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Abbott, Henry Livermore
HENRY LIVERMORE ABBOTT. Second Lieutenant 20th Mass. Vols. (Infantry), July 10, 1861; First Lieutenant, November 8, 1861; Captain, August 29, 1862; Major, May 1, 1863; Brevet Colonel, May 6, 1864; Brevet Brigadier-General, May 6, 1864; killed at the battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864. HENRY LIVERMORE ABBOTT, Major of the Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, fell, mortally wounded, while commanding his regiment, in the battle of the Wilderness, on Friday, May 6, 1864, at the age of twenty-two years. He was the second son of Hon. Josiah G. and Caroline (Livermore) Abbott, and was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on the 2Ist of January, 1842. He entered Harvard College at an unusually early age, and graduated in the Class of 1860. While in College he gave a good deal of time to athletic sports, both in the open air and in the Gymnasium, and to miscellaneous reading. His mind was already of an active, inquiring turn, and he gave occasional proofs of such acuteness of intellect, and of such capacity in argument, combined with modesty and firmness, as led his classmates to entertain high expectations of his future distinction. His cheerful, amiable, and genial disposition, and his frank and courteous manners, made him a very general favorite. He began to study law as soon as he left college, and he was so occupied when the Rebellion broke out in the spring of 1861. He immediately joined the Fourth Battalion of Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, as a private, and served with it for one month at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor. In July of the same year he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant upon the recommendation of Captain Bartlett, and attached to his company of the Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. While the regiment was in camp in Readville, Massachusetts, his rapid progress in learning his duties, and his extreme assiduity in performing them, attracted the favorable notice of his superior officers. It was observed particularly that he was patient and untiring in his efforts to teach his men the importance and dignity of the duties of sentinels. From the commencement to the close of his military career, his high estimate of this honorable function of the soldier was one of his distinguishing traits. He went with his regiment to the field in September, 1861, and on the march and in camp did faithfully all that fell to him to do. He was present at the battle of Ball's Bluff, and bore himself manfully all through that trying day. He was one of the five officers who assisted Captain Bartlett, at the close of the engagement, in the difficult and dangerous exploit of causing a crazy boat to make sixteen trips by night across the Potomac, thereby saving eighty men from captivity. He remained with Captain Bartlett and Captain Tremlett on the Virginia shore while the men were crossing, and crossed with those officers in the last trip. His regiment suffered heavily in officers as well as men in the affair of Ball's Bluff; and some officers who ranked him, sent in their resignations at about the same time. It thus happened that the young Second Lieutenant came into command of his company before he had been many weeks in the field; and by a singular chain pf circumstances, he was never transferred from it, and continued to command it till he became Major of the regiment. In camp at Poolesville, Maryland, where his regiment passed the winter of 1861-62, Lieutenant Abbott was distinguished for regularity and precision in the discharge of his duties, for attentive care of his men, and for promptness and accuracy in every matter of battalion drill. He had great fondness for the study of tactics, and natural aptness for it, and he rapidly attained an unusual mastery of the school of the battalion. He was one of the very few officers of the Twentieth who did not apply for leave to go home in the first winter of the war. He was with his regiment in the valley of the Shenandoah in March, 1862, and went with it to the Penin sula at the beginning of the following month. He bore his full share of the fatigues and exposures of the siege of Yorktown, and always had his company in the best condition, and held it ready for duty at the shortest notice. On one occasion, when his regiment was engaged in supporting an engineer reconnoissance before the enemy's "One Gun Battery," he displayed a gallantry and a control of his men which will long live in the memory of those who were looking on. He was present with his regiment at the battle of West Point, where the command was not actively engaged. On the 3ist of May, when the lamented Sedgwick met and crushed, with ten regiments of his division, the left of the enemy, as it swung round the beaten left wing of our army at Fair Oaks, Lieutenant Abbott commanded and fought his company with the brilliant bravery which was always afterwards his acknowledged characteristic. He shared with his men the fatigues and anxieties, the hard marching and hard fighting, of the Seven Days; and at Glendale, on the 3oth of June, while cheering and directing his men with voice and gesture, in a peculiarly exposed and trying position, he was shot through the arm which held his outstretched sword. But his wound did not dispose him to leave the field. He continued to command his company till the end of that sharp action, and commanded it again the next day at Malvern Hill. When our weary army reached the James River, he went home by direction of the surgeons, but he came back to his post before his wound was fairly healed. His absence was felt by officers and men in a way which showed their deep sense of his worth. The march across the Peninsula was a peculiar episode of the war. It brought officers and men very closely together. Fatigue and anxiety pressed heavily upon both body and mind, and the strain was