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Title: Gen. Cowdin and the First Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers
Author: Cowdin, Robert, 1805-1874
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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At the urgent and repeated solicitations of many friends, I have finally
consented to give to the public a few statements concerning the treatment
which I have received from a few high official dignitaries, representing
the State of Massachusetts. I do not wish to be egotistical or extravagant
in my expressions, but to state the facts simply as they are, leaving the
public to decide whether one who has sacrificed his business, the comforts
and pleasures of home, and friends, for the defence of his country, has
deserved such unkind and ungenerous usage.

R. C.

BOSTON, October, 1864.


Immediately after the fall of Sumter, when the Capital seemed in imminent
danger, I reported myself to his Excellency Governor Andrew, tendering him
the services of myself and command, and expressing my willingness to go at
the shortest possible notice. A number of other Colonels appeared for the
same purpose, and after the matter had been thoroughly discussed, the
Governor ordered Colonel Jones, of the Sixth Regiment, to report himself
the next day, which he did with about four hundred men, some three hundred
short of the requisite number for a full Regiment (as the regulations then
provided). I then offered to the Governor one of my companies, under the
command of Captain W. S. Sampson, which was accepted. This, with others
that had previously been ordered, filled up the Regiment to its full
quota, and it left for the seat of Government, April 17, 1861. I called at
the State House daily, urging my claims, but his Excellency informed me
that he must send out the Regiments first that could best be spared, and
in a short time sent the following: Third, Colonel Wardrop; Fourth,
Colonel Packard; Fifth, Colonel Lawrence, and the Eighth, Colonel Monroe.
Finally, on the 27th of April, I received an order from Adjutant-General
Schouler for my Regiment to be in readiness to march, and to report
myself, in person, at the State House, and to select from the companies
offered me those which I desired to fill up my Regiment to its full
quota. I immediately left my business and devoted my whole time to
preparing it for the service. The City of Boston, with the generosity
which has always characterized her, appropriated $200,000 towards fitting
out the Boston troops, and furnished seven of my companies with uniforms,
the Roxbury and Chelsea companies being furnished by their respective
cities. I then made applications at the State House for arms and
equipments for my men, but was put off from day to day until about the 8th
of May, when orders were received from the War Department calling for
75,000 troops who would volunteer for three years or the war. Immediately
on the receipt of this order the ten companies under my command voted
unanimously to offer themselves to the Government, and at eleven o'clock
of the same day my officers did likewise, and requested me to report to
the Governor and tender him the services of myself and command, to be
offered to the United States. In accordance with the wish of my officers I
went to the State House, but the Governor seemed to assume an air of
indifference to my offer. I then requested permission to proceed to
Washington and offer my services to the Government, to which he gave his
consent, and directed Lieutenant-Colonel Sargent, one of his aids, to
write me a leave of absence for five days. I left that afternoon for
Washington, accompanied by my Major and Adjutant, and called upon General
Scott, as General-in-Chief of the Army. He expressed a strong desire that
my Regiment should be ordered, but referred me to the Hon. Mr. Cameron,
Secretary of War. I waited upon him, and he informed me that the
Government had ordered from each State a certain number of troops, but had
left it with the different Governors which Regiments should be sent. I
telegraphed to Governor Andrew the result of my interview with General
Scott and Secretary Cameron, but received no reply. I then took the cars
for home, and on my arrival called at his house, but on learning that he
was at the Howard Athenæum I immediately went there, and at the close of
the scene reported myself to him in person. I met with a cool reception
from him, who, as I perceived by his countenance, did not like to be
disturbed. I could have informed him that it was the duty of every officer
to report himself to his superior immediately on his return to duty, but I
judged from his treatment of me that he was entirely ignorant of that
fact. I was kept in suspense until the 22d of May, when he appointed me
Colonel of my own Regiment, and, as I have since learned, much against his
will, and on the 25th of the same month we were mustered into the United
States service. I then applied to the Adjutant-General and
Quartermaster-General for arms and equipments for a full Regiment, as I
was very desirous that Massachusetts should furnish the first three-years
Regiment. On the 29th I was notified that the buildings at Fresh Pond,
Cambridge, had been procured for me as barracks. On the first of June we
marched out and took possession of our new quarters. My Regiment was
temporarily furnished with old muskets of various patterns, which were
hardly fit to drill with, some of them being very much out of repair. I
soon found the location was an unhealthy one, and immediately applied for
a change of quarters, which were provided me on the 13th of June, at North

