You have no idea.
The strange thing is that most of the names of the men Hull sent to fight are not from Hull. That fact is a badge of honor for the community. There was no way that our forebears on this little peninsula could have sent that many men to fight from Hull. In those days, in 1861, when the call went out for troops, Hull’s population was around 285 people. That number includes men, women, children, the elderly, most of whom could not go off and fight. Then there were the few who would not go off and fight. Of the 145 males in town, only 18 were between 18 and 25.
Some did. George T, Augustus, fisherman, joined the 47th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, as did James Lowe and Louis G. Sirovich, another fisherman. Ansel Pratt Loring, a storekeeper, joined the 47th and never came back, shot and killed while on picket duty on the Mississippi River. Dwight Beals, a farmer, survived the war. James Cleverly didn’t return, and neither did Nathanial V. Hooper, technically listed from Boston. Hooper, the son of the lighthouse keeper of Narrows Light, which no longer stands on the end of the spit coming off Great Brewster Island, died in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862.
The rest? Lewis B. Abbott, 38th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, was a pile driver in Boston. John Crotty was a trader from Roxbury; George O. Lee, a clerk from Haverhill.
So who were these men and why are they on the Hull monument? The goal was to send troops to fight, and if a community didn’t have the manpower – literally, in those days – they could pay for it and be in line with the demand. In short, Hull raised the money to pay for the soldiers to fight, when they knew they could never reach the local quota due to the local dearth of able-bodied young men. Hull provided soldiers who were credited to the town, and therefore ended up on the monument.
Hull’s own Civil War story is therefore somewhat different from that of most towns. The reason Hull’s population was so small was the American Revolution. Most families had fled and never come back. In 1825, the population was only about 125 people. The 285 or so living in town in 1861 represented more than 100% growth in a quarter century. Still, by that time there was no Nantasket Avenue, there was no train. Hull was mostly comprised of a small settlement at the end of the peninsula bracketed by hills that protected a common green that was flooded from time to time by a natural spring to form a pond that froze over in winter. The drums of war could be heard from Fort Warren, but they were drowned out by the knitting needles of the Ladies Aid Society sewing socks for soldiers on the way to fight for the Union.
The Hull Historical Society has in its collection an interesting image of Civil War soldiers in uniform. While it would be difficult to determine who exactly they are, we can make some simple general deductions. The picture was supposedly taken in Hull. That is certainly possible. And while Hull hardly had enough young men in uniform gathered in one place at one time – they wouldn’t have their uniforms while living here in town, anyway – there were garrisons nearby. Fort Warren on Georges Island was crawling with Union soldiers, and more were on Long Island. The harbor was an embarkation point, meaning soldiers massed there in great numbers for transport south to join the war.
Why would soldiers be over here in Hull, then? The key may be in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture. The soldiers are wearing ice skates. Where in Boston Harbor would there be a pond on which to skate? Straits Pond? Too far from the heart of the action when one considers transportation was by horse and carriage, and there was a huge sand hole at the base of Strawberry Hill to work around. But there was that little pond in Hull Village, just over a mile from Georges Island by boat, where soldiers could skate.
We celebrate Memorial Day today because of the Civil War, and because of the families of lost Confederate soldiers who honored their dead on what they called “Decoration Day.” By the middle of the 1870s, the steamer Rose Standish was running special trips from Boston to Hull for Decoration Day, but more for the chance to enjoy the good weather by the beach at the end of May rather than in commemoration of the town’s lost soldiers. The tourism economy that would grow out of the Industrial Revolution had begun for Hull. By the end of the decade, the Boston papers still used “Memorial Day” and “Decoration Day” interchangeably, and the war was still quite fresh in the minds of the locals. In March of 1878, The Boston Post reported that the Confederate blockade runner Florida would either be broken up in Hull or on Apple Island, now a part of Logan Airport.
Memorial Day would grow with each passing year and each passing war. But it’s thanks to images like the one featured with this article that we can remember that it all started with the War Between the States, and that the war, in many small ways, passed right through this peninsula we call home. Such is the power of an image when it is donated by a local resident and preserved by a local historical society to keep stories alive more than a century into the future.