Rattling the Saber — The Massachusetts Militia in 1859

by Ned B. on March 1, 2013 · 2 comments

Previously I posted an illustration by Winslow Homer depicting the review of the Massachusetts Militia conducted in September 1859.  Below are two other images of the same event.  The first is titled ‘Camp Massachusetts at Concord, Sept. 7,8 & 9, 1859’ with the subtitle ‘His Excellency Nath. Prentice Banks Commander in Chief’.  The illustration is labelled as from ‘J.H. Bufford Lith’, a commercial printer in Boston where Winslow Homer worked at the time, so it is possible he drew this illustration as well. The second was drawn by John B Bachelder, another prominent illustrator of the time who became famous after the war for his involvement in documenting and preserving the Gettysburg battlefield.  His piece is titled “Review of the Mass. volunteer militia, at Concord, Sept. 9, 1859, by his excellency (commander in chief) Nathaniel P. Banks, Major General J.E. Wool U.S.A., and the Massachusetts legislature”. It was published in 1860 by ‘Endicott & Co., lith’ a New York-based printer.  [Both images obtained from the Library of Congress online.]

It is my belief that this event and especially the widespread publicity of it was more than just exercise for the militia; it also broadcast a message to the country. Though the violence in  Kansas had quieted down, there was still a high level of tension in the country and growing concern about what the 1860 election would bring. In late 1858,  Jefferson Davis gave a speech in Mississippi in which he declared that if an anti-slavery candidate won the presidency in 1860 he would appeal to the “God of Battles”. It appears to me that by making such a public demonstration of the size and preparedness of the Massachusetts militia,  Banks was responding to secessionist rhetoric like that of Davis with a message: ‘bring it on’.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike & Jan Lodyga October 23, 2013 at 11:56 am

We thought you might be interested to know, we have a letter written from Camp Massachusetts on September 7, 1859. It appears to be written with a quill pen. It is a letter written by a soldier to his dear friend Mary. We also have a mirage certificate and letters written while he was in battle.

Glad we found a way to get in touch with someone who knows something about this information and era.

Mike and Jan


Ned B. October 30, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Thanks for writing.
– Ned


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