The George Spangler Farm

 

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The Spangler Farm today (Tom Huntington photo).

Until yesterday, I had never visited the George Spangler Farm at Gettysburg. Located just off the Baltimore Pike south of Powers Hill, the farm is now administered by the Gettysburg Foundation, which purchased the property in 2008 and restored the barn. It opened to the public in 2013. To visit, you have to take a shuttle bus from the visitor center.

 

I went on July 7, 2018. It was a beautiful day to visit a place with such a grim background. Back in July 1863, the Spangler’s farm was pressed into service as a field hospital for the Union XI Corps. Surgeons worked around the clock amputating limbs and treating grievous injuries. Wounded men filled the barn and the house. (The six members of the Spangler family were allowed the use of a single room.) One of the dying soldiers was Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead, who led a brigade in Pickett’s division and was mortally wounded after he had led his remaining men over the wall at the “Bloody Angle” on Cemetery Ridge. He was taken to the Spangler farm and supposedly placed in the summer kitchen, where he died on July 5.

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A living historian sets the secene inside the summer kitchen, where Lewis Armistead probably died on July 5, 1863 (Tom Huntington photo).

Of course, many less prominent people reached the Spangler farm in July 1863. On the shuttle bus, today’s visitors receive a pack of five cards with the images of people with connections to the farm. One of my cards had a picture of Capt. Frederick Stowe. He was the son of Calvin and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mrs. Stowe had started writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while her husband was a professor at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The card shows a very serious and somewhat haunted-looking young man, one hand on the hilt of his officer’s sword. He had enlisted in 1861 at the age of 21 and had been on the staff of Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr of the XI Corps at Gettysburg. Stowe was struck on the head by a shell fragment on July 3 and treated at the farm. “Although he survived the wound and the war, his fight with alcoholism was a continuing struggle,” reads the text on the back of the card. “Frederick Stowe moved westward in 1870 and was never heard from again.”

Rowland Howard, the brother of XI Corps commander Oliver Otis Howard, had reached Gettysburg with his brother on July 1. As I wrote in Maine Roads to Gettysburg, the younger Howard was a volunteer for the United States Christian Commission and he helped the wounded at the Spangler farm, where he quickly learned about “the real and essential character of war.” It was far removed from the “pomp and circumstance” that had excited him when he first saw an army on the march, or the patriotic thrill he had felt when he heard the sound of the guns. In the hospital, war showed its true face. It was blood and gore, death and destruction, suffering and horror, and it soon became overwhelming. Rowland was struck by the contrast between the peaceful moon and stars in the night sky and the “ghastly faces of our dead.” He was moved by the agonized moans and cries of the dying soldiers who surrounded him. “I said to myself, ‘O God, the moon and the stars Thou has made, but not this miserable murder and mangling of men.’ It is not like nature: it is anti-natural; it is of the pit.”

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Carl Schurz (Library of Congress).

Carl Schurz commanded a division in the XI at Gettysburg (and briefly commanded the corps itself, when Oliver Howard was serving as senior officer on the field). On July 4 he visited the hospital at the Spangler farm and wrote about the visit in his memoirs. He said:

At Gettysburg the wounded—many thousands of them—were carried to the farmsteads behind our lines. The houses, the barns, the sheds, and the open barnyards were crowded with moaning and wailing human beings, and still an unceasing procession of stretchers and ambulances was coming in from all sides to augment the number of the sufferers. A heavy rain set in during the day—the usual rain after a battle—and large numbers had to remain unprotected in the open, there being no room left under roof. I saw long rows of men lying under the eaves of the buildings, the water pouring down upon their bodies in streams. Most of the operating tables were placed in the open where the light was best, some of them partially protected against the rain by tarpaulins or blankets stretched upon poles. There stood the surgeons, their sleeves rolled up to the elbows, their bare arms as well as their linen aprons smeared with blood, their knives not seldom held between their teeth, while they were helping a patient on or off the table, or had their hands otherwise occupied; around them pools of blood and amputated arms or legs in heaps, sometimes more than man-high. Antiseptic methods were still unknown at that time. As a wounded man was lifted on the table, often shrieking with pain as the attendants handled him, the surgeon quickly examined the wound and resolved upon cutting off the injured limb. Some ether was administered and the body put in position in a moment. The surgeon snatched his knife from between his teeth, where it had been while his hands were busy, wiped it rapidly once or twice across his blood-stained apron, and the cutting began. The operation accomplished, the surgeon would look around with a deep sigh, and then—”Next!”

