Here to return to
THE civil soldiery of Massachusetts has been its salvation and safeguard in many a trying hour, and was of the greatest service during the exciting scenes of the conflagration. They turned out promptly and in surprisingly large numbers at the call of the adjutant-general, and defended life and property with a resignation under annoyance worthy of all praise.
There were no very arduous duties, and no great danger either to life or limb; yet he who, in time of peace, leaves his comfortable home and soft couch for barracks and hard boards, for the good of others, deserves much credit. It is impossible to over-estimate their services when the police-force was found to be so inadequate, and the city was falling into the hands of marauders, and sight-seers would have killed themselves in foolish, adventurous expeditions into the ruins, and when the work of water and powder was much retarded by the presence of cumbersome crowds. Ludicrous as some of the movements and orders were, they have the thanks of a grateful public for performing their duty so well.
When the necessity for “the strong arm of the military” became apparent, Adjutant-Gen. Cunningham, by the advice of Gov. Washburn, issued the following order:
SPECIAL ORDERS, No. 44.
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS,
HEADQUARTERS, BOSTON, Nov. 10, 1872.
1. At the request of his Honor William Gaston, mayor of the city of Boston, the following-named organizations of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia are hereby ordered to report without delay at the City Hall: The First Regiment of Infantry, Lieut.-Col. Proctor commanding; Ninth Regiment of Infantry, Col. B. F. Finan; First Battalion of Infantry, Major Douglas Frazar; Second Battalion of Infantry (one company), Major Lewis Gaul; First Battalion of Cavalry, Lieut.-Col. Albert Freeman; and the First Company of Cadets, Lieut.-Col. Francis W. Palfrey.
2. Brig.-Gen. Isaac S. Burrill, First Brigade M. V. M., is hereby directed to take command of the above-named troops, and of such other organizations as may be ordered to aid in the care of the city in its great calamity; and he will consult with the chief of police of the city in regard to the disposition of the same.
By order of the commander-in-chief.
JAMES A. CUNNINGHAM, Adjt.-Gen.
It became necessary, afterwards, to order out the Fifth Regiment of Infantry; but they were kept on duty only one day and one night. The headquarters of the Fifth Regiment were at the Parker House; First Regiment at 11 Pemberton Square; Ninth Regiment at Horticultural Hall; First Battalion of Infantry at City Hall; First Battalion of Light Artillery at the Sherman House; First Battalion of Cavalry at the City Hall; Second Battalion of Infantry at the armory on Cambridge Street; while one battalion was stationed in and about the huge Coliseum.
There are many hair-splitting points of law which are often discussed with regard to the militia at the great fire, one of which concerns the authority of the troops to guard the streets and ruins. Martial law was not declared in the city, and the soldiers were not appointed special policemen. But, whether they had any lawful authority or not, it is certain that the crowds believed they had, and acted accordingly. The soldiers were everywhere respected by the law-fearing public; and much trouble and property were saved to the people.
There was often a conflict of orders, which gave rise to considerable complaint; and at times unwarrantable things were done through a misunderstanding, or because of the ignorance of green soldiers. One robust guard refused to recognize any passes, and told the writer that he “did not care a d — n for Gen. Burrill or any other man:” and it is true that sometimes a gentleman would get a certain pass from headquarters; and, before he reached the lines, the order to recognize those passes would be countermanded; or so soon afterward, that he would be rudely thrust outside the guard. We remember one sentry (bless him!), who, for “fifty cents a trip,” let us through the lines without insignia, pass, or straps. Doubtless such proceedings were unavoidable among troops more used to peace than to war; and, while they would make the bravest troops in time of battle, they could not successfully “play soldier” in time of peace. It can safely be said, that many of the members of military organizations in Massachusetts are among the most cultivated, educated, and refined citizens. They tried to do their duty, and did work in harmony with police, people, and firemen, with the exception of one instance, where the guards on State Street refused to let a hook-and-ladder company pass their lines. A riot was only quelled by the interference of prominent men, whose presence had more of authority than the orders of the absent commander. One ludicrous exhibition of military rule occurred in the City Hall itself, and is thus related by one of the members of the Boston press:—
“Quite a commotion occurred at the City Hall in consequence either of a rigorous order of Gen. Burrill, or of a misunderstanding on the part of Major Gaul of the Second Battalion; the first according to Major Gaul, and the second according to Gen. Burrill. At about noon, the colored troops, under the burly major, proceeded to clear the corridor of the City Hall; and everybody was hustled out. Expostulation was in vain. ‘But I am a member of the Common Council!’ — ‘Can’t help it, sah; military orders, sah; must go out.’ And out the protesting and indignant member would have to go, assisted gently but firmly by the inexorable soldier. Officials of every class and position were hastened into the street with a bayonet at their coat-tails; and, for a time, there was colored martial law in the capital of the city. It was a most laughable scene, — the dignity of the alderman vs. the obstinate African soldier. They gazed upon each other like tigers; but the bright, sharp bayonets were more potent than words or contracted brows.
