Friday, June 23, 2017

The Lost Civil War Trophy

After the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment's march through Baltimore on April 19, 1861, Col. Edward F. Jones took the remaining troops via railroad to Annapolis on their way to Washington, D.C. It was near Relay House on May 11, 1861 that they captured the Winans Steam Gun which was on it's way to the Confederates at Harper's Ferry. They were also able to ensure that it did actually work according to General Benjamin Butler.

Winans Steam Gun, Captured by Colonel Jones on way to Harper's Ferry

Photographed by Weaver for Harper's Weekly, May 25, 1861

Winans Steam Gun was a crude forerunner of a machine gun. It operated not by gunpowder but by steam. It was capable of shooting 100-500 iron balls per minute and shooting balls from 1 ounce to a 24 pound shot. It was made in Massachusetts and sent to Baltimore two years prior to the Civil War. Ross Winan, a Confederate sympathizer and a locomotive builder owned the steam gun. It was one of a kind. An interesting side note is that George Washington Whistler, the father of James McNeil Whistler, worked with him at the Baltimore and Ohio railroad and went to Russia with Winans' sons.

When the 90 days of service was completed for the Massachusetts Sixth they were allowed to take the gun back with them to Lowell as a war trophy. It was displayed at various military reunions at the fairgrounds on Gorham Street and was kept at the Merrimack Manufacturing Company's storehouse. It was owned by the Middlesex Mechanics Association. The Civil War veteran's loved it.

Around the time of the 50th anniversary of the march through Baltimore, the Lowell Sun published an article looking for information as to what happened to it. Several older citizens came forth with the information that it was demolished at R.H. Barker's plant on Middle Street by the Assistant Engineer of the Fire Department, Edward Meloy. They estimate this was sometime in the late 1880s to 1890s.

In 2007, Discovery Channel's Mythbusters tested if they could prove the gun  could kill. While not an exact replica it's pretty interesting to watch.

It was never used in the war as it was found to be impractical.  I wish they had saved it.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Stranger Comes to Town - A German Spy?

Before the United States entered the Great War, the United States Cartridge Company founded by General Benjamin Butler, was very active in selling small arms ammunition to England and France. Before the war there were 350 employees and at the end of the war there were 15,000 names on the payroll.

Due to the dangerous nature of producing the ammunition and the sensitive security the U.S. Cartridge Company had it's own police force consisting of 32 police guards. The Chief of Police for the company was Martin Conway of Billerica. They had to investigate all employees and all neighbors to ensure the safety of the plants. And they had to guard the weekly payroll.

In January of 1916 a man presented himself as Mr. Haines to Mrs. Arthur W. Austin of 218 Wilder Street. He rented a room on Thursday and paid a week in advance. He appeared to be around 40 years old and appeared slightly nervous.

He left during the day and would take his meals in his room. When Mrs. Austin's daughter went into his room to leave some linens, she saw a loaded revolver and lots of bullets. She also saw some maps and charts. Mr. & Mrs. Austin decided to watch his movements. They were not the only ones watching Mr. Haines. A Secret Service detective came to the rooming house and ordered Mr. Haines to leave the city. The Austins found a drawing of the U.S. Cartridge plant on the floor of his room. He was never heard from again.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Remembering Pvt. Joseph Franklin Harding - Co. K, 6th Infantry

When the United States entered the Great War the National Guard were deployed to guard bridges in New England. Pvt. Joseph F. Harding, an 18 year old soldier from Lowell, was assigned to the Mascoma River Bridge in Enfield, NH. This was a B&M freight train bridge.

Joseph F. Harding was born in Lowell on August 4, 1899 to Harry F. and Winifred B. (Keith) Harding. He enlisted in Co. K 6th Infantry, Massachusetts National Guard and report for duty March 30, 1917 and was mustered April 6, 1917.

