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.