Winchester at War
Once the English colonists arrived in the Massachusetts Bay, they organized themselves for defense. All men age 18 and up were enrolled in militia companies. The first three captains of the Woburn company lived in South Woburn, thus residing in what later became Winchester.
The immediate cause for forming the militia was the presence of potentially hostile Native Americans, and the first men of this area to go to war were involved in such conflicts as King Philip’s War (1675-1676), the Battle of Pequawket (1725), and the French and Indian Wars (1754–1763). With one exception during King Philip’s War,1 warfare did not touch Winchester soil but rather drew the militiamen, soldiers, sailors, and others away from their homes.
Ever since the era of the militia companies, men and women residing within Winchester’s boundaries have continued to be engaged in their country’s major conflicts, from the Revolutionary War through the conflicts of the modern era.
The protest and agitation which preceded the War for Independence surely occupied the minds and even actions of those living in this area. Prior to 1775, local men took part in town meetings where actions were taken over grievances of taxation. They helped pass a vote in Medford that “the British Parliament has no constitutional authority to tax these Colonies without their consent.”2
Before dawn on April 19, 1775, word spread through Medford and Woburn that the British were advancing on Lexington and Concord. Only a few from this area made it to the first battle, but one of them became a folk legend, known as the White Horseman. [Read more: The White Horseman]
There were only about 35 houses within present Winchester boundaries in 1798. Thus the number of local patriots is small, but, as tabulated by Henry S. Chapman,3 by the end of the war forty-one men who lived within the limits of Winchester had been Revolutionary soldiers.
Prior to 1850, residents who went to war from this area actually belonged to Winchester’s parent towns (Woburn, Medford, and West Cambridge). Though that history is part of Winchester’s heritage, it was after incorporation in 1850 that the Town of Winchester and its residents as a cohesive community were impacted by the nation’s conflicts.
Few records are known which indicate how the residents of Winchester viewed the Abolitionist movement prior to 1859. Local feelings were assuredly mixed, but the death of John Brown brought forth a display of public mourning in the town. From 11 o’clock to noon, the bells were tolled. In the evening, a public meeting was held in Lyceum Hall, opened by the Rev. Mr. Eddy of the Baptist Society “with a fervent prayer that the martyrdom of Brown might be sanctified to the cause of truth justice and humanity.” During the early 1860s, ministers preached about the evils of slavery, the local Young Men’s Literary Association held debates on emancipation which all ended with votes of support for President Lincoln’s actions, and audiences in Lyceum Hall listened to anti-slavery speakers, notably Frederick Douglass. (Pictured is Stephen Roberts, a freed slave who lived in Winchester after the war.)
Nonetheless, there were some who favored secession and maintaining the status quo in the Southern states, though all townspeople were called upon to support the Union once the war began. [Read more: Abolition and Emancipation and The Abolitionist and the Sculptor]
“Eleven years after Winchester began to live, it sent its sons in full quota to war, to maintain the constitution and continue the union of States. ‘With war in each breast and freedom on each brow,’ at the Wilderness, at Fredericksburg, at Antietam and Gettysburg their blood and lives were given up for liberty and good government. Some sleep in Wildwood [Cemetery], some where they fell–all honored in story and song.”4
Just a few weeks shy of the eleventh anniversary of the incorporation of Winchester, the Confederates bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, beginning the Civil War. As with other northern towns, it was a call to action for Winchester. While the sentiment of townspeople prior to the war is difficult to document, once war was declared, according to official reports, the town was solidly behind the cause. As the American flag was unfurled from the Lyceum Building, “it was greeted by the firing of canons and the cheers of those assembled in its vicinity. But one feeling pervades all of our citizens in these perilous times. ‘Stand by the Flag’ is the response of all.”5
"The war commenced in the spring of 1861, and ended in the spring of 1865–four years of hard and cruel war,” the Board of Selectmen wrote in its Annual Report of 1866. “It has ended in the complete triumph of the loyal men of the country, in the overthrow of American slavery, in the freedom of over four millions of our countrymen, and placed Government and the institutions of our country on a firmer basis than ever before.”
