September 4, 1861: The 20th Massachusetts Is Ordered To The Front #krnl_vic #amwriting #ammarketing


Ancestry ∗ Biography ∗ History

The attack on Fort Sumter occurred on April 12, 1861. On April 25, my great-great-granduncle Henry Tremlett joined the Massachusetts Militia, fourth battalion at Fort Warren, located on Georges Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor. There he rose to the rank of sergeant in a few months. On June 28, 1861, Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew appointed Colonel William Raymond Lee to command the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

Less than three months after his time began at Fort Warren, Henry enlisted in the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment on July 10, 1861, which was forming up at Readville, south of Boston. The camp at Readville was named Camp Massasoit after the great Wampanoag Grand Sachem, but the regiment was often referred to as “The Harvard Regiment” because many of its officers were educated at Harvard University. Many were also descendants of major figures during the American Revolution, including Captain John C. Putnam and Major Paul J. Revere. Lieutenant Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Henry’s first lieutenant, would go on to become an associate justice and later an acting chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Lt. Colonel Francis W. Palfrey may ring a bell for any readers familiar with my home town, as the largest hill in the town bears his name.

The Twentieth Massachusetts was organized into ten companies. Henry was commissioned to the rank of captain and assigned to command Company A. A company was comprised of about 100 men. The regiment was initially part of Lander’s Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps.

On September 4, 1861, two months after First Manassas, the Twentieth Massachusetts received orders to leave for the front. They left Boston without any fanfare; they simply and quietly boarded trains for Washington.

After stops in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore they reached their final destination, Washington, on September 7. On September 12, the regiment was given orders to march to Poolesville, Maryland. Poolesville was located on the east bank of the Potomac River, thirty-five miles north of Washington. Virginia and the Confederacy were located on the west bank.

The Twentieth was joined by at least two other Massachusetts infantry regiments, the Fifteenth and the Nineteenth, as well as Vaughn’s Rhode Island Artillery Battery and others in the order of battle, all under the command of Brigadier General Charles Pomeroy Stone and ultimately General of the Army of the Potomac George McClellan.

The army would remain at Poolesville a full month, assigned to picket duty along the Potomac River, and consumed by daily drills, shooting practice, and strict discipline, including no noise after taps… until October 21st.

Next: Baptism By Fire: Battle of Ball’s Bluff

The story of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment is part of my book, The Colonel and the Vicar, available on

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