On or about the 12th of June I received notice from Assistant
Quartermaster-General Stone, to send my companies to the Arsenal, and he
would furnish them with Springfield rifle muskets in the place of the ones
they then had. I did so, and they were provided with second-hand
Springfield muskets, and with cartridge-boxes, belts, and knapsacks, which
were composed of the poorest material. The knapsacks were so poor that I
ordered a board of survey, and they were unanimously condemned and
considered unfit for the service, a report of which I sent to the
Quartermaster-General, but no attention was paid to it. On the 14th of
June I received orders from the War Department to be in readiness to march
the next afternoon. I then called at the State House to procure a set of
Colors, which had been promised me from time to time, and to which I was
entitled, but was put off as before with the assurance that everything
should be ready for me when I started, but they were never furnished me,
and the Regiment left without them. On Saturday, the 15th, my wagons,
horses, and camp equipage were transferred to the cars, and at half-past
four o'clock we broke camp and started for Boston. Just before leaving, a
letter, from one of his Excellency's Council, was handed me, of which the
following is a copy:--

     _Executive Department, Council Chamber,
     Boston, June 14, 1861._


     DEAR SIR: I hear very bad reports about your Regiment, and it gives
     me great trouble, as an old friend of yours. I understand that you
     are very much wanting in order, discipline, and dignity, and that the
     men and officers pay but little attention to rules and orders, and
     the Regiment is more like a mob than a camp, and unless you are more
     rigid and strict in enforcing military discipline and order, you will
     make a failure. I hope and trust that you will change your course, or
     you will, I fear, disgrace your name and State.

        Yours truly,
        OAKES AMES.

As I was blamed considerably at the time for giving my men so long a
march, I will in justice to myself say, that I halted twice on the route
from Cambridge to the Common, and had them wear their overcoats for the
reasons that the knapsacks were so narrow and small that the coats could
not be properly packed, and that some of the uniforms, though worn only
about six weeks, were so ragged that they were not decent to march through
the streets in. On my arrival at the depot, I was met by a joint Committee
of the City Council, headed by his Honor Mayor Wightman, who presented me
with a beautiful national color, which, together with the one used by the
old First Regiment, was all that I had when I left the city. After taking
leave of the many friends who had gathered at the depot to witness our
departure, I stepped upon the platform, not without some emotion, and
turned my back upon dear old Boston. As I entered the cars I found the
Assistant Quartermaster-General of Massachusetts, who was exercising
considerable authority, and on questioning him as to the cause of it, was
told he had been sent there by Gov. Andrew to superintend the Regiment
until it should be turned over to the proper authorities in Jersey City. I
informed him that I was Colonel of that Regiment, and that Gov. Andrew had
nothing to do with me or my command. On arriving at Jersey City, I was met
by a large assemblage of citizens, many of them former residents of
Massachusetts, headed by Mr. Warren, who gave us a hearty welcome as the
first three years' Regiment, and informed me that a collation had been
prepared and was in waiting for us, which was readily and gratefully
partaken of. I arrived in Baltimore on the afternoon of the 17th, and was
received by a detachment of Nims' Battery, who escorted us through the
identical streets that the 6th Regiment marched through and were assaulted
on the 19th of April previous. Before marching through the city, I
distributed ten rounds of ball cartridges to my men, loaded and capped my
pieces, and was prepared for any assault that might be made upon us, and
took up the line of march through the city. The streets through which we
passed were thronged with people, whose countenances indicated the hatred
they felt towards Massachusetts soldiers; but no insults were offered, and
we marched through the city unmolested. I arrived in Washington at 6
o'clock of the same afternoon, and reported myself to Gen. Mansfield, who
had charge of the troops then arriving, and on the 19th was ordered to
Georgetown, near Chain Bridge. Soon after arriving in camp, an order was
issued by Gen. Mansfield, of which the following is a copy:--


     _Headquarters, Department of Washington,
     June 25, 1861._

     Fugitive slaves will, under no pretext whatever, be permitted to
     reside or in any way harbored in quarters and camps of troops serving
     in this Department. Neither will such slaves be allowed to accompany
     troops on the march. Commanders of troops will be held responsible
     for the strict observance of this order.

