Even as I was writing my last post bemoaning the fact that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seemed to be ignoring the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the wheels were apparently in motion. A friend e-mailed me yesterday to give me the good news that action has been taken. Hunting around online, sure enough, I find that this past Monday, April 4, 2011, Gov. Deval Patrick issued Executive Order #529 establishing the Massachusetts Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.
Also yesterday, I was discussing with a co-worker the oft repeated quote of President Lincoln as he reviewed the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in Washington on April 24, 1861. Nine days earlier, Lincoln had issued the call for 75,000 volunteers. Up to that point, only the 6th Massachusetts had responded. Washington was virtually undefended. “I don’t believe there is any North,” Lincoln told them, “You are the only Northern realities.” Of course, the next day the 7th New York and other regiments began to pour into Washington. I’m really not trying to play the chest-thumping “first” game here. But it does beg the question, and indeed my co-worker asked me, how was it that Massachusetts troops responded first?
The answer is simple: Governor John Albion Andrew. During the winter of 1861 as Southern states declared secession one by one, Gov. Andrew foresaw Civil War and prepared for the worst. On January 16, 1861, he issued General Order #4, sending a mandate of preparedness to the several standing units of Massachusetts Militia. The months prior to the outbreak of the Civil War saw frenetic activity on the part of Andrew, his administration and the state militia. When you read about these efforts and all that was accomplished by Governor Andrew even before the war began (let alone during the war), you realize just how sadly ironic it would have been if Massachusetts had not established a Civil War Commission.
In 2007, Gov. Deval Patrick selected a portrait of Gov. John Andrew to occupy the position of honor in his office, calling him an “inspiration.” By establishing this Sesquicentennial Commission, Gov. Patrick has certainly done right by his predecessor.
I am very excited to see what programs and projects will come from the commission. According to the Executive Order, in addition to planning appropriate events, the commission is charged with establishing a website and marking locations across Massachusetts that have a connection to the Civil War. Brilliant.
I do hope, although it may be a strain, that the commission will attempt to fit in some simple observance in Boston this year. In 1861, thousands upon thousands left for war from Boston after being addressed by Gov. Andrew in front of the State House on Beacon Hill. There is still time to honor those first regiments from Massachusetts.