A Peaks Experience

IMG_0140Peaks Island is 740 acres of real estate plopped down in Casco Bay, about three miles from downtown Portland. At one time during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was a tourist magnet, with amusement parks and attractions that earned it the nickname of “The Coney Island of Maine.” It’s a little quieter now, but the island still has its attractions, especially if you are interested in the Civil War. For there are not one but two Civil War museums on the island, one for the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry and the other for the 8th Maine. Each is housed in a big building that the regiment’s veterans constructed on the island to provide a summer retreat for its soldiers.

IMG_0139Of the two, I am more interested in the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry. This is one of the regiments I write about in my book, Maine Roads to Gettysburg. It was mustered in on June 24, 1861, and was fighting at First Bull Run, as part of the brigade of Oliver O. Howard, less than a month later. Truth be told, it did not fight particularly well in that battle, which was a debacle for the Union forces. George Dyer of Calais was in Washington, working as assistant quartermaster general for Maine, and he wrote home to Gov. Israel Washburn after the battle. “The 5th it is said broke and ran badly, he reported. “Scattered and many are prisoners.”

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The Fifth Maine’s Regimental Flag. 

Under a new commander, Col. Nathaniel Jackson (“Old Jacks”), the regiment improved. It fought well on the Peninsula and at South Mountain, although it reached the battlefield at Antietam after the fighting there had ended. It fought at Fredericksburg and at Chancellorsville as part of the VI Corps, and also participated in that corps’ epic march to Gettysburg, arriving in time to bolster the Union line on July 2 but largely spared from serious fighting. The regiment remained with the army through the initial stages of the bloody Overland Campaign in 1864, but was mustered out after it reached the North Anna River.

 

The war over, the regiment’s veterans commissioned the construction of a large summer residence on Peaks Island. It opened in 1888 with 15 rooms that the veterans could rent, plus a large central hall and a spacious porch. This is the maine reason my wife and I are heading out to visit the island on a foggy and misty summer day. We take the car ferry from Portland’s Old Port District, for the bargain price of only $7 per round-trip ticket. We find a bustling scene at the ferry terminal, as cars line up to board the vessel and a long line of pedestrians waits their turn. We finally begin to file aboard the ferry, which casts off and heads out into the bay. Behind us we can see two Tall Ships moored to one of Portland’s docks. They soon disappear in the mist.

It’s not a long ride to the island, and once ashore we find that it’s not that long of a walk to find the 5th Maine’s museum. It’s big, yellow, wooden building with a distinctive turret in the back overlooking the ocean. A friendly docent greets us at the door and fills us in on the building’s history. Today the structure houses a small museum with a number of interesting relics. Stained glass windows in the spacious main hall contain the names of 5th Maine soldiers. Glass cases along the walls include relics recovered from various battlefields. In a back room, there’s a regimental flag, plus a glass case that holds the coat and hat worn by regimental adjutant George Bicknell, who wrote a history of the regiment after the war. A shell fragment wounded Bicknell in the head at Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign; you can see the rip in the kepi inside the glass case.

I don’t write about the 8th Maine in the book. It was not part of the Army of the Potomac and did not fight at Gettysburg, heading south to  South Carolina and Florida instead. As part of the Army of the James, it took part in the Petersburg campaign and in the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia to Appomattox. The 8th Maine Regiment Lodge and Museum is just a stone’s throw away from the 5th Regiment’s lodge, housed inside a similar large summer house. It doesn’t have as many relics, but it does offer rooms that visitors can rent. Peaks Island might not be the Coney Island of Maine anymore, but it does provide some Civil War history in a place where you might not expect it. That makes it well worth the trip.

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“It is magnificent, but it is not war.”

 

Hyde, Thomas

Thomas w. Hyde (Maine State Archives)

One hundred and fifty-five years ago today, in the fields and woods near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, Union and Confederate forces fought the Battle of Antietam. It remains the country’s bloodiest single day of combat. One of the regiments involved was the 7th Maine. At Antietam it was commanded by Major Thomas Hyde, a young graduate of Bowdoin College. In his memoirs, Following the Greek Cross or Memories of the Sixth Army Corps, Hyde recalled his experiences on September 17, 1862. Late in the day, near five o’clock, Rebel sharpshooters were harassing a Maryland battery from behind haystacks at the Piper farm. Hyde’s brigade commander, William Irwin, ordered Hyde to take the 7th Maine and clear the snipers out. Hyde had just seen a large body of Rebels move into that area, and informed Irwin of the fact.