 

And so it went on, hour after hour, while the number of expectant patients seemed hardly to diminish. Now and then one of the wounded men would call attention to the fact that his neighbor lying on the ground had given up the ghost while waiting for his turn, and the dead body was then quietly removed. Or a surgeon, having been long at work, would put down his knife, exclaiming that his hand had grown unsteady, and that this was too much for human endurance—not seldom hysterical tears streaming down his face. Many of the wounded men suffered with silent fortitude, fierce determination in the knitting of their brows and the steady gaze of their bloodshot eyes. Some would even force themselves to a grim jest about their situation or about the “skedaddling of the rebels.” But there were, too, heart-rending groans and shrill cries of pain piercing the air, and despairing exclamations, “Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!” or “Let me die!” or softer murmurings in which the words “mother” or “father” or “home” were often heard. I saw many of my command among the sufferers, whose faces I well remembered, and who greeted me with a look or even a painful smile of recognition, and usually with the question what I thought of their chances of life, or whether I could do anything for them, sometimes, also, whether I thought the enemy were well beaten. I was sadly conscious that many of the words of cheer and encouragement I gave them were mere hollow sound, but they might be at least some solace for the moment.

There are people who speak lightly of war as a mere heroic sport. They would hardly find it in their hearts to do so, had they ever witnessed scenes like these, and thought of the untold miseries connected with them that were spread all over the land. He must be an inhuman brute or a slave of wild, unscrupulous ambition, who, having seen the horrors of war, will not admit that war brought on without the most absolute necessity, is the greatest and most unpardonable of crimes.

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Living historians on the march at the Spangler farm (Tom Huntington photo).

I often muse about the emotional disconnect of my visits to Gettysburg. I am always happy to be there, and experience great pleasure—joy, even—exploring the battlefield and the town. Yet the reason it’s a destination for me is because the place was a scene of such misery and horror back in 1863. Real war is not fun. I felt the same disconnect at the Spangler farm. It was a glorious day—bright sun, clear blue skies, low humidity, the green of the trees and red of the barn eye-popping in their brilliance. I was happy that I got a chance to see the place. Yet I was visiting a site that had witnessed terrible things. The medical encampment beneath the tents in front of the farmhouse today could only hint at what had happened here 155 years ago. The living historians had red smears on their white aprons, but it was not real blood. The severed leg on their table was plastic, not flesh and bone. I was glad to be here, unlike all the poor wounded and dying who had never planned on a visit to the George Spangler farm back in 1863.

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On This Date (July 3, 1863)

 

As the sun ascended from behind Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, Capt. William Fogler advanced with four companies of the 19th Maine to serve as skirmishers. They moved across the field in front of the Union position toward the Emmitsburg Road and established a line with its right near the Codori farmhouse. Some of the skirmishers occupied the farm buildings. The men had not eaten anything for 24 hours and they had no opportunity to get breakfast or even water. The day was promising to be hot and uncomfortable even for well-nourished soldiers who were not occupying a position dangerously close to the enemy. Fogler and his skirmishers were so exposed they had to lie down in the tall grass to keep from providing targets for enemy sharpshooters. Tired, hot, hungry, and thirsty, they watched and waited as the sun rose higher and the day began to grow warm. Temperatures climbed into the 80s. “The heat in the glaring sun was intolerable, and we had been without food and water since the morning before, and our stomachs were getting to be a little shaky,” remembered Silas Adams.

