Sixth Massachusetts Regiment

"The Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers Leaving Jersey City R. R. Depot, to Defend the Capitol, at Washington, D C. [sic],  April 18th, 1861."
Unknown Artist
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
April 30, 1861


The Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts, nine hundred strong, under the command of Col. Jones, were attacked in Baltimore on their way to Washington. Two of the soldiers were killed, some were wounded in the head arms and legs. On arriving here these were marched into the Capitol and immediately occupied the Senate Chamber. I was on my way home when they were marching from the depot to the Capitol and was stopped by one of the Capitol police who was sent to inform me that the Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts wanted to get in the Senate Chamber. I had the keys in my pocket. I returned and as soon as I reached the Senate they marched up to the door and I had the pleasure of being the first to welcome them to the Capitol. They occupied the Senate, galleries, and adjoining rooms. The col. made the Vice President’s Room his headquarters. They looked tired I saw blood running down their faces. Their clothes were full of dust. Everything was done that could be for their comfort. The 19 of April 1861 I never will forget.

The Ellsworth Regiment Fireman Zouaves of New York occupied the Senate Chamber immediately after the Massachusetts left for the South. On the next morning as I entered the Senate I heard a noise as if someone was splitting wood. I looked over on the Democratic side of the Chamber and behold there was a crowd [of] soldiers with their bayonets cutting one of the desks to pieces. I hollered at the top of my voice, “Stop. What are you doing?” Several answered, “We are cutting that damn traitor’s desk to pieces.” I ran in among them and told them it was not his desk, that it belonged to the government. “You were put here to protect, and not to destroy.” They stopped immediately and said I was right, they thought it belonged to Jefferson Davis. Some of the soldiers put pieces in their knapsacks to carry home for relics.

When [the] Ellsworth Fireman Zouaves left the Capitol for Virginia, I found in the Vice President’s Room an old opera glass and one of the Zouaves’ rifle, which I now have in my possession. (Ellsworth occupied the Vice President’s Room as his headquarters.)

When the soldiers occupied the Capitol I saw them bring arms full of bacon and hams throw them down on the floor of the Marble Room, and had to caution them not to grease the marble walls.

All the cooking was down under the terrace in the vaults where the coal and ashes were kept. [21B8H-21B8M]

Editor's Note:

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was mustered into federal service and rushed to Washington, DC, which was weakly defended and just across the Potomac River from Confederate territory. As the regiment marched through Baltimore, it was attacked by a violent mob, which had been angered by press reports that the government would use military force if necessary to prevent Maryland from joining the Confederacy. Four soldiers and 12 civilians died, and 36 soldiers were wounded in the melee.

People, Places, & Things:

  • Baltimore - Baltimore, Maryland is situated about 40 miles northeast of Washington, DC.
  • Vice President’s Room - As president of the Senate, the vice president of the United States has an office in the Capitol, just outside the Senate Chamber.
  • Ellsworth Regiment - Named for Elmer Ellsworth, commander of the unit.
  • Zouaves - Soldiers who wore colorful uniforms inspired by French North African troops, and who were known for their precision in military drills.
  • Democratic Side - The custom of dividing Senate seating by party goes back to the creation of political parties in the United States, but has not always been rigidly followed. In the Old Senate Chamber an equal number of desks were placed on each side of the center aisle, requiring a few members to sit across from the rest of their party. Since 1877, however, the practice has developed of moving desks back and forth across the aisle to permit all members of each party to sit on the appropriate side.
  • Jefferson Davis (Democrat - MS) U.S. senator 1847-1851 and 1857-1861. He is perhaps best known as president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
  • Marble Room - Constructed as part of the 1850s Capitol extension, the Marble Room is adjacent to the current Senate Chamber, just off the Senate Lobby.