The 31st Maine

The story of the 31st Maine Volunteer Infantry falls outside the scope of Maine Roads to Gettysburg, since the regiment wasn’t mustered in until April 1864, months after the July 1863 battle in Pennsylvania. Still I have a personal interest in the regiment ever since discovering that my great-grandfather, Daniel True Huntington, served with it as a private in Co. I and was injured in the fighting outside Petersburg. While looking through the regiment’s files in the Civil War Regimental Correspondence at the state archives in Augusta, I found some interesting letters, which I will share here.

Daniel White (2)

Col. Daniel White, who commanded the 31st Maine (Maine State Archives).

Colonel Daniel White of Winterport, Maine, started his Civil War with the 2nd Maine Volunteer Infantry. After that regiment ended its service, White joined the newly formed 31st Maine as the captain of Co. A. When the 31st Maine left Augusta in April 1864, it was under the command of Lt. Col. Thomas Hight of Augusta and the 31st Maine was assigned to the IX Corps division of Robert Potter. It suffered terribly during the hard fighting in the Wilderness and Spotsylvania and on the road to Cold Harbor. Hight was later promoted to full colonel, but resigned in May due to ill health. His second in command had also fallen ill so White, by then a major, received command of the regiment and a promotion to colonel.

White did not remain in command for long, although he did lead the regiment on the march from Cold Harbor that started in the early hours of June 12, and then across the pontoon bridge over the James River, and on to the outskirts of Petersburg. In the predawn hours on June 17, the regiment attacked the Confederate lines, an action described in the 1865 book Maine in the War of the Rebellion:

It was fifteen minutes past three. The brigade commanders had timed their watches, that the movement might be in concert. There was silence along the line. The first faint rays of coming daylight began to appear. The time had come. The word of preparation was whispered along the lines. The men, cramped by lying in the trenches, rose to their feet, and dressed their ranks in silence. They grasped their muskets with a nervous energy. There was no clicking of gunlocks. Their spirits roused to the tremendous moment. Now! It was not shouted but spoken lightly. Yet it is powerful enough to put those lines in motion. They go up the bank holding their breath, running, leaping, rushing. There are four flashes of light, a line of fire, one volley only! They are up to the breastworks. On them! Over them! Surrender! The movement is a complete success. Six pieces of artillery and six hundred prisoners is the result, the glorious work of three minutes.

On July 30, the 31st Maine was one of the leading regiments to storm the enemy lines following the explosion of a mine that Pennsylvania coal miners had constructed beneath the Confederate entrenchments. In the ensuing Battle of the Crater, the regiment was “reported to be captured almost entire,” noted division commander Potter. White was among those taken prisoner. (It appears that my ancestor was injured in this fight, when he was storming the enemy’s works and fell into the ditch surrounding them, suffering injuries that might have included broken ribs.)

On May 2, 1865, Colonel White wrote to the state’s adjutant general, John Hodsdon to ask a favor. White was on his way with other exchanged Union prisoners to Annapolis, Maryland, to wait for his discharge from the army. “General, I see by the Papers that all Prisoners of War are to be Discharged,” he wrote to Hodsdon. “Now Gen while I am willing to leave the Service at any time that my Regt is mustered out, I am very anxious to remain and join the Regt so as to come home with it, having been identified with the same since its organization and commanded the same up to my Capture and God and those who have been Prisoners only know much we suffered while there.

“And I think it would be very unjust after the service I have done in this war to send me home before the Regt. because I was so unfortunate as to be Captured while doing my duty in the field, and I think my record will show that myself and the 31st Me has never been found in the rear when there was fighting to be done. So that I think it nothing more than justice done that I be allowed to join my Regt. and come home with the same.”

