The Merrimack Valley in the Civil War - Amesbury, Salisbury and the Newburys in the war

  • "I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; – but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal, and to hasten the resurrection of the dead." William Lloyd Garrison, "The Liberator" - 1831

    Local Civilians, Soldiers and Sailors who played a significant role in the Civil War.


    One thing that researchers should recognize - The Civil War, nationally and locally was a fairly complex afair. Generalized statements can be made, but various individuals at various times had differing views about the causes and outcomes. Merrimack Valley communities were different in one respect; two of the most ardent and nationally-renowned abolitionists came from this region: William Lloyd Garrison and John Greenleaf Whittier. When I refer to them as "trouble-makers," I do so in light of their earliest difficulties they encountered while courageously speaking out to end the institution of slavery. Both men were pacifists and eschewed violence, but there is little doubt that what they espoused, enraged and frightened southern slaveholders who subsequently chose secession from the Union. In light of this and the fact that local textile mills were dependent upon slave-picked southern cotton, one might note an irony. The responsibility for the war had many shareholders, but in as much as we consider slavery to be a key factor, the Merrimack Valley certainly produced fuel for the fire that engulfed this nation from 1861 to 1865.  


    A part of local legend revolving around abolition and our locale involves the unique subterfuge in opposition to the Futigive Slave Law, known as the Underground Railroad. Not surprisingly there is little primary documentation to substantiate the legends, especially as it was by law illegal to assist slaves in escape. However, in as much as this was a busy seaport region with active abolitionists it is easy to consider that at least some of the oral tradition is accurate. Much more research in this area is warranted, but secrecy being of such necessity and I have reservations that much evidence will turn up. To those who believe that later (post-war) admissions would be evident I offer the consideration that 19th century citizens might be less inclined to be considered scofflaws or to take credit for illegal activities, expecially since many Unionists who were not necessarily abolitionists has lost loved ones in the war. This is mere speculation just as the scope of the Underground Railroad in the Merrimack Valley will likely remain - speculation. But some things simply make sense and IF there was ship-born traffic in escaped slaves it certainly would make sense that old smuggler's tunnels along the Merrimack would be used as the legends state. It may be more likely that the term "underground" was, over time, fused with the concept of the cryptic and still somewhat mysterious tunnel networks on the river shore. We will likely never know. It's what makes history so exciting; there's always more to discover. - PJJ