Many aspects of the war touched Winchester itself–from the initial outburst of patriotic fervor to the memorials at the end–but, foremost, the continual volunteering of men to go to war. The population was then about 2,000 inhabitants. The town’s recruits included local man and others credited to the town. In 1866, the names of the men who volunteered from Winchester were printed in the town’s Annual Report. This list, with some corrections, is now displayed in bronze as part of the Veterans Memorial outside Town Hall and includes 183 names.6
Winchester's volunteers served in a number of ways, in various ranks, and in various places which now have familiar names. Pvt. Asa Fletcher was wounded at Antietam. Pvt. Alfred Ansorge fought at Fredericksburg. Corp. James Abrahams was taken a prisoner of war at Chantilly. At Gettysburg, Pvts. Mellen Burnham, George Lawrence, Felix Riley and Capts. Jesse Richardson and J. Otis Williams were wounded. Lt. Moses Richardson was wounded at Chancellorsville where Pvt. Francis Bedell was killed in action. At Gaines' Mill, Pvt. William Shed was reported missing in action, and Sgt. Josiah Stratton was killed. Men of Winchester served also in the Navy, like Commodore William F. Spicer, who commanded vessels of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron." [Read more: Spicer Veterans]
Ten of Winchester’s volunteers died during the war from wounds or, like Capt. Jefferson Ford, of illness. “They died in a holy cause,” the selectmen wrote in 1863, “bravely fighting for the Flag and Constitutional Government of their country; we mourn their loss, and hold them in grateful remembrance." [Read more: Capt. Ford]
Following the war, many veterans returned and others from other areas, like Rear Admiral Henry Knox Thatcher and Gen. John M. Corse, settled in Winchester and were among its most honored residents." [Read more: Adm. Thatcher]
After the conclusion of the war, the Selectmen wrote, "The town cannot express in words the gratitude its citizens feel toward the brave men enrolled upon this list. Their names will always be cherished by us. They have also the proud consciousness that they have been permitted to take an active and direct part in the grandest historical event of our Nation."
On Feb. 15, 1898, the battleship Maine, at anchor in Havana Harbor, exploded and helped ignite war between America and Spain. Beginning as a toast, “Remember the Maine” turned into a war slogan repeated around the country. It became a rallying cry for people in Winchester, also, who patriotically served and supported the troops
The Spanish-American War is responsible for 37 names on Winchester’s Veterans Memorial, including that of the first men who died in the service while the nation was engaged in a foreign war. Due to letters published in the local newspaper, some stories told by those 37 may be retold." [Read more: First Foreign War]
Until recently, the next foreign conflict–brief and involving only 27 men–has essentially been overlooked. Unlike most other wars, it was not mentioned in the Town’s annual report.
After the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, the U.S. Army was stationed along the border and occasionally engaged in fighting with Mexicans. In 1916, when the revolutionary Pancho Villa attacked the American border town of Columbus, New Mexico, General John J. Pershing led a punitive expedition into northern Mexico to capture Villa. That June, Congress approved the use of state militias (a.k.a. National Guard) to reinforce the Army garrisons at the border.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 men were called up and stationed along the border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. On the night of June 24, the mustering of 7,000 men of the 5th Massachusetts Regiment began, including the Woburn/Winchester contingent, Company G (headquartered in Woburn) went to Texas, as did a few Winchester men in other branches of service." [Read more: Company G]
Prior to entering World War I, most Americans wanted to maintain the country’s neutrality and stay at peace. When the war broke out in Europe in 1914, questions current during the Spanish-American war resurfaced, involving the country in an ongoing debate on how involved America should be in world affairs and whether it wanted to relinquish its policy of isolationism and become a world power. The war pitted the desire for continued neutrality against feelings of humanitarianism.
Winchester’s most famous advocate for peace prior to this war was Edwin Ginn, a well-respected businessman and philanthropist who founded the World Peace Foundation. Dying early in 1914, he did not witness the outbreaks of the worst wars the nation had yet seen. [Read more: Edwin Ginn]
When the war erupted, the leading local speaker for the cause of Peace was Samuel Elder, a very distinguished lawyer, president of the Boston Bar Association, a state representative, a trustee of Ginn’s Peace Foundation, president of the Massachusetts Peace Society, and a member of the League to Enforce Peace.
Elder was an advocate for compulsory arbitration as a world policy and urged the adoption of a Supreme Court of Europe. He spoke frequently about this. Elder’s daughter Margaret was an honorary vice-president of the Massachusetts branch of the Women’s Peace Party which held one of their public lectures in 1915 in Winchester’s Town Hall.
Through 1916, Americans were hopeful of staying out of Europe’s conflicts. But, even before the country went to war, some Winchester residents were drawn into and impacted by the events in Europe. [Read more: A Troubled Neutrality]
Early in 1917, it became clearer that war was coming. In January, Germany sent a message to President Wilson that warfare in the ocean would be unrestricted. In February, Wilson severed ties with Germany. In March the news broke about the Zimmerman telegram which proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico.
