June 21 talk in Buckland will remember the 52nd Massachusetts Civil War regiment

  • A depiction of Union soldiers charging the Confederate army at Antietam. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper/Photo Courtesy of U.S. Army—

  • Joseph Wilder. Contributed photo/Buckland Historical Society

For the Recorder
Published: 6/10/2019 8:15:45 AM

In September of 1862, the Civil War was not going well for the North. The Army of the Potomac had just endured a crippling defeat at the Second Battle of Manassas, followed by a bloodbath turning back the Confederates at Antietam. Enlistments were lagging, and a draft system was being contemplated, although it would not go into effect for another year.

Enter the 52nd Massachusetts regiment, many of whom were from Franklin County. 

On June 21, the Buckland Historical Society will hold its Annual Pie Social in the Buckland Public Hall beginning at 7 p.m. Every year, it is an event for friends and neighbors to eat fabulous pie while listening to a program on local history. This year’s presentation will feature the story of the 52nd Massachusetts.

As an incentive for young men to join the Union, the northern army offered bounties for those who enlisted for at least 9 months. It was an enticing selling point.

Joseph Wilder, age 20, of Buckland, along with 900 of his peers from a broad spectrum of occupations and nationalities, signed on to serve in the 52nd. While they may have assumed that they would join the eastern armies in Virginia, the 52nd and many of its contemporary regiment from New England was in fact headed to Louisiana, where they confronted heat, disease, alligators, and Confederates at the siege of Port Hudson, one of two remaining Confederate strongholds on the lower Mississippi. Wilder grew up on the Wilder Homestead.

If the Union Army took Port Hudson and another fortress city to its north, Vicksburg, Va., the Confederacy would be cut off from the trans-Mississippi states of Texas and Arkansas and the Indian Territory.

While the first team Army of Tennessee assaulted Vicksburg under the leadership of General Ulysses Grant, the Port Hudson expedition was left to the Army of the Gulf commanded by none other than General Nathaniel P. Banks — former Speaker of the House for the Massachusetts Legislature and an-oft defeated, hopelessly incompetent military commander.

The presentation on June 21 will cover the wearisome marches that young Joseph Wilder undertook,  the brutal combat he saw and the victory of Union forces ultimately celebrated. Sadly, like many of his comrades from small hilltowns of New England, Wilder was ill-equipped to withstand the diseases he encountered, especially when surrounded by thousands of men in unsanitary conditions under the broiling Louisiana sun.

Within a few weeks of the surrender of Port Hudson, Wilder died.

I hope the presentation will cause people to reflect on the Civil War, its causes and its costs. While some might think the Civil War is ancient history, in many ways, its central debate goes on today — about who is entitled to American citizenship. One of the experiences that made the biggest impression on the hilltown boys was their encounter for the first time with thousands of enslaved African Americans, many of whom enlisted to fight alongside them in the Union army. The State of Mississippi officially ratified the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery in 2013, a mere six years ago, 150 years after the end of the conflict.

Think about that. 

Buckland’s Public Hall is at 15 Upper St. The June 21 talk, given by David Parella, who lives in town, will begin at 7 and end at 9 p.m. Pie will be served afterward.

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