Henry W. Palmer also served with the 31st Maine, but as a private. His parents were not happy when their son joined the army. On April 8, 1864, Henry’s father wrote to Adjutant General Hodsdon to express his misgivings. “The state of my wifes health has for a long time been precarious” said Palmer. “This morning I received a letter from Mr. Skinner and other near neighbors, stating that since my boy left, his mother has scarcely at or slept, and serious fears are entertained that she will relapse immediately into her former state of insanity unless he can be released. Can such a thing be [done] before he is mustered into service? If there is any way it can be done, for humanitys sake let me know. Write me at Quincy House Boston. It pains me thus to trouble you.”

The Palmers’ fears were realized when Henry was wounded on May 12 during the fighting in front of Spotsylvania and he had his right arm amputated at the shoulder. Despite the terrible wound, young Palmer wished to remain with the army, prompting another letter to Hodsdon from his father. “Henry would like to be retained in the Army, at least for a while, tho, with loss of his right arm he could do little in the field. This is also my wish in part, but more fully that he might on furlough go to his home in Cornith (where I am to be after this week) and as he already writes very well with his left hand, I wish him so instructed that he may be useful hereafter. In the mean time, any position he can fill, any duty he can perform in his countrys aid, will happily receive his energies, talent, time, wholly, or in part. To his father, Henry has been a good boy; to his country he has already been faithful, promt[?], uncomplaining, patriotic—and thus he will ever be.”

Henry himself wrote to “the military authorities of Maine” from the Camp Keyes hospital in Augusta on October 14. He had been learning to write with his left hand, and his writing was shaky. After explaining the loss of his limb, Palmer, referring to himself in the third person, said “that he has fully recovered from Typhoid fever incident to loss of arm & exposure, and with that deference becoming the soldier, asks that so far as it can be consistent, he may receive such position in the army and such facilities as may enable him, in his maimed condition, yet to be of service to his country & himself—And he further begs to state, that when he exchanged the duties of a civilian for that of a soldier he carried with him into the field, all that he was, and gave willingly to his country all the energies of mind and body—that at the time referred to he wrote a good hand, which hand he left on the battle field—and now with his left hand respectfully asks that he may retain such position in the army and received such facilities as may lead to his future usefullness, in any and every position in which he may be placed.”

I have not yet learned if White’s and Palmer’s requests were granted.

Palmer letter


Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now. You can find it on, or at any fine bookseller near you (once bookstores reopen).

Oliver Howard’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


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

Today, May 2, is the anniversary of Oliver Otis Howard’s worst day on a battlefield. (Although losing his arm on the Peninsula must have been pretty bad, too.) On May 2, 1863, General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson unleashed a devastating flank attack on Howard’s XI Corps during the Battle of Chancellorsville. The attack came as a complete surprise to General Howard, although it should not have. Howard had received warnings from various sources that something was happening on his unprotected right—warnings he disregarded.

Here’s a portion of what I wrote in Maine Roads to Gettysburg about Howard’s terrible day.

As the sun rose on May 2, Joe Hooker arrived along the XI Corps line to take a look at its defenses. He appeared impressed. “How strong! How strong,” he said. Yet he must have developed some reservations, for later in the day he had an order sent to Howard, warning him that his preparations had been made with the idea that the enemy would make a frontal attack. “If he should throw himself upon your flank,” said Hooker’s message, the commanding general “wished you to examine the ground and determine upon the position you will take in that event, in order that you may be prepared for him in whatever direction he advances.” Hooker advised Howard to keep “heavy reserves well in hand to meet this contingency. We have good reason to suppose that the enemy is moving to our right. Please advance your pickets as far as may be safe, in order to obtain timely information of their approach.” Hooker then sent a second, similar message to both Howard and Henry Slocum, whose XII corps was next in the Union line. “The right of your line does not appear to be strong enough,” Hooker warned. “No artificial defenses worth naming have been thrown up, and there appears to be a scarcity of troops at that point, and not, in the general’s opinion, as favorably posted as might be.”

