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

Union Hall in Plymouth (although nobody calls it that anymore) was built in 1848, served as the armory of the Standish Guards and was the rallying point on April 16, 1861. It now serves a variety of purposes, primarily a tavern.

Union Hall in Plymouth (although nobody calls it that anymore) was built in 1848, served as the armory of the Standish Guards and was the rallying point on April 15, 1861. It now serves a variety of purposes, primarily a tavern.

On the evening of Monday, April 15, 1861, Charles Doten, a 28 year old civil engineer, bookseller and telegraph operator, sat in the Plymouth, Massachusetts telegraph office, 28 Main Street. He was expecting a telegraph from New Bedford that would alter his life and those of many other Plymouth men and their families.

Three days earlier, Confederate forces had fired on Fort Sumter. The inevitable call for militia to put down the rebellion was eagerly expected not just by those in Plymouth, but across the North. Doten’s responsibility that evening was especially weighty. As the operator of the local telegraph office, he would personally receive the anticipated call for troops. More important, he was also commanding officer of the Standish Guards, Plymouth’s militia company, and would be responsible for the rapid assembly of his men and their departure for war.

The telegraph from Colonel David Wardrop of New Bedford, commanding the 3rd Massachusetts Volunteer Militia (of which the Standish Guards were a part) arrived that evening. Doten was ordered to assemble his company and report to Boston to form up with the 3rd Massachusetts before noon the next day, April 16. At 3 a.m., a rider from New Bedford arrived to hand deliver a copy of the orders directly to Lieutenant (soon to be Captain) Doten.

Local historian William T. Davis, then Chairman of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen and a personal witness to the evening’s events, later wrote:

The news of the order spread like the wind through every street, and into every house and home. The excitement was intense. Every store was vacated by its loungers, every meeting was dissolved, and every family circle gathered around the evening lamp was broken up, and the armory of the Guards in Union Building on the corner of Main and Middle streets, became at once the meeting place of the citizens. One after another of the members of the company who were accessible, reported himself, every man ready to respond to the call.[1]

Approximately 450 men from Plymouth would serve during the Civil War. Prominent among them were two brothers, Captain Samuel Holmes Doten (1812-1906) and Captain Charles Carroll Doten (1833-1918) who would lead the first two companies recruited from Plymouth.

The Doten brothers were part of a large, well-known family in Plymouth. They were sons of Capt. Samuel Doten (a captain of the mariner sort and not of militia) and Rebecca Bradford Doten. Their father had earned a colorful reputation as a sea-dog, “who liked nothing better than a bit of dare devil business.”[2] He had been second-in-command of a privateer during the War of 1812, the George Little out of Boston, crewed mostly by Plymouth men. The George Little took prizes and was eventually captured by a British frigate of much larger size. The daring Capt. Doten managed to smuggle himself out of imprisonment and back to Plymouth. His sons apparently inherited his boldness and bravery as they assumed leadership roles and, following the call for troops, immediately took action.

Samuel H. Doten, the elder brother (48 years old in 1861), led a successful career prior to the war as a master mariner. He was in charge of the schooner Atalanta, a packet running between Plymouth and Boston, during the 1830s. He later went into the lumber business, did very well for himself, and became extensively involved in real estate in Plymouth.[3] He funded the construction of at least two meeting halls downtown, Standish Hall which once stood on Middle Street and Union Hall, constructed in 1848, which still stands at the corner of Middle and Main Streets. Union Hall was the headquarters of the Standish Guards, serving as their drill hall and armory, and the very building which would be the focus of such excitement on April 15, 1861.

Before the war, younger brother Charles C. Doten studied surveying and engineering. He worked as a surveyor in Lowell and Plymouth, then, in 1857, went out west to survey government land in Minnesota Territory. He returned to Plymouth in 1858 and did surveying work for the Cape Cod Telegraph Company. This apparently piqued his interest in telegraph operation, which he learned and so found himself manager of the Plymouth telegraph office at the beginning of the war.[4]

As commanding officer of the Standish Guards, Company B of the 3rd Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, Charles Doten was responsible, in the months leading up to the outbreak of war, for preparing his company. On January 16, 1861, Governor John Andrew, just eleven days after taking office, issued his historic General Order No. 4 to captains of militia companies across the Commonwealth. With southern states declaring secession during the winter of 1860-1861, Andrew planned for the worst and determined that the Massachusetts militia would be organized, equipped and prepared to the answer the call. He was well ahead of other Governors in this regard. His order required militia captains to fill out their ranks, forward updated rolls to the Commonwealth and drill regularly.

