Thank you for joining us for Watertown Historical Moving Plays: The Charles W. Lenox Experience! This page provides dramaturgical and historical information to supplement your experience. Feel free to read as much or as little as you’d like at your own pace, but be aware that there are spoilers ahead!
Charles W. Lenox
Born and raised in Watertown, Charles Lenox was a son of John and Sibil (Dickerson) Lenox, grandson of free Black Revolutionary War veteran Cornelius Lenox (whose farm straddled the Watertown-Newton line), and first cousin to the Abolitionist Remond family of Salem. He and his twin brother John Jr. joined the 54th Regiment as soon as it was formed and both survived the attack on Fort Wagner. Charles served for a time as the company’s color bearer, hiding the flag under his coat at one point to prevent the enemy from capturing it. He was fortunate enough to not be wounded during the war and afterward, though living frugally, refused to accept a pension. As he told the government agent, “I was not wounded, I’m not sick, and I’m not entitled to one.” After the war he returned to his work as a barber in the family shop run by his father in Watertown Square. He was a loyal member of Watertown’s Isaac B. Patten GAR Post 81, and a longtime member of the First Parish Church. “Mr. Lenox was well versed in the early history of Watertown,” according to his obituary. “He was a walking chronicle of Watertown events and New England happenings.” His funeral was held at First Parish while flags flew at half-staff and many shops closed for the afternoon. Full GAR honors attended his burial in Common St. Cemetery.
The Battle of Fort Sumter
The first battle of the American Civil War. After a series of escalations following South Carolina’s declaration of secession on December 20th, 1860, the South Carolina militia bombarded Fort Sumter, an army base in the Charleston Harbor, on April 12th, 1861. Thanks to months of interrupted resupply efforts, the soldiers stationed at the fort were outmatched and had to evacuate after 34 hours of gunfire. There were no casualties.
A camp for soldiers located on the southern side of Main Street in Watertown. The camp was established in 1861 and was noted for its relatively comfortable conditions thanks to the support of Watertown citizens contributing to the war effort.
The Spring Hotel
A local institution since 1825, the Spring Hotel stood between Spring and Church Streets along with several stores. In the 1880s, it was said to be haunted by a ghost and lost its stables to a fire. The Spring Hotel was demolished in 1938; a CVS is now located where it once stood.
John Brown (1800-1859) was a militant abolitionist who led an unsuccessful raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown took the arsenal in with a cohort of White and Black abolitionists, but was forced to surrender after half of them were killed and he himself was wounded. Tried and convicted for murder, slave insurrection, and treason against the state, Brown was hanged shortly after. This event is considered significant by historians because it heightened tensions between the North and South in the period immediately preceding the Civil War. Brown was considered a martyr by other abolitionists of the period.
Born in 1723, Attucks was a mixed-race Framingham native and the first person to be killed during the American Revolution. His body was laid in state at Faneuil Hall with the other four people killed during the Boston Massacre and was buried with his fellow victims, a practice which ran counter to the segregationist laws of the time. Attucks became an anti-slavery icon during the 19th century: the 54th Regiment (see more below) included his grave on their parade route in 1863 and Martin Luther King Jr. mentioned him in his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait.
The second Militia Act of 1792 stated that the president had the power to conscript every free, able-bodied white male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45. This law barred Black men from enlisting until it was amended by the Militia Act of 1862.
The Watertown Arsenal
Designed by Alexander Parris, the architect of Quincy Market and constructed in 1816, the Watertown Arsenal was established to house ammunition for the United States Army. During the American Civil War, a large machine and smith shop were built to help supply the union army with weapons. The Commander’s Mansion was added during the war, and was considered an excessive waste of money by Congress at the time, although it is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Women in the War Effort
Women played a significant role both on and off of the battlefield during the Civil War. While some women ran aid societies to supply Union soldiers with food, clothes, and cash, others served as nurses and spies on the front lines. Women were also instrumental in the establishment of the United States Sanitary Commission in 1861, which provided resources in army camps and hospitals to prevent disease and infection.