Sometime around noon, Howard complained of fatigue and said he wanted to catch some sleep. He instructed division commander Carl Schurz to wake him if any urgent dispatches arrived. When Hooker’s directive to watch the flank arrived, Schurz said, he immediately took the message to Howard. The second warning arrived shortly afterwards. Howard said he did not recall seeing any such messages. In any event, he claimed, he had gone ahead on his own initiative and done what the message had instructed to protect his flank.

That would have surprised Schurz, who said he pointed out to Howard the weakness of his right. “Do you not think it certain that the enemy, attacking from the west, will crush Gilsa’s two regiments, which are to protect our right and rear, at the first onset?” he asked. “Is there the slightest possibility for him to resist?”

As Schurz remembered it, all Howard had to say was, “Well, he will have to fight.”

The Federals had received their first hint that something was up around eight o’clock that morning, when a long column of Confederates became visible to the south through a gap in the trees near a place called Catherine Furnace. The reports reached David Birney, who commanded a division in the III Corps, and he sent word to Dan Sickles, his corps commander. Sickles ordered his artillery to shell the enemy soldiers.

Eager for a fight, Sickles had Hiram Berry send out two of his regiments to see what the enemy was up to, and he asked Hooker for permission to do more. With Hooker’s blessing, Sickles advanced Birney’s and Amiel Whipple’s divisions, with Hiram Berdan’s sharpshooters as skirmishers. By the time Sickles reached Catherine Furnace, almost all the Confederate column had marched off into the woods, leaving only the 23rd Georgia behind to be captured. It was possible that Jackson was marching to attack the army’s right; it was also possible that Lee was retreating. Hooker apparently believed the second interpretation, and when Howard returned to his headquarters later in the day, he did, too.

Carl Schurz did not share that optimistic interpretation. He rode over to Dowdall’s Tavern to tell Howard he thought Jackson was preparing to attack their right—he even stopped along the way to tell Capt. Hubert Dilger to find some good westward-facing positions for his artillery battery. Howard would have none of it. Lee was retreating, he said. “I was amazed at this belief,” recalled Schurz. “Was it at all reasonable to think that Lee, if he really intended to retreat, would march his column along our front instead of away from it, which he might have done with far less danger of being disturbed?” Howard remained unconvinced.

Increasingly desperate, Schurz moved three of his regiments so they would be better positioned to resist an attack from the west. Howard, he said, did not object. Other than that, along with the digging of some shallow entrenchments and a movement of the artillery reserve, nothing else was done to improve what Schurz called the XI Corps’ “absurdly indefensible position.” It was made even more difficult to defend when Hooker asked Howard to send Barlow’s brigade forward to support Sickles. Howard, who had intended to keep Barlow as his reserve, “deemed it of sufficient importance” to accompany the brigade on Sickles’s expedition personally.

The blow fell sometime after 5:00 p.m. Jackson’s men had indeed headed south at Catherine Furnace, but only until they reached a road that ran north toward the Orange Turnpike to the west of the XI Corps’ position. Jackson placed his men—the divisions of Robert Rodes, Raleigh Colston, and A. P. Hill—in long lines of battle that extended north and south of the turnpike and easily overlapped the unsuspecting XI Corps off to the east. Then Jackson ordered his men forward. The Rebels pushed their way through the woods and thickets that separated them from Howard’s mostly unsuspecting men. Animals fled the lines of humans forcing their way through the tangled growth and burst out of the woods to scamper through the camps of Howard’s men, many of whom had stacked their arms and were playing cards or cooking food. There was the sound of gunfire, the warning shots of the pickets, and then Jackson’s soldiers burst out of the woods like a whirlwind. The surprise was so complete, said one soldier from the 153rd Pennsylvania, in von Gilsa’s brigade, “some of our men were shot in the back while sitting on their knapsacks.”

