As the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of Gettysburg, the Morse Institute Library in Natick is recognizing the men who fought at the pivotal Civil War battle, as well the African American men from Natick who fought at the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Both events occurred 150 years ago this month.
Several displays this week were erected in the library that contain images, records, and other artifacts that highlight Natick’s Civil War veterans.
According to library employee and former history teacher Cary Holmes, 130 men from Natick were involved in the Battle of Gettysburg, though many moved to Natick only after the war’s end. About 10 were either killed or wounded.
“The men who were Natick-born residents formed Company H of the 13th Massachusetts, and they got clobbered the first day,” Holmes said. “They also had about 30 guys taken prisoner.”
The men of the 13th–volunteers–had formed a “blocking unit” against Confederate forces, before being forced back to Cemetery Ridge.
Though some in H Company were farmers, the Natick men were mostly shoemakers, said Holmes, including William Cutler, who was wounded five times during the war, including at Gettysburg. He was a baseball enthusiast who was involved with an enormous shoemakers strike against shoe manufacturers in 1860.
According to Holmes, 59 Natick residents served with African-American regiments during the Civil War, 40 of whom lived in Natick before the war, and 19 who moved to town after.
Westborough shoemaker Samuel Willard Mann enlisted in the 20th Massachusetts regiment in 1861 and was assigned to Company D. Holmes speculated that Mann’s battlefield promotion to 2nd Lieutenant was due to the officer’s actions at the Battle of Antietam, before being promoted to captain in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, under the command of Robert Gould Shaw.
According to Holmes, Mann was wounded in the leg just before the death of Shaw during the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, the events of which were depicted in the 1989 film “Glory.”
After the war’s end, Mann moved to a house on Washington Avenue in Natick. He died in 1923.
Holmes said that seven Natick men served in the 54th.
Natick resident William Nutt, who was also involved in the shoemaker strike, served in the 54th before was a member of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, another African American unit, eventually rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. Nutt, who had seen action in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, returned to Natick after the war and practiced law. He died at his Union Street home in 1909.
Other notable Natick African American veterans included Brevet Brigadier General Alfred S. Hartwell, who would represent Natick in the state legislature after the war. He eventually moved to Hawaii, becoming chief justice of the Hawaiian Supreme Court. He died in 1912 and was buried in Hawaii.
Eleven Natick men also served with the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.
Holmes said many in Natick may not be aware of the role these Natick men played in the Civil war.
“That’s part of the reason why [Assistant Library Director] Jane Finlay and I put up the display, not to make people aware of the significance of it,” Holmes said, adding that Gettysburg was “a turning point and Natick played a significant role in that event.”
The Morse Institute Library is able to present this information, because the records of Natick’s Grand Army of the Republic Post 63 were never sent to the state’s archives like it was planned after the post dissolved in 1941, and instead stayed in Natick.
Those archives have allowed historians to learn about men such as George F. Cobb, who was of American Indian and African American descent, who wrote about his time serving aboard a Union naval vessel that chased the Merrimack, the Confederacy’s first ironclad warship. “His son was voted onto the Board of Selectmen in 1896, and he’s African American,” Holmes said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Some descendants of Civil War veterans are still living in Natick, according to Holmes. Mann’s great, great grandson, Gary Hoyt is living in town. So is Paul Hasgill, a descendant of Samuel J. Thomas, who was a Private in the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, another black regiment. Beverly Hector-Smith is the great-granddaughter of a serviceman who was also in the same unit as Thomas.
Natick may not be alone in recognizing its late Civil War veterans this month. “In a way, Natick is not unique in the sense that every town in the Northeast could find similar sorts of things if they dug through the records,” Holmes said.