On the day of April 21, 1917 Pvt. Joseph H. Harding was guarding the bridge. He was near some loud rapids of the river, sitting in a chair with his feet on the rails. He never heard the freight train coming. A neighbor, Ezra Lawrence of Enfield ran to him to try to save him. Ezra lived nearby with his wife and five children. They were both struck and killed.

Pvt. Harding was survived by his father, Harry Harding of 68 Branch Street, his brother Harry and his grandmother Mrs. Mary Harding all of Lowell. His mother had passed away in September of 1902.

Erza Lawrence was awarded the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission Medal in 1917. He left his widow and five children. He was a teamster and only 31 years old.

Rest in peace Pvt. Harding and Mr. Lawrence. You are remembered.

This is my first in my series of causalities of the Great War with Lowell connections.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April 6, 1917 - United States Declares War on Germany

One hundred years ago today on April 6, 1917 the United States declared war on Germany. At the time the United States had a very small military. The National Guard was ready first. Lowell had the old Massachusetts 9th which had returned from the Mexican border in 1916. They became 26th Infantry (Yankee) Division, Company M of the 101st Infantry of the U.S. Army. They assembled at the armory on Westford Street.

Sumner H. Needham, met with the City Council to get men to sign up. He was the grandson and namesake of his grandfather who was one of the first to die in the Civil War on the march through Baltimore on April 19, 1861.

The armory was busy as  other companies were forming as the excitement to go to war was growing.
It would take some time to get trained and shipped overseas but we were in it now. Europe had been at war for three years but with the USA joining the allies things would be changing at last.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Hello Girls - Switchboard Soldiers

During the first world war, General "Black Jack" Pershing did not like the telephones lines in France. After being in use for three years by the French before the United States entered the war he needed a better communication system. The United States Army advertised in the U.S. newspapers for bilingual telephone operators. They had to speak fluent French and English and have operator experience. Over 7,000 women applied and 223 ended up being accepted, trained and sent overseas. They were members of the U.S. Army Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit.

The 3rd Unit's Chief Operator was Nellie F. Snow of Lowell. She was the Chief Operator of the Lowell Telephone Exchange at 115 Appleton Street (now the sober Lowell House). She conducted training in the Lowell for the other women of her unit. The other local woman who went to France in various contingents were Yvonne Gauthier, Leontine LaMoureaux (later Mrs. James O'Connor), Eugenie Racicot and Olive Shaw.
Boston Globe - April 7, 1918

They were sworn in and  had to buy their own uniforms. They went to New York City and boarded a transport ship filled with male soldiers and sailed to France. They arrived in Paris in May of 1918. They were critical to the war effort by providing translation services and some actually went to the front.
Boston Globe - July 5, 1919

After the war many of the woman stayed in France to provide their services to the peace time activities. They were considered the first active duty women to serve in the U.S. Army. Sadly, the U.S. Army did not award the the Victory Medal or any service related bonuses. They said that they were civilian contractors. They fought this until finally in 1979 when the 18 surviving woman were awarded the Victory Medal and veteran's pension benefits as approved by Congress.

  • Yvonne Gauthier died March 19, 1965 and is buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in Chelmsford. She never married.
  • Leontine LaMoureax married James R. O'Connor and had a son Richard. She died in February of 1984 and is buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery.
  • Eugenie Racicot died July 14, 1979  is buried in St. Patrick's Cemetery. She never married.
  • Olive Shaw of Boston was the personal secretary in Washington, DC to Edith Nourse Rogers. She retired to Littleton, MA. She was awarded the Victory Medal in 1979. She never married.
  • Nellie F. Snow, Chief Operator died in January 1963. I don't know where she is buried but her parents are buried in Edson Cemetery. She never married.
 Thank you for your service to our country. These talented and brave women did so much more than "number please?" 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Early Lowell and the Civil War

I was looking something up in Charles Cowley's "Illustrated History of Lowell" and I read something that interested me.

