"The Harvard Regiment"

Late on the afternoon of Sept. 4, 1861, the soldiers of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, fresh and eager for action after six weeks of training, boarded trains in Readville, Mass. They were headed south, to war.

The 20th was called “the Harvard regiment” because so many of its officers were educated at the College. Some had left Harvard as undergraduates, quitting school in April when the first rebel shells rained down on Fort Sumter. By 1865, the regiment’s nickname was “the Bloody 20th.” Of the nearly 3,000 Union regiments that saw action, the Harvard regiment had the fifth-highest number of casualties.

Harvard faculty, undergraduates, and graduates served in other regiments as well, and in every branch of the service. There were 246 dead among the 1,662 with Harvard ties who fought on both sides. In the Union ranks, 176 died. On the Confederate side, where 304 men with Harvard connections enlisted, 70 died, a mortality rate two and a half times higher than the Union side.