such that those who bore it well, and as Lieutenant Abbott bore it, were recognized as of the truest temper. A few days after his return he received the news of the death of his brother Edward, senior captain of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, who was killed at the sanguinary and disastrous battle of Cedar Mountain on the 9th of August. The brothers had grown up together; they had gone to school together; and at college they had been classmates and roommates. The difference in their ages was less than sixteen months. The tie that united them had been very close, and the survivor mourned bitterly for the gallant brother whom he had lost. Lieutenant Abbott marched with the army from Harrison's Landing down the Peninsula to Yorktown and Newport News. At the latter place his brigade was embarked and carried to Alexandria. He was with it on the march towards Centreville and at the battle of Chantilly, and while it covered, last of all the infantry, the retreat of Pope. In the Maryland campaign he was seized with typhoid fever, and obliged to quit the field for a while. He soon returned to his regiment, and was with it on the 11th of December, 1862, when it cleared the main street of Fredericksburg. The Twentieth was most conspicuous that day, as it was the only regiment engaged in the street fight. It crossed the river in boats, and formed under the bank of the farther shore. Then it advanced, in column by company, up the main street leading from the river. Abbott (then captain) led the column, with his company of sixty men divided into platoons. The fire of the unseen enemy was extremely hot, and the men fell fast. Captain Abbott displayed the noblest courage on this worst of days. He fought his company till night ended the carnage. He lost thirty-five of his sixty men in this affair, which lasted only two hours and a half. The strain was as hard as troops can have to bear, because they could not see their enemy, and because the regiments ordered to support their advance, by moving up on the right and left, could not be made to go forward; and the Twentieth advanced alone, and fell in heaps under a fire that came from every house, from garret to cellar, upon their front and both their flanks. The officer commanding the brigade, in his official report of this day, after stating that he ordered the Twentieth to clear the street at all hazards, used the following language: "I cannot presume to express all that is due to officers and men of the Twentieth Regiment for the unflinching bravery and splendid discipline shown in the execution of this order. Platoon after platoon was swept away, but the head of the column did not falter. Ninety-seven officers and men were killed and wounded in the space of about fifty yards." In the great attack of December i3th the Twentieth had the extreme right of our line, and advanced on the enemy's works under an enfilading fire of artillery, till it approached the rifle-pits, when a withering fire of musketry was opened upon it. The conduct*of the regiment in this exposed position was so admirable that it received strong commendation in the official report, - commendation the more noteworthy, as it contrasted their steadiness with the wavering and ultimate retreat of neighboring regiments, which were unable to bear the tremendous fire to which they were subjected. Captain Abbott, in this attack, was in command on the extreme right, and he and the regiment met with a heavy loss, for his valued lieutenant, Alley, was shot dead. Sixty men fell in this attack, making one hundred and fifty-seven of the three hundred and seven which the regiment numbered when it crossed the river. When General Hooker commenced the movement which led to the battle of Chancellorsville, in May, 1863, General Sedgwick caused his command, the Sixth Corps, with the Second Division of the Second Corps, to cross below Fredericksburg. Thus the Twentieth, which belonged to the Second Division, came once more under the orders of the gallant soldier who commanded that division all through the Peninsular campaign and at Antietam. Abbott was with his regiment in all the movements made by General Sedgwick, and marched with it through the streets of Fredericksburg, passing the graves of the many gallant soldiers of his company who fell there in the previous December. He saw the storming of Marye's Heights, and was with his regiment all the long 4th of May, when the brigade of which it formed part deployed as skirmishers, and, covering a front of nearly five miles, alone held the city of Fredericksburg, and held it till the following morning, when the troops recrossed the river. In the forced marches which preceded the battle of Gettysburg, Abbott displayed the greatest efficiency in checking the evil of straggling. It was largely owing to his exertions that his regiment arrived on the field without the loss of a single man. In the bitter fighting which followed, he was of the faithful few who first checked and finally repulsed the fierce onslaught of Pickett's division of Longstreet's corps. The artillery of the enemy was massed in front of the Second Corps, and the concentrated fire of -more than one hundred guns was poured upon it for two hours.. Then came the majestic advance of their infantry. Regardless of the gaps made in their ranks by the fire of our artillery, they moved steadily forward. The fire of our infantry was reserved till the faces of the enemy could be distinctly seen. Then Lieutenant-Colonel Macy, commanding the Twentieth, opened a fire which was so rapid and well-directed that the enemy in front broke sand scattered. They rallied to the right of the position of the Twentieth, and there the collected masses, looking like an acre of men, made a desperate rush, and effected a partial lodgement in the line. Then came the very tug of war. Troops from the right and left, the Twentieth among the latter, hurried to the spot, and formed a half-circle round the gap into which the enemy was pushing. The