Hingham Sailors in the Civil War: Where the Wild Winds Swept Them

In August 1862, three young Hingham men enlisted in the U.S. Navy. At the Charlestown Navy Yard, they were issued uniforms and entered into the record: Benjamin Jones, twenty-nine, hazel eyes, dark hair; George Merritt, twenty-one, blue eyes, brown hair; Henry Trowbridge, twenty-one, blue eyes, light hair. Ranked as landsmen, they will earn $13 a month.1

Trowbridge Henry NavalRec 1862 copy

U.S. Navy, Enlistments at Boston in 1862.  Henry Trowbridge of Hingham.

The war was in its second year. The month before President Lincoln had put out an urgent call for additional troops, and the town had rallied to meet its quota. On July 25, 1862, the Hingham Journal printed a powerful appeal that included increased bounties:

Within days of the newspaper notice, our three Hingham Centre boys enlisted, and the village must have been a hive of activity as family and friends gathered to wish the young men well. Benjamin and Henry were first cousins and related to George through the old Massachusetts families.

098665501After several months of training in the north, the three young men left for the sounds of North Carolina aboard the USS Hetzel, a side-wheel steamer, chartered to maintain blockades on southern ports. In North Carolina, they transferred to the gunboat USS Louisiana, “five guns,”2 whose mission was to intercept blockade runners and support ground troops. The ship was crowded and damp, the weather humid and, in addition to the enemy, sailors fought the plethora of diseases that haunted ships. At some time that winter, George Merritt got sick. Suffering from intense fevers and chills, he was moved to a hospital in North Carolina. On February 7, 1863, he died of “swamp fever” and was buried “from the hospital.”2

George Merritt II

Hingham Civil War Monument, Hingham Cemetery

A letter or telegram carried the news north. Adding to his parents’ grief was the fact their son was buried so far from home. They would eventually place a memorial headstone in the First Parish Cemetery in Norwell,and George’s name would be inscribed on the Civil War Monument erected by the town after the war. The publication produced for the monument’s dedication, details his service and asks: “Is his sleep less sweet in the land where the wild wind swept him, than if soothed to rest at home, and kin and friends had wept him?”2

Benjamin and Henry remained aboard the USS Louisiana through the winter, and in April 1863, they took part in the sea and land battle at Washington, North Carolina. In August, their service complete, they were discharged and “granted passage home.”2 It must have been a subdued homecoming—of the three young sailors who had left the year before, only two came home. And Henry was ill. The Hingham Journal reports the homecoming:

September 4.

Henry Trowbridge has been confined to his father’s residence with fever, is getting better. Benjamin Jones has enjoyed good health since his return from the U.S. gunboat Louisiana, which were blockading Washington, N.C. The young and noble Merritt was one of the three from here in their company; his bones now rest on Southern soil, but his soul is in heaven.

At war’s end, Henry went to work with his father in a meat market in Hingham Centre. He married, moved out of his parent’s house on School Street, and built a house at the corner of Pleasant and Union streets. After the untimely death of his wife, Mary Ordway Trowbridge, he married Hannah Ferris, an Irish immigrant, and had five children. In addition to rebuilding the house at 51 Pleasant Street after it burned to the ground, he built two houses on Union Street, the one at 11 Union survives. Throughout his long life, he lived to be 87 years old, he was involved in the work of US Grand Army of the Republic post, which Civil War veterans started after the war.  When he died in 1930, he was remembered as “one of the oldest GAR men in the State.”4

Henry Trowbridge age 21

Henry Trowbridge, age 21. Hand-tinted dagurreotype from family collection.

Footnotes

  1. “United States Naval Enlistment Rendezvous, 1855–1891,” NARA microfilm publication M1953. Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. Henry Trowbridge, Benjamin L. Jones, George H. Merritt, Aug 1862. FamilySearch. Web. Author note: Henry and George were actually both 20, not 21 as indicated in the records.
  2. Burr, Fearing, George Lincoln, The Town of Hingham in the Late Civil War. Includes biographical information Benjamin Jones, pp. 312–313; Henry Trowbridge, p. 313; George Merritt pp. 388–389.
  3. See photo of memorial headstone, George H. Merritt, First Parish Cemetery, Norwell, Plymouth County. Find a Grave website, findagrave.com
  4. Henry Trowbridge obituary: Daily Boston Globe, May 7, 1930.

About the author

Meg Ferris Kenagy is a freelance writer who grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts. She is the author of The House on School Street, Eight generations. Two hundred and four years. One family.