 

“Are you afraid to go, sir!” Irwin barked. Hyde later came to believe he was drunk. (“He was a gallant man, but drank too much, of which I was unaware,” Hyde later wrote.) He asked Irwin to repeat his order so that the whole regiment could hear it. Irwin did. Hyde had no choice but to obey. He assembled his men and sent them into motion.

Of the 166 enlisted men who made the charge, Hyde reported 12 killed, 60 wounded, and 16 missing. He counted three of the 15 officers as killed, seven wounded, and two missing. “I suppose I was fired at in that battle a thousand times, and what saved me was that Providence knew that I was an only son and my mother was a widow,” he wrote home.

That night, Hyde and his surviving officers wept over the regiment’s losses. “We had the consolation of knowing that we had gone farther into the Rebel lines than any Union regiment that day, that we had fought three or four times our numbers, and inflicted more damage than we received, but as the French officer at Balaklava said, ‘It is magnificent, but it is not war.’ When we knew our efforts were resultant from no plan or design at headquarters, but were from an inspiration of John Barleycorn in our brigade commander alone, I wished I had been old enough, or distinguished enough, to have dared to disobey orders.”

Conduct Unbecoming

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Colonel Moses B. Lakeman (Maine State Archives).

Moses B. Lakeman, commander of the 3rd Maine, was a fighter. A Boston native and the nephew of Hallowell’s mayor, Lakeman joined the 3rd Maine as the captain of Co. I. “Lakeman is a gallant officer, deserves such credit for his exemplary behavior, and should make an excellent Colonel, Lieut. Col. or Major,” said his division commander, David Birney. “He has energy, and great decision of character.” Lakeman did rise to take command of the 3rd Maine and his regiment fought in Pitzer’s Woods and in the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg.

Perhaps it was the stresses of war, but documents in Lakeman’s service record at the National Archives indicate that Lakeman had a problem with drinking. In October and November 1863 Lakeman’s behavior led to court-martial proceedings on charges of being drunk on duty, habitual drunkenness, and conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman. On one occasion, Lakeman had gone to Birney and asked to visit army headquarters to locate a deserter. He used the pass to attend a horse race instead, “and did publicly boast that he had fooled or deceived the said Major General Commdg 1st Division 3d Corps.” On another occasion Lakeman, while drunk, had taken umbrage when Lt. Col. Edwin Burt, in acting command of the regiment, had sent out a detail in compliance with orders he had received. Lakeman felt Burt was usurping his position. Lakeman loudly declared that Burt did not “run this machine, and that he, Moses Lakeman did,” and loudly proclaimed that Burt “is a damned, damned, damned, God-damned son of a bitch.” Furthermore, Burt said, Lakeman had made faces at him whenever the Lt. Col. looked in his direction.

It appears the charges didn’t stick, for Lakeman remained in his position. He was wounded during the fighting around the North Anna River on May 23, 1864. (Edwin Burt had been killed in the Wilderness on May 6).

That did not end Lakeman’s troubles with alcohol. On September 8, 1864, he was arrested at a theater in Baltimore. The 3rd Maine, its three years of service over, had been mustered out in June, so it’s not clear what Lakeman’s status was at that point. But the acting provost marshall who made the arrest said Lakeman was using “abusive and threatening language” against Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace (the Union commander at the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland and future author of Ben-Hur). According to the charges, Lakeman said, “‘God damn him’ (pointing with his hand at the General) I can whip him for $50. They make Major Generals now from Politicians.’” While under arrest, Lakeman—apparently sobering up—expressed his regrets and said he did not remember using such language. The arresting officer released him after Lakeman promised to call on Wallace and apologize.

Ambition

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The report of Blackstone’s death, from the National Archives.