That March Winchester Town Meeting did something extraordinary, because as a general rule it only takes up articles on town business. But this time it voted a resolution: commending the President for his uncompromising stand in severing diplomatic relations with Germany, relying on him to protect American citizens and ships, and concluding that, “while they desire peace, they desire peace only with honor and call upon the President to regain at this time the honor of the American people.”
A later motion to send another resolve urging that “no provocation short of actual invasion of American territory be considered sufficient cause for a declaration or war, without a previous referendum to the citizens of the nation” was soundly defeated.
In April, the country was in the war. Immediately, flags started going up across Winchester, new flags on new poles and standards. “These are the days when we should show every ounce of red-blooded Americanism that we possess,” a Chamber of Commerce publication stated, and the people of Winchester concurred. [Read more: WWI Patriotism]
Speaking to the citizenry of Winchester at a patriotic meeting at Town Hall on May 19, 1917, former president William Howard Taft (a friend of Samuel Elder) urged “the United States, the greatest country in the world, to make for itself a nation of power and strength to support its ideals among all nations.”7
Townspeople did not just put on a show of patriotism, flying their flags. They acted. A month before war against Germany was declared, a Committee on Public Safety was formed. It had subcommittees for transportation, food production and conservation, publicity, emergency help, coordination of aid societies, recruiting, motor vehicles, horses, welfare of enlisted men, camp mobilization, home guard, and town protection. [Read more: Machine Gun Company]
Throughout the war, townspeople bought liberty bonds and gave donations and aid to relief societies. Money was pooled to buy an ambulance to send to France. Much labor was volunteered to the Red Cross, with one unit alone producing 121,961 surgical dressings during the war years. Residents were immediately advised about coming food shortages and urged to grow their own food. More than 80 acres were loaned or developed by their owners as vegetable gardens.
The greatest contribution, as always, was the men and women–764 of them as listed on the Veterans Memorial–who enlisted or who traveled to the war zone with support groups such as the Red Cross and YMCA. The town was able to keep abreast of the experience of the men abroad due to an invitation by the Winchester Star to share their letters home with readers. [Read more: Y men in France and POWs]
The original Roll of Honor for World War I was erected outside Town Hall the day before the Armistice was signed on Nov.11, 1918. [Read more: Armistice and Memorials]
Eighteen men who enlisted for the Great War from Winchester died in the service. Ten were killed in action, one was killed in a post-Armistice plane crash, and seven succumbed to illness, mainly influenza and/or pneumonia.
During the closing years of the war and in its aftermath, the world was engaged in a new type of battle when a devastating epidemic swept over the globe. It not only claimed the lives of some soldiers but also townspeople as the battle was fought at home against the Spanish Influenza. [Read more: Influenza Epidemic]
Most Americans did not want to be dragged into another foreign war. However, as war was being waged during the 1930s and 1940s across the ocean to its east and west, Winchester responded, donating needed supplies to bombed and ravaged countries, such as England, Russia, and China and buying defense bonds which supported the lend-lease program. It heeded President Roosevelt’s admonition to create a Civilian Defense organization. Young men registered for the first peace-time draft.
After the stunning news of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and other American bases in the Pacific, Winchester rose to the challenges of preparing for defense, with such efforts as plane spotting, and of supporting the troops and the country’s allies. Townspeople bought bonds, rolled bandages, knitted and sewed, donated money for a plethora of causes, planted victory gardens, and collected salvage. And, of course, its men and women enlisted in the services.
Unlike the first world war, Winchester did not wait until the end of this war to raise a new honor roll, dedicated on April 18, 1943. As the war went on, it had to be enlarged to list all the names, over 2,000.
Winchester residents in the services went everywhere around the Globe–to China, Burma, and hitherto unheard of islands in the Pacific, to North Africa and Italy, to Normandy, Central France, Belgium, and Germany, to Iceland and South America. They fought and backed up the troops in every branch of the military. Many tales of heroism heartened the readers of the local newspapers, though unprecedented casualties were also reported.
When the war was over in Europe, the town held a quiet celebration, knowing it had a second war to win. Finally, in September 1945, it celebrated victory. Two years afterward, it had the opportunity to share feelings of gratitude and friendship with a Belgian village which had sacrificed to help American men during the Battle of the Bulge, as it helped one of its own, a paratrooper named John Hanlon who invaded Normandy and helped in the liberation of Europe, fulfill a debt of honor. [Read more: WWII 75th Anniversary, D-Day: Winchester helped storm the beaches at Normandy]
Dubbed “The Forgotten War,” the conflict in Korea has been a much overlooked segment of Winchester’s history, unchronicled in the History of Winchester, unmentioned in the town’s Annual Reports, and nearly unrepresented by any documents in the town archives.