colors of the Northern regiments and the battle-flags of the Southern troops waved thickly in this valley of death. Northern and Southern soldiers fought gallantly and fell thickly here, and the victory was with us. Few of the Southern troops who charged our lines got safely back. Of those who were not killed, the majority threw down their arms, hopeless of retreating safely under our fire. In a letter written in the following September by Abbott to Captain Mason, one of the best officers of the Twentieth, who was disabled by a wound received in this engagement, the following passage occurs: — " In the midst of the execution of the order to form line to the right, I looked round and saw several companies on the centre and left going to the rear. I immediately suspected the truth, that the order had been misunderstood to be one to go to the rear, with the object of forming a new line not outflanked by the Rebels, who had occasioned the first order by breaking in and putting to flight the gunners some few rods on our right..... I knew that one's voice could not be heard, but that an example could be seen. So I immediately rushed at the head of my company to the critical spot, and got there just in time, for there was hardly a soul there, and several Rebels were already over the fence, and their masses were thick close behind it. Two thirds of my company were killed or wounded here. But reinforcements shortly arrived. Our regiment soon reformed line under Macy; but he was shot just as they marched, in perfect order, up to the critical spot. Their gallantry here is attested by the number killed, - one third as many as the wounded. Most of our dead were found at this spot close to the Rebel lines." The close of this action found Abbott in command of his regiment, with two officers only to assist him. Colonel Revere had received his death-wound the day before, Lieutenant Colonel Macy had lost a hand; and of the ten officers and two hundred and eighteen men who went into action, but three officers and one hundred and sixteen men remained unhurt. When the Army of the Potomac fell back to the neighborhood of Warrenton, in October, 1863, the Second Corps formed the rear-guard, and did much marching and some fighting. Abbott (then major) was at that time in command of the Twentieth. As the Second Division, to which the Twentieth had been attached from the beginning of its history, approached Bristoe Station, on the 14th of October, the enemy, in line of battle, were seen sweeping down upon the flank of the marching column. They were advancing in three lines, as at Gettysburg, and extremely near, and the movement was so sudden and unexpected, that the position was critical in the extreme. But the troops preserved their presence of mind, and promptly threw themselves behind the railroad embankment, parallel to which they had been marching. The advance of the enemy was magnificent, but their repulse was terrible. Major Abbott waited till they were within a few paces, and then delivered a fire that crushed the line in his front. The regiments on his right and left were equally successful. The enemy, who belonged to the corps of A.' P. Hill, fell back, leaving their dead and wounded on the ground, and our men, following them up, seized five guns and brought them off. Two of them, the first that were taken, were secured by a company of Abbott's command. Abbott was present with his regiment at Mine Run, at the close of November in the same year. His regiment, deployed as skirmishers, and covering the front of the whole division, there drove in the enemy's line of skirmishers so rapidly that they did not stop to reload after their first fire. The following morning his regiment took its place in the great storming column. The work before them was known to be awful. For eight hours they bore the terrible suspense of expectation, to the suffering of which every soldier knows that actual battle brings unspeakable relief,-and then learned that the attempt would not be made. At the battle of the Wilderness, on the 6th of May, 1864, his regiment was taken into action by its colonel. The division was sent forward at about seven, A. M., to support General Birney, who was then pressed hard by Longstreet. Major Abbott was second in command, and rode on the flank of his battalion with a cheerful look. It was remarked of him at the moment, that he rode into the fight with a smile on his face. The battle raged very fiercely, and the dense trees turned white as the streams of bullets stripped them of their bark. Colonel Macy fell, and was carried to the rear. The command devolved upon Major Abbott, who was still unhurt. An advance was ordered, and he was gallantly leading on his faithful veterans, when a bullet struck him down, and he also was borne to the rear, mortally wounded. He survived for a few hours. His devotion to his men was shown in his last suffering moments, by a direction that all the money he left should be used for the relief of widows and orphans of soldiers of his regiment. It is shown by this brief record that Major Abbott had been present at almost every one of the considerable battles of the Army of the Potomac. Clasps and medals cover the breasts of many European soldiers who have never approached the merit of his services. Many European generals die in bed, at a good old age, who have never had more than a fraction of his experience of marching and fighting. The worth of military service is to be estimated, not by rank or length of years, but by the extent and variety of dangers bravely faced, and the amount of good done. Judged by this standard, Major Abbott deserves a very high place among the heroes of the war. At an age when most men are completing their education, or serving their apprenticeship to their future calling, this young veteran was wisely forming and bravely leading soldiers. That his rank was no higher when he fell was owing only to his youth, and to his humble grade on entering the service; but it is