Cpl. Wilbur Clifford of the 19th Maine was in the Codori barn when the cannonade that set the stage for Pickett’s charge began. “You can have no idea of the scene,” he wrote his father later. “It seemed as through the air was full of Devils such an unearthly noise and shell bursting all around us ploughing up the ground and some times come crashing tho the old barn that was rocking as tho there was an earth quake under it.”

Recollections of the length of the cannonade vary. Some say it lasted for two hours. Others say 90 minutes. The sheer intensity of the man-made thunder seemed to have warped time for some observers. But at some point the firing of the guns began to slow and the unimaginable noise began to diminish, until at last silence once again descended over the smoke-covered battlefield. “It now had become a perfect stillness, almost like a quiet Sabbath morning,” remembered Adams.

From his position in the grass near the Emmitsburg Road, where he had been baking in the sun and concentrating on his hunger and thirst, Adams watched enemy skirmishers move ahead of the main force and begin dismantling rail fences that would have slowed the advance. The impressively arrayed lines of the enemy were ready to move, and the Maine skirmishers watched with intense interest. “Then they came on in magnificent order and in most perfect military precision which seemed to control their whole movement,” remembered Adams. As the enemy came closer, Adams and his fellow skirmishers decided it was time to stir from the sheltering grass and get out of the way. Adams tried to stand, but his legs had fallen asleep during the long wait and were completely numb. It took him a few anxious minutes to kick some life back into his limbs before he could lurch to his feet and begin to stumble back toward his own lines. The Maine men occasionally turned around to fire a parting shot or two. The advancing Rebels did not return the fire. More worrisome was the fire from Union soldiers who thought the returning skirmishers were Rebels.

Dow, Edwin

Edwin Dow of the 6th Maine Battery (Maine State Archives).

Edwin Dow of the 6th Maine Battery and other Union artillery units began taking a terrible toll on the advancing Rebels. “I tell you the gaps we made were simply terrible,” Dow said. “But they closed up their lines, and closed them up and closed them up till they got to within a hundred years of our position and then, with one hundred guns pouring lead into them, they closed for the last time and rushed us at the double quick.” When the Confederates came close enough to the Union lines, Dow’s and the other batteries ceased fire so as to not hit their own troops. Despite the havoc sowed by the Union cannon and muskets, the Rebel lines still looked so imposing that Dow felt anxious for the Union defenders.

As what was left of the Rebels approached the “Bloody Angle” on Cemetery Ridge, John Gibbon’s aide Frank Haskell did what he could to get the regiments of Norman Hall’s brigade—between the 19th Maine and a copse of trees—moving to help Webb. Dashing about on horseback, Haskell next gathered regiments from Harrow’s brigade—the 19th Maine, 15th Massachusetts, 82nd New York, and what remained of the 1st Minnesota—and hurried them at double-quick to the crisis point. “It was a wild charge, with little regard for ranks or files,” noted the account in Maine at Gettysburg. “Volleys were given and received at close quarters. In their anxiety to reach the foe, men thrust their rifles over the shoulders, under the arms and between the legs, of those in the front ranks of the melee.”

Colonel Francis Heath urged his men over to pitch in at the Angle, but found it impossible to keep them in any kind or order. “Everyone wanted to be first there and we went up more like a mob than a disciplined force,” he said. A shell fragment struck Heath during this last impetuous charge and he went down and out of the fight. Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham assumed command for the final act in the battle. It was less a military maneuver than an excited mass of men with weapons, all of whom wanted to get their licks in while they had the chance. “We were all loading and firing and yelling and pushing towards the gap now filled with the exultant Rebels,” remembered John Lancaster. “Company, regimental and brigade organizations were lost, and we were a great crowd. We would load, run to the front and fire, then others would jump in front of us and fire, and the color bearers, always at the front, would toss their colors up and down to show the enemy that we were not going to give it up, and to encourage us on.” Lancaster found many abandoned weapons on the ground that he could use. Other soldiers were fighting hand to hand and a few, at least, were simply hurling stones at the Confederates. “And so we kept on and on—then suddenly I found myself rushing with all our crowed upon the enemy with an impetuosity that was irresistible, and the day was ours,” he recalled.

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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.

