Notebooks, Not Guns

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The 10th Maine Battalion’s monument at Gettysburg is on the Baltimore Pike, near the park visitor center (Tom Huntington photo).

The remnants of the 10th Maine—which contained the 1st Maine within its regimental DNA—reached Gettysburg with Henry Slocum and the XII Corps. Not a single one of its soldiers fired a gun during the battle, although several of them contributed to the fight by wielding notebooks.

The two-year men of the 10th Maine had been mustered out in April, but some 240 or so still had time left on their enlistments. There were not enough for a regiment, so—amid much protest and grumbling—they were placed into three companies and designated as the 10th Maine Battalion and acted as the provost guard for the XII Corps. Its men served as guards, clerks, and orderlies—the kind of mundane tasks that kept the machinery of an army in motion, but rarely received mention in official reports. When the corps was on the march, the 10th Maine Battalion took up the rear, behind even the wagons with the hospital supplies. When the corps set up camp, the battalion pitched their tents near Slocum’s headquarters. “A detail into this guard would ordinarily be considered desirable by a soldier in search of adventure and a free and easy life,” noted regimental historian John Mead Gould.

In command was Capt. John D. Beardsley, who had joined Company D of the 10th Maine back in 1861. Many of the company’s soldiers were hardy lumbermen from Aroostook County, but there was also a contingent of British soldiers from New Brunswick. Beardsley was a bit of both. He had worked as a lumberman, but he had gained military experience in the provincial militia in New Brunswick. He was also handy with a broadsword. One of his men remembered that he “had a sabre as long as a scythe.” Beardsley had been captured at Cedar Mountain, but was exchanged.

July 1 found the battalion at Littlestown, about 10 miles from Gettysburg. The night before, Beardsley had received about 50 Confederate prisoners who had been captured near York; in the morning he took the rebel officers to a hotel in town and got them breakfast. Once corps commander Henry Slocum finally reached Gettysburg later that day, he established his headquarters at Powers Hill, south of town on the Baltimore Pike, and the 10th Maine Battalion established a line across the pike and went to work gathering up skulkers and stragglers. That night, 30 men were dispatched to escort Confederate prisoners away from the battlefield, which required an all-night march.

Late in the morning on July 2, Slocum asked for six volunteers from the battalion for “dangerous duty.” They were told to leave their guns behind but take notebooks and advance as far as the Confederate lines, taking notes about the local farms, houses, and springs. If captured, their cover story was to be that they were searching for provisions. The volunteers ventured around the right of the Union line on Culp’s Hill, hiking through woods and sometimes climbing trees to get a better view. Four of them were approaching one house when Sgt. James F. Tarr spied Rebels lurking on the other side. He pretended not to see them, and casually warned his men to get ready to run. At a signal they all broke for the woods as rifle fire erupted behind them.

The members of the 10th Maine Battalion “never claimed more than they performed at Gettysburg or anywhere else,” said regimental historian John Mead Gould. “They simply did what they were ordered to do,” and they did it “promptly and well.”

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on Amazon.comBarnesandNoble.com, or at any fine bookseller near you.

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