safe to say, that more than half our generals could have been better spared by our country and our army than this remarkable officer. He had been in so many bloody battles, and so often stood unharmed, hour after hour, in the midst of his brave men as they fell in heaps, that it seemed as if there were really ground for hoping that he was reserved to render his country the same rare services on a large scale that he had long been rendering on a comparatively small one. His company was always the pride of the regiment. Composed of brave and intelligent men, mostly natives of Nantucket and Cape Cod, commanded at first by the brilliant soldier whom our people now admire as Brevet Major-General Bartlett, with Brevet Major-General Macy and Major Abbott as his lieutenants, it constantly bore the highest reputation, and rendered the most gallant and efficient service. It gave to the regiment from its ranks the lamented Alley and four excellent officers besides. The soldiers were worthy of their officers, and the officers were worthy of their men. Major Abbott was long in command of his regiment, at different times; and the high tone which he inculcated, the discipline he maintained, and the instruction he imparted, combined, with its gallantry in action, of which he offered so bright an example, to give it the name of having no superior in the Army of the Potomac. His merit was appreciated wherever he was known, and his reputation was spreading in the army. He was recognized throughout his corps as a model commander; and that corps was the sturdy Second, which was reported long after his death to be the only corps in the army which never had lost a gun or a color. General Sedgwick, who knew him well, declared with emphasis that he was "a wonderfully good soldier"; and his division commander, General Gibbon, pronounced his military services and ability to be of the highest order, and declared that in him he had lost the best regimental officer in his division. The knowledge of his extraordinary merit had even reached General Meade, under whose immediate command he had never served; and when he heard of Abbott's death, he turned to General Grant, and spoke of the departed in strong terms of praise and regret. His corps commander, General Hancock, in a letter written nearly ten months after his death, used the following language:" He was perhaps more widely known in the army than any officer of equal rank, and was an officer of great promise..... His reputation was built upon a solid foundation, and the closest scrutiny could not diminish it..... Had Major Abbott lived,.... and continued in the profession of arms, he would have been one of our most distinguished commanders." From the beginning of the war to his death, Major Abbott was a diligent student of his profession. His mind was well adapted for grasping and for retaining its principles and its details. He made himself thoroughly familiar with the school of the soldier, of the company, and of the battalion, and with the army regulations and the articles of war. He informed himself, by methodical reading, of the military systems of other nations, and was constantly adding to his knowledge of the great campaigns of history, especially of those of Napoleon. He took especial delight in tactics. He loved to think about movements, and to talk about them, and found great pleasure in discussing difficult questions, and in seeking to discover the simplest and most rapid methods of putting troops into every position which the chances of war might make desirable. He saw troops more clearly with his mind's eye than most men with the eye of the flesh, and he maneuvered them rapidly and accurately in fancy. His perfect familiarity with all such matters gave him a singular command of his men. It was his habit to form his line in places where there seemed hardly more than room for the men to stand, and then to drill them in battalion movements, with such ingenuity and precision and nice calculation of distance, that men collected from all the neighboring camps to look on and wonder. He would also sometimes draw up his battalion as a brigade, and drill it skilfully in evolutions of the line. He devised some very rapid and beautiful movements, executed by breaking ranks and re-forming on the colors. He taught his men to perform these movements so perfectly, that at a review of the Second Corps, in April, 1864, in presence of General Hancock, General Meade, and General Grant, he won great applause by causing his regiment to break from the line, change front in any direction at a run, and to form square from line at a run, and commence firing from every front as fast as each man took his place. These movements were not mere embroideries, - pleasing at parade, useless under fire. Besides the general advantage of teaching officers and men to be rapid, ready, and precise in every movement, they had the particular and practical advantage of being serviceable in action. Probably none but a steady and high-disciplined regiment could be trusted with the execution of such movements under fire; but in the surging, swaying battle of the Wilderness, where flanks were constantly exposed and turned, the Twentieth repeatedly changed front by breaking ranks and re-forming at a run on the colors. They thus had the triple advantage of rapidity, and of exposing to the enemy no company flank, and no rear of a marching company. Major Abbott was the strictest of diciplinarians. His care of his men, his regularity in the discharge of his duty, and his justice, were so well understood that he seldom had occasion to be severe; but his men knew perfectly well that he never hesitated to be severe if the occasion called for it. He compelled his men to exercise the most scrupulous cleanliness, not only in their arms, equipments, and uniforms, but in their persons. He was careful of their health in every way. He never grew careless about routine matters, as so many able officers do. He was always prompt at his roll-calls, regular