The Civil War Regimental Correspondence at the Maine State Archives in Augusta is an amazing resource. It contains thousands of letters sent to state officials—primarily adjutant general John Hodsdon and whatever governor was serving at the time—that covered all sorts of topics. Many were letters from citizens seeking commissions in the army, either for themselves or for people they knew. There are battle reports submitted by Maine officers. There are heartrending letters from parents seeking to get their wounded or sick sons sent home to Maine.

Sometimes it’s a bit of a mystery how a letter got into these files, but most likely they were submitted to provide support for a soldier seeking a promotion. One case in point is this missive from Charles O. Blackstone of Pownal, a private in Co. A in the 17th Maine who had enlisted at the age of 23. He wrote this letter to his father, but it somehow made it way to the state records.

Blackstone was only a private, but he had ambition. He was tired of his lowly place in the army hierarchy but decided if he could get transferred to a new heavy artillery battery he could obtain a commission. On January 7, 1863, he wrote to his father and outlined his plan.

Camp Pitcher near Falmouth, VA.

Jan. 7, 1863

Dear Father: Probably you will be surprised on receiving another letter at home so soon after my last; but I wish to talk with you on a different subject from any heretofore brought up. I entered the army as I would any other school, and that with similar motives. I have gone through with the preliminaries, and have become dissatisfied with my present position on account of my acquaintance with men and things with whom I have been brought in contact. It is my intention now, to rise a little, and I shall require some of your assistance. The following is, in short, what I propose to do, and I hope that it will meet with your hearty approval and that I shall have the benefits of your influence in my behalf.

The 18th Regt. of Infantry of Maine Volunteers is to be changed to one of Heavy Artillery: and , in order to do this there will be a large accession of officers as well as privates. Now, what I want you do to is this. Get some of the most influential men in town to request the Governor to appoint me as a Lieutenant in said Regiment. This Regt will be stationary – or in other words, it will remain in some fort. I am well drilled in Heavy Artillery as well as Infantry tactics, and I find, by observation, that my abilities as a soldier are not far below those of nine tenths of our army officers. I want a 1st Lieutenants commission, and I think that with the prompt assistance of my fellow townsmen I can obtain it. Mr. Benj. True will be a good man to help you I think. So will C.C. Cobb, Esq. To encourage you I will say that a private in the 5th Maine was made a lieutenant in this Regt a few days ago. Now, Father dont fail to make the thing a success. I will write as soon as I can obtain more information. I shall consult cousin Alfred about it soon. You can readily see the advantage I shall gain by being transferred from a roving regiment to one that will seldom move. Now please dont lose a day in getting posted and in getting the petition started. Let me know how you succeed soon.

I remain your obd. Son
Charles O. Blackstone

Blackstone’s father must have done his son’s bidding, for letters and petitions began to reach Augusta seeking a commission for his son. Letters arrived from the towns of Pownal and South Freeport. Young Charles was also doing his part, for Capt. Charles Mattocks of the 17th Maine wrote to Gov. Abner Coburn recommending Blackstone, and soldiers in the regiment circulated a petition for him. All seemed on track to satisfy the young private’s ambition.

The Battle of Chancellorsville intervened. By then Blackstone had been promoted to corporal, one step up the ladder, but that was as far as he would advance. On May 3 the regiment endured a fierce artillery barrage. One shell exploded among the men of Co. A, “and made fearful havoc in the ranks,” as Mattocks recorded. “It almost tore the thighs of Corpl. Blackstone . . . .” It was a mortal wound. On May 8 Mattocks visited the dying soldier in the hospital. “I find that Corporal Blackstone cannot live,” he wrote in his journal. “He has a terrible wound in the thigh, it being carried away bone and all, by that murderous shell. I very much doubt if he lives forth-eight hours. He bears up under his sufferings like a hero, and seems willing to die. He thinks he has fallen in a good cause, and so he has, but still it seems sad to see wo young and ambitious a fellow die here away from friends and home.” Blackstone died the next day.

