About Mass MOLLUS & Our History

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History of the Massachusetts Commandery

By Companion Marston Watson

​Preservation of the Republic

The story of Lincoln’s Loyal Legion may well have its nexus with the election of Abraham Lincoln as President on November 6, 1860, as well as the Civil War that followed. Not long after Lincoln’s election, the first Secession Convention was held in Columbia, South Carolina on December 17, 1860. One by one, the Southern states seceded from the Union between December 20, 1860, and February 5-9, 1861. The Confederate States of America was formed at this time and Jefferson Davis was elected its First President on February 18.

The gauntlet had been thrown down by the events of the Southern Secession even before Lincoln took office. He was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, as the sixteenth President, not of a united America but of a divided nation. At a time when preserving the Union might well have been a priority for Lincoln’s new government, the first shot was fired by the Southern forces on Fort Sumpter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861. The Civil War had begun.

It was the worst of times for President Abraham Lincoln, whose attempts to preserve the Union during the Civil War years of 1861-1863 were sorely tested. By no means were there good times for the Union Army of the Potomac during this period. Massachusetts general officers and men, and from other states, responded to President Lincoln’s declaration that an insurrection existed, and to his call for 75,000 militiamen to stop the rebellion. As a result of this call for volunteers, four additional southern states seceded from the Union in the following weeks. Lincoln responded on May 3, 1861, with a call for an additional 43,000 or more volunteers to serve for three years, expanding the size of the Regular Union Army.

About one-hundred-twenty general officers of Massachusetts served with the Union Army during the Civil War.

A summary of the major Civil War battles between 1861 and 1863, and the carnage that resulted, set the stage for the military and civilian men of Boston and other parts of Massachusetts to become a legion of Lincoln supporters.

Civil War Battles (1861-1863)

First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas): Brigadier General George B. McClellan replaced Brigadier General Irwin McDowell as commander of the Union Army of the Potomac following General McDowells’s disastrous defeat on July 21, 1861, at the First Battle of Bull Run. Union forces endured a loss of 3,000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action while the Confederate Army suffered 2,000 casualties. General Devens was struck by a bullet that would have pierced his heart had it not struck a metallic button.

Fort Donelson: “Fort Donelson will hereafter be marked in Capitals on the maps of our United Country. . .
This famous declaration by Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant was made after the surrender of the Confederate Fort Donelson on Sunday, February 16, 1862. This Union victory elated the North and stunned the South. Clarksville and Nashville would fall into Union hands within days of the surrender.

Battle of Shiloh: This engagement of April 6-7, 1862 was a crucial success for the Union Army, which was led by General Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Tennessee (named for the river, not the state). It allowed General Grant to begin a massive operation in the Mississippi Valley later that year.

The Battle of Seven Pines (Fair Oaks): This engagement took place from May 31-June 1, 1862, which resulted in heavy losses for both sides. The Northern casualties numbered more than 5,000 while the Confederate losses exceeded 6,000. It was a stalemate that had little significance beyond the replacement of Confederate Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnston with General Robert E. Lee. General McClellan, who was ever cautious and deliberate, remained within easy reach of Richmond. General Devens was wounded during the battle.

Seven Days Battles: Casualties for the Seven Days Battles
 of June 25-July 1, 1862 were enormous. The Confederate losses under General Robert E. Lee exceeded 20,000 soldiers killed, wounded, and missing, while the Union Army of the Potomac under General McClellan surpassed 16,000 casualties. Gaines Mill, where combined losses exceeded 15,000, marked the point of greatest slaughter.

Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas):  This battle was fought August 29-30, 1862 in Prince William County, Virginia. Total casualties for the battle topped 22,000, with Union losses numbering 13,824. Confederates killed, wounded, or missing numbered 8,353 men. The massive charge on the second day of the battle by General James Longstreet accounted for the bulk of the total. This battle was a resounding victory for Confederate Army under Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Union General John Pope was blamed for the loss and was relieved of his duties after the battle.

Antietam: The Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, was the bloodiest day in United States history. Over 26,000 Union and Confederate men were killed, wounded, or missing in action. The battle, though officially a draw, stopped General Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland and he retreated to Virginia. General Deven’s horse was shot from under him at the Battle of Antietam.

Fredericksburg: The Union Army under General Ambrose E. Burnside suffered a terrible defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginia on December 13, 1862. Fourteen individual assaults on an entrenched Confederate position cost the Union 13,000 casualties.

Emancipation: President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It freed all slaves in territories captured by the Union Army and ordered the enlistment of Black soldiers. The Civil War became a war over slavery from this point forward.