On This Date (June 30, 1863)

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Lt. Charles Mattocks of the 17th Maine (Maine State Archvies).

The 17th Maine passed June 30 in the Maryland town of Taneytown, and were even mustered in to receive their pay. That afternoon they marched to Emmitsburg, a town that apparently did not share the pro-Union sympathies that men had experienced earlier. “It has never fallen to my lot to see such a malignant set of countenances,” said Pvt. John Haley.

“I should not be surprised if we begin the month of July with a fight,” Lt. Charles Mattocks wrote in his journal. “We are now close upon the enemy, and I somewhat think there will be a few guns fired July 1st.”

On the night of June 30, XI Corps commander Oliver Otis Howard was about to go to bed at his headquarters at a Jesuit college in Emmitsburg when he received a summons from Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, who commanded one wing of the army, consisting of the I, III, and I Corps. He wanted Howard to meet him at Moritz Tavern, where Reynolds had stopped for the night. It was about six miles away, near Marsh Creek. Howard and his brother Charles found Reynolds in a small farmhouse that was nearly empty of furniture. “General Reynolds was a tall, vigorous man of quick motion and nervous temperament,” Charles Howard recalled. “That night he was somewhat paler than usual and seemed to feel anxious or at least to keenly alive to the responsibility resting upon him.”

There was one table in the room where they talked, and it was piled with maps and messages. The two generals went through the dispatches from headquarters and discussed the possibilities of battle. Howard left around eleven. He recalled thinking that Reynolds seemed depressed, almost as though he had received a foreshadowing of what was going to happen the next day. Back at his headquarters, Howard got only about an hour’s sleep before an orderly woke him with orders, directed to Reynolds, about the army’s movements. The I and XI Corps were told to move north to Gettysburg.

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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.

On This Date (June 29, 1863)

We are only days away from the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s interesting to take a look at what Maine soldiers were doing on this date 155 years ago. The Army of the Potomac had been making some brutal marches as it made its way north in pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia. Many soldiers realized that a major battle was imminent.

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Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard (Library of Congress).

On June 29, 1863, Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard and his XI Corps reached the Maryland town of Emmitsburg, just south of the Pennsylvania border, after a “wearisome” march of some 20 miles on a rainy day over muddy roads.

When the 16th Maine, part of the I Corps, finally staggered into Emmitsburg on June 29, it had traveled 40 miles over the previous 26 hours. Fortunately for the exhausted men, their march of June 30 was just a short one, and they established a camp just north of Emmitsburg.

The 17th Maine, which belonged to the III Corps, established its camp on June 29 outside the Maryland village of Taneytown, where the locals treated the soldiers like a combination of conquering heroes and sideshow attractions. “Ladies and young girls distributed beautiful bouquets of flowers to the officers and soldiers; groups of fair damsels, bewitchingly posted in conspicuous places, sang patriotic airs, as the ‘boys in blue’ marched by, and the passage of troops being a novelty, the citizens turned out en masse,” recalled Edwin Houghton.Long after tattoo, groups of ladies and gentlemen were promenading through our camps, actuated by a curiosity to see how soldiers really lived in the ‘tented field.’”

Chamberlain

Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Library of Congress).

Like so many regiments in the Army of the Potomac, the 20th Maine of the V Corps made a series of exhausting marches as it followed Robert E. Lee toward Pennsylvania. On the morning of June 29 its still-untested colonel, Joshua Chamberlain, began leading his men north from Frederick. Sgt. Charles Proctor of Company H was carrying the regimental flag, but he had managed to acquire enough liquor to get belligerently drunk. He began spouting abuse at some of the officers, who took the flag away from him. Members of the rear guard had to hold Proctor up to keep him on his feet. They finally gave up and left him behind.

Andrew Tozier took Proctor’s place as color bearer. Tozier, then only 24, had already led a difficult life. Born into poverty in Monmouth, he had fled to a life at sea to escape an alcoholic and abusive father, and then he joined the 2nd Maine. He was badly wounded and taken prisoner at Gaines’ Mill, but returned to the regiment after his parole. Tozier was one of the mutinous men that Chamberlain had to discipline when they were transferred to his regiment. But he was now the senior sergeant, so the honor of carrying the regimental flag fell to him.