“I Felt a Sharp Sting”

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The 5th Maine Battery (Stevens’ Battery) on Stevens Knoll at Gettysburg. Charles O. Hunt never made it this far, having been wounded before the battery retreated to this point. You can see the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse in the background. (Tom Huntington photo)

One of the joys of historical research is coming across great stories from the past. That happened to me many times while I was researching Maine Roads to Gettysburg (due out next spring from Stackpole Books). I discovered one of those stories in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives at Bowdoin College. The collections there include two thick, hand-written volumes that once belonged to Charles O. Hunt, Bowdoin class of 1861. I submitted Hunt’s account of his Gettysburg experiences to Civil War Times, and the magazine published it in the July 2017 issue. You can read the full account by clicking here

Hunt was a lieutenant with Capt. Greenlief Stevens’ 5th ME battery. When he reached Gettysburg, it must have felt a little bit like coming home. Hunt was from Gorham, Maine, and had been a senior at Bowdoin when the war broke out. Many of his classmates enlisted, but Hunt wanted to complete his studies. After graduation, he spent time with his sister while he pondered his future. His sister, Mary Carson, was living in Pennsylvania, in the crossroads town of Gettysburg where her husband, Thomas, was a clerk for the Bank of Gettysburg. Hunt stayed with the Carsons from September until the end of 1861 and became very familiar with the town and the surrounding countryside. He climbed the Round Tops, rode across the yet to be capitalized wheat field, and collected hickory nuts on Culp’s Hill.

Hunt decided to fight for the Union, and he joined the Fifth Maine Light Artillery, then under the command of George Leppien, a Pennsylvanian who had received military training in Germany. Leppien was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville, and command of the battery fell on Capt. Greenlief Stevens. As the battery made its way north through Pennsylvania on July 1, Hunt joked to Stevens that if he were to get hit, he hoped it would happen in Gettysburg, because he knew people there would take good care of him. He soon learned that you had better be careful what you wish for.

Read the article to find out what happened next.

Hunt’s wartime adventures were not over. He recovered from his Gettysburg wound and returned to the 5th Maine Battery, but he was captured outside Petersburg in 1864. Later that year he attempted to escape from Camp Sorghum, his prison camp in South Carolina, with Charles Mattocks of the 17th Maine and Julius Litchfield of the 4th Maine. Taking advantage of the guards’ laxity in allowing men to forage unsupervised for firewood in a nearby woods, the three men left the camp on November 3 and set their sights on Knoxville, Tennessee, in Union-held territory about 200 miles away. They had a crude map of the region, and E.A. Burpee of the 19th Maine had loaned then a compass. Their journey was fraught with danger and required swimming across a river, traveling at night, and finding concealed places in the woods to sleep during the day. They would not have made it if it weren’t for local slaves, who supplied them with food and shelter. “We never met one who showed any disposition to betray us to the whites,” said Hunt. On November 8, election day back home, the three men held their own election and voted unanimously for Abraham Lincoln. After two more weeks more of travel, with the men achingly close to Tennessee, their luck ran out and they were captured and sent to a prison in Danville, Virginia. On the way, they heard the news that William T. Sherman had captured Atlanta and was on his way to the sea.

After the war, Hunt studied medicine and became the superintendent of Portland’s Maine General Hospital, a position he held until just before his death in 1909.

“Burn This Letter”

Blaine

James G. Blaine in 1860 (Library of Congress)

James G. Blaine is something of a forgotten figure from history today, but he was a mover and shaker during his day and came close to winning the presidency. A glance at the inscription on his tomb in Augusta, Maine, will give you an idea of his accomplishments. Newspaper editor, speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, U.S. Congressman, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator—he could put all these on his resume. He was also dogged by allegations of corruption. His opponents called him “the continental liar from the state of Maine.” During his attempt to get the presidential nomination in 1876 there were charges that a railroad had attempted a scheme to pay him off; he had ended a missive regarding the transaction with the note, “Kindly burn this letter.” His correspondent disregarded the instruction and “Burn this letter” became a catch phrase for his political opponents.

