The train-band drilled not more than four times a year, and mainly on the fourth Wednesday of May--the volunteers at least thrice or fourfold that amount. In order the more easily to distinguish themselves from the train-band, the volunteers became artillery or light infantry or grenadiers or rifles or cavalry; and each class sought proficiency in some special kind of drill.
Boston's companies of artillery were associated in a small battalion several years before the light infantry companies were willing to relinquish their independence; and so our regimental history begins in the artillery branch. Presently, in the days of the "legionary brigade,"
regimental spirit began to manifest itself among the light infantry companies, resulting in the Sub-legion of light infantry. The artillery battalion became most famous as the "Fighting First" of Civil War times, and is today primarily represented by the 1st Company. From the light infantry Sub-legion there ultimately developed the old "Tiger" 1st Regiment, of which the 2d Company is today the senior representative.
Presently a drift set in from the infantry command to the artillery regiment, one company transferring after another, until even the regimental number itself passed from the former to the latter; this process is illustrated by the career of the 3d Company. Eventually Plymouth and Bristol counties made their valuable contribution to the regimental composition--the remnants of the 3d and 4th Regiments--as represented today by the 4th Company. The consolidation of 1878 welded all these elements into a single, compact, unified body, the Coast Artillery of today. While the old regiment have come under complete Federal control, and hold place in the first line of the U. S. Army, they have not in the least abated their life-long loyalty to the State which gave them birth.
"The National Guard is not only the reserve for the regular army; it is also the reserve for the police, the fire department, and life-saving service. Its members are genuine soldiers of peace." (Curtis Guild.) Twelve different times have units of the regiment been called out by the Commonwealth to maintain public order. On many other occasions the companies were warned to be in readiness; indeed the headquarters of the command is the most sensitive barometer for registering the approach of social disorder. Twelve times the companies actually marched forth.
Curtis Guild's remark about the militia was intended to apply especially to military service in connection with great and disastrous conflagrations; five times have the regiment performed such duty.
But after all, it is war-time which tests the soldier. If he fails to respond in his country's hour of need, his other virtues are of small value. Measured by this test, regimental patriotism has shown itself to be trustworthy. In the days just prior to the attack upon Fort Sumpter, there were in existence seventeen companies which were destined sometime to become associated in the present Coast Artillery. In the seventeen companies were twelve hundred members. By some process of magic, of patriotic magic, when the alarm of war sounded, the twelve hundred militiamen multiplied themselves into no less than seven thousand five hundred volunteers. The "Old First" never failed in seasons of public need; they were always a fighting regiment.
"Vigilantia," the regimental motto, is another name for watchfulness, for preparedness. As if the choice of a motto were prophetic, or at least significant of the regimental character, the Coast Artillery have always managed to be so fully prepared that they were able to get into active service amongst the very leaders. No troops were more prompt in reaching the post of danger than the "minute men of '61"; and amongst them were our companies in the 3d and 4th and 5th and 6th Regiments. A few weeks later the 1st Mass. was the first long-term regiment to be mustered in thruout the entire United States, the first not only in the Civil War, but in any war. Again in 1898, when National Guard regiments everywhere were actively competing for priority in volunteering, the "1st Heavies" managed to reach their station at Fort Warren, and then to be mustered in as a regiment, before any of their rivals in Massachusetts or elsewhere. Three times, at least, was "Vigilantia"
translated into action.
[Illustration: MODERN BATTERY]
[Illustration: THE CHAPLAIN IN ACTION]
Veterans of the old regiment have organized themselves to perpetuate cherished traditions of the past. Each of the Civil War commands is represented by a veteran association--the 1st, the "Minute Men," the 13th, the 24th, the 42d in eastern and western sections, the 43d and others. As old age comes on with passing time, it is inevitable that associations of war veterans must become less numerous and less active each year. The Coast Artillery take a real interest in the Hooker Association and the Stevenson Memorial Association. Amongst the companies, live veteran organizations are maintained by graduates of the Roxbury City Guard, the Boston Light Infantry (the Tiger Veteran Association, incorporated March 28, 1882), the Fusiliers, and the Pierce Lt. Guard. Indeed the Fusiliers have been a prolific source of veteran associations. The first, the Fusilier Veteran Association, was organized by leading members of the company, including five ex-Captains, in April, 1878, at the time when the company was about to pass from the 1st to the 5th Reg., and is today in full vigor and prosperity, retaining the old red-coat uniform. When this association had opened its membership to others than actual veterans, on Aug. 2, 1900, certain graduates formed a new organization of 3d Company veterans, the Independent Boston Fusilier Veterans. Their numbers were small, and on July 2, 1906, in order to provide a supply of new material, they invited veterans of other 1st Reg. companies to join, and thus became transformed into the "1st Reg.
M. V. M. Veterans." The latter body now has one hundred forty members.
Joe Hooker Post, No. 23, G. A. R., of Boston, and Theodore Winthrop Post, No. 35, of Chelsea, were made up largely of 1st Regiment veterans; and were always in friendly and helpful relations with the active command. With our wealth of noble heritage from the past, comprising as we do all that remains of the old "Legionary Brigade" and its successor, the 3d Brigade of the 1st Division, once Boston's pride, and including all the 3d and 4th Regiment organizations having continuous history, it is desirable that the Coast Artillery should have an active association of veterans which may combine the forces now scattered amongst the company associations; the provision in the National Defence act for a "reserve battalion" seems to open a door of possibility.
Such a history as this can have no conclusion, it can only halt for the moment; while the pages were in press, the regiment was summoned by the Nation to perform military duty. The fruit of a noble past is a useful present. The soul of the "Old Regiment," like John Brown's of which they taught America to sing, is "marching on."
"Whatever grand deeds others do, The 'Old First' still shall lead."