New book on Wakefield’s role in the Civil War


WAKEFIELD — Greenwood native Thomas A.C. Ellis has written a new, comprehensive history of Wakefield’s role in the Civil War. It is a worthy companion to other volumes written on the history of the town.

Ellis is an independent Civil War historian who decided to write the book after he searched for information regarding Wakefield’s contribution to America’s Civil War and found it to be lacking. Further exploration and preliminary research revealed a rich history. His book, “Wakefield’s Civil War Service, A History and Roster,” focuses on the epic actions of the Town of South Reading (now Wakefield) from 1861-1865. Meticulously researched, the book chronicles the contributions of Wakefield men and women in America’s bloodiest war.

Ellis acknowledges early on that the town was called South Reading until a few years after the end of the Civil War. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, the book mainly refers to the town as Wakefield, the name the townspeople adopted in 1868 after industrialist Cyrus Wakefield donated the land and funds for a new Town Hall.

“Wakefield acted boldly and courageously in April of 1861.” Ellis writes in the Foreword to his book. “The Commonwealth organized one hundred and fourteen military organizations during the war. Wakefield served in sixty-three of them. The small town with 1,575 males of all ages paid a heavy price. There were 18 killed in battle, 11 died of wounds, 43 died of disease, 80 were wounded, 28 were taken as prisoner of war and 99 became disabled and were given disability discharges.”

Ellis breaks down Wakefield’s Civil War casualties, listing those killed in battle, those who died of their wounds, those who died of disease and those who were wounded. Also listed are those who were captured and taken as prisoners of war. He also lists fathers and sons as well as brothers from Wakefield who served, and reports each of their fates.

The author explores the histories of the various Massachusetts regiments, including Wakefield’s Richardson Light Guard, that served in the Civil War and lists the Wakefield men who served in each regiment.

Ellis writes about the town’s response in the early days of the war.

“Wakefield residents rapidly responded to the president’s call for 75,000 men for three months service on April 14, 1861,” he notes. By 2:30 on the afternoon of April 19, “eighty-five men had assembled at Wakefield’s Armory.”

Photography was in its infancy at the time of the Civil War, but Ellis has managed to find and reproduce dozens of photographs of the Wakefield men who served. Among them are familiar Wakefield names. There are Aborns, Eatons, Emersons, Hartshornes, Sweetsers. Waltons and Wileys.

One of those men was Major Horace M. Warren, for whom the H.M. Warren School (now the McCarthy Civic Center) on Converse Street was named. Major Warren died on Aug. 27, 1864, eight days after he was wounded in battle.

The book compiles a record of Civil War veterans interred in Wakefield’s Old Burial Ground and Lakeside Cemetery, as well as Wakefield veterans of the war who are buried elsewhere.

There is also a chapter in the book chronicling the contributions of Wakefield women to the war effort.

“Sorely missing in Wakefield’s history is an accounting of her women’s contributions during the War of the Rebellion,” Ellis writes. “The ladies faced their own obstacles, much different from the citizen soldier. Their fathers, husbands, sons, brothers and other family members were no longer there. The responsibilities did not disappear because the men were gone. The firewood needed to be cut and split, the gardens or fields needed to be tilled, planted and reaped. Many of the chores previously done by the men fell to the women left behind. They also had to find ways to support the men in the military; the women’s burdens were incalculable.

“In 1863, the ladies of Wakefield formed the South Reading Union Soldiers’ Relief Association,” Ellis notes. “They held subscription fairs, lectures, sewing groups and social gatherings to raise monies and goods for the soldiers’ benefit.”

Margaret Hamilton was directly involved in the war effort and is interred in Lakeside Cemetery. “She served as a nurse in the Medical Department of the US Volunteers,” Ellis writes. “She had all of the privileges of an honorably discharged soldier.” She was even awarded a soldier’s pension.

Ellis devotes more than 200 pages of his book to a Wakefield Roster of Civil War Soldiers, complete with brief biographical sketches and military record for each. It is one of this book’s most valuable contributions.

Ellis’s book will be of interest to Civil War buffs regardless of Wakefield affiliation. Included is a broader history of the war, focusing on military strategy and accounts of battles.

Tom A.C. Ellis grew up in Greenwood and lived in Wakefield until he joined the U.S. Army in 1965. Upon his discharge from the Army, Ellis attended Northeastern and Towson State University. He has written a number of books about the connections of various Massachusetts towns to the Civil War, including Marlborough, Hudson, Natick, Hopkinton, Medway and Millis.

Ellis became involved in Civil War re-enacting after his son expressed an interest at an early age. This gave Ellis the opportunity to question Civil War re-enactors on their vast knowledge of the war. He eventually became the Adjutant General of the Union and Confederate Volunteers of New England.

Now retired, Ellis finds towns with little history written about their Civil War sacrifices and commits more than a year of his time researching and writing that town’s history. His books serve as a valuable resource for that community now and in the future.

One of his books, “The Massachusetts Andrew Sharpshooters,” follows two companies from when they left Massachusetts, through their time in the seat of war, until they returned, describing their day to day activities for that period of time. There is detailed historical and genealogical information on every man that served in the Andrew Sharpshooters.

Ellis and his wife Pam currently reside in Medway.

His new book, “Wakefield’s Civil War Service, A History and Roster,” is published by Damianos Publishing, 1630 Concord Street, Framingham, MA 01701. It can be ordered directly from the publisher or from Ellis’s website.

[This article originally appeared in the July 28, 2021 Wakefield Daily Item.]

4 Responses to “New book on Wakefield’s role in the Civil War”

  1. 1 John Breithzupt

    Mark, Thanks for publicizing this book. It’s important to remember the people who sacrificed so much for union and freedom.

    • 2 Ed

      I wish we taught Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address at WHS…..

      • 3 John Breithaupt

        Yes, it’s a superb speech and there is none other like it. What other world leader, at the moment of victory, has resisted the temptation to conclude that God must have been on his side? Here, Lincoln says that the war was God’s punishment of both sides for their mutual complicity in the crime of slavery.

  2. 4 Ed

    The two things often forgotten about a third of the dead soldiers were married, usually with young children. It left an incredible number of young widows, many still in their teens — it was not uncommon for a woman to marry at 14-15 and now she was 16-17 with a child or two.

    Second, as there were nether jobs for women nor welfare back then, the young widows had no choice but to remarry — but to do that, they often had to put their infant children up for adoption first.

    Older widows, who owned a farm and had older children to help, could get by — it wasnt easy but they could — not so for the teenaged widows. Hence the large number of orphans, whibh is rarely mentioned.

    Also one needs to remember that we really didnt have veteran benefits of significance until after WW-II. There was a widows pension but it was a pittance.

    Yes there women who served as nurses — and more than a few who served as soldiers — but the untold story is the widows.

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