        By order of

In a few days after receiving this order, I was informed that a colored
man had come inside of my lines who did not belong to the camp, and in
accordance with the above I ordered the officer of the day to send the man
outside the lines, as I should have done to any white man, or any person
there without permission. A correspondent of the _Traveller_, from the
First Massachusetts Regiment, wrote a most pitiful and affecting story
regarding it, but I can only say in reply that his statement was
_incorrect_ in nearly every particular. On the 29th of June, I received a
letter from Hon. Charles Sumner, requesting me to call at his office in
Washington, which I did, and on arriving there was presented by him with a
letter from Gov. Andrew, of which the following is a copy:--


     _Executive Department, Boston, June 27, 1861._


     MY DEAR SIR: I am compelled earnestly and emphatically, though with
     entire friendliness, to call upon you, without delay, to resign your
     commission as Colonel of the First Massachusetts Regiment. The
     testimony is so unanimous and constant and overwhelming that the
     Regiment has suffered every day, for want of competent management,
     that I am compelled to this step, which I take with the utmost

        Yours very truly,
        J. A. ANDREW.

I inquired of Mr. Sumner what it all meant, and he informed me that the
Governor was very much dissatisfied with me, and had written to him and
Senator Wilson, asking them to urge my resignation. I told him I was then
an officer in the United States service, and that if the Governor, or any
one else, had any charge to prefer against me to present them to proper
authorities, and I would willingly be tried by a court-martial and abide
the result without a murmur. I then returned to camp, and wrote to Gov.
Andrew, in substance, what I had stated to Mr. Sumner, and that I should
_not_ resign.

Not satisfied with this result, I was honored, in the course of a few
days, with a visit from His Excellency, who informed me that he had come
to inspect my horses, wagons, and other camp equipage, of which there had
been so much complaint. I showed them to him, but he appeared perfectly
indifferent to all that I said. I invited him to dine with me, which he
did. I then invited him to stay and witness my drill, but he very abruptly
declined. I was informed, and from the best authority, that, during his
visit in Washington, he called upon the President and urged my removal,
but was told by him (the President) that he could not remove me before
having the advice of Gen. Scott and Secretary Cameron. He then called upon
Gen. Scott and asked, as a personal favor, that he would recommend to the
President my removal. He was asked for what reason, but being unable to
give any satisfactory one, was told by the General that his request could
not be complied with. The next morning he was to start for Boston, but
before leaving he called upon Senator Sumner, who had not risen. He was
shown to his chamber, when he again requested him to call upon me and urge
my immediate resignation. Consequently I was, in the course of a few days,
_honored_ by a visit from Hon. Mr. Sumner, Hon. John B. Alley, and Dr.
James W. Stone, since deceased. I conducted them around my camp,
entertaining them as best I could, when Senator Sumner then broached the
subject and again urged me to resign, intimating that I _might_ be
removed. I replied, as on a previous occasion, adding that I had spent too
much time and money for the militia of Massachusetts to be driven out in
such a disgraceful manner. Mr. Alley then made a few remarks relative to
the subject, as did also Dr. Stone, but I assured them that I was more
than ever _determined not to resign_. And, furthermore, informed them that
I had had trouble enough from the interference of outsiders, and if any
one called again for the same purpose, they should see the inside of my

About this time my Regiment was inspected by Gen. Tyler, commanding the
Division, and he pronounced the men in good condition, and the Regiment
has stood number one at every inspection since. In a few days after we
were ordered to the front, and the conduct of the First Massachusetts
Regiment on that occasion is a matter of history. One brave man, however,
upon whose banner was inscribed "three or five years, or during the war,"
melted like _Snow_ before a hot fire.

