Civil War regiment from area logged thousands of miles

DEVENS President Abraham Lincoln requested 300,000 more troops for the Civil War effort in 1861, and the men of Central Massachusetts responded to the call to arms.

The 53rd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was formed in early fall of 1862, with 950 men from 48 cities and towns, including a few from Boston and Charlestown. They were ordered to report to Camp Stevens.

The camp was built on land which was known as Groton Junction, and is now in the town of Ayer. It was built in 12 days land cleared and 23 buildings constructed by the Ames Plough Co. of South Groton.

Barry E. Schwarzel of Ayers Historical Commission described the building of the camp, and the 53rd Regiments history, at a lecture series at the Fort Devens Museum Saturday afternoon.

He said he has always enjoyed history, and became interested in Camp Stevens when someone told him that it used to be located across from the former Moore Airfield on Route 2A.

I drove right by the memorial stone, because it was hidden by shrubbery. But I did eventually find it and asked the present owner of the property, David E. Ross, if we could renovate it. They graciously said yes, said Mr. Schwarzel. The location of the historical marker is just off of Route 2A on the Groton Shirley Road where the former Rotor Club was located.

With a partial grant from the commonwealth, the location was remade into a small park and rededicated in 2013.

Mr. Schwarzels research found that the 950 men of the 53rd regiment farmers, storekeepers, craftsmen were the only ones to train at Camp Stevens. There were more than 20 other camps built to train men in Massachusetts. Camp Stevens was named in memory of Major General Isaac Ingalls Stevens of Andover, an 1839 West Point graduate who was killed in the battle of Chantilly, Virginia, in 1862.

The 53rd Regiment spent six weeks training at Camp Stevens and boarded a train to Worcester and then to Allyns Point, Connecticut.

They boarded a steamer ship called the Meteor and were taken to Jamaica, Long Island. By the middle of January 1863, they went by steamer from New York to New Orleans in 13 days. Diaries of the men who were aboard the ship described the ship rolling, and the horrible smell of sick men, said Mr. Schwarzel.

The men spent another month in a suburb of New Orleans drilling and training before being sent to engage the rebels at Fort Bisland at the battle of the Teche in April. They were in the front lines on the assault of Port Hudson and saw more action in New Iberia, Big Sandy Creek, Clinton and Donaldsonville. The victory at Port Hudson gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union Army.

The men were sent by train to Cairo, Illinois in August of 1863 and mustered out in September 1863 after a grand celebration in Fitchburg. Of the original 950 men who volunteered, 33 were killed in battle, 133 died of disease and 53 were discharged. A total of 731 made it back to Massachusetts.

Some of them re-enlisted with other Massachusetts companies. The men were paid $13 a month. The Womens Relief Corps was responsible for the memorial stone which was dedicated at a GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) reunion of the 53rd Regiment in 1915, said Mr. Schwarzel.

James Sutherland of Goffstown, New Hampshire, and Peter Edmunds of Manchester, New Hampshire, came to the lecture.

The Civil War is our passion; weve been re-enactors for the 6th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry for over 15 years now. Everyone knows about the 54th Regiment (one of the first African-American units in the nation during the Civil War), and we hadnt heard much about the 53rd, so we came, said Mr. Edmunds.