“Once out, nobody could get in. Alderman Power was among the unfortunates; his statement of his official position being unavailing against the ignorance and incredulity of the guard. He was finally successful, however; and several other city officials gained admission through the efforts of City Messenger Peters in their behalf. A gentleman who had a check of ten thousand dollars to pay the treasurer for taxes was intercepted, although he explained the nature of his business. On hearing of this condition of affairs, Mayor Gaston expressed his indignation, that, in such an emergency, the citizens should be prevented from entering their own City Hall to transact business, and sent at once to Gen. Burrill for an explanation. That officer was not at his headquarters, being at his dinner at Parker’s; and thither the messenger was despatched. The general said he would see about it when he had finished his dinner. The messenger gave this answer to the mayor; but his Honor chose to see about it at once. He went to the Parker House immediately, and asked Gen. Burrill (with rather less suavity than is his habit) why he had issued the obnoxious order. On learning the action of Major Gaul, the general said he had given him no such order. The major says he did; and, as the order was given verbally, the question cannot be decided. At all events, the military guard was dismissed, and the City Hall rendered again accessible.”
However, for two weeks the militia was kept on duty, much to the advantage of all parties, and much to their credit. A portion of the troops was quartered in the Old South Church; and the tramp and drum-calls reminded the reader of history of his Majesty’s soldiers, and the time when they occupied and nearly destroyed the same structure, using it for barracks. For the benefit of future readers, we give the roster of the field and staff officers who did military duty in Boston at that critical time: Brig.-Gen. I. S. Burrill; Lieut.-Col. Hobart Moore, assistant adjutant-general; Major S. A. Bolster, assistant inspector-general; Capt. P. A. Collins, judge-advocate; Capt. E. R. Frost, aide-de-camp; Capt. F. L. Gilman, assistant quartermaster-general; Benjamin H. Mann, acting medical director; and Capt. Henry W. Wilson, engineer.
The following order was issued at the discharge of the troops from duty: —
GENERAL ORDERS, No. 24.
HEADQUARTERS TROOPS FOR SPECIAL DUTY,
BOYLSTON HALL, BOSTON, Nov. 22, 1872.
The brigadier-general commanding, in retiring from the duties to which he was called by the calamity that recently befell the chief city of the Commonwealth, desires to thank the officers and soldiers under his command for the faithful and efficient manner in which their various and arduous duties have been performed.
Called into service in the midst of a terrible conflagration, which appalled the community, and concentrated the attention of the nation, while nearly every citizen was fighting flames or saving property, and when apprehensions of violence and disorder entered every mind, your promptness in answering the call, and your subsequent conduct, have won golden opinions everywhere.
Your prompt response to the summons awed every form of violence threatened, dispelled the fears of the community, established confidence and security, and made a resort to martial law unnecessary. You became at once the armed auxiliaries of the police-force of the city, subject to the civil authority; and these relations you sustained to the end.
It was a most perplexing service to perform in the heart of a great city in such a crisis; and it is a matter for the warmest congratulation, that all the delicate and difficult duties of the occasion were so happily, promptly, and satisfactorily discharged: at no time was there conflict of authority, or clashing between the police and military. Throughout, the most perfect harmony and cordial good feeling existed between or organization and the municipal authorities.
Although, at times, most stringent orders have been issued, let it be well understood that they were dictated by duty, and demanded by the exigencies of the case; and that all such orders have been executed in a manner calculated to give the least offence and inconvenience to the citizens, while fully protecting life and property in the guarded districts of our city.
Your conduct throughout this emergency puts at rest any doubt that may have existed touching the value of a well-trained militia organization.
The commanding general renews his congratulations to the entire command upon this proof of their good discipline, reliability, and efficiency.
regiments and battalions are charged with the promulgation of this order
throughout their respective commands.
By command of Brig.-Gen. I. S. BURRILL.
Lieut.-Col. and Asst. Adjt: Gen.