On the 13th of August I was Brigaded under Gen. Hooker, at Bladensburg,
and on the 14th of October was assigned by him to the command of the First
Brigade. On the 23d of the same month he gave me a recommendation for
Brigadier General, of which the following is a copy:--

     _Headquarters, Hooker's Division,
     Camp Union, Oct. 23, 1861._

     _Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac_.

     GENERAL: After giving the subject the deliberation it requires, I
     respectfully name Col. Robert Cowdin, 1st Regiment Massachusetts
     Volunteers, for promotion to the rank of Brigadier-General, and
     request that he may be assigned to the command of the First Brigade
     of my Division. He is at present exercising that office. I recommend
     Col. Cowdin for the following reasons:--

     He is the senior officer of the Brigade.

     He displayed great courage while in command of his Regiment, in the
     skirmish at Bull Run, on the 18th of July, 1861.

     He was the first Colonel in the United States to tender a Regiment
     for three years, already armed and equipped for the field, to the
     Government, at the hour of its greatest peril, and his promotion will
     place Lieut.-Col. D. G. Wells, an officer of uncommon merit, in
     command of his Regiment. Very respectfully,

        Your obt. servant,
        _Brigadier-General, commanding Division_.

     "Official Copy," WM. H. LAWRENCE, _Aid-de-Camp_.

I was told by General Hooker that General McClellan had informed him that
any one he should recommend for Brigadier-General should be appointed, and
that I might expect mine in the course of ten days. It so happened that
Gov. Andrew in a few days after made it convenient to be in Washington;
and there was a prevalent rumor in camp at that time that he was there to
oppose my nomination, but whether or not I am unable to say, but will
leave the public to decide as the appointment was not made at that time,
and I did not receive it for more than eleven months after. About this
time Senator Wilson, in command of the 22d Regiment at Halls Hill, Va.,
one Sunday afternoon, called on one of his Captains, and, in course of
conversation, my recommendation by General Hooker was discussed, when
Senator Wilson said: "Col. Cowdin will never be confirmed by the Senate."

On hearing of my recommendation by Gen. Hooker, the Mayor, Aldermen, and
Common Council, in both branches of which I had been a member, very kindly
forwarded a petition from their respective Boards to the President, urging
my appointment. A short time after this three more petitions were gotten
up, one by the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives, one from the
leading men of Boston, and one from the War Committee; these petitions
were all sent to a Massachusetts Senator to be presented to the President,
but in my heart I firmly believe that he (the President) never saw them.
It is presumed that they were either destroyed or kept in abeyance. On the
8th of January, Mayor Opdyke of New York wrote the following letter in my

     _Mayor's Office, New York, January 8, 1862._

     ABRAHAM LINCOLN, _President of the United States_:--

     SIR: The friends of Colonel Robert Cowdin of the First Massachusetts
     Regiment, now acting Brigadier-General of Hooker's Division, are very
     desirous that he should receive the appointment of Brigadier-General
     of Volunteers. He is so highly recommended by General Hooker upon
     purely military grounds, and by the Mayor and City Council of Boston,
     who have long known him intimately, and with whom he has served in
     both branches, that there can be no question as to his character or
     capacity. Added to this testimony is the practical commentary
     furnished by the high character for discipline and efficiency
     attained by Colonel Cowdin's Regiment, and which it is understood
     characterizes the entire Brigade of which Colonel Cowdin is now in
     command. The appointment of Colonel Cowdin to a Brigadier-Generalship
     would seem to be from public consideration one of the best that could
     be made. This is a consideration which at this time cannot fail to
     prove potent with Your Excellency. I take pleasure in requesting your
     special attention to General Hooker's letter, of which a printed copy
     is appended. The appointment of Colonel Cowdin will be to me
     _personally_ a source of high gratification.

        Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

This letter was given to Senator Sumner, with the request that he should
immediately present it to the President in person, which he agreed to do;
but it was kept back by him, from his own acknowledgment, for more than
eight months; the reason is best known to himself; but it is presumed,
however, that Senator Wilson advised him not to present it, and informed
him, as he had two of my personal friends, (he taking them to be
otherwise,) that my case was closed, and that _he_ had closed it for me.
During the winter, Senator Wilson was in Boston, and the subject of my
promotion was discussed in the Republican Headquarters, when he made a
public declaration, in the presence of several gentlemen, that I could not
be confirmed by the Senate even if I was appointed. I continued in command
of the Brigade until the 19th of February, when I was relieved, by
Brig.-Gen. Henry M. Naglee, an officer of distinguished ability. He has
since, as I am informed, been mustered out of the service for his
political opinions. On or about the 20th of September, Hon. John P. Hale,
Senator from New Hampshire, seeing the injustice that had been done me,
laid my case before the President, and requested him to appoint me. The
President told him that no more appointments could be made, except for
distinguished conduct in the field. Mr. Hale then related the engagements
I had been in, and particularly mentioned that of Williamsburg; and in
about four days from that time I received my appointment, of which the
following is a copy:--

     _War Department, Washington, Sept. 26, 1862._

     SIR: You are hereby informed that the President of the United States
     has appointed you, for distinguished conduct at the battle of
     Williamsburg, Brigadier-General of Volunteers in the service of the
     United States, to rank as such from the twenty-sixth day of
     September, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two. Should the
     Senate, at their next session, advise and consent thereto, you will
     be commissioned accordingly.

     Immediately on receipt hereof please to communicate to this
     Department, through the Adjutant-General of the Army, your acceptance
     or non-acceptance, and with your letter of acceptance return the oath
     herewith enclosed, properly filled up, subscribed and attested, and
     report your age, birthplace, and the State of which you were a
     permanent resident.

     You will report for duty to the General-in-Chief, U. S. A., in person
     for orders.

        EDWIN M. STANTON, _Secretary of War_.


On the 30th of September I was sworn into office as Brigadier-General of
Volunteers, and immediately assigned to the 2d Brigade, Abercrombie's
Division, composed entirely of new troops, which I continued to drill and
discipline until the 30th of March, when I was relieved of my command by
the following order:--

     _Headquarters, Abercrombie's Division,
     Arlington House, Va., March 30, 1863._

     General Order No. 13.

     1. Brigadier-General Robert Cowdin is hereby relieved from the
     command of the 2d Brigade of this Division. Col. Burr Porter, 40th
     Mass. Vols., will assume command.

     2. In parting with Brigadier-General Cowdin the General commanding
     the Division desires to compliment him on the efficiency to which the
     troops under his command have arrived. He feels assured that soldiers
     so well managed in camp would have been equally well led in the
     field, where he regrets that he must be deprived of General Cowdin's
     valuable services.

     By order of BRIG.-GEN. ABERCROMBIE.

        J. A. SLIPPER, _A. A. G._

     Official. C. H. LAWRENCE. _A. A. G._

As the time for confirmation drew near, I had occasion to visit Washington
on business for my Brigade, when I met a distinguished Senator, and I made
inquiries of him concerning my case. He informed me that there was not the
least doubt as to my confirmation, and that no name stood better before
the Senate than mine. Another Senator also informed me that my name, with
others, had been sent forward and canvassed, and not a single objection
brought against it; and added, that I should receive every vote with
possibly the exception of the two Massachusetts Senators. It appears,
however, that there were a large number of politicians to be confirmed,
many of whom had not seen a day of real service; therefore fighting men,
who had seen nearly two years hard service, were set aside to make place
for them.

The day after I was relieved of my command I received the following
letters from my superior officers, Generals Heintzelman and Abercrombie:--

     _Headquarters, Department of Washington,
     Washington, March 30, 1863._


     GENERAL: I am happy to be able to say that after serving some time
     under my command both on the Peninsula and in the defences here
     commanding a Brigade, your conduct has merited my warm approbation.

     Hoping to meet you again in service under more favorable

        I remain, yours truly,
        S. P. HEINTZELMAN, _Major-General_.