and thorough in his inspections. The rifles of his men were kept in a condition that would appear incredible in description. His early regard to the performance of the duties of sentinels never left him. In his last camp, near Brandy Station, when the third year of the war was nearing its end, he was as attentive to this matter as if his men had everything to learn. It was his daily habit closely to supervise the inspection of his camp guard, and to catechize the whole guard in their duties before they marched on. His strict discipline, his perfect familiarity with his duties, and his conspicuous gallantry, made his men respect and prize him. His readiness to share all their privations and exposures and fatigues, his watchful care over them, his gentleness and cheeriness as he moved among them when off duty, his sympathetic letters to the families of those who suffered, filled them with the truest and best affection that soldiers can feel for their officers. He never gave his men any unnecessary work, never worried them in any way. He was never nervous, never gloomy, and never permitted any gloomy talk within his hearing. His men "thought everything of him," and well they might. The hardships of a soldier's life are almost immeasurably lightened to those who serve under such an officer. An army officered by such men would be irresistible. What bound can we set to our regret and mourning for such a man? Major Abbott's character was one of singular maturity and completeness. He was as free from petty vices as he was conspicuous for capacity and fearlessness. The forced inaction and monotony of winter quarters or hot summer camps never tempted him to dissipation in any form. He did everything in his power to put a stop to profanity and card-playing among his men. He set the example of every virtue he strove to inculcate. It is hardly necessary to add, that those guilty of drunkenness always felt the weight of his heaviest displeasure, for, next to cowardice, nothing is so destructive to the soldier as drunkenness. He won the love of his brother officers as completely as he did the devotion of his men. Their affection and their admiration went hand in hand. He was always helpful, always ready to relieve any comrade of whatever work might press too heavily upon him. The effervescence of youth had quite departed from him, and left in its place the clear spirit of a generous, mature, and vigorous manhood. He had far more esprit du corps than was usual in our army. He was perfectly devoted to his regiment always; and to his company, while he was a company officer. He declined promotion at first, rather than be transferred from his company, and he never left it till he rose to the rank of a field-officer. No temptation could induce him to leave his regiment to perform the easier and safer and more agreeable duties of the staff. It was wonderful to see the effects of his influence in giving high tone to the men who rose from the ranks to be officers. His example was copied, his instructions were heeded, and a band of gallant, true, accomplished officers was formed around him, to take the places of the many who had gone beyond the shining river, and to sustain and extend the reputation of his steady regiment. In the correspondence that he has left, - "Those fallen leaves that keep their green, The noble letters of the dead," may be found constant proofs of the remarkable qualities of his mind and heart. His letters are wonderful productions for so young a man; for besides showing the warmth of his attachments, the freshness of his sympathies, the clearness of his views, the strength of his convictions, and all the manliness and modesty of the man, they show his pride in his regiment and his sensitiveness to its honor, the extent of his knowledge of military principles and military history, the vigor of his thought, the extent to which his mind was occupied with the consideration of the largest military problems, and the great advances he had found time to make while becoming a consummate master of tactics, into the wilder domain of strategy. Such, and more and better than he has been described, was the young veteran, whose last day on earth began with furious battle, of which he, the survivor of so many battles, was not to see the end. His body was sent to Massachusetts and buried in the cemetery of his native city, beside the remains of his brother Edward. On the lid of his coffin were engraved the words, Sans jeur et sans reproche. Two years have passed since the fearless, blameless young soldier fought his last fight. The cruel war is over; Peace sits once more under her olive; and the time has come when, in the fields of Virginia, "Agricola, incurvo terram molitus aratro, Exesa inveniet scabra rubigine pila.... Grandiaque effossis mirabitur ossa sepulcris." The drum no longer beats the roll-calls of the Twentieth; the smoke of battle no longer envelops its brave officers and sergeants and privates; its colors, torn and stained, are safely fixed in the rotunda of the State Capitol. The memory of the horrors of the war is passing from our minds and hearts, but it is not so with the memory of those whom we learned in those dark days to prize the highest. There are many hearts which will not cease to cherish the memory of Henry Abbott so long as memory holds her seat. Those who knew him knew that his growth in the last four years of his life was almost beyond belief. His career, short as it was, was long enough to prove that his early death deprived his country of one of its most faithful and most precious champions, his State of one of its most worthy sons, his companions in arms of an associate beyond praise. No name holds such a place as his in the hearts of the surviving officers and soldiers of his regiment. And so long as the American people shall rejoice in the blessings which the war was waged to secure, so long will their best gratitude be due to those who were so faithful and efficient in their service as he.