History of the 22nd MVI

 

In the fall of 1861, with volunteer units scrambling to join the fight, U.S. Senator (later Vice-President) Henry Wilson from Massachusetts endeavored to form a full brigade including three regiments of infantry, sharpshooters and artillery. However, demand for soldiers grew so urgent that time only permitted the formation of one infantry regiment, the 22nd Massachusetts, to which were attached the 2nd Company Andrews Sharpshooters and the 3rd Massachusetts Light Battery. Thus the 22nd became one of very few infantry regiments with its own attachment of sharpshooters and artillery. The unit was known as the "Henry Wilson Regiment."

The 22nd was mostly made up of men from Boston but also included companies from Taunton, Roxbury, Woburn, Cambridge and Haverhill. Many of the regiment’s original members were serving their second enlistment, having previously served with the 4th, 5th and 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantries which were so-called “Minutemen of '61.”

The 22nd left for Virginia on October 8, 1861 and were attached to the Army of the Potomac. They saw their first combat during the Peninsular Campaign on April 5, 1862 near Yorktown, Virginia. Almost three months later, they were in the thick of the Seven Days Battle as Confederate General Robert Lee furiously pushed the Union army away from Richmond. During this campaign, the 22nd suffered its worst casualties of the war at Gaines' Mill, Virginia on June 27, 1862. The 22nd entered this engagement with 750 soldiers. After being outflanked by the rebels, the regiment suffered 279 casualties (roughly 37%). It was at Gaines' Mill that the 22nd’s beloved Colonel Jesse Gove (who had taken command after Colonel Wilson) was killed as well as Captain John F. Dunning, the first commander of Company D (which our reenactor unit today represents). To honor this fateful day, members of the 22nd held their annual meetings after the war on June 27.

During the Battle of Antietam, the 22nd, like most of the 5th Corps, was held in reserve. At Fredericksburg, they took part in one of the many futile charges on the infamous stone wall. Along with many other regiments, they were pinned down, unable to retreat and forced to take cover as best they could through a dreadful December night. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the 22nd was engaged in a sharp fight in the Wheatfield. They also took part in the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and the assault on Petersburg, among others.

On October 1st, 1864, their enlistment up, the 22nd received the order to go home. 181 men chose to reenlist, joining the 32nd Massachusetts. The remaining 125 went back to Massachusetts. The 125 who returned were a stark contrast to the original 1,100 who had left with the regiment. Company I is said to have been the smallest company ever to return to the Commonwealth with only three members to respond to the roll-call at muster-out.