Thomas Mann – "A Yankee in Andersonville" (and in Norfolk)
Thomas H. Mann was a 19 year old Teacher from Wrentham – today's Norfolk, MA, who following the firing on Fort Sumter, along with a number of men from his home town, enlisted on May 20, 1861 and was mustered into the Union Army on August 24, 1861. They became the nucleus of Co. I, Eighteenth Massachusetts Infantry.
The regiment underwent its organization at Readville (Hyde Park), Mass., before being shipped off to the seat of the war. The unit was assigned to the Army of the Potomac into what would eventually become the Fifth Corps. Participating in the Peninsula Campaign the 18th saw little action and spent much of its time digging trenches, marching all over the countryside, and suffering the drudgery of camp life.
Mann fought in many battles and was promoted to the rank of Corporal on April 1, 1863 but it was not until Second Bull Run that he and the regiment took part in serious combat. It was during this battle that the regiment took its heaviest casualties of the war. Held in reserve at Antietam, the regiment went on to serve at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Mine Run Campaign, and The Wilderness. During the battle of The Wilderness, in the fighting west of Saunders Field on May 5, 1864, Corporal Mann was captured and taken prisoner – just three months before his enlistment was due to be up. Mann would spent 10 months in various Confederate prisons, including Danville, VA, Andersonville, GA, Charleston, SC and Florence, SC. He was involved in a prisoner exchanged and released from captivity on March 1, 1865.
Mann was literate and observing, and during the course of his enlistment he continuously wrote letters to his family and friends at home and to the Wrentham Lyceum of which he was a member. After the war he left teaching to became a physician and practiced medicine in New England until the mid-1880s. He went on to become a newspaper editor and was then appointed postmaster of Fitchburg, Mass. His last years were spent living with his daughter in Connecticut. He wrote about his prison experiences as a POW in an article "A Yankee in Andersonville," which was serialized in the July and August 1890 editions of Century Magazine.
He used his correspondence, along with some from other members of the regiment, to construct a memoir on the exploits of the Eighteenth Massachusetts, late in the 19th-century. The memoir went unpublished and forgotten until found among some family papers in the early 1990s by Mann’s grandsons. It has since been edited and published as "Fighting with the Eighteenth Massachusetts: The Civil War Memoir of Thomas H. Mann".
Fighting with the Eighteenth Massachusetts covers the period between Mann’s enlistment and his capture at The Wilderness. Writing in the third person, Mann weaves an interesting tale. The reader experiences a variety of images from the drudgery of everyday soldier life to the horror of battle. Though battle action is descriptive, Mann does not go into the blood and gore. This is an excellent way for descendants of the 18th's soldiers to view what kind of life their ancestors had during the war. Mann was an avid fan of George McClellan and comments on everything from politics to slavery to emancipation to his contempt for the attitude of the folks at home who have a lot to say but don’t put their money where there mouth is. At one point Mann muses that the entire army should be discharged and sent home, while those at home with the opinions should be sent to the front to take their place.
Fighting with the Eighteenth Massachusetts is a worthy addition to the history of the regiment, a welcome addition to Civil War history, and a must for those who collect items related to the history of Norfolk.
Norfolk's own Thomas Mann’s memoirs are an extraordinary addition to our knowledge of the Civil War and the Eighteenth Massachusetts' exploits.