 

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His

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Hers

Blaine was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Maine to become editor of the Kennebec Journal in Augusta. Oliver Otis Howard got to know Blaine when the future general was posted to the Kennebec Arsenal there, and Blaine later played an important role in Howard’s Civil War career when he help get him the colonelcy of the 3rd Maine Infantry regiment. This is what Howard wrote about him in his autobiography:

“His figure was good nearly six feet and well proportioned; his hair, what you could see of it under his soft hat pushed far back, was a darkish brown. It showed the disorder due to sundry thrusts of the fingers. His coat, a little long, was partially buttoned. This, with the collar, shirt front, and necktie, had the negligee air of a dress never thought of after the first adjustment. His head was a model in size and shape, with a forehead high and broad, and he had, as you would anticipate in a strong face, a large nose. But the distinguishing feature of his face was that pair of dark-gray eyes, very full and bright. He wore no beard, had a slight lisp in speech with a clear, penetrating nasal tone. He excelled even the nervous [Gov. Israel] Washburn in rapid utterance. Nobody in the Maine House of Representatives, where he had been for two years and of which he was now the Speaker, could match him in debate. He was, as an opponent, sharp, fearless, aggressive, and uncompromising; he always had given in wordy conflicts, as village editor and as debater in public assemblies, blow for blow with ever-increasing momentum. Yet from his consummate management he had already become popular. Such was Blaine at thirty years of age.”

Blaine still had most of his career stretching out before him at that point. He died in 1893 and was originally buried in Washington, but in 1920 he was reinterred in the park in Augusta that now bears his name. It’s a beautiful spot on a hill overlooking town near the National Guard’s Camp Keyes (which is named after Civil War general Erasmus Keyes). I used to hang out in this park on occasion when I was young, and I snickered at the blatant inequality between the inscription on Blaine’s tomb and that on his wife’s. When I lived in Washington, I often walked past his impressive Gilded Age mansion on Dupont Circle. Now he has some prime real estate in Augusta. Pity he can’t enjoy it.

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Give That Man a Pistol

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William H. Higgins (Maine State Archives).

Sometimes when you read a Civil War letter, the personality of the writer just leaps from the page. So it is with this letter from William H. Higgins of the 3rd Maine, written to Governor Israel Washburn on July 10, 1861. Higgins, who eventually became a captain, survived the war and died in 1900. His letter is in the collection of Civil War Regimental Correspondence in the Maine State Archives.

 

Dear Sir,

I take the liberty to write you  few lines at this time, being a stranger to you it may appear to you that I take too much liberty, but I think not, I am an American, I was born in Georgetown State of Maine, and the same state is the birth place of my Father and Grandsire, my grandfather was a soldier in the Revolution, my Father was in the War of 1812 and I am trying all that is in my power to fight for my country and her flag in this unhappy struggle, but I am not sufficiently armed, I have asked many times for a pistol but can’t have any. I have the confidence of my company officers and the colonel and Major, I have been trusted with a Picket guard and scouting parties, and can send you a certificate from my Superior officers that I am a fit man to be so armed, they tell me that the order is that my government is to furnish pistols only for the First Sergeants and all other Sergeants may have them if they can or will buy them for themselves, do they have furnished the First Sergeants all the drummers fifers Wagoners chaplain Musicians Qr Masters department and some others, now I ask you as you are the Governor of my state to send me a Navy Revolver from the Arsenal as a present from yourself, which I will promise to use faithfully in defence of my country, my company is placed on the extreme left of the Regiment and I rank as 2d Sergeant of Co. D 3d Maine Regt, my place in Battle in on the extreme left flank in the front rank, and I have only a smooth bored musket while those that never have to face the Enemy are armed to the teeth, I will wait patiently for your answer for one week, and I I ever was to return to Maine I will call and tell you whether you send me one or not.

Yours respectfully, Wm. H. Higgins

Old Jacks

Nathaniel Jackson

Colonel Nathaniel Jackson (Library of Congress).

When war broke out in April 1861, patriotic Mainers rushed to enlist in the effort to end the rebellion. The 1st Regiment, Maine’s initial contribution to the conflict, was organized 16 days after Sumter’s surrender, with Col. Nathaniel Jackson of Lewiston in command. It was a 90-day regiment and never saw combat, although some of its soldiers reenlisted in the 10th Maine and later the 29th. One of its soldiers was John Mead Gould, a bank teller in Portland who wrote a history of the regiments.