When the war began, it do not receive immediate recognition in the local newspaper. Then, in the July 14 edition of The Winchester Star, W. Allen Wilde, a member of the District Draft Board was quoted as saying, “There has been no great change in conditions, as they affect the board, because of the situation in Korea.”
Without the Roll of Honor outside Town Hall, there apparently would not be any public record of Winchester’s participation in the Korean War. At first, names of Korean Conflict veterans were tacked onto the end of the World War II list. However, in 1978 a list of men and women who served in the Korean War, along with a list of Vietnam War service men and women, was added to the Roll of Honor. [Read more: Korean War]
By 1968, over 40 townsmen were serving in a new war on the other side of the Pacific, in Vietnam. By the time this conflict was over, 768 had served (though not all in combat areas) and seven had been killed in action. The new school on Tufts Road was named for one of them, Francis Muraco, and scholarship funds were raised in his memory and that of Richard Bond.
The war divided the town, as it divided the nation. In 1968, the Winchester Ecumenical Association made a public appeal that the country negotiate withdrawal from Vietnam. The Winchester Peace Committee petitioned and urged the government to sign an immediate cease-fire. Residents participated in protests and other anti-war activities. In 1970, when a special referendum on the war was on the ballot, 547 voted for the nation to go all-out for military victory, 2,181 for immediate withdrawal of all troops, and 3,342 for withdrawal on a planned basis. On Jan. 29, 1973, the town’s bells tolled in observance of the cease-fire.
To date, over 190 residents have served in the military during "current conflict," including the Gulf War and Desert Storm. Their names, like those of veterans of earlier wars, are included on the Veterans Memorial.
Civil War: The first memorial to Winchester’s servicemen was raised at Wildwood Cemetery. Discussion was initiated in 1876. In 1882, the Board of Selectmen applied for four “condemned cannons” from the federal government. The memorial was built in 1885. Its base bears the names of those who died while in the service.
Spanish-American War: In 1937, an idea was put forward to build a Spanish-American war memorial. Town Meeting appointed a study committee, but no monument was erected.
World War I: The first Winchester Roll of Honor "for its sons and daughters in service" was dedicated on the day before the Armistice was declared. Howard J. Chidley, pastor of the First Congregational Church gave the prayer, asking that "it may be a perpetual reminder of the chivalry of those who counted not their lives dear when their country's call came." The Highland Playground was renamed for Augustus Leonard, killed in the war, in 1921. When built in 1924, the Noonan School was named for another young man killed in France, William Noonan. (Outside Winchester, a park in Woburn was named for Charles Lynch, who lived in both communities, and, at the Lowell Textile Institute, a memorial gate was dedicated to the memory of Mahlon Dennett.) The War Memorial was erected in 1926 and continues to stand out not only for its beauty and setting but also for its rarity as public sculpture within the town. [Read more: Armistice and Memorials]
World War II: For its men and women engaged in World War II, the town did not wait until the war’s end but authorized a new one in the fall of 1942 and dedicated it in April 1943. Town Moderator Joseph Worthen delivered the dedicatory address. [For excerpts from the dedicatory address, read more: WWII Roll of Honor]
In 1956, the auditorium added to the Jr. High School building as it was transformed into a high school was dedicated as a memorial to the fallen servicemen of WWII, although that has been forgotten.
All Wars: On Veterans' Day, Nov. 11, 1963, a new structure which combined the two Honor Rolls into one was dedicated. In 1978, wings were added for men and women who served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In 2009, the Rolls of Honor were combined, updated, and expanded to include earlier and later veterans when the Town created a new Veterans Memorial outside Town Hall.
1. This story is told in Henry S. Chapman, History of Winchester, 1936, pp. 40-41.
2. Brooks, History of Medford, p. 160.
3. Henry S. Chapman, History of Winchester, 1936, p. 359.
4. Nathaniel Richardson, “Winchester’s 50th Anniversary,” The Winchester Star, May 11, 1890.
5. Winchester column by Edwin A. Wadleigh, using the pen name Excelsior, in The Middlesex Journal, April 20, 1861.
6. The names of volunteers were recorded in the town’s Annual Reports, and records of their service were published by the Town in 1925 in Winchester’s War Records, along with those of veterans of the Spanish-American War and World War I.
7. The Winchester Star, May 24, 1914.