1861-2: Unidentified Soldier to Henry Aloysius McGlenen

Unfortunately the identity of the author of these two letters remains unknown. They were advertised as having been written by a Henry McGlennan but the only soldier by this name served in a New York Regiment that wasn’t even formed until August 1862. The author of these two letters signed his name “Mac” which was most likely short for a surname beginning with “Mc.” The content of the letters reveals to us that he also served in the the 1st Massachusetts Infantry; in one of the companies other than A, K, or G. There are some 16 or 17 soldiers on the rosters of the other companies whose name starts with “Mc” but I cannot positively identify the author.

The best clues to the identify of the correspondents come from the final paragraph in the 7 November 1861 letter which reads: “Give my best respects to the Messrs. Farwells, Fred Mills, Whitney, and all the boys.” In studying the 1861 Boston City Directory, we find that “Messrs. Farwells” were John H. and Francis (“Frank”) F. Farwell with a printing business address at 112 Washington Street in Boston. Looking for other Boston residents listing 112 Washington Street as a business address, we find Henry A. McGlenen who was a “printer.” [This was undoubtedly the “Harry” that the author addressed his letters.] We also find that Frederick (“Fred”) Mills (b. 1835) listed 112 Washington Street as his business address and identified himself as a bookkeeper. It seems logical that the author of these letters worked with Harry at the same address, possibly even for or with the Farwell Brothers.

Going back to the 1860 Boston City Directory, we find that the Farwell’s printing business was located in that directory at 5 Lindall Street. We also find that McGlenen and Mills listed 5 Lindall as their business address, confirming their affiliation with the Farwell’s business. There was another individual named Charles T. McKinley, a printer, who listed 5 Lindall as his business address but I do not see a soldier in the 1st Massachusetts by that name.

The recipient of this letter — Henry Aloysius McGlenen (1826-1894) — was identified as a Boston bookkeeper when these letters were written in 1861-2, but he had a more illustrious career than that title might suggest. A biographical sketch for him states: “He was born in Baltimore in 1826 and left school at age 14 to become a printer’s apprentice. He served three years and then went to St. Mary’s college for a time. In 1845 he went to Philadelphia, from there drifting to Norfolk, Va., finally reaching Boston, having worked his way from Norfolk on a sailing vessel. On landing there his assets consisted of a handkerchief full of shirts and 6 cents in cash. He obtained employment as a compositor on The Advertiser.

A year later the Mexican war filled his heart with longing for military glory. The war was unpopular in New-England, and Massachusetts sent but one regiment. One of the companies was composed largely of the young men of Boston and vicinity, and its Captain was Edward Webster, the youngest son of the distinguished statesman. Harry threw up his position and became a volunteer. His brother printers gave him a parting banquet and presented him with a revolver. While stationed at Matamoras he took charge of a local paper, on account of the sickness of the proprietor, and when Vera Cruz was captured he got out a special edition, with an elaborate account of the capture, and sold a big edition at 25 cents a copy.

In 1848 Mr. McGlenen returned to Boston and to newspaper work. Two years later he reported for The Boston Herald, and afterward for The Daily Mail. In 1853 he took the management of The Times job office and began his acquaintance with theatrical and amusement managers. He had charge for a time of the business of Dan Rice’s circus in Boston. For two seasons he managed the affairs of the Marsh children at the Howard, and in 1857 was the recipient of a handsome souvenir for his successful conduct of a concert given in honor of the National Guard of New-York, then on a visit to Boston. In 1857 Mr. McGlenen, with P. S. Gilmore, started the People’s Popular Promenade Concerts. In Sept. 5 of the same year he was given his first benefit. It was in Music Hall. All the bands in the city played in concert, and Master Alfred Stewart of the Marsh children’s company sang the “Marseillaise.”