The morning after the call came, the available members of the Standish Guards formed up and marched to the railroad depot at nine o’clock. A great crowd of citizens assembled to see them off. Over the next two days, the remainder of the company gradually assembled in Boston and by April 18, Capt. Charles Doten had a company of roughly 60 Plymouth men, plus a few others from surrounding towns. The 3rd Massachusetts was to serve a term of 90 days, at that time the maximum term for which state militia could be mustered into Federal service—although plans were already in the works to extend that term for future regiments. The Standish Guards, along with the rest of the 3rd Massachusetts, departed Boston via the steamer S.R. Spaulding bound for Fortress Monroe, Virginia.

Arriving at Fortress Monroe at the mouth of the James River, a key stronghold held by Federal forces on the Virginia Coast, the 3rd Massachusetts was promptly loaded onto the USS Pawnee. On April 21, the 3rd Massachusetts, including the Standish Guards, took part in the burning of Norfolk Navy Yard, salvaging only the USS Cumberland which was taken away in tow. Several early historians of the war have referred to this as the first incursion of Federal troops into Confederate held territory.[5] Returning to Fortress Monroe, the 3rd Massachusetts settled into a monotonous routine of drilling, unloading supplies, and hauling artillery pieces into Fortress Monroe.

A post-war photo of Capt. Samuel H. Doten, c. 1872.

A post-war photo of Capt. Samuel H. Doten, c. 1872.

While Capt. Charles Doten was thus employed, his brother Samuel H. Doten was busily recruiting a company of his own. This second company of recruits from Plymouth would be known as the “Plymouth Rock Guards.” Samuel Doten began recruiting almost immediately after his brother departed with the Standish Guards. Elected captain, he held his first drill of the fresh company in Plymouth on April 24, 1861. By May 6, Samuel had recruited 67 men and they were enrolled in the militia on that date. Unlike the Standish Guards, the Plymouth Rock Guards would be mustered under new terms. They were the first men from the town to enlist for a term of three years or until the war’s end. In a time when most line officers were in their 20’s, Samuel, at age 48, was referred to as “considerably advanced in years” for a captain of infantry.[6] Samuel retorted to such comments by facetiously claiming that he was a veteran of the War of 1812 (though only a toddler at the time).[7]

The Town of Plymouth quickly pushed through an appropriation of $1,500 to outfit the new company with uniforms. Beginning on May 11, more than 100 women gathered in Leyden Hall on Main Street to sew uniforms of grey with red trim. Grey was, at the time, a common standard for any state militia, North or South. This, of course, would lead to great confusion on the battlefield and northern troops would quickly adopt the Federal blue of the Regular Army.

The Plymouth Rock Guards, led by Capt. Samuel H. Doten, departed Plymouth on May 18, 1861. The energetic scene was, in many ways, a repeat of the departure of the Standish Guards a month before with throngs to see them off at the Old Colony railroad depot.

As chance would have it, Capt. Samuel Doten and the Plymouth Rock Guards ended up on a steamer headed for Fortress Monroe. The 3rd Massachusetts had left the Commonwealth under-strength, with only seven companies instead of the usual ten required for a regiment. Governor Andrew had to send additional companies to bolster their line. The Plymouth Rock Guards would become Company E of the 3rd Massachusetts. And so the two brothers would serve as two captains in the same regiment…for a brief time…

[1] William T. Davis, Plymouth Memories of an Octogenarian, (1906), p. 390.
[2] Davis, Plymouth Memories, p. 80.
[3] George Warren Nason, History and Complete Roster of the Massachusetts Regiments, Minute Men of ’61, (1910), p. 49.
[4] John Clark Rand, One of a Thousand : a Series of Biographical Sketches of One Thousand Representative Men Resident in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (1889), p. 183.
[5] Nason, p. 10.
[6] William H. Osborne, The History of the Twenty-Ninth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, (1877), p. 39.
[7] Nason, p. 49.

About Patrick Browne

I am a PhD candidate in History, former historical society and museum director of roughly 20 years, an author, and quondam Civil War reenactor. I specialize in early American History, particularly the Civil War era. View all posts by Patrick Browne

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