Howard had just returned to his headquarters from his expedition with Barlow when he heard “the ceaseless roar of the terrible storm” from the right. He sent messengers to find out what was happening and rode out to find a central position behind Schurz’s lines. It wasn’t long before men came rushing past him in a panic. Howard compared it to “all the fury of the wildest hailstorm.” “It was a terrible gale!” he recalled, “the rush, the rattle, the quick lightning from a hundred points at once; the roar, redoubled by echoes through the forest; the panic, the dead and dying in sight and the wounded straggling along; the frantic efforts of the brave and patriotic to stay the angry storm!” Howard made some frantic attempts to reform his line to face this new threat, but it was no use. It didn’t help that the general’s horse, caught up in the panic, threw its rider to the ground. One of his aides, Capt. Frederick Dessaur, was shot and killed. Howard dashed about the battlefield, trying to stem the flood, to little effect. “Such a mass of fugitives I haven’t seen since the prior battle of Bull Run,” Howard wrote his wife. Years later he told a reporter that he “wanted to die. It was the only time I ever weakened that way in my life, before or since; but that night I did all in my power to remedy the mistake, and I sought death everywhere I could find an excuse to go on the field.”


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


If you are in the Philadelphia area on Saturday, May 18, and would like to attend a tremendous free program about the Battle of Gettysburg, have I got an event for you! It’s a Manor College seminar titled “Perspectives on the Battle of Gettysburg.” I will be there to talk about Maine Roads to Gettysburg, and you’ll also get to hear from Herb Kaufman on Little Round Top, Matt Atkinson on Longstreet’s countermarch, and Jim Hessler on Daniel Sickles and the Peach Orchard. See the flyer below for more details.

manor college

Then and Now

20thThen and Now

Top: Veterans of the 20th Maine and family members on October 3, 1889. Bottom: Our recreation of the photo on October 6, 2018 (Tom Miller photo).

I got a chance to stand in history’s footsteps last weekend, thanks to Randy Drais.

Randy lives in York, Pennsylvania. His great-great grandfather was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, and Randy has worked to commemorate the battle through his Battle of Gettysburg Buff website and Facebook page. I’ve taken a number of the battlefield tours that Randy has organized and have learned much from them.

So when I heard that Randy was organizing a recreation of a famous photo of veterans from the 20th Maine on Little Round Top, I wanted to get involved.

IMG_3378The original photo was taken on October 3, 1889. That was the day when Maine veterans from the state’s regiments that had fought at Gettysburg gathered on the battlefield to dedicate their monuments. The veterans of the 20th Maine—including Joshua Chamberlain, who had commanded the regiment on Little Round Top on July 2, 1863—and their family members met on the rocky spur where the regiment had fought more than a quarter-century earlier. “It is an occasion of great interest to us all, that after these twenty-six years so many of the survivors of the Twentieth Regiment, Maine Volunteer Infantry, are permitted to meet and stand on this historic ground, made sacred by the blood of our comrades who fell here in the defense of this vital position of the great battlefield of the war of the rebellion,” said Holman Melcher, president of the regimental association. Melcher, a farm boy from Topsham, had been a 21-yer-old teacher when he joined the 20th Maine in 1862. Melcher had led Color Co. F during the fighting and some credited him with starting the regiment’s final bayonet charge down the southern spur of Little Round Top, when he moved his company forward to provide cover for wounded who lay in front of him.

Regimental historian Howard Prince spoke next. Prince admitted that he had missed the battle, having been on detached duty gathering supplies. “The most intimate connection he had with the battle, was to conduct a train-load of shoes for the gallant but footsore survivors thereof, over the stony roads of South Mountain at midnight,” Prince said of himself before entertaining the gathered veterans with a history of their fight on Little Round Top.

Finally it was Chamberlain’s turn to speak. “You were making history,” he told his former comrades in arms. “The world has recorded for you more than you have written. The centuries to come will share and recognize the victory won here, with growing gratitude.” Following Chamberlain’s remarks, bugler Joseph Tyler played taps and then the party moved on the dedicate a marker designating where Walter Morrill’s Company B had fought, and then ascended Big Round Top to dedicate the 20th Maine’s monument there.

