charles Doten, suffering from pulmonary trouble, went with his company. On April 12, 1863, the 38th Massachusetts was heavily engaged during the Battle of Fort Bisland. Still in poor health, Capt. Charles Doten, according to a fellow soldier, “was among the most conspicuous for bravery and efficacy and received the special commendation of Col. Rodman.”[6] As effective as his leadership may have been, the men under his command suffered 25% casualties during the battle.

Shortly thereafter, Capt. Charles Doten received his transfer to the Telegraph Service. His health, however, had deteriorated to the point where he could no longer fulfill even that duty. He was discharged on May 30, 1863 and came home to Plymouth.

For his brother Samuel, the story was much the same, though far more protracted. In March 1863, the 29th Massachusetts, including Capt. Samuel Doten and the Plymouth Rock Guards, was transferred out of the Army of the Potomac and went with the Ninth Army Corps to serve in Kentucky. In June 1863, they were moved again to join in the Siege of Vicksburg, one of the last Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi. Camp conditions for the 29th Massachusetts were poor and Capt. Samuel Doten (and many others) again fell ill, requiring another extended leave home. He did rejoin the unit for a brief time in the spring of 1864 but found that he could not withstand active service and resigned precisely a year after his young brother on May 30, 1864.

Of Samuel Doten’s departure from the 29th Massachusetts, the regimental historian wrote the following:

Captain Samuel H. Doten, who left the regiment a little later, May 30, with the deserved brevet of Major, was another soldier of the Puritan type…and impressed all his comrades with a sense of his candor; his natural dignity and self-respect won for him that treatment which these qualities always secure, and he left the army deeply beloved by all who had enjoyed his acquaintance and friendship.

Both brothers, having been through the thick of battle and the worst trials of camp life, returned home to Plymouth to lead long and successful careers after the war.

[1] Old Colony Memorial, July 27, 1861
[2] David M. Callaghan, Thomas Francis Meagher and the Irish Brigade in the Civil War, (2006), p. 76.
[3] Old Colony Memorial, July 26, 1862
[4] Letter from Sen. Charles Sumner to Charles Doten, March 12, 1861, Doten Collection, Pilgrim Society
[5] Letter from William Logan Rodman to Charles S. Bulkley, Army Telegraph Service, January 16, 1863, Doten Collection, Pilgrim Society
[6] Old Colony Memorial, May 15, 1863.


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