Exploring a new freedom trail for the Civil War

Massachusetts is well-known as the cradle of the American Revolution. Its rich Civil War history deserves the same recognition.

Boston sites

Tom Giratikanon / Globe Staff

Boston African American National Historic Site

African-American soldiers captured by the Confederacy were considered rebellious slaves, not prisoners of war, and were either killed or enslaved. Despite the risks, the black community in Massachusetts rushed to volunteer for the 54th Regiment, the first black unit formed in the North.

The unit's bravery in battle dispelled myths that blacks were unable to fight. The national historic site, centered around the monument to the 54th on Boston Common, also includes a collection of buildings which served as a hub of abolitionist activity in the early nineteenth century.

Tom Giratikanon / Globe Staff

William Lloyd Garrison statue and grave site

Southern states offered a bounty on his head. Many Northerners initially denounced him as a dangerous radical, too, and he had to escape a lynch mob that chased him through the streets of Boston in 1835.

Today, a bronze statue of Newburyport-born abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison sits on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and Garrison's grave can be found at the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

Tom Giratikanon / Globe Staff

Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument

The tremendous bloodshed of the war traumatized the public, which had never before grappled with death on such a massive scale. After the war, many monuments would be erected — none more elaborate than Boston's Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument of 1877, which served as a model for Civil War monuments across the country. It was also one of the first to memorialize ordinary foot soldiers — not just their commanders.

Located on Flagstaff Hill in Boston Common, this bronze-and-granite column created by sculptor Martin Milmore features an allegorical figure representing the Genius of America atop a spire.


Charles Sumner House, statue and grave site

No incident exposed the growing division during pre-war years more dramatically than the beating of Sumner in 1856, when he was attacked on the floor of the Senate by South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks. In the North, the incident was seized on as proof that Southerners were violent fanatics, and nudged the nation a step closer to war. Sumner returned to lead the hard-line Republicans in Congress; today his bronze statue can be found in the Boston Public Garden, and his grave is in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

John Tlumacki / Globe Staff

Faneuil Hall

For decades, children in the North memorized the stirring words that Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster delivered in an 1830 speech in Washington: "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!" A giant painting at Faneuil Hall depicts Webster giving the speech, which provided a defense of the Union cause just as sectional tensions over slavery were heating up.

The hall hosted many abolitionist meetings in the pre-war period and also houses works of art commemorating abolitionists Lucy Stone, Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips, and US Senator Charles Sumner.

Suzanne Kreiter / Globe Staff Photo

Charlestown Navy Yard

As the spot where over 26,000 young men joined the Union forces, the Charlestown Navy Yard served as the starting point of many sailors' Civil War journeys. Some of the Union's most celebrated vessels were built on this site, including the steam frigate Merrimack (later captured by the Confederacy), the screw sloop Hartford, and the double-turreted monitor Monadnock. The yard also supported squadrons blockading Southern ports and harbors. Thanks to the work completed at the navy yard, the United States emerged from the Civil War with the world's largest and most powerful navy.

David L Ryan / Globe Staff

Fort Warren, Georges Island

A windy outcropping in Boston Harbor, Fort Warren served as the Guantanamo Bay of its era, a prison for high-level enemy detainees like Alexander Hamilton Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy. Union soldiers stationed there are also credited with composing the lyrics to the famous marching song "John Brown's Body."

Today, the fort is the most popular attraction in the Boston Harbor Islands national park area.

Massachusetts sites

Michael S. Gordon / The Republican

Springfield Armory

Union soldiers called their trusty weapons Springfields, after the city where more than a million of them were made. The guns manufactured at the Springfield Armory were preferred by Union soldiers for their manageable weight and size, long range, and accuracy. Today, the Springfield Armory site houses a museum featuring a historic arms collection and industrial machinery.

Photo courtesy of Susan B. Anthony Museum

Susan B. Anthony Museum

In 1863, Susan B. Anthony formed the Women's Loyal League, which worked to pass a Constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. The group boasted over 5,000 members and significantly assisted in the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Anthony may best be known today for her work as a suffragist, but her birthplace in Adams houses a museum that highlights Anthony's role in both the abolitionist and feminist movements.


Clara Barton Birthplace Museum

The "Angel of the Battlefield," Clara Barton became a heroine to Union troops for delivering wagon-loads of sanitary supplies and tending to wounded soldiers. At war's end, President Lincoln asked her to search for and identify missing soldiers.

Inspired to continue her work after the war, she founded the American wing of the International Red Cross in 1881. Today, Barton's birthplace houses a museum filled with period artifacts.

Joanne Rathe / Globe Staff

Concord Museum

Before the war, many escaping slaves were smuggled through Concord, a battleground of the Revolutionary War that made a second act as a hotbed of abolitionist sentiment, which was fueled by Concord writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott.

Today, the Concord Museum features a collection of Civil War-era portraits, uniforms, firearms, swords, flags, correspondence, and newspapers. In addition, Concord Bike Tours offers a trip past sites that highlight the town's abolitionist and African-American history, including a cave that served as a hiding spot.

Photo courtesy of Centerville Historical Museum

Centerville Historical Museum

The tiny Cape Cod village of Centerville lost a staggering 31 men during the Civil War. Yet those sacrifices were typical of many towns across the Commonwealth.

An ongoing exhibit at the Centerville Historical Society, complete with weapons, uniforms, diaries, and photographs, looks at the burden of war through the prism of a single community's experiences.


Samuel Harrison House

Black soldiers in Massachusetts were welcomed into the Union army — but at first, only at lower pay. Indignant, members of the trailblazing 54th Massachusetts Regiment refused to accept any salary until it was equal to that of white soldiers. Samuel Harrison, the unit's chaplain, helped pressure President Lincoln into closing the gap.

Born into slavery in 1818, Harrison was a leader of the black community in the Housatonic Valley and used his platform to become a nationally known advocate for blacks during the last half of the 19th century. After years of neglect, Harrison's Pittsfield home has been restored today.


Mum Bett and the Ashley House

Born into slavery, Mumbet, sometimes spelled Mum Bett and known later as Elizabeth Freeman, used the Massachusetts constitution to win her freedom in court. Her case helped pave the way for Massachusetts' abolition of slavery in 1783, starting the long chain of events that would lead, decades later, to the 13th Amendment.

Along with the Harrison house and W.E.B. DuBois's boyhood homestead in Great Barrington, this site is a stop on the Upper Housatonic Valley African-American Heritage Trail.


Sojourner Truth in Florence

As a powerful orator and the first black woman to win a court case against a white man, Sojourner Truth helped shape a new role for black women in the United States. After moving to Florence in 1843, Truth, a former slave, joined a utopian community dedicated to equality and justice, bought her first house, dictated her famous autobiography to Olive Gilbert, and became a nationally known suffragist and abolitionist.

Visitors today can view the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue or catch frequent walking tours and plays highlighting Truth's role in American History.

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Rob Anderson, Dave Butler, Lauren Frohne, Tom Giratikanon, Monica Ulmanu, Jason Williams and Alan Wirzbicki / Globe Staff