A Page from North Quabbin History: Athol native Ginery Twichell was a Civil War postal hero

  • “Hon. Ginery Twichell, of Mass.” Library of Congress description

Published: 9/14/2020 1:58:47 PM
Modified: 9/15/2020 8:26:56 AM

The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 with the Confederate troops firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. With the war came the inevitable changes of day-to-day life, including mail delivery. Still, Athol native Ginery Twichell made sure a delivery of mail and dispatches from Washington D.C. safely made its way north during the early months of the war.

According to “History of Athol” by Lilley Caswell, “Soon after the opening of the war of the Rebellion he (Twichell) rendered valuable assistance to the Government in the transportation of the mail from Washington to the North. ”

Twichell was well known in the area as an owner of several stagecoach lines between Worcester and various lines to Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. By 1850, he had been elected as president of the Boston and Worcester Railroad, a post which he served in for 10 years.

Washington, D.C., in April, 1861, found itself with the possibility of being surrounded by enemy states. The Virginia Convention had voted to secede on April 17, 1861 and there was concern a divided Maryland might do the same.

The Confederates had their eye on taking Washington and on April 10, forces began to trail into the city. Eventually, Andrew Carnegie led the efforts to build a railroad that circumvented Baltimore, thus bringing Union troops on April 25, saving the capitol.

Discussing early April, Caswell continued, “Communication with the East was blockaded, when Mr. Twichell tendered his services to the Government to remove or escape the blockade. The mail had been accumulating for five days when the Postmaster General confided the mails to his care, and they were safely delivered to the towns and cities of the North.”

Another mention of Twichell’s journey can be found in “A History of Brookline Massachusetts, from the first settlement of Muddy River until the present time,” by John William Denehy. “He did his part in service to the Union during his noteworthy public service being a special trip by steamboat from Washington to N.Y, in April 1861 carrying the foreign dispatches concerning the blockade.” Twichell moved to Brookline in 1850.

The ship that carried Twichell North was the Keystone State. Even before arriving in Washington, D.C., the ship had had an interesting journey, according to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer of Saturday, April 27, 1861, provided by Ken Liss, President of the Brookline Historical Society. “She left Philadelphia on Saturday morning, April 20, and arrived at Hampton Roads on Monday morning in time to see the lurid glare of the conflagration of all the Government property at the Norfolk Navy Yard.” As the navy yard was abandoned by Union forces it was burned, “which has thus prevented Secessionists from getting possession of the valuable property that was there,” the article continued.

“The U.S. steamer Pawnee and the crew of the U.S. Corvette Cumberland, after laying the trains, destroying the arms, stores, spiking the guns (throwing some of them overboard), soon were all ablaze … The startled rebels came from their beds in time to find a march had been stolen on them. The vessels that were to have given them a Navy were gone, and the attack on the yard, which was to have come off next day, was unnecessary,” according to the article.

However, at this point the U.S. Corvette Cumberland became hemmed in as the rebels had obstructed the channel by sinking a number of vessels. The Keystone State and a tug named the Yankee, during high water, rescued her “by crushing through the sunken vessels and securing to the Government this fine vessel and noble crew,” the article stated. The Keystone State, carrying with it the Marines of the Norfolk station and several of their officers continued on and soon arrived in Washington, D.C. and from there continued North.

Her arrival in New York was noted in an article published in many Northern papers as well as in The Daily Journal of Muscatine, IA on April 27, 1861, stating, “The Keystone State arrived from Washington to-day, bringing Col. Bonneville, U.S. Army, Gen. Twichell, and Seth Bryan, Esq., both of Boston, and M.J. Parrott, of Kansas, bound home.

“The Keystone State left Washington on Wednesday Afternoon, bringing forty or fifty bags of mail matter for the North-east, in charge of Gen. Twitchell. She also brings dispatches and instructions from the Government to Mr. Adams, Minister to England.”

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