William M. Adams
Researcher: Mayda Brewer
The Civil War, also known as the War Between the States, in which thousands of men gave their lives to preserve the Union, touched tens of thousands of people. Even the small community of Franklin, Massachusetts felt these tremendous effects, and in its Union Cemetery lie the remains of seventy four of these valiant soldiers.
Many of the men buried in the old Town Yard served in the 18th Infantry Regiment of Massachusetts. Among them was William M.E. Adams, an eighteen-year-old mechanic who was mustered into this regiment at Camp Brigham in Dedham, Massachusetts on September 21, 1861. Although unknown to Adams at the time, by embarking on this journey, he was to be present at some of the bloodiest yet most memorable battles of the Civil War.
Two days after arriving at Camp Brigham, Adams and the rest of Company I of the 18th marched to join the Army of the Potomac in Washington, D.C., arriving by August 30. On September 3, the regiment crossed the Potomac and reported to General Fitz John Porter, and was then assigned to General Martindale's Brigade, its fellow regiments being the Second of Maine and 13th of New York.
The 18th Regiment was not involved in an actual battle until the Second Battle at Bull Run, also known as Second Manassas, in the heat of late August 1864, near Washington, D.C. There, Adams and his comrades formed the first line in the rear of the skirmishers, and were thus in the very heat of the battle. The brave regiment, however, lost to General Jackson with forty of their men killed, one hundred and one wounded, and twenty-eight missing.
These sufferers, however, could not be dwelt upon, and the march to Antietam, Maryland commenced barely two weeks later on September 9, 1862. The 18th did not actually take part in the fighting at Antietam, but supported batteries on the east side of the creek. At the end of this battle, casualties totaled 26,000.
The next combat Adams and the 18th engaged in was when they helped to open the battle near what is now Shepherdstown, West Virginia. This was not a fortunate day for the heroes. Their commanders, Barnes and Sykes, were met by four times their amount of Confederates, and were forced to retreat.
Following this letdown, the regiment began moving southward on October 30, crossing the Potomac and camping at Warrenton on November 9. After camping at several other locations, the 18th positioned itself opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia and remained there in waiting until the regiment was called into battle on December 13 at one o'clock in the afternoon. Adams and the 18th then made an unsuccessful charge which caused them to lose many who were killed and wounded. Being the brave regiment that they were, however, they reformed later in the afternoon and stood firmly in place at the front of the Union line. Although they suffered many casualties, the 18th had amazing and unforgettable fortitude at Fredericksburg.
After spending the winter in Fredericksburg, the 18th marched west to look for their Southern enemy. They struggled in what was to be known as the Army of the Potomac's infamous Mud March, in which the road was impassable due to mud. They returned to Fredericksburg to wait for it to dry out. While waiting, General Hooker had perfected his plans for Chancellorsville campaign. Adams along with the rest of his regiment were now under control of General Meade. They crossed the Potomac on April 27 when the regiment marched to Hartwood Church. It reached Chancellorsville, Virginia on April 29, and took its position on May 1 at the left of the Union line near Banks Ford. The part in this battle played by the 18th was not major, and they were unfortunately lured in by a Southern trick and fell under fire. Also, they suffered the loss of one of their captains, William G. Hewins along with fourteen other casualties.
The next month or two were uneventful for these courageous men, until they were called to Gettysburg. The regiment began to move northward to end this battle on June 14. They reached their destination on July 2. Overall, the part they played in this momentous battle was insignificant, and they suffered only one casualty. After remaining near Little Round Top for another day in the wheat field and protecting it from the South, the 18th moved off of the field. While Adams and the 18th's casualties were light, the casualties suffered at Gettysburg overall were astronomical and totaled 51,000.
Throughout the rest of 1863 and the beginning of 1864, the 18th stayed near Washington, D.C., fighting small skirmishes with Confederate armies. By spring of 1864, however, they found themselves involved in a set of battles in which they would see additional carnage. In the heartland of Virginia, the opening battle of the Wilderness Campaign was fought on May 5, and one infantry man from the 18th was killed. He was from Franklin, and is believed to have been the first man to fall in the campaign. On the morning of May 7, the 18th resumed their fighting at Spotsylvania courthouse, where they suffered one casualty and nine wounded. They they proceeded to North Anna, another battle of the Wilderness Campaign, where they played a lively part in attack on Confederates and where they were on the picket line and assisted in destroying railroads. The 18th then experienced the tragedies of Cold Harbor, the last major battle making up the Wilderness campaign, which saw nearly 92,000 casualties total.
The mighty 18th regiment was to experience one last battle. Petersburg was relatively mild compared to the Wilderness campaign for the 18th; they were not engaged in the actual fighting, but their division formed a part of the reserve. For William M.E. Adams and most of his regiment, the long journey ended on July 20, 1864 when they were ordered to Washington to muster out due to the ends of their terms of enlistment.
To this day, Franklin remembers its brave sons of the 18th regiment, like William M.E. Adams and his mate who was the first ever to die during the nightmare of the Wilderness campaign. Franklin has erected a statue on its common displaying recognition to the memorable battles of Antietam, Spotsylvania, Gettysburg, and Petersburg, battlegrounds where the valiant 18th Regiment saw so much heroic action during the Civil War.