Union Club of Boston

It was against the backdrop of these battles and President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that Union military and civilian patriots of Boston, with major input from Major General Charles Devens, who was recovering from wounds suffered in battle, decided to form the Union Club of Boston (UCB). Sympathizers with the secessionist states, including some leading men from a well-known Boston club who were called Copperheads, would have been content to set off those states. However, there were other prominent men who were stalwart in support of the Union, who felt that they should have a club of their own specifically to support the United States.

The Union Club of Boston formally came into existence on April 8, 1863, after preliminary discussions and planning, at which time the club’s first president, Edward Everett, delivered an oration (the manuscript of which is still in the club’s possession). This can be read as an early draft of the speech that Everett gave seven months later at Gettysburg, before President Lincoln’s far better-known address.

Some Union Clubs and Union League Clubs that were founded around the same time in other cities did not refer to the Civil War. The Union Club of Boston was strictly non-partisan, although many of its founding members were Republicans. The only explicit qualification for membership was that one must give an “unqualified loyalty to the Constitution and the Union of our United States, and unwavering support of the Federal Government in effort for the suppression of the rebellion.

Article 3 of the club’s original constitution stipulated that “the Club shall never be called upon nor permitted to act, in its official capacity as a Club, upon any political question or subject.” This was intended to welcome pro-Union Democrats. Although at this point in the Civil War, being for the Union did not necessarily imply being an abolitionist, the club did immediately gain a reputation as a hotbed of abolitionism.

Six months after its founding, the club moved into its present clubhouse, and by the end of its first year, it had 503 members, some of them in uniform and fighting for the Union cause. Everett may have had the greatest résumé in American history as the first American with a Ph.D., professor of Greek at Harvard, president of Harvard, congressman, ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Governor of Massachusetts, U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, U.S. Secretary of State and vice-presidential candidate of the Constitutional Union Party.

Other prominent members in the club’s first half-century included Louis Agassiz, Louis D. Brandeis, General Benjamin Butler, Richard Henry Dana Jr., Brevet Major General Charles Devens Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson, Asa Gray, Edward Everett Hale, Brevet LTC Henry Lee Higginson, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Cabot Lodge, Francis Parkman, William Barton Rogers (founding president of MIT), Charles Sumner and Amos Tuck. Calvin Coolidge, the 30th U.S. President, was a member as well.

Grand Army of the Republic

The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) was a fraternal organization composed of veterans of the Union Army Union Navy, Marines, and the United States Revenue Cutter Service who served in the American Civil War. It was established on April 6, 1866, by Benjamin F. Stephenson in Springfield, Illinois.

The G.A.R. grew to include hundreds of posts (local community units) across the nation, predominantly in the North. A few posts were organized in the South and West as well.
 The G.A.R. became among the first organized advocacy groups in American politics, linking men through their experience of the war, supporting voting rights for black veterans, promoting patriotic education, establishing Memorial Day as a national holiday, lobbying the United States Congress to establish regular veterans’ pensions and supporting Republican political candidates.
 Its peak membership in 1890 was 410,000 male members, which was a high point of the various Civil War commemorative and monument dedication ceremonies. The G.A.R. was dissolved in 1956 after the death of

Albert Henry Woolson (b. 1847 or 1850; d. 1956) of Duluth, Minnesota, the last Union survivor of the Grand Army of the Republic. Albert was a Drummer Boy with the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment. His monument is located on Hancock Avenue in Ziegler’s Woods, south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The G.A.R. was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). It is composed of male descendants of Union Army and Union Navy veterans.

The General Lander Post 5 Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Memorial Hall was erected in 1885 with funds raised by local Civil War veterans, as a memorial to the Union Army veterans of the Civil War.  It soon became the largest G.A.R. post in the country with 1,847 members. Post 5 held a position of prominence in the City of Lynn, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Nation for many years.

The Building is named after Frederick William Lander of Lynn and Salem, who was commissioned Brigadier General of Volunteers on August 6, 1861. General Lander was wounded at the battle of Balls Bluff and died of his wounds on March 2, 1862, at Paw Paw, Virginia.

The crowning glory of General Lander Post 5 G.A.R. Memorial Hall and Museum is the enormous main hall on the third floor, which displays the original furnishings and has walls filled with photographs of Civil War veterans. Six more rooms have memorabilia from the American Revolution through the Korean War. The research library has an impressive built-in bookcase, which was designed and built by one of the founding veterans.

The first recruit of G.A.R. Post No. 5, and its most notable Commander, Captain John Gregory Bishop Adams, contributed to the rise in prominence and national recognition. The Post did not lose sight of their Motto Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty, by taking care of their own.  They paid out over $100,000.00 in support of veterans, widows, and orphans who were in need.