About this time he did much work for Wyzeman Marshall, then manager of the Howard Athenaeum, and H. C. Jarrett, manager of the Boston Theatre. He retired from the printing business in 1866 and took charge of Parepa Rosa’s concert tour. She was so well please with her manager that she sang twice in Boston for his benefit. He subsequently managed one of Hanlon’s productions at Selwyn’s Theatre so successfully that he was shortly afterward made business manager of that house. He went back to the Boston for a year and then returned to the Globe, (formerly Selwyn’s.) He went back to the Boston in 1871 and had been there every since. While yet a young man he married a young Boston lady of good family — Miss Bruce. There are two sons Edward J., a clerk at the City Hall, and Henry J., engaged in mercantile pursuits.

No individual connected with the amusement world of Boston possessed such an element of popularity as McGlenen. He was a thorough business man, entirely devoted to the interests of the establishment he represented, his clear brain and unusually long experience admirably fitting him for the position he had so long occupied as business manager for the Boston Theatre, one of the largest and best equipped places of amusement in the country. His kindly disposition attracted many friends, all of whom testified their full appreciation of his character in many ways, especially by their attendance at his annual benefit and the hearty welcome accorded him on each occasion.”


Camp Hooker
Doncaster, Maryland
November 7th 1861

Friend Harry,

I received your letter of the 1st inst. which was unexpected — also the post & transcript — and am glad to hear that all are well and that business is so brisk and hope it will ever continue so. I also received several dailies within the last ten days which helped to spend the few leisure hours that I have and always happy to hear of affairs in that good old town.

Well you find by this that we have been on the tramp again and are camped opposite the Rebel batteries at Shipping Point and Quantico Creek, 2 miles from shore to shore where our pickets are concealed. Our camp is about ½ mile from shore. The other regiments are below us but more in the background. The seceshers can shell us from their lower battery on the point. Week ago today we exchanged shots with them. The Rebel steamer George Page made an attempt to come out on the river. When out about 100 yards, our battery opened on her and gave her half dozen before she got out of the way. Their batteries opened on us without doing any damage. They threw a sixty-two pounder conical shell about a mile to the left of us on a line with our camp. He was a “Bully good gunner” for it did not burst. One of our boys went off and picked it up and brought it into camp. One of our gunboats came by the next day and they fired at her. Our boat threw a few shots right in the midst of them and got away. Several small schooners and boats have gone by since and some of our gunboats have passed without being fired at. I don’t think their blockade is effectual as our vessels pass by every night. They have not fired a shot since last Friday.

I have not been on picket so near the enemy since “Bull Run” as I was last night. It was on a point of land about a mile long and within an eighth of a mile of the middle of the river. We always cross over in a boat but it being so rough and blowing a gale at the time, we had to foot it around for 5 miles through mud and water. There was twenty-one of us of our company and we are to continue it for the next eight nights to come. A large gunboat went up the river about 2 o’clock. Our gunboats cruise around here about every night to see that nothing attempts to show on the Rebel side. The steamer George Page is laid up in Quantico Creek as it is useless for her to pay any more visits to this side of the river, they knowing I suppose that they would not receive a very “hearty welcome.”

Well, to say a little of our march and how far it was, we started from Bladensburg Thursday, October 18th, and took the rear of the line. Marched about 12 miles that day with knapsack and all equipments. Of course we being the rear and the line was so long we could not cover much ground.  The next day our march was the same. Our force consisted of Sickles Brigade and our own, a regiment of Indiana cavalry, and three batteries of artillery (Regulars) 18 pieces. The New Hampshire regiment and the Pennsylvania regiment blowed considerable about out doing us on the tramp but on Saturday the 20th, we got the order to take the head of the line for some of us had to be here by night. We also were short of rations, not having any for 24 hours. Well, to go on, we started about 7 o’clock A. M. and struck on our original gait. I guess we give the New Hampshire and Pennsylvania regiments a (“Hiper”) to keep up with us as nothing was seen of them 2 hours. After we marched till 7 o’clock P. M., a distance of 30 miles, and from 3 o’clock till 7 was the toughest march we had since we left Boston without having a single halt. Nothing was seen of the other regiments till the next day (Sunday) when they came by our camp at noon. So New Hampshire and Pennsylvania gave in to us on the tramp. It rained about an hour in the evening and we had to lay outside, there being no other shelter than the broad canopy of heaven.