     _Headquarters Arlington, April 1, 1863._

     MY DEAR GENERAL: In parting with you, I take this occasion to express
     my deep regret that so valuable an officer should be lost to this
     command, and at a time, too, when his services might prove of much
     importance, and aid very materially in the defence of the city
     against the threatened raid by the Rebels along the line of our
     defences. As evidence of your efficiency, I am satisfied there is not
     a Brigade under my command better calculated to do good services by
     its discipline and instruction than your own. I trust you may be
     restored to your command at an early day.

        Your obedient servant,
        J. J. ABERCROMBIE, _Brig.-Gen._

     BRIG.-GEN. R. COWDIN, Washington, D. C.

On my returning home as a citizen, the people began to inquire the cause
of it, when one of the senators called on several of the daily papers in
this city, as I have since learned, and dictated to them what answer to
give the people. One of the number was very particular to give as a reason
that there were two more nominations from Massachusetts than she was
entitled to, and they supposed the Senate selected for promotion those
that were considered the best qualified, (or words to that effect,)
carefully concealing the fact that two of the candidates who were on the
Massachusetts list did not represent Massachusetts. One went out in
command of a New York Regiment, and the other, as I am informed, was an
engineer from Pennsylvania, and has since been discharged.

Some time after my return home, I called on Senator Sumner, and inquired
of him why I had been thus treated; what qualifications, if any, I was
lacking, which should cause them to promote junior officers over me? But
he did not give me any reason, but in substance intimated that we must
submit to higher authority whether we liked it or not. Nearly every
question I put to him was answered evasively, and my previous opinion,
that he had used his best efforts to defeat me, were then confirmed. About
the 21st of August I received an appointment as Paymaster of Volunteers,
at the instigation of Senator Wilson, which I respectfully declined, not
feeling quite willing to step from the rank of Brigadier-General to that
of Major. Since that time I have had several interviews with Mr. Wilson,
and he informs me that he has never opposed me directly or indirectly,
evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. If such be the case, _why_ am I
out of the service? Can either of these gentlemen answer?

During a recent visit to Washington, I called upon the President, and
presented him with my letters of recommendation. He informed me that I
needed no recommendation, that my conduct in the field was a sufficient
guarantee of my fitness for the office of Brigadier-General, but that
there were no vacancies at that time. He then indorsed my papers and
referred me to Secretary Stanton, who informed me that no man stood better
in the army than I did; he said that there were no vacancies at that time.
It cannot but be plain to the public that my not being confirmed by the
Senate was the work of the Massachusetts Senators, as one of them informed
me that it was by _his own personal exertions_ that a Massachusetts
General had been confirmed. That I have been treated with neglect and
contempt by them from the beginning is plainly visible, let them say what
they will to the contrary.

And I am not the only officer who has been thus shamefully treated,
hundreds of others have been served in like manner. Men who have fought
bravely in defence of their country, for the advance of its interests and
the maintenance of its laws, have been withheld from promotion, simply
because they differed in political opinion, or were not in favor with
those high in power; while others, who have not a thought or care for the
country, whether it be lost or saved, are rapidly advanced far beyond
their knowledge and ability. And I think I may safely assert that many a
"Major-General's" strap has been worn, when, if the wearer were
_thoroughly_ and _fairly_ examined, could not boast a Captain's
commission; and it is this inefficiency, together with the intemperance of
many of our Generals, that has been the sole cause of so many disgraceful
defeats; and until a change is made, and men who are competent placed in
command, we cannot and must not expect anything different.

In conclusion, I would say, that I shall ever be ready and willing to
respond to the call of my country when I can be restored to my rightful
position, one that I feel I have fairly earned by many a hard-fought
battle and by the recommendations of all my superior officers. And I feel
that at this time, when the country needs and demands the services of
every man, we should lay aside all party feeling and unite in one
brotherhood in supporting the Union, and in defending that glorious
Constitution so dearly purchased by the blood of our fathers, and which,
descending to us as our birthright, claims our undivided and hearty

  Very respectfully,
  _Late Brigadier-General, U. S. A._

Transcriber's Notes:

Passages in italics are indicated by _italics_.

The following misprints have been corrected:
  "incorreet" corrected to "incorrect" (page 10)
  "Octobor" corrected to "October" (page 12)

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can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.