The Civil War began on April 12, 1861. The city of Lynn had a population of 19,083 at the time of which 3,270 men from the city served in the Army or Navy during the Civil War. The city lost 289 men in the Civil War.

The Special Acts of 1919 and the voters of Lynn, who accepted the conditions of the Act, made the G.A.R. Hall and building a permanent memorial to the Veterans of the Civil War. The City of Lynn and Trustees have control of the building and
the responsibility to maintain and operate it ever since.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 7, 1979. The building is used now as the Grand Army of the Republic Hall and Museum.

Massachusetts Commandery

The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), one of the military societies founded at the close of the Civil War, was established on April 15, 1865, after the death of President Abraham Lincoln. Three Union Army officers met in Philadelphia to discuss the rumors from Washington of a conspiracy to destroy the Federal government by the assassination of its leaders. The officers decided to form an organization that could help thwart future threats to the national government.

A large gathering of Philadelphia veterans was held on April 20, 1865, to pledge renewed allegiance to the Union and to plan for participation in the funeral arrangements for the President. The Philadelphia officers, who served as an honor guard for President Lincoln’s funeral cortege, met again after the funeral was over to establish a permanent organization of officers and former officers patterned after the Society of Cincinnati, which was established after the American Revolution.

The Military Order of the Loyal Legion (MOLLUS) of the United States was the name selected by the organizing members. The name first appeared in a notice calling a meeting on May 31, 1865, at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

The Massachusetts Commandery of MOLLUS was instituted on March 4, 1868, and organized two days later. There were thirteen charter members who all became officers in the new organization. Brigadier General Francis A. Osborn was the first commander, followed by Generals Devens, Rockwell, and Martin (Appendix A).

A museum was established in the early days at the top of the Cadet Armory on Columbus Avenue in Boston. They began to collect materials associated with the Civil War from the early days. A significant part of the museum’s collection was visual images associated with the Civil War, much of which was donated by the Massachusetts Commandery members.

Patriotic cover art began to be produced extensively in the United States from the earliest days of the Civil War. Printing firms in both the North and the South produced covers including lithographed images printed, or occasionally embossed, on envelopes depicting satires of enemy politicians and generals, tributes to heroism, and a huge variety of other patriotic images using caricatures, allegories, slogans, portraits, etc. relating to Civil War events and personalities.

The envelopes were intended to be used and they would show the patriotic feeling of the sender or would express a particular political sentiment, often of a propaganda nature. The great majority of designs were created and sold during the war from 1861 to 1865, however, some were also produced after the war, apparently for collectors.

A generous gift of the Civil War Collection was deposited at the Houghton Library of Harvard College Library by the Massachusetts Commandery on May 20, 1974. It contains the papers of President Abraham Lincoln, Major General Winfield Scott, Major General George Brinton McClellan, Major General John Charles Fremont, and Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, along with other Civil War items.

The collection of patriotic covers by the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United is organized into a series established by William R. Weiss, Jr. (1943-2015) in The Catalog of Union Civil War Patriotic Covers (William R. Weiss, Jr.: Bethlehem, Penn., 1995). His work was based on the standard catalog first used to identify Civil War patriotic covers, The George Walcott Collection of Used Civil War Patriotic Covers (1943), compiled by Robert Laurence and commonly referred to as The Walcott Book and Robert Grant’s The Handbook of Civil War Patriotic Envelopes and Postal History (1977).

Massachusetts Commander Devens

The twenty 19th-century commanders elected as early leaders of the Massachusetts Commandery served with distinction as Union officers in the Civil War. Perhaps none had a more notable career than Brevet Major

General Charles Devens, a well-known lawyer, soldier, politician, and justice. His contributions during and after the war influenced his decision to become an early member of the Union Club of Boston, Massachusetts Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, and Commander of the Massachusetts Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, which office he held for eight years.

Charles Devens, Jr. was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on April 4, 1820, the son of Charles Devens (1791-1876) and Mary Lithgow. Devens’s distinguished ancestry includes his great-grandfather Richard Devens (1721-1807), a prominent citizen of Charlestown and a Commissary General in the American Revolution from 1776 to 1782. Richard Devens was a member of the Committee of Safety with John Hancock and other patriots. His residence was opposite the head of his wharf, near the spot where he furnished Paul Revere with a horse from the barn of Deacon John Larkin (1735-1807), just before Revere made his famous ride to Lexington and Concord on April 18, 1775.  

