John E. Atwood

The Battle of Gettysburg, which resulted in the largest number of casualties during the American Civil War, was an integral aspect of John E. Atwood’s life. Towards the tail end of his career in the armed forces, Atwood witnessed President Abraham Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address prior to his honorable discharge. Atwood’s service in the army, and his many careers to follow afterwards, depicts the story of a wartime hero becoming an influential member of North Adams society.

John E. Atwood was born on October 9th, 1839 to John K. Atwood and Sally (Jones) Atwood in North Adams, Massachusetts. He was a founding member of the Johnson Greys - a civilian militia unit created in response to increasing worry about Southern secession and possible war. The unit marched to Springfield, Massachusetts in order to officially enlist into the Union Army on June 21st, 1861 and became Company B of the Tenth Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Mr. Atwood was 25 when he officially became Private Atwood. Most of the information about his life during this time period comes from Atwood himself. After the war he joined the fraternal organization The Grand Army of the Republic, and wrote about his experiences during the war to add to the local collection of civil war "sketches".

In 1862 Pvt Atwood was promoted to Corporal. His unit traveled extensively and participated in many battles including at Fair Oaks (where Cpl. Atwood had a minor ankle injury), White Oak Grove, Gains MIlls, Charles City Cross Roads, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. It was there at Gettysburg that Cpl. Atwood had sun stroke and was unable to go into battle with his fellow soldiers, but instead had to go to the military hospital. HIs unit moved on without him to continue fighting - he stayed, recovered, and worked as a nurse once he was well enough to walk around. When it was decided to create a national cemetery at Gettysburg, Cpl. Atwood was one of three men chosen to represent Massachusetts at the event as part of their Color Guard, serving as Color Bearer. He was an eyewitness to President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Cpl. Atwood officially mustered out of service on July 1st, 1864 and returned to North Adams. In his sketch Atwood said of the war: "The most important event in my whole service and the one for which I am most grateful was the sparing of my life and receiving an honorable discharge". Taking into account the length of his active duty, and the skirmishes his unit participated in, one could understand this sentiment considering he was able to make it through relatively unscathed.

After returning home from the war, Cpl. Atwood moved back to North Adams and worked as a printer and a laborer. From 1890 to 1895 he once again answered the call of duty - this time not for his country, but for his city and became a police officer for the North Adams Police Department. Officer Atwood is mentioned numerous times in articles from the archives of the North Adams Transcript - mentions of him walking his beat, and participating in raids on illegal distilleries. In 1904 Atwood was a special guest of the Memorial Day services where he gave the Gettysburg Address to those in the audience. In 1907 he was working as a janitor when he had to travel to Boston in order to undergo a procedure for larynx cancer. He passed on October 2nd, 1907 due to complications leading from the surgery (pulmonary edema) at the age of 67.

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