The 19th Maine belonged to the II Corps, and the regiment made its longest march of the campaign, 32 miles, on June 29, but was able to spend the next day relaxing and basking in the patriotic sentiment it found in the aptly named Uniontown, Maryland.

On June 29 Capt. George D. Smith of the 19th Maine told Edwin Burpee, “I think we are on the eve of a terrible battle and I feel that I shall be killed or wounded.” He was wounded on July 2 and died in the predawn hours the next day. Smith was eventually buried at Gettysburg’s National Cemetery.

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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.

Maine at Brandy Station

 

June 9, 2018, is the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, the largest cavalry battle in North America. It was also the battle where the 1st Maine Cavalry felt that it “earned its spurs.” This excerpt from Maine Roads to Gettysburg tells a bit about the Maine horsemen’s experiences in June 1863.

The 1st Maine received orders to move out on June 8. Dust clouds visible in the distance showed that the Rebels were moving, too. The Maine horsemen bivouacked in the vicinity of Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock. That evening, the officers received an invitation to brigade commander Judson Kilpatrick’s headquarters. “General Kilpatrick loved a good, social time almost as well as a fight,” recalled Capt. Charles Ford of Company K. When the Maine officers arrived, they saw a mysterious object covered by a poncho near Kilpatrick’s tent. An aide whipped the poncho aside to reveal a vessel filled with whiskey punch. Realizing there were always “honorable exceptions” to their pledges of temperance, the Maine Puritans unbent enough to pass an hour of toasts, songs, and speeches. When it came time for the 1st Maine to offer a toast, an officer raised his glass and said, “Here’s hoping we will do as well at Brandy Station to-morrow as we are doing at the whisky station to-night.” Kilpatrick proclaimed it the best toast he had heard all evening.

Dawn had broken by the time the Maine cavalry finally saddled up and moved out on June 9. As they waited for their turn to cross the Rappahannock, they could hear artillery from somewhere upriver. Once across, they broke into a gallop down forest trails, the thudding hooves sending up clouds of dust that coated the whole command. Suddenly the horses emerged from the woods into a large field. In front of them was “a grand, moving panorama of war,” a chaotic confusion of charging horsemen and flashing sabers. “It was a scene to be witnessed but once in a lifetime, and one well worth the risks of battle to witness,” said regimental historian Edward Tobie. It was, in fact, the largest cavalry action to take place in North America.

The battle of Brandy Station had opened to the north—the sounds of firing earlier that morning had come from the area around Beverly Ford, where Brig. Gen. John Buford’s Federal cavalry division had surprised the Confederates in the predawn hours. They sent the Rebel cavalrymen dashing back in the direction of Fleetwood Hill, the eminence above Brandy Station where Jeb Stuart had his headquarters. The battle continued through the morning. Stuart managed to recover and rally, only to be surprised again by the sounds of battle to his south: Gregg’s division, including Kilpatrick’s brigade, had finally entered the fight.

Kilpatrick sent his first two regiments, the 2nd and 10th New York, charging forward toward the tracks of the Orange & Alexandria Railroad and Fleetwood Hill beyond. They collided with Rebel cavalry under Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, and came reeling back. If Kilpatrick had been nourishing dreams of winning glory and promotion on this field, they were rapidly fading. He displayed considerable agitation when he rode up to the 1st Maine and its commander, Col. Calvin Douty. “Colonel Douty, what can you do with your regiment?” he demanded.

“I can drive the rebels to hell,” Douty replied. He ordered his men forward.21

“Oh, it was grand!” wrote Tobie, “and many a man who was in that charge has at times fancied that if he were allowed to choose, he would say, ‘Let me bid this world good-by amid the supreme excitement of a grand, exultant, successful cavalry charge like this!’” As they galloped across the field, the Maine cavalrymen could see a little house on the hill, with an artillery battery in front of it. They headed in that direction, driving the enemy before them. The Rebels, Kilpatrick reported, “could not withstand the heavy saber blows of the sturdy men of Maine.”