We expect to be paid off soon and I hear that Mayor [Joseph Milner] Wightman is coming here. If so, I will send some money by him. I have not much more to say as it is time to get ready for picket. Give my best respects to the Messrs. Farwells, Fred Mills, Whitney, and all the boys. Also I send you [my] best [regards] and hope to see you all soon.

Yours truly, — Mac



Camp Hooker
Doncaster, Maryland
March 13th [1862]

Friend Harry,

As it is some time since I last wrote to you, I thought I would write you a few lines as I have some important news to write you.

The Rebels have all vamoosed from the other side of the river. The blockade is all knocked in the head. The first sign we had of their evacuation was last Sunday afternoon. The gunboat Anecosta came down slowly near the Virginia shore and commenced shelling the Rebel batteries without any reply. As soon as she made her appearance, the whole shore for some miles was fire and smoke from the successive explosions of magazines and forts which did not cease till next morning.

About 5 o’clock in the afternoon (Sunday) 50 men from our regiment from each company under command of Capt. [Edward Augustus] Wild went over in a barge and with half dozen boat crews from the gunboats landed at the Shipping Point Battery and found the place entirely deserted and everything in an explosive state. It was dangerous landing at the time but they succeeded in saving several of the magazines and guns as well as the whole place for four or five miles which was all afire, the steamer Gen. Page blew up [and] also three schooners.

The next morning at 4 o’clock, our regiment crossed the river with the gunboats to assist us for fear of a trick being played on us and landed at the Shipping Point Battery and planted our colors. The first object of interest that took my eye was my friend (Jake) standing on top of an earthwork with a rifle and cutlass on the lookout. You can imagine what transpired at our first meeting since we left Boston. Jakes looks well and makes a good appearance for a Jack Tar. We had not time for a converse as it was all work. Some of our boys relieved the Tars from their duty and Jake had to go aboard of his boat. We then set to work getting out ammunition and stores. They must have left in great haste as they left most everything behind them. Companies A, K, & G were sent out scouting for some miles but found no trace of the enemy. They captured five prisoners — one a Texan Ranger who had come back to rob the sutler of one of the camps thinking we were not around there as he was much surprised. They discovered many camps and everything was left but what a soldier could carry.

From what information we could find was that the Rebels had retreated to Fredericksburg on down to the Rappahannock River fearing an attack in the rear and from being cut off. At any rate, it is mysterious to us what is going on as we receive hardly any papers, the news being all suppressed. The mail has not been regular the last three weeks. We expect to make a move now if ever. Where I could not say but very soon.

We crossed back to our camp again arriving about 12 o’clock at night. Next morning we went over again and went through the same work as there is plenty to do there for a fortnight. Our company did not get a sight yet to go on the scout. While Company K was out they came to a small village where it looked as if they left with great panic. The first home they came to the supper was on the table and it looked as if they got up and left it. Stores were left open and their goods in it. They went through the place well and took all valuables they could find. When we have the forts and magazines cleaned out, we expect to take a tramp around to see what is going on. The companies on the scout got a great many trophies. We had no chance as we had the rough work to do. If we do, I will remember you.

One of the prisoners said they left there for to trap us and was going to make another Ball’s Bluff again but we didn’t see it by the way they left there. Ten contrabands with a white shirt on the top of a pole for a flag of truce came down and  “gub emselves up.” It was an amusing scene. We brought them over to camp with us. Two regiments of the Jersey Brigade went over to the Cockpit Point Battery and met with great success. They went to Dumfrees — a town about 5 miles inland — and said the stars and stripes was waving over the court house.

It is reported Manassas is evacuated. We heard heavy firing in that direction this morning. At any rate, I think secession is about played out — or it soon will be. Navigation is very thick on the river the last two days. Upwards of fifty steamers went up to Washington. I made an error in stating our new Brigadier General’s name in my last letter. It is Neagly.

I sent you a roll of the company in my last letter. If you got it, send it on as soon as you can. If not, let me know in your next. I send a secesh envelope with this letter and it is the same paper as most of their shinplasters is made of. I must draw to a close as it is rather late and I feel like taking a nap. Remember me to all the boys once more and to the messrs. F.

I remain as ever, truly yours, — Mac

Direct as before. Write soon




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