General Devens received his early education at the Boston Latin School before entering Harvard College, where he graduated in 1838. He studied at Harvard Law School and continued his law studies in the office of Hubbard & Watts until he was admitted to the bar in 1841. He practiced first in Northfield, then Greenfield and finally Worcester, Massachusetts in partnership with George R. Hoar and J. Henry Hill.

Devens became interested in military matters and was steadily promoted in the state militia until he reached the rank of brigadier general. When President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, General Devens immediately turned his affairs to another lawyer and departed for the front on April 20, 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War. He was struck by a bullet on July 24, 1861, at Balls’ Bluff that would have pierced his heart had it not struck a metallic button.

Devens was made a brigadier general of volunteers on April 15, 1862 and saw action in the Peninsula Campaign. His horse was shot from under him at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. He was highly complimented by the division commander for his gallantry at Fredericksburg in 1862 and was seriously wounded while in command of a division at Chancellorsville in 1863. Devens was assigned to Major General W. J. Smith’s 11th Army Corps in 1864 at his request and commanded a division at Cold Harbor.

Charles Devens was commissioned Brevet Major General in April 1856 for gallantry and good conduct at the capture of Richmond. He mustered out at his own request in June 1866. The entire congressional delegation from Massachusetts signed a recommendation that he be retained in the reorganization of the regular army, but General Devens insisted on returning to the practice of his law profession.

During the Civil War, General Devens became one of 503 military and other prominent men who founded The Union Club of Boston in 1863. Only eighty-two of these distinguished men are remembered in the Dictionary of American Biography. The other 421 men, according to the Union Club history, “did a great deal more for serious causes than sign the Constitution and pay their dues.” Also, General Devens was an original member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion (insignia no. 863), which was founded in 1865 at The Union League of Philadelphia.

Governor Alexander Hamilton Bullock (1816-1882) appointed General Devens a justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court in 1867. He was chosen as national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic to succeed General Ambrose Burnside. He has served as commander of the Loyal Legion of Massachusetts and the societies of the armies of the Potomac, of the James, and the 6th Army Corps.

Devens was appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in 1873 by Governor William Barrett Washburn (1820-1887) and afterward served as Attorney General of the United States during the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), 19th President of the United States. Governor John Davis Long (1838-1915) reappointed Judge Charles Devens to the Supreme Judicial Court at the expiration of Hayes’ term, where he served until he died in 1891.

Charles Devens died from cardiac failure at his residence on 12 Ashburton Place, Boston on January 7, 1891, and is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge. He never married and left no issue.

His obituary in the Boston Globe reported that “During his term as marshal he (Devens) executed the process for remanding Thomas Sims, a fugitive slave, to the control of those who claimed ownership in him. Although this was in discharge of what Mr. Devens considered to be his imperative duty, he strove afterward to make amends for the act by buying the freedom of Sims.

He wrote to Mrs. Lydia Maria Childs, who was collecting funds for the purpose, offering to defray the whole expense himself. The coming of the war put an end to the project. Sims was afterward aided by Mr. Devens and finally appointed to a department position, while Gen. Devens was attorney-general under President Hayes.”

Fort Devens, Massachusetts was named for Brevet Major General Charles Devens. It first came into existence in September 1917 as a temporary cantonment arising out of preparations for World War I and was opened as a reception center for military selectees. The fort processed over 100,000 men from the New England area into the army. Two divisions (76th & 12th) were trained during the war at Devens. After the war, over 150,000 men were processed out through the gates of Devens to return home.

The military facility was declared a permanent installation in 1931 and was given the name Fort Devens in 1932. It was then the home of the 3rd Battalion, 66th Infantry (Light Tanks). With the outbreak of World War II, a $25,000,000 building program was begun, and an airfield was constructed. During the war three divisions (1st, 32nd, and 45th) trained here. A Prisoner of War Camp for German and Italian prisoners was in operation from 1944 to 1946. Fort Devens was again reduced to caretaker status after the war until it was reactivated in 1948 as a reception center for the Korean Conflict and later as the Army Security Agency Training Center. Fort Devens officially closed as an active Regular Army installation on March 31, 1996, ending nearly 80 years of service to its country and its people.