Delayed by measles (which meant the 2nd ME left the state before the 1st did), the green soldiers departed from Portland on June 1 for a leisurely trip south, with stops for celebrations in Newburyport, Massachusetts (the birthplace of their colonel), Boston, and New York. Gould later wrote a very droll account of Col. Jackson’s “speech” in New York. Jim the adjutant was James Fillebrown, later the lieutenant colonel of the 10th ME. The “speech” became the subject of recurring humor in the regiment, where a cry of “Jim!” was certain to create hilarity.

Before leaving the Park, and while we were formed as a square, the Colonel delivered that famous speech which no man who heard will ever forget. It was entirely extempore and had the merit of brevity, and it made, not the orator, but the one addressed famous ever afterward. The Adjutant was hastening toward the opposite side of the square when the Colonel called him. The Adjutant did not hear—the only man in the regiment that did not, by the way. He called again and still no attention except from the 700 men and seven times 700 spectators who were all attention. Therefore he roused himself for his effort, and delivered the speech, which was taken down in short hand or some other way, and is recorded as follows:

SPEECH OF “OLD JACKS”,
Sunday, June 2, 1861, In Front Of City Hall, New York.

“Jim!—Ho! JIM!!”

Moved by his eloquence the great assemblage of soldiers and citizens burst into one grand responsive echo—“JIM!” “JIM!” “JIM!” “JIM!” “JIM!” &c., which they kept up for a long time, and indeed, as far as the soldiers were concerned, they haven’t quite quit it yet.

From Gould, John Mead and Jordan, Leonard G. History of the First—Tenth—Twenty-ninth Maine Regiment: In Service of the United States from May 3, 1861, to June 21, 1866. Portland, ME: Stephen Berry, 1871.

 

 

The 10th Maine at Cedar Mountain

10thME at Cedar Mountain

This Timothy O’Sullivan photograph shows officers of the 10th Maine at Cedar Mountain. Note the dead horses. The men pictured here are Lt. Littlefield, Lt. Whitney,  Lt. Col. Fillebrown, Capt. Knowlton, and 1st Sgt. Jordan (Library of Congress).

The 10th Maine Volunteer Infantry had its baptism of fire at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. The regiment was part of Nathaniel Banks’ corps of John Pope’s Army of Virginia, and it belonged to the brigade commanded by Samuel Crawford. At Cedar Mountain, Banks took on his old adversary from the Shenandoah Valley, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, even though the Rebels outnumbered him two-to-one. Despite the disparity in numbers, the fortunes of war first appeared to favor the Union, but ultimately the Confederates prevailed and drove the Federals from the field.

In his history of the 10th Maine, John Mead Gould provided an interesting perspective on Civil War combat. It was a deadly serious business, but when viewed objectively, it offered some hints of the ridiculous, at least in Gould’s narrative.

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Lt. Col. James S. Fillebrown of Lewiston.

It is a sad thing to refer to, yet in glancing along the line the sight was ludicrous in the extreme. All were excited and were loading and firing in every conceivable way. Some were standing, but most were kneeling or lying down. Some were astraddle their pieces and were ramming the charge totally regardless of the rules on that point. Many had poured their cartridges upon the ground, and were “peddling out” the lead with more speed than accuracy I fear. We all took this occasion to swear at and gibe our friends in gray to the best of our ability. So with the din of musketry and the one common yell of friend and foe, it seemed as if bedlam was loose.

The behavior of those who were hit appeared most singular, and as there were so many of them, it looked as if we had a crowd of howling dervishes dancing and kicking around in our ranks. The bullet often knocks over the man it hits, and rarely fails by its force alone to disturb his equilibrium. Then the shock, whether painful or not, causes a sudden jump or shudder. Now as every man, with hardly an exception, was either killed, wounded, hit in his clothes, hit by spent balls and stones, or jostled by his wounded comrades, it follows that we had a wonderful exhibition. Some reeled round and round, others threw up their arms and fell over backward, others went plunging backward trying to regain their balance; a few fell to the front, but the force of the bullet generally prevented this, except where it struck low down and apparently knocked the soldier’s feet from under him. Many dropped their musket and seized the wounded part with both hands, and a very few fell dead.

