Cambridge Drill Club, 1861-1871

Administrative Information

Historical Sketch


Related Collections

Scope and Content Note

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Series Description and Folder Listing

1 volume
.2 linear feet
Processor: Stephanie Howson
Date: September 2009

Acquisition: Unknown

Access: There are no restrictions on items in this collection.

Permission to Publish: Requests for permission to publish from the collection should be made to the Executive Director.

Copyright: The Cambridge Historical Society does not hold copyright on the materials in the collection.

Historical Sketch:

The Cambridge Drill Club, created in May 1861, was a volunteer drill company made up of Cambridge male residents. It most likely formed in response to the departure of Massachusetts state and local militias to fight on the front lines of the Civil War (1861-1865). In the absence of these militias, the Cambridge Drill Club’s goal was to protect Cambridge and its residents against outside attack.

The Civil War began with state and local militia being called to volunteer service. The draft of individual soldiers began in 1863. Militia systems had been set up before the war around the U.S. and these militias consisted of all eligible males. Abraham Lincoln’s request for troops prompted the creation of numerous local schools for military instruction called drill clubs to prepare men to fight, for as the war progressed, there became a pressing need for new troops. Members of these drill clubs were volunteers and received military training that they could use in battle or to protect their hometowns and families.

It is most likely that the Cambridge Drill Club did not train young men for battle on the front lines but instead was a group of older men assembled, ready to provide protection for Cambridge in the absence of state and local militia. This hypothesis of the membership of the Cambridge Drill Club is further substantiated by the inclusion of an amendment to the Drill Club’s constitution that discusses “Honorary Members.” These were probably club members who were too old even to participate in the club’s drill activities. The activities of the Cambridge Drill Club included meetings, drill practice, parades, fundraising, and other public events.
Meetings seemed to have consisted of the reading of relevant records such as the minutes from the previous meeting or the financial report of the secretary. Voting was also held during each meeting on a variety topics concerning club membership, club activities, and club fund allocation.

The Cambridge Drill Club members were required to wear uniforms, keep weapons, and act under a chain of command, which consisted of the club officers. The Cambridge Drill Club officer titles were: president, vice president, treasurer, clerk, armorer, drill master, and a finance committee, all of whom were chosen annually in May, the month in which the Cambridge Drill Club constitution and by-laws were written and the club officially came into being. The members of the Cambridge Drill Club were required to be male citizens over the age of eighteen and the membership of the club was not to exceed 100. Each candidate was considered for admission based on his character and fitness and upon admission, was required to sign the constitution and by-laws (the record book in this collection) and pay a sum of $3 before he was allowed to vote or appear in any public club activity. Men became members through a club voting process in which recipients of 2/3 of the votes of the members present or more were made members. The Cambridge Drill Club membership consisted of regular members, fine members, and honorary members. The fine and honorary members were not counted toward the club’s 100-member maximum nor were they subject to the assessments that regular members had to pay periodically.

The Cambridge Drill Club seems to have grossed its finances from the monthly dues paid by club members. Regular club members were also asked to pay assessments of varying amounts for the purchase of guns and other expenses, and also had to pay a fine of 15 cents for any missed club meeting or for any absence at the drill exercises. The club clerk was responsible for collecting the fines and dues for each month. There is some documentation of the Cambridge Drill Club receiving donations from people and from various places- including some spaces in New York City like Grand Central Station and Union Square.

It is unclear when the Cambridge Drill Club disbanded but like many volunteer drill clubs at the time, they may have carried on their meetings and club activities ceremoniously after the end of the war in 1865.

Katcher, Philip. American Civil War Armies (5): Volunteer Militia. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1989.
McHenry, Paul T. Jr. “A Review of Command Magazine’s Article, ‘America’s Militia Heritage’- The Volunteer Militia.” State Guard

Association of the United States. (accessed August 28, 2009)

Miller, Richard F. Harvard’s Civil War: a history of the Twentieth MA Volunteer Infantry. Lebanon: University Press of New England, 2005.

Related Collections:

Scope and Content Note:

The Cambridge Drill Club records consist of one book, which seems to have served as all all-purpose record book for the club. The book begins with the club’s constitution and by-laws, which is made up of 17 articles and three amendments. The constitution and by-laws highlight the requirements for club membership, list the club officers and their duties, explain how to respond to “delinquent members”, list the rules of voting, state the goal of and rules surrounding drill exercises, and contains an honor pledge to the other members as the final article. The amendments comment upon member candidacy, retouching upon membership requirements for regular members as well as fine and honorary members.

The book also contains a list of the names of the initial club members who had to pay $3 upon signing, a list of the fine members (members that promised to pay an annual assessment of $5 on signing) that is dated October and November 1861, and a list of the honorary members.

Also contained are the minutes of the meetings held by the Cambridge Drill Club from May 6, 1861 to April 21st, 1862. The meeting minutes list the day and date of the meeting and describe the course of each meeting very basically. The minutes often mention how many members were present, when voting was held and to what end, the reading of the minutes from the previous meeting, the reading of various status reports, member resignations and discharges, and the discussion and description of public club activities such as parades. The minutes also mention the requests of other clubs to combine for drilling exercises, dialogue concerning various club meeting places, and debates concerning how to use leftover club funds.

After the final meeting minutes entry, the book documents the names of members who have received money from the club and the amount. It also lists the names of places and the monetary amount collected by club members from each location. Some of the locations listed are Gramercy Park Hotel and Union Square, which meant the club, at some point, collected money in New York City. The records do not specify why the men listed received club funds but it is most likely that these amounts were compensation for work done for the club. The records also do not describe the cause for which the money was collected from the various places. A few pages have names inscribed at the top with a list of dates and the amount of work done by that specific person recorded underneath. The amount of work is quantified in days (1 day, ½ day, ¼ day etc.). The years are often missing from these entries’ dates but the years of 1870 and 1871 are present in some of the entries suggesting that this portion of the book was created around that time.

The book then contains a large number of blank pages and near the end, writing picks up again, consisting of scribbled names upside-down on the bottom of the page. The last few pages of the book contain what seems to be an inventory of various foods and their amounts with the month and day, and unmarked numbers corresponding. Some of the foods listed are muffins, bread, beans, and crumpets. It is unclear what these foods were used for, why they were recorded, and to what organization these records belonged. Because this section of the book begins from the last page and moves backwards, it may have been that this record book was used to record information from two different organizations, the first being the Cambridge Drill Club and the second, unknown. However, the final page of the record book seems to belong to the records of the Cambridge Drill Club as it lists the same places recorded earlier in the book (Gramercy Park Hotel, Union Square) with a sum total corresponding to each place, which is probably the total amount of funds collected.

There may have been additional records for the Cambridge Drill Club though it is not known for certain.

The Library of Congress Subject Headings:

Cambridge (Mass.) – Clubs.

Cambridge (Mass.) – Social life and customs.

United States – History – Civil War, 1861-1865 – War Work.

Massachusetts – History – Civil War, 1861-1865.

The Cambridge Drill Club (Organization) Records 1861-1871

[table colwidth=”5%|5%|90%”]
1|1|Record Book, 1861-1871