On the other side of the railroad, the Maine men smashed into the 4th Virginia. Amid the dust clouds, sabers slashed, small arms cracked, horses whinnied, and men cursed. The Rebels broke and fell back. The 1st Maine regrouped and renewed its charge, energized by the frenzy of battle. The riders reached the top of the hill, charged past the battery there, and galloped so far that Rebel forces began to regroup in their rear. Douty had become separated from his men in the fight with the 4th Virginia, so Lt. Col. Charles H. Smith took charge of reforming the regiment and readying it for a dash back to safety. The Northerners wheeled their horses and fought their way through the reformed enemy lines. At one point Smith was leading his men directly toward the battery they had charged beyond, and he could see the enemy gunners frantically reloading. At the last minute, Smith and his men veered sharply to their right, and the battery’s fire tore through empty air. The regiment made its way back to its own lines, but with a loss of some 46 killed, wounded, and missing.

After a long day of combat, Union cavalry chief Alfred Pleasonton was satisfied with what he had accomplished, and he sent orders for his forces to withdraw around five o’clock. He had not defeated the Rebel cavalry, which had fought tenaciously after its unpleasant surprise, but he had demonstrated that the Union cavalry was now a force to be reckoned with. Lt. Colonel Smith believed the battle marked the 1st Maine Cavalry’s “christening” because it marked “the first time it was ever solidly engaged, and the first time it had ever tasted, in any satisfactory manner, the fruit of victory.”

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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.

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.

1st Maine Cavalry

As the fighting at Gettysburg headed for its climax on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, another battle took place behind the Union lines, a clash of the Union and Confederate cavalries that had been contending with each other ever since Brandy Station. The 1st Maine Cavalry, which had fought many pitched engagements as it followed Lee’s army north, could take little of the credit for this battle, though. They were little more than spectators.

Some Maine cavalrymen did play small but sometimes vital roles during the three days of battle as orderlies, riding about and delivering messages. It could be very hazardous duty: Pvt. Edward Cunningham of Co. L was killed on July 3 while attached to Abner Doubleday’s staff. The 1st Maine’s captain, John P. Carson, served as an orderly for John Reynolds and was reportedly at the general’s side on July 1 when Reynolds was killed. Sgt. Ebenezer Johnson also served as an orderly for the I Corps. One of his fellow soldiers remembered him as a “marked character, made so by the fact that he was equally at home in leading a prayer meeting or a charge upon the enemy.” At Gettysburg he did such sterling service that both Colonel Richard Coulter and General John Robinson singled him out for praise. Robinson said Johnson’s “chevrons should be exchanged for the epaulette. When we make officers of such men, the soldier receives his true reward and the service great benefit.”

The 1st Maine Cavalry’s brigade finally reached the vicinity of Gettysburg very early in the morning of July 2. The Maine cavalrymen participated in a little skirmishing that afternoon—nothing even close to the scale of the slaughter on the other side of Cemetery Ridge—and that night were ordered over to the Baltimore Pike to take a position near the artillery reserve. The next morning they returned to the right of the Union line, but weren’t sent in to the fight against Jeb Stuart and his Rebel cavalry until the fighting was nearly over.

“About three o’clock Friday the enemy attempted to turn our right and a smart cavalry fight took place,” William B. Baker, a sergeant in the 1st Maine Cavalry’s Co. D, informed his parents. “Our Regt. was in reserve till about four when the enemy made an attempt to take our battery. The 5th Michigan broke badly and scattered all over the fields but as the rebs advanced our guns opened with grape and quick it was I assure you. When we went up in front and to the right of our battery the rebs sent shell over us quite briskly. Lieut. Hall of Co. H was knocked from his horse by the force of one as it passed near him. He was not much hurt. We expected to charge but did not.”

Stuart realized he had been checked and moved his troopers back into the woods. Baltimore Pike was safe. This part of the battle was over.