Who was Robert E.K. Whiting and how did end up a Major-General in the Confederate Army in the Civil War?
Robert Edward Kerr Whiting

Robert's grandfather and great grandfather served in the American Revolution. Timothy Whiting Sr. and Timothy Whiting Jr. from Billerica. After winning America's independence, Timothy Jr. moved to Lancaster, Massachusetts and settled there. He had thirteen children with two wives. Levi Whiting was born to Timothy and his first wife Abigail Kidder on January 27, 1790.

Levi Whiting was a career Army man in the 1st Artillery and he fought in the War of 1812. He served in the U.S. Army for forty years until his death in 1852. He married Mary Ann Cushing of Maine in 1823 in Biloxi, Mississippi.  They had seven children all born around the United States during Levi's assignments.

St. Anne's Church in Lowell was built in 1825. Levi Whiting and his wife had all their sons baptized at St. Anne's while they were residing in New York:
  • William Henry Chase Whiting - baptism July 13, 1828 - born in Biloxi, Mississippi
  • John McMahon Whiting - baptism July 13, 1828 - born in Houlton, Maine
  • Jasper Strong Whiting - baptism July 13, 1828 - born in Louisiana
  • Frederick Underhill Whiting - baptism August 28, 1831 - born in New York
  • Robert Edward Kerr Whiting - baptism October 28, 1832 - born on Governor's Island, NY
I  tried to determine why would this family come to newly created Lowell for their son's baptisms? They came three different times.

Lowell connections:
  1. Robert's grandfather, Timothy Whiting Jr. of Lancaster was a Mason and on December 10, 1809 he went to Whiting's Hall in Chelmsford (now Lowell) at the site of the Franco American School and installed the Pentucket Lodge of Mason's. He did this as the District Deputy Grand Master. 
  2. Jessee Phelps of Lancaster was the first overseer of Merrimack Manufacturing Company. Jessee was also a Mason and the Deacon at St. Anne's Church. Timothy Whiting's second wife's maiden name was Lydia Phelps.
John and Frederick do not live to see the Civil War.  His two surviving brothers were William Henry Chase Whiting and Jasper Strong Whiting. They would not survive the American Civil War.

William was a West Point graduate class of 1845 who was number one in his class. Supposedly he had the highest class rank that stood until General Douglas MacArthur graduated.  He served in the United States Army Engineers and surveyed many areas of the country. Jasper Strong Whiting graduated from Bowdoin College and was also a Civil Engineer doing surveying work for the U.S. Army.  It looks like Robert was employed as a surveyor as a private citizen. During the time of the civil war he was the superintendent of Green-wood Cemetery in the Bronx. I can find no record of Robert E.K. Whiting serving in either the United States or Confederate army.

Jasper Strong Whiting enlisted in the Confederate Army with the rank of Major. He died of Scarlet Fever on Christmas Day in 1862 in Richmond, Virginia. He left a wife and infant son.

William Henry Chase Whiting resigned from the U.S. Army in February 1862 and offered his services to the Governor of Georgia. He ended up a Major General defending Fort Fisher at the end the war. He participated in the first battle of Fort Fisher that repelled Benjamin Butler's army. During the second battle of Fort Fisher he was shot two times and was taken a prison of war to Fort Columbus on Governor's Island in New York. He died March 10, 1865 on Governor's Island of dystentry. His funeral was held in New York City and he was buried at Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. His mother, brother and two sisters attended his funeral. His wife had him reburied in 1900 in North Carolina. He left no children.

Robert E.K. Whiting died at Lake George, New York in 1871 and is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx that he designed and managed. He left a wife, an infant son & daughter. Here is his grave:
courtesy of
The Confederate General that was baptised in Lowell is Robert's brother William Henry Chase Whiting. Because Robert's brothers married Southern ladies and spent such a large portion of their lives in the South their allegiance to the South is not that surprising. There are a few more Lowell connections that I will share in a future post about Major General William Henry Chase Whiting. Stay tuned!