IMG_3365The veterans had enjoyed a beautiful October day when they were here. We were not so fortunate 129 years later, as the morning was dank and misty. Fortunately, though, it was not actively raining as photo participants began trickling in before 8:00 that morning. Randy had obtained a permit from the National Park Service, and we had 45 minutes to finish our shoot. Photographer Tom Miller was behind the camera. Some of the participants, men and women, were wearing period clothing. Others, like me, were wearing anything they thought would look okay in the photograph. I had purchased my Italian-made wool sport coat that week at a Goodwill store for $7.95. I hoped it would pass muster. Someone had provided a collection of appropriate headgear, each one protected inside a plastic bag and ready to be distributed to the people who needed them. Randy had arranged for the production of reunion ribbons to match the ones that some of the veterans had been wearing. A banner with the V Corps’ Maltese Cross had been hung on a tree behind the spot where our group would assemble.

One thing we noticed is that the terrain had changed. There was now a small stone wall and a drop off on what would have been the left side of the original image. I was supposed to be one of the veterans sitting at the front to the group’s left, next to the man leaning against his cane. But if I had sat in my proper place, all you would have seen of me in the photo would have been the top of my head sticking up from behind the wall. So I moved to the back and to the right a bit.

RandyRandy did an admirable job of getting us organized and in our places. Tom took a few pictures and, after examining them, Randy pronounced himself satisfied. Then our Chamberlain, Bob Mcfarlane, read an excerpt of a speech that Chamberlain made later during the reunion on October 3, 1889, words that are remembered and recited today.

Chamberlain“In great deeds something abides,” he said. “On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

I’m sure all of us on Little Round Top that misty October morning found time to ponder, and some of us might even have dreamed. It was certainly a memorable occasion and I’m very pleased that I could take part.

20th Now


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

The Death of General Mansfield



Maj. Gen. Joseph Mansfield was killed at Antietam on September 17, 1862 (National Archives).

The fighting started early on September 17, 1862, outside the little town of Sharpsburg, near the Potomac River and Antietam Creek. Joe Hooker’s I Corps had skirmished with the enemy the evening before, and “Fighting Joe” resumed the action when he started his troops south through a cornfield in the direction of a little white building known as the Dunker Church. Soldiers from Stonewall Jackson’s command, newly arrived from Harpers Ferry, were waiting. The bloody fight between Hooker’s and Jackson’s men ebbed and flowed over the cornfield throughout the morning.

Samuel Crawford’s brigade, including the 10th Maine, now belonged to the XII Corps, which had become part of the Army of the Potomac after Second Bull Run. The commander of the XII Corps was Joseph Mansfield, a Connecticut native, West Point graduate, and Mexican War veteran. Mansfield, a dignified 58-year-old with white hair and beard that gave him the appearance of an Old Testament prophet, had headed the Department of Washington but chafed to receive a field command. He finally got the assignment to the XII Corps on September 12, just in time to join his new command in Frederick.

Beal, George L

Col. George L. Beal of the 10th Maine (Maine State Archives).

Colonel George L. Beal was leading the 10th Maine, although Crawford had placed him under arrest on September 2 after a dispute over some hay. Beal’s men, exhausted after a hard march through mud and rain, had taken the hay from a Rebel farm so they could make beds on the wet ground. When Crawford heard about it, he sent for Beal and told the colonel to order his men to return the hay under guard and then post sentries to prevent any more pilfering. Beal protested. His men were wet and tired, he said. He would tell them to return the hay, but would not insult them by forcing them to do it under guard, and he would not have any of his tired soldiers act as sentries that night. Crawford placed him under arrest, but restored him to command a few days later. Actions like that did not endear Crawford to the men of the 10th Maine. “If this were not a military mob we would turn out and give him a ducking in the river,” fumed John Mead Gould.

