2012-07-12 / News

JHS 100 years: Jamestowners in the Civil War


The conflict that took place in the United States between 1861 and 1865 is known by many names: the American Civil War; the War Between the States; the War of Northern Aggression, as some in the seceding states still call it; and the War for the Suppression of Rebellion and the Preservation of Constitutional Liberty, as it is called in the certificates of appreciation issued to returning Rhode Island servicemen. By whatever name, it was the bloodiest war in the history of the country. According to some calculations, almost 2 percent of the people living in the country died as a direct or indirect result of military actions.

The roster of Jamestown men in the Union army issued by the Rhode Island secretary of state in 2002 lists 15 names – about 4 percent of the island’s 400 residents – although more men actually served, many of them enrolling in other towns so that their place of residence was not recorded.

Capt. Isaac Barker Howland served in the 11th Rhode Island Infantry in the Civil War. Although Howland was born in Jamestown, he signed up from East Greenwich. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY Capt. Isaac Barker Howland served in the 11th Rhode Island Infantry in the Civil War. Although Howland was born in Jamestown, he signed up from East Greenwich. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY They served in several different regiments. Two men died in uniform and one received a medical discharge.

Two Jamestown men served in the 2nd Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, organized in June 1861 in response to the first call for troops to serve three years or for the duration of the war. The regiment fired the opening volley at the first Battle of Bull Run, was in line at the final scenes of Appomattox, and fought in most major engagements of the Army of the Potomac.

Jamestowners William A. Arnold and Thomas Wilson Dorr Lewis enrolled in this dedicated fighting unit. Arnold died of an unknown illness in an Army facility a year after enlisting. Lewis served his three-year term and reenlisted. He was promoted to corporal, then sergeant, then first sergeant after being slightly wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. When the regiment was disbanded July 13, 1865, having lost nine officers and 111 men in action, plus two officers and 74 men dead of diseases, Lewis was still there.

After the war, Lewis lived in Providence near his mother and siblings.

When the 4th Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers was created in August 1861 – again with a three-year term of enlistment or until the end of the war – two Jamestowners answered the call: Daniel Webster Weeden and John W. Williams.

While we have been unable to uncover much information about them, Weeden and Williams may have been close friends. Both enlisted on the same day in Newport. Each re-enlisted when his three-year stint was up. Both were wounded in action in Petersburg, Va., on July 30, 1864, and both were mustered out the same day at the end of the war.

The only thing that distinguishes one service record from the other is that Weeden was promoted to corporal after his re-enlistment. He later lived in Newport.

As the war continued, the number of committed volunteers decreased as the need for soldiers rose. In the fall of 1862, enlistment in two Rhode Island regiments with only nine-month terms of service was aggressively promoted. Several things came together to make the promotion successful. Gen. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign had been a disaster, increasing both fears and loyalty. A signing bounty was offered as a way to avoid the need for a draft. The short term of service attracted those who wanted to avoid the longer service that might be required if – or when – a draft was instituted.

The 11th Rhode Island Infantry commenced recruiting early in September and left for the front on Oct. 6, with one Jamestown recruit, Isaac Barker Howland, who, although born in Jamestown, signed up from East Greenwich.

The 12th started recruiting in late September. Five young Jamestown men volunteered: William H.H. Brown, John Tew Carr, Alfred G. Hull, Henry Morris Hull, and Martin V.B. Knowles. They were mustered in on Oct. 13 and left for the front only eight days later on Oct. 21.

Not all of the 12th boarded the train on Oct. 21. It had been generally understood that the volunteers were to receive their signing bounty before leaving Rhode Island, and the enlistees of the 11th had received theirs. However, a number of them had taken the money and disappeared. The state decided to postpone the payment of the bounty due to the 12th until after the men arrived at the front. Some enlistees took exception to the change: they were quickly rounded up and rejoined the regiment in Washington, D.C.

All the Jamestown recruits served their nine months without incident, although two of them – John Carr and Henry Hull – spent more time in the hospital than in the field.

Allen Gardiner was a sergeant in the 1st Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery from March 1862 until May 1864 when he resigned to accept an appointment in the United States Colored Troops. The USCT were regiments of the U.S. Army that consisted of African Americans but were commanded primarily by white officers.

Gustavus Adolphus Clark enlisted in the Rhode Island militia for three months only five days after the attack on Fort Sumter, and after his service returned to Jamestown where he lived until his death in 1916. Whitman Dawley and Charles H. Grinnell both joined the 1st Regiment Rhode Island Cavalry in December 1861 and were honorably discharged after completing their service. Charles W. Gardiner died of typhoid fever in August 1863 after one year in the 7th Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers.

Jamestowner Charles E. King enlisted as an ensign in the Navy in 1864 when he was only 16. Daniel Watson, who later became an important real-estate developer in Jamestown, served as hospital steward on several vessels in the fleet that blockaded the southern ports. It is unknown how many other men from Jamestown served at sea.

This is the 12th in a series of articles chronicling the history of Jamestown in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Jamestown Historical Society

Return to top