A Senator’s Son

Fessenden, Samuel

Samuel Fessenden died at Second Bull Run. (Maine State Archives)

Sam Fessenden was the youngest son of Maine’s Senator William Pitt Fessenden, and he had already gained some experience with sectional conflict before the Civil War began. Back in June 1856, at the tender age of 15, Sam had run away from home to throw his weight behind the Free-Soilers in Kansas, when the territory was being torn apart by conflict between proslavery and antislavery factions. He headed to Kansas, determined, he said, “to rush into exploits of some kind, the more dangerous the better I thought, and looked around for an opportunity of acting on my resolution.” Senator Fessenden feared for his son’s life, but Sam had been lucky. His band of Free-Soilers had hardly arrived in Kansas when they were surrounded by a mob of proslavery “border ruffians” and forced back on a steamer and out of the territory. His father didn’t learn of Sam’s whereabouts until that fall.

Sam later attended Bowdoin College, where one of his friends was Thomas Hyde. After First Bull Run, the two of them found like-minded friends George O. McLellan and George Morse, and tracked down a lawyer named Frederick Sewall—a Bowdoin graduate who would later serve on Otis Howard’s staff and then command the 19th Maine—to swear them into the service of the United States. Then they went to Augusta to get the papers necessary to raise a company.

In Bath, Hyde, Fessenden, and McLellan opened a recruiting station and printed out handbills. They read:

A few good men wanted for the Bath Company of the 7th Regiment. Pay and sustenance to commence immediately.
$15.00 A MONTH.
$22.00 bounty and $100.00 when mustered out of service. Apply at their recruiting office, opposite J. M. Gookin’s store, Front Street.
Bath, Maine, Aug. 6, ’61.

They called their new company the Harding Zouaves after Col. E. K. Harding, a Bath native who served as the state’s quartermaster general.

Young Fessenden’s father wanted his son to finish his education at Bowdoin, so Sam did not join the 7th Maine. He served with the 2nd Maine Battery and later received a position of the staff of General Zealous Tower. He fell mortally wounded while leading Tower’s men into battle at Second Bull Run. McLellan was killed in a skirmish during the siege of Yorktown during the Peninsula Campaign. Half of the four Bowdoin students who had joined together to form a company for the 7th Maine were dead.

Flag Day


This is the national flag that the 20th Maine had on Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg. It’s on display in the Maine State Museum.

Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about museums. In general I think they are among the greatest things in the world. Sometimes, though—and I hate to admit this—they bore me. I don’t like to read a lot of explanatory placards when I visit a museum. I don’t go to read things. I go to see things and feel a connection with historical artifacts.

In that respect, my recent visit to the Maine State Museum did not disappoint.

When I was a kid living in Augusta, my dad would take us to the museum when it was still housed in the State Capitol. The museum moved to its more modern facility in 1971. I had been through the current museum before, but I couldn’t tell you when. The last time must have been when my own children, now in their 20s, were young, and we were in Maine for our summer vacation. When I visited Maine in January 2018, I enjoyed going through the museum again, and was pleasantly surprised by its size and scope. There were cars and trains and boats; recreations of Maine living rooms and kitchens and factories; and even a huge section of the square-rigged ship St. Mary. Launched in Phippsburg in 1890, the vessel sank on its maiden voyage, after colliding with another ship while trying to make it around the “Horn” at the tip of South America and eventually running aground in the Falklands.

I also enjoyed the wildlife dioramas, realistic slice of the Maine wilderness, populated by mounted specimens of the deer, moose, bear, birds, and fish you would expect to find in the great outdoors today. There were also some live trout in the streams. I remember being fascinated by the dioramas when I was a kid and I was still captivated as an adult.

All that stuff was great, but I came to see the Civil War material. The museum had a bigger Civil War display during the 150th anniversary commemorations, but that exhibit has been taken down. Fortunately, there was still an exhibit of Civil War flags. The state’s banners had been displayed for years in glass cases in the capitol building, where they deteriorated badly. After significant restoration, flags now rotate through the permanent exhibit, where they are displayed in low light to preserve the fragile silk.

16th Maine

The regimental flag of the 16th Maine.

On the day of my visit, I was pleased to see the regimental flag of the 16th Maine on display. This was not the banner the regiment had at Gettysburg. The soldiers tore that one up and distributed the pieces among themselves before being overwhelmed by the Rebels on July 1. (I saw one of the pieces in the collections of Abner Small at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. The state museum had another fragment on display, too.) I was also pleasantly surprised to see a guidon from the 31st Maine, the regiment to which my great-grandfather, Daniel True Huntington, belonged.


A guidon from the 31st Maine.

The exhibit’s star attraction was the U.S. flag of the 20th Maine, the same banner the regiment had when it defended Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. A photograph shows that same flag when veterans returned it to Round Top in 1882. Even then the flag was in bad shape, but at least it’s been cared for since. This was the banner that Andrew Tozier supported in the crook of his elbow as he fired at the approaching soldiers of the 15th Alabama. Chamberlain recalled seeing Tozier through the whirling clouds of smoke, “defending his sacred trust in the manner of the songs of chivalry.” (As I wrote in a previous post, Tozier is now buried in the same Litchfield cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandfather are.)

Nearby, in a glass case, is the Colt pistol that Joshua Chamberlain captured from Lt. Robert Wicker of the 15th Alabama after the Maine soldiers charged down the hill and ended the fighting.


The pistol that Joshua Chamberlain captured on Little Round Top.

The soldiers who carried these relics are long gone, but at least these things of metal, wood and silk remain to remind us of what the soldiers did during that horrible, terrible, fascinating war.