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:

ONE CHANCE MORE.
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.

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