Beard Styles of the 1860s
Although beards were the preferred form of facial hair during the 1860s, the army required that all enlisted men be clean-shaven. As a compromise, many men during this period grew impressive sideburns.
The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, and is generally considered a turning point in the war. The multi-day battle resulted in some of the war’s heaviest casualties, with more than 3,100 Union soldiers and 3,900 Confederate soldiers killed.
Frederick Douglass in Massachusetts
After escaping slavery as a young adult, Douglass became a prominent figure of the abolitionist movement in the mid-19th century. He married and raised children in New Bedford; two of his sons went on to join the 54th Regiment (see below). Douglass published an autobiography and gave speeches about his experiences, encouraging Black men to enlist and the country to prioritize emancipation.
A local abolitionist who spoke with Frederick Douglass at the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1843.
The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Officially mustered on May 13th, 1863, the 54th was the first all-Black regiment in American history to see major combat. Organized by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, the unit included men from throughout the United States and Canada. Although the 54th was initially assigned to manual labor and only engaged in minor skirmishes, they received recognition for their valor during the Union’s assault on Battery Wagner. The 54th fought valiantly on the battlefield as well as off, campaigning for equal pay and against discrimination by the US government. In 1897, a bronze monument to the 54th was installed on the Boston Common, directly across from the State House. Their exploits were also dramatized in the 1989 Academy-award winning film Glory, starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and Cary Elwes.
An active Union Army training camp from 1862-1865 located in the Readville section of Hyde Park. It is most famous for serving as the training ground for the 54th Regiment.
New York City Draft Riots
Known at the time as Draft Week, this series of riots was viewed as the culmination of White working-class frustration over the recently passed draft laws. The four-day-long conflict has been called a race riot, as violence spread through lower Manhattan and rioters – many of whom were Irish immigrants – clashed with Black people in the area. The military was called in, but not before 120 people were killed. As a result of these riots, many Black people chose to vacate Manhattan and instead took up residence in Brooklyn.
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw
Shaw was a Boston native and attended Harvard University before enlisting in 1861. He joined the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and attained the rank of Captain before being selected to lead the 54th Regiment at age 25. Shaw was eager for his troops to see combat, but took the time to push for systemic change; upon learning that Black soldiers were paid less than their White counterpart, he helped organize a wage boycott in protest. After he was killed during the assault on Battery Wagner, Shaw was buried with his men. Although the confederate general who ordered this act had meant it as an insult, Shaw’s father called it an honor: “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!”
Fort Wagner, South Carolina
On the evening of July 18th, 1863, Union forces led an assault on Fort Wagner, a Confederate stronghold. The 54th Regiment led the charge, losing nearly half of their men before the Union forces eventually withdrew in the early morning. Although this battle was a defeat for the Union army, it proved an important turning point in the United States’ perception of Black soldiers. After seeing the courage of the 54th Regiment, the United States Army increased their efforts to enlist Black soldiers, eventually reaching 200,000 new Black recruits in 1865.
Unequal Treatment in the Union Army
Although roughly 179,000 Black men served as soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War, they were not treated the same as their White counterparts. Black soldiers were expected to provide noncombat support functions, including cooking, building, medical support, and general labor. Segregated units were typically commanded by white officers and Black non-commissioned officer, and these units also faced greater risks, including abuse and enslavement, should they be captured. Black soldiers were also initially paid less than their White counterparts, and were charged for their uniforms. This pay gap was not rectified until 1864, when Congress granted equal pay to Black troops.
Reverend L.T. Townsend
Townsend (1838-1922) was a New England-native who went on to become a professor at Boston University. He graduated from Dartmouth College and Andover Theological Seminary before serving in the 16th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War. After the war, he was ordained as a Methodist minister and wrote many theological and historical works concerning the concept of creationism, among other topics.
Consider visiting Lenox’s grave at Watertown’s Common Street Cemetery!