In 1862, Hopkinton farm boy Manlius Comey followed his beloved older brother Henry into the Union army. Henry, who had attended Philips Exeter Academy and had been accepted to Harvard, was outraged by the attacks on Fort Sumter and willing to put his future on hold to serve his country. Manlius, who worked the farm with his father Elbridge and idolized his older brother, enlisted 18 months later.
the war would have tragic consequences for the nation and the Comeys. Manlius’ regiment, the 14th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, eventually became part of another regiment that saw some of the heaviest fighting. While fighting in Petersburg, Virginia in 1864, Manlius was taken prisoner and sent to the notorious Confederate prison in Andersonville, Georgia – a place so inhuman that a third of its 45,000 prisoners died of disease and its commandant, Henry Wirz, was eventually convicted of murder. Manlius spent five months there before he was freed, but was so sick that he died on the way home. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
His brother Henry, who himself was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, sent many beautifully written letters home to Hopkinton from the front, and spoke wistfully of how he longed for news about Manlius. “They are moving all the prisoners from Andersonville, Georgia and that may be why I could not hear from Manlius,” Henry wrote to his grieving parents back home. “I have talked with soldiers who have escaped from the prison at Andersonville. Manlius probably was there.” He ended his letter with this poignant note: “Please let me know if you hear from Manlius.”
The story of the Comey brothers – from Tom Ellis’s new book, “Hopkinton’s Civil War Service -- is just one of hundreds depicting the impact of war on Hopkinton’s soldiers, their families and the community. The two that most shaped our identity as a nation, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, also helped shape our town. The sacrifices we made – in dead and wounded, in lost livelihoods and depleted finances – molded Hopkinton’s character and created stories that inspire us still.
In honor of Memorial Day, here are just a few snapshots of how these two wars impacted our town and its people.
An Independent Spirit
Seventeen days before the Revolutionary War began, Hopkinton’s people made their own stand for independence. On June 17, 1776, townspeople voted to declare themselves independent of Great Britain. But the stirrings for independence began years before that. In 1765, Hopkinton took a stand against the Stamp Act, which forced colonists to buy stamps to affix to legal documents, printed materials and necessities. A Hopkinton committee drafted an official document that said the town favored the same rights for colonists that people in Great Britain enjoyed; and that taxation without representation was wrong. The document was widely endorsed, but its writers were wary of sharing it with two of Hopkinton’s most prominent citizens: Sir Henry Frankland and Major William Price, both officers in the British Army.
A Local ‘Tea Party’ Rebellion
When the British began importing heavy taxes on imported items, Hopkinton dug in with resourcefulness and self-reliance. At a Hopkinton town meeting in 1767, citizens resolved to be frugal and rely less on the imports, and to make as many necessities as possible themselves. Some of the taxed necessities included bread, sugar, anchors, coaches, horses, furniture, clothing, shoes and snuff. Write Hopkinton historian Gordon Hopper: “This action awakened the spirit of industry in Hopkinton and every household became a workshop.” Salt was heavily rationed; each Hopkinton household received about 1 ½ quarts.
Moses Greenwood, from Woodville, was among the first soldiers to enlist in the Revolutionary War and was Hopkinton’s longest-living survivor of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Other early enlisters included Daniel Bowker, Simeon Evans, Levi Smith, Joseph Welsh, Daniel Wheaton, John White and Isaac Wilson. At a 1774 town meeting, Hopkinton voted to send two delegates to a meeting of Boston-area patriots in Concord.
Six Brothers in Arms
The Freeland family, which hailed from Scotland and settled in Hopkinton, sent six of their sons to the Revolution. One of them, Thomas, became Hopkinton’s town clerk after the war. Another, James, had served in the French and Indian War and had distinguished himself by successfully impersonating the Prince of Wales and fooling the French enemy.
Sacrificing Money and Supplies
Hopkinton had a lot to lose by taking a stand in favor of freedom. Since many of its citizens leased their land from the British, they feared losing their land outright if the British prevailed. Nonetheless, Hopkinton voted several times to raise money to for the war effort and its soldiers. At a 1775 town meeting, citizens voted to spend 50 pounds to enlist 40 men for the “Hopkinton Minutemen” and buy gunpowder and other supplies. As the war progressed, Hopkinton voted for money to pay soldiers stipends and provide them with blankets, guns and other necessities. On Christmas Day, 1780, after hearing news about starving soldiers, the town authorized 17,000 pounds to purchase beef. As the demands continued, the town was so impoverished that it eventually had to borrow the money.
A New Era of Freedom
Hopkinton’s Town Meeting in November, 1776 was a milestone. For the first time, its warrant declared that the meeting was called “in the name of the United States” instead of the name of the king. While freedom would pave the way for Hopkinton to grow as a town, more than eight decades later a second war would shake its citizenry once again.
Civil War Casualties
Hopkinton had a high casualty rate from the Civil War. Twenty-six citizens were killed in action; 13 died of wounds and 27 from disease. Seventy-nine were wounded and 77 received a disability discharge.
Impact on the Shoe Trade
According to Tom Ellis’s book, “Hopkinton’s Civil War Service,” Hopkinton sent 250 of its shoe industry workers to the Civil War. Dozens of them were Irish immigrants.
Impact on Families
Hopkinton’s Civil War veterans included 29 sets of brothers and two father-and-son teams. Eight members of the Comey family enlisted. Along with Manlius’s death from disease, bootmaker Lawson Comey was killed in battle at Brashear City, Lousiana. The Temple family sent six of its men into war; the Pierces and Phippses each sent five; the Claflins sent three. Francis Claflin, like Manlius Comey, would be imprisoned at the notorious Andersonville facility and die there from disease, leaving a wife and young daughter back in Hopkinton.
The Women Rally
Hopkinton’s “ladies’ auxiliaries” helped gather supplies and raise morale among soldiers. They sewed uniforms collected items to be sent to Union soldiers imprisoned in southern jails. Wrote Ellis: “The morale they instilled in our soldiers cost the Confederacy dearly and helped the Union immeasurably.”