July 18, 1861

U.S. Army lieutenant and Nantucket native George Nelson Macy recruited twenty-two island men to fight in the Civil War in 1861. The men served in the Twentieth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which fought in every battle except one.

In all, four hundred Nantucket men fought in the Civil War, and seventy were killed. Of the twenty-two recruited by Macy on this day, four were killed in action, four were taken prisoner and two deserted.

One widely admired recruit was Sergeant Leander Alley, a twenty-year-old Nantucket sailor who was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. Company captain Henry Livermore Abbott ordered four men to recover Alley’s body, and he paid to have it brought back to Nantucket.

Private William P. Kelley, eighteen years old and listed as a scholar at the time of his muster, caught the attention of the army doctor, who admired his excellent physical condition. Four years later, after being wounded in 1862 and captured by the Confederates in 1864, Kelley died of diseases he acquired while a prisoner in Richmond, Virginia, at Libby Prison.

Benjamin Pease, an eighteen-year-old sailor, was wounded at Gettysburg, reenlisted in 1864 and was shot in the chest at the Battle of the Wilderness. The thick wad of recruitment papers in his breast pocket saved him from death. Those papers, which have a bullet hole in them, are now in the collection of the Nantucket Historical Association.


Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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