Yankee in Gray – October 1999 Civil War Times Feature

Yankee in Gray


NAME James R. Mathewson
DATES 1837 to ?
RANK Captain
UNIT 7th Massachusetts Infantry, Company B
SERVICE RECORD Enlisted on June 15, 1861. Fought in Peninsula Campaign and in the May 1-4, 1863, Battle of Chancellorsville. Wounded in the May 1864 Battle of the Wilderness. Mustered out on July 5, 1864.

James R. Mathewson was a machinist by trade, a worthy occupation for a son of New England, home of the industry and innovation that were making American commerce and transportation grow by leaps and bounds. When the Civil War erupted in 1861, the 24-year-old Mathewson stood up for his state and the Union she espoused, and volunteered for military service. He accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the 7th Massachusetts Infantry and was mustered in on June 15, 1861.

When Mathewson strode into H.B. King’s Photographic Rooms in his home town of Taunton, Massachusetts, that same month, he was clad not in Union blue, but in a frock coat and trousers as gray as any Rebel’s. Mathewson had not switched loyalties; he was merely wearing the uniform the Bay State had issued to several of her regiments. In the color of his woolen outfit, Mathewson shared the predicament of many other Union soldiers early in the war: they were friends who looked like foes. When Mathewson’s regiment reached Washington, D.C., in July, the fledgling soldiers traded their Massachusetts gray for less conspicuous Union blue.

In November 1861, Mathewson was promoted to first lieutenant of Company B. The 7th Massachusetts embarked for Virginia at the end of March 1862 as part of Brigadier General Darius Couch’s 1st Division of the Army of the Potomac’s IV Corps. The unit saw hard fighting in Major General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign late that summer, and Mathewson received captain’s bars that fall, on October 25.

The following May, the 7th Massachusetts participated in the Union attacks on Marye’s and Salem Heights at Fredericksburg, Virginia–successes too insignificant to save the army from a crushing defeat in the Battle of Chancellorsville. One year later, on May 5, 1864, Captain Mathewson led his company into the nightmarish fighting in Virginia’s Wilderness, where a Confederate bullet ended the war for him. He spent the last few weeks of his three-year enlistment recuperating from his wound, and was mustered out with his comrades on July 5, 1864.

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