Caroon, Robert Gerard (Insignia 21505) and Dana B. Shoaf, Union Blue. Shippensburg Pennsylvania, White Maine Books, 2001
The G.A.R. Hall and Museum of Lynn, Massachusetts (website)
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Civil War Collection, 1861-1865. Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States Civil War Commandery of the State of Massachusetts collection: Patriotic covers, 1974
Massachusetts MOLLUS, Register of the Commandery of the State of Massachusetts,
November 1, 1912. Cambridge: The University Press, 1912, vii-viii et al
Union Club of Boston, History of the Club (UCB website)
Watson, Marston (Insignia 22413), Lincoln’s Loyal Legion (Chapter One)
The Union Club of Boston: Biographical Sketch of Major General Charles Devens
Frederick Milton Kimball, Editor, 100th Anniversary Celebration The Union Club of
     Boston, Inc., 1964, 30-31
Life’s Race Run: Judge Devens’ Career is Ended, The Boston Globe, January 8, 1891, 10
[Marston Watson is a noted genealogist, author, and speaker. He is a member of the Massachusetts Commandery of Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States of America.]

Appendix A
Commanders Loyal Legion of Massachusetts (1868-1900)
1868        Brevet BG Francis Augustus Osborn, U.S.V. (1833-1914; Insignia 680)
CPT 4th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; COL 24th Mass. Volunteer Infantry
1869-77   Brevet MG Charles Devens, Jr., U.S.V. (1820-1891; Insignia 863)
COL 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; BG 1st Brigade IV Corps; CMDR 1st Division XI Corps; CMDR 3rd Division XXIV Corps
1878        Brevet BG Alfred Perkins Rockwell, U.S.V. (1834-1903; Insignia 8932)
CPT 1st Conn. LT Art. Bat.; Chief of Artillery; COL 6th Conn. Volunteer Infantry.
1879-80   Brevet COL Augustus Pearl Martin, U.S.V. (1835-1902; Insignia 1257)
                1LT 3rd Massachusetts Light Artillery
1881-82   COL Thomas Leonard Livermore, U.S.V. (1844-1918; Insignia 1135)
LT 1st New Hampshire; CAPT 5th New Hampshire; COL 18th New Hampshire
1883-84   Brevet BG Francis Amasa Walker, U.S.V. (1840-1897; Insignia 2330)
                COL 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; Assistant Adjutant General
1885-86   COL Charles Russel Codman, U.S.V. (1829-1918; Insignia 1352)
                CMDR 45th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry
1887-88   Brevet MG Simon Goodell Griffin, U.S.V. (1824-1902; Insignia 1289)
CPT 2nd New Hampshire Infantry; COL 6th N. H. Infantry; BG U. S. Volunteers
1889        Brevet MG Edward Winslow Hincks, U.S.V. (1830-1894; Insignia 1205)
LTC 8th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia; COL 19th Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry; BG XVIII Corps Division (black soldiers)
1890        Brevet MG John Murray Corse, U.S.V. (1835-1893; Insignia 1776)
COL 6th Iowa Volunteer Inf.; BG 2nd Corps, XVI Division; XV Corps, 4th Div.
1891        Brevet BG John Lord Otis, U.S.V. (1827-1894; Insignia 1313)
                COL 10th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry
1892        Brevet BG Thomas Sherwin, Jr. U.S.V. (1839-1914; Insignia 1705)
LT 22nd Massachusetts Voluntary Infantry; COL 1st Brigade, 1st Div., V Corps
1893        Brevet LTC Albert Augustus Pope, U.S.V. (1843-1909; Insignia 1428)
                CPT 35th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia
1894        Brevet LTC Henry Lee Higginson, U.S.V. (1834-1919; Insignia 6144)
2d LT 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia; MAJ 1st Regiment M.S.V.
1895        Brevet BG Charles Lawrence Peirson, U.S.V. (1834-1920; Insignia 1310)
                1st LT 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; COL 39th Regiment Mass. Infantry
1896        Act. Vol. LT Charles Peter Clark, U.S.N. (1836-1901; Insignia 3678)
                Acting Ensign, 1862; Acting Master, 1863; Acting Voluntary Lieutenant, 1864
1897        Brevet MG George Leonard Andrews, U.S.V. (1828-1899; Insignia 1061)
COL 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia; 2nd & 4th Brigade, 1st Division, XII Corps; BG 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, XIX Corps
1898        Brevet BG Henry Sturgis Russell, U.S.V. (1838-1905; Insignia 1324)
                LTC 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry; COL 5th Regiment Massachusetts Colored
Volunteer Cavalry
1899        RADM George Eugene Belknap, U.S.N. (1832-1903; Insignia 3313)
                Commanded USS Canonicus, Battle of Fort Fisher
1900        Brev. MAJ Charles Augustus Hopkins, U.S.V. (1841-1916; Insignia 6104)
                PVT 8th New York Infantry; 1st LT 13th New Jersey Infantry; CPT Company
Mass. MOLLUS, Register of the Commandery of the State of Massachusetts, November 1, 1912.
   (Cambridge: The University Press, 1912), vii-viii et al

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