MRGCover

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

 

In Memoriam: Hiram Berry

Hiram Berry

Hiram Berry was born in Rockland, Maine, and died at Chancellorsville.

On this Memorial Day weekend it seems appropriate to remember a soldier I wrote about in Maine Roads to Gettysburg who fell in combat during the Civil War. Hiram Berry’s road never reached Gettysburg—a Confederate sharpshooter killed him at Chancellorsville, not long after Berry’s division had shored up the Union lines following the rout of the XI Corps under Oliver Otis Howard (another Maine man). Berry’s death was a great loss to the Army of the Potomac. He had proven himself capable and dependable. Corps command was certainly a possibility. Berry’s biographer claims that some people even discussed the idea that Berry might one day command the army.

Berry was born on August 27, 1824, on the family farm in what is now Rockland. He grew up with a love of reading and of horses. When he was 21, Berry and another local man named Elijah Walker began working together as carpenters. Berry soon expanded his carpentry work into contracting and building and eventually become one of Rockland’s most prominent businessmen and its mayor. He married Almira M. Brown in 1845 and the couple had one daughter, Lucy.

When young, Berry had wanted to attend West Point. Berry’s mother, however, objected, so he joined a local artillery company instead. Later he organized the Rockland City Guards, a militia unit that wore flashy blue-and-gold uniforms with high bearskin hats. On August 31, 1858, the Guards served as an escort for Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi when the former secretary of war and the future president of the Confederate States of America visited Belfast. “With such troops as are now before me, we may defy the combined forces of the world and shout the song of freedom forever,” said Davis. (On the same trip to Maine, Davis also received an honorary degree from Bowdoin College.)

Berry was a Democrat, not a Lincoln Republican, but he traveled to Augusta to volunteer his services as soon as the war started. He returned home with the approval to raise a regiment, the 4th Maine. He led the brigade at First Bull Run. He commanded a brigade during McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, and earned the firm friendship of General Joseph Hooker when Berry arrived in the nick of time to support Hooker at the Battle of Williamsburg. The campaign took its toll on Berry, though. He fell ill, probably from malaria, and his hair started falling out in clumps. After recuperating in Rockland, he was back in the field for the Battle of Fredericksburg. That battle appeared to take a mental toll. Elijah Walker, who had taken command of the 4th Maine after Berry’s promotion, recalled how the general had approached him the morning after the battle, put his head on Walker’s shoulder, and wept so bitterly he could not speak. Two staff officers gently ushered Berry away. “One hour later he was in his saddle, directing his brigade, as cool and calm as though nothing had happened,” Walker said.

Before Chancellorsville, Berry received promotion to major general and command of Hooker’s old division in the III Corps. It was in that capacity that he was shot down on Sunday, May 3, 1863. A few days earlier he had told his quartermaster, James Rusling, that he didn’t expect to survive the battle. Hooker, now in command of the Army of the Potomac, rode up minutes after Berry died. “My God, Berry, why was this to happen?” he cried. “Why was the man on whom I relied so much to be taken away in this manner?” He had the body sent to the rear. Members of the 4th Maine, Berry’s old regiment, were marching by as the general’s corpse was being taken away. They insisted that the stretcher bearers stop and place their burden on the ground. Then each man filed by and “kissed the cold brow of the man they had loved and had first followed into battle, and then silently and tearfully took their places in the ranks.” Quartermaster Rusling ordered the construction of a coffin and had it draped with Berry’s headquarters flag.

Hiram Berry’s body was taken to Washington for embalming, and then by steamer to Portland, where it lay in state at city hall. From Portland, the steamer Harvest Moon took the coffin to Rockland. Berry returned home on a lovely spring day. Once the steamer came into view at the mouth of the harbor, a cannon fired from the city, and followed up with a shot each minute. Stores and businesses closed, and the citizens of Rockland flocked to the waterfront to await the Harvest Moon. An honor guard from the 7th Maine accompanied the hearse through the crowded but silent streets to the general’s home, where the body was placed in the parlor. His battle sword and a sword the 4th Maine had presented to him lay on a table next to the coffin. He was buried in Achorn Cemetery the next day. By then the bright spring weather had turned gloomy, “as through sympathizing with the mournful scene beneath.”