 

battle of cedar mountain

Edwin Forbes sketched a view of the August 9, 1862 Battle of Cedar Mountain (Library of Congress).

The enemy were armed with almost every kind of rifle or musket, and as their front exceeded ours three times, we were under a cross fire almost from the first. The various tunes sung by their balls we shall never forget, and furthermore shall never confound them with any others we have heard. In a moment, when curiosity got the better of fear, I took notice of. this fact, and made record of it in my diary a day or two afterward. It was at a moment when probably a fresh regiment had arrived on our right, for the mass of missiles were coming across our line at an angle of forty-five degrees. The fierce “ zip “ of the swift Minié bullet was not prominent by comparison, at that particular moment, though there were enough of them certainly. The main sound, or the air of the tune, if I may be allowed the expression, was produced by the singing of slow, round balls and buck shot fired from a smooth bore, which do not cut or tear the air as the creased ball docs. Each bullet, according to its kind, size, rate of speed and nearness to the ear made a different sound. They seemed to be going past in sheets, all around and above us.

From Gould, John Mead and Jordan, Leonard G. History of the First—Tenth—Twenty-ninth Maine Regiment: In Service of the United States from May 3, 1861, to June 21, 1866. Portland, ME: Stephen Berry, 1871. Pages 175-6.

Adelbert Ames

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Adelbert Ames (Library of Congress)

Adelbert Ames, the first colonel of the 20th ME, was the man responsible for turning the regiment into an effective fighting force. Born in Rockland, Maine, on October 31, 1835, Ames grew up around the wharves and docks of Rockland harbor. In the fall he would go duck and goose hunting with his father and older brother. “He was immensely proud of his home State, with its cold trout streams, granite-based salmon rivers and forests full of virgin timber,” wrote his daughter, Blanche.

Ames graduated fifth in his West Point class of 1861 and was assigned to 5th United States battery, commanded by Captain Charles Griffin. At First Bull Run, Ames received a serious wound in his thigh. Unable to stand or ride a horse, he refused to leave his guns. He directed their fire while sitting on the ground, and had to be helped to his feet to sit on a caisson when his battery shifted position. His men placed Ames in an ammunition wagon for the Union retreat. Ames later received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Bull Run 

In August 1862, Ames received orders to take a leave of absence, return to Maine, and take command of a new infantry regiment, the 20th ME. He earned a reputation as a strict disciplinarian while he whipped his green regiment into shape. “Col. A. takes the men out to drill,” wrote Tom Chamberlain, “and he will d—n them up hill and down. I tell you, he is about as savage a man you ever saw . . . . I swear the men will shoot him the first battle they are in.” When the men of the 20th Maine finally understood the harsh realities of combat, though, they came to appreciate the lessons Ames had taught them. In May 1863, shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg, Ames was promoted to command of a brigade in the XI Corps. His second in command, Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain—Tom’s older brother—received command of the regiment.

Ames was the great-grandfather of writer George Plimpton, who once wrote about a time when he visited the White House while John F. Kennedy was president. Kennedy asked him if he could do something about the letters Plimpton’s grandmother kept writing to him. The grandmother was Blanche Ames, and she had been incensed by a passage about her father in young Senator Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. Kennedy had written that when Ames served as a Reconstruction governor of Mississippi, “His administration was sustained and nourished by Federal bayonets.” Blanche wanted Senator Kennedy to rewrite that passage for subsequent editions. Young Kennedy had written back that he doubted there would be any more editions. But there were, and Blanche Ames continued to write her letters, even after Kennedy became president. Kennedy wondered if Plimpton could do something to stop the correspondence—“it was cutting into the work of government,” the president said.

Plimpton could actually remember his great-grandfather, who had lived to be 97 and died in 1933. Plimpton said he remembered as a young boy of six looking into his great-grandfather’s eyes and even then realizing this man had witnessed Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.