A Sketch of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery
Document Item Type Metadata
A Sketch of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery
Alfred Seelye Roe
IN the early summer of 1861, there was raised in Essex County an organization which, after reporting at Fort Warren, June 25, was designated as the Fourteenth Regiment of Infantry, and as such was mustered into the United States service, July 5. The first Colonel was William B. Greene, who had been educated at West Point, though he was not a graduate. Under his direction a high degree of efficiency in drill was attained, so that on leaving Boston, August 7, 1861, the regiment was far better prepared than the majority of volunteer organizations when departing for the theatre of war.
Its orders on leaving Massachusetts were to report at Harper’s Ferry, but in Baltimore these were countermanded, and the regiment proceeded to Washington. Its first camp was at Kalorama, on Meridian Heights, but it was soon ordered to Fort Albany, on the Virginia side of the Potomac. Proving exceedingly efficient in garrison duty, the Fourteenth continued in the forts and batteries near and to the southward of the western terminal of the Long Bridge through the remainder of the year. January I, 1862, a reorganization was effected, the regiment was  recruited up to the Heavy Artillery standard, and two new companies were added.
Under a new designation, viz., the First Heavy Artillery, it continued in garrison duty until August 25, 1862, when it moved to the front and was present, though it did not participate, in the Second Bull Run fight. However, in its reserve position, it was attacked by the hostile cavalry, and the surgical staff with certain wagoners was captured, though the officers and men were soon released or paroled. Subsequently, garrison service was performed, either opposite Washington or by a detachment at Maryland Heights, across the Potomac from Harper’s Ferry, there putting in order the guns dismounted by order of Colonel Dixon S. Miles at the time of the famous surrender just before Antietam.
During the year, Colonel Greene resigned and was succeeded by Colonel Thomas R. Tannatt, who was transferred from the command of the Sixteenth Massachusetts Infantry, December 28, 1862. Colonel Tannatt was a West Pointer, having been graduated in 1854, number 7 in a class of twenty-seven members, no one of whom attained great distinction during the war, though of the first seven all, save numbers 1 and 7, went into the Confederate service. During much of the time that the regiment remained in the Defenses, Colonel Tannatt was in command of the brigade which included his own regiment.
When General Grant assumed command in the East, he proceeded to use the well-drilled troups thus far4 remaining near Washington, in this way reinforcing the Army of the Potomac with forty thousand extremely well-  drilled soldiers. It was May 15, 1864, that the First Heavy Artillery, acting as Infantry, moved out of the intrench- ments so long occupied and reported in Alexandria, going thence in transports to Belle Plain Landing on Potomac Creek and joining the Army on the lyth. Assigned to the Second Brigade, Third Division of the Second Corps, it soon was introduced to all the exactions of active campaigning. Its baptism of blood was received on the 19th at Harris’s Farm or Fredericksburg Pike, Fox making the loss of killed and mortally wounded one hundred and twenty men and officers. It was in the foremost of all subsequent engagements of its Corps and Division, bearing on its battle flag the names of Winchester, Spottsylvania, North Anna, Totopotomy, Cold Harbor, Deep Bottom, Poplar Spring Church, Boydton Road, Petersburg (three engagements), Jerusalem Road, Vaughn Road, the Final Assault on Petersburg, besides being present at Maryland Heights, Strawberry Plain, Hatcher’s Run, Sailor’s Creek, Farm- ville, and Appomattox.
The regimental loss in battle was such that the name of the First Heavy is found no less than seven times in Fox’s famous compilation of regimental records during the Rebellion. There we find that there were nine officers and 232 men killed or mortally wounded, while 243 more died of disease or in rebel prisons, no less than 102 men thus perishing miserably yet gloriously in the hands of the enemy. Nowhere did this Massachusetts organization give other than a good account of itself, fully sustaining the reputation that the Bay State long ago established. 
Having largely reenlisted, the First retained its organization ( though reduced to a battalion of four companies), and after Appomattox resumed garrison duty in the Defenses, remaining there until mustered out. Colonel Tannatt having resigned July 15, 1864, he was succeeded by Lieutenant-Colonel Levi P. Wright, who was in turn followed by Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Shatswell, who came home with the regiment. The command was ordered to Massachusetts on the I7th of August, 1865, for muster out. Reporting in Boston on the 2oth, it encamped on Gallop’s Island until the 25th, when after four years and two months of service it was mustered out. From first to last, there were borne on the rolls of the regiment 3439 names. To-day, the records of the veteran organization show only about five hundred men known to be alive.
Alfred Seelye Roe, “A Sketch of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery,” The Melvin Memorial (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1910).