MRGCover

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

The Long March to Gettysburg

 

The Maine regiments of the Army of the Potomac’s VI Corps, the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine, contributed to the Union victory at Gettysburg with their feet more than with their guns. Along with the rest of John Sedgwick’s corps, they completed their epic 36-mile march to reach the battlefield just in time to provide much-needed support to the left of the Union line on July 2.

Before leaving Virginia in pursuit of Lee’s army, Lt. Col. Selden Connor, who was in command of the 7th Maine while its colonel was back in Maine recruiting, had some misgivings about the Army of the Potomac and its commander, Joseph Hooker. “The army is not very enthusiastic,” he wrote to his sister on June 5. “I’m sorry to say. I don’t believe they have confidence in their leader.” Once the VI Corps started north, though, Connor’s mood improved despite brutal marches that had left some men unconscious and even dead from sunstroke. On June 17 he told his sister that his soldiers were “gay as larks,” and had been singing a song about the regiment as they made their way through Virginia. It went:

Then clear the track you rebs,
Here comes the Seventh Maine;
Our Colonel is a fighting man
His boys are all the same.

“The Army of the Potomac isn’t dead yet,” Connor wrote.

The VI Corps, which included the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine regiments, did not see a lot of fighting at Gettysburg, although its mere presence on the field had been a plus for the Union cause. “By making long and rapid marches our corps arrived just in time to turn the battle of Gettysburg in our favor,” Connor reported to his father. “We were not heavily engaged,” he admitted, but skirmishing cost the regiment six wounded, three of them mortally—“more than the rest of the brigade together.” On July 5, Connor’s regiment moved out with some cavalry and an artillery battery to follow the retreating Rebels west to the town of Fairfield and get a sense of the situation there. General Sedgwick recommended to Meade against pursuing the Rebels through the mountains and passes beyond, so the army commander decided to move his army south through Frederick and then west across South Mountain to reach Lee’s army that way. While the rest of the army moved south, the 7th Maine formed part of the force under brigade commander Thomas Neill that shadowed the retreating enemy through the mountains to the town of Waynesboro.

MRGCover

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

 

 

The Pictures and the Story

Gburg CoverA co-worker of my wife’s gave us this vintage Gettysburg souvenir booklet. Originally published in 1913, this is the fourteenth edition. It has tons of great photos of the battlefield taken by local photographer William Tipton in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

ME MonsMy favorite page is this one, which features the Maine monuments on the battlefield.

Cburg PikeThis image shows monuments along the Chambersburg Pike (Rt. 30). That’s John Buford to the left and John Reynolds to the right. It’s a little startling to view this scene without seeing the large tree that stands behind Reynolds today. The monument at the far right is to James Hall’s 2nd Maine Battery, which saw hard fighting here on July 1.

1893 ReunionThis is the image that closes the booklet. It shows a gathering of generals, Union and Confederate, on East Cemetery Hill on April 29, 1893. The bearded man with his foot on the cannon is Oliver Otis Howard, who vigorously claimed credit for choosing Cemetery Hill as the place to post a reserve on July 1, thus establishing the core of the Union’s “fishhook” line. Notice his empty sleeve. Howard lost his right arm at the Battle of Fair Oaks in 1862. The man with the mutton chop whiskers at the center is former Confederate general James Longstreet. Seated to Longstreet’s left is Daniel Sickles, who commanded the III Corps at Gettysburg. He, of course, lost his leg during the battle. “The dismounted gun, upon the breech of which Gen. O.O. Howard has placed his foot, is typical, let us hope, of a soil that will never again be deluged with the blood of fratricidal strife, and that not only the North and South will ever keep closed the gulf that divided them in the past, but also that the present gulf of race prejudice that separates the white man from the still morally enslaved man of color will also be bridged so that the calamities of a race war will be unknown,” read the photo caption. Howard, who headed the Freedmen’s Bureau after the war, would certainly have agreed with that sentiment.

MRGCover

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