Such resentments were pushed aside now that the regiment faced combat. As Hooker’s corps attacked through the cornfield, Mansfield held his corps in reserve behind a forested area called the East Woods. It was a tense wait. Enemy shells soared over the soldiers’ heads and buried themselves in the earth behind. The roar of battle on the other side of the trees increased in volume, and more and more Union soldiers began pouring through the woods in retreat. “All of us did not notice these changes, and many did not even get up to look to the front, but we all saw Gen. Mansfield riding about the field in his new, untarnished uniform, with his long, silvery hair flowing out behind, and we loved him,” remembered Gould. “It never fell to our lot to have such a commander as he. Very few of us had ever seen him till three days before this, but he found a way to our hearts at once.”

Finally, it became time to advance. Beal ordered the regiment forward. Along the way, General Hooker rode up. “You must hold those woods!” he exclaimed. Bullets went snapping and whizzing past. Mansfield wanted his men to advance in two columns, feeling it was easier to handle them that way; Beal wanted to deploy his regiment in line of battle, and as soon as Mansfield had moved out of sight he did so, the general’s wishes notwithstanding. “And now came the moment of battle that tried us severely,” Gould wrote, “not that there was a sign of hesitancy, or show of poor behavior, but it is terrible to march slowly into danger, and see and feel that each second your chance for death is surer than it was the second before. The desire to break loose, to run, to fire, to do something, no matter what, rather than to walk, is almost irresistible. Men who pray, pray then; men who never pray nerve themselves as best they can, but it is said that those who have been praying men and are not, suffer an agony that neither of the other class can know.”

They reached a rail fence and fired at the Rebels. The Rebels fired back. One of them shot Beal’s horse in the head. As the colonel dismounted from the wounded animal, he was shot in the legs. His crazed mount then charged across the field and lashed out at Lt. Col. James Fillebrown, knocking him out of the battle with a fierce kick of its hind legs. Mansfield, in the confusion, became convinced that the 10th Maine was firing at Union troops. He rode over to stop them. A captain and a sergeant argued that they were shooting at the enemy. “Yes, Yes, you are right,” Mansfield conceded, and then Rebel bullets struck him. Gould was standing nearby. At first he thought the bullets had hit only Mansfield’s horse, but as the general dismounted, the wind blew his coat open and Gould saw blood streaming down his side. Gould and two other soldiers from the regiment helped the mortally wounded general to the rear, where he soon died.

After the war Gould became somewhat obsessed with marking exactly where Mansfield had been wounded, and in 1895 he published Joseph K.F. Mansfield, Brigadier General of the U.S. Army: A Narrative of Events Connected with his Mortal Wounding at Antietam, Sharpsburg, Maryland, September 17, 1862.  “It was bad enough and sad enough that Gen. Mansfield should be mortally wounded once, but to be wounded six, seven or eight times in as many localities is too much of a story to let stand unchallenged,” Gould wrote.


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

You Can Go Home Again


Chamberlain house

Speaking about Maine Roads to Gettysburg at the Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick (Beth Ann Huntington photo).

This summer I headed up to Maine for what I called my “book tour” for Maine Roads to Gettysburg. I spoke at the Maine Historical Society in Portland, was one of the authors at the Books in Boothbay Festival, and did two really fun talks at the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick for the Pejepscot Historical Society. A few weeks later I went back to do a talk at the MaineGeneral hospital in Augusta and to tape a segment for News Center Maine’s 207 show (see the segment below).

I was born and bred in the great state of Maine. I grew up in Augusta, graduated from Cony High School, and attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick for two years. Then I realized that perhaps I should get out and see a bit more of the world. So I transferred to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

In March 1983, after I had graduated and returned to Maine, I packed up my car (well, my parents’ car, to be perfectly honest) and moved down to the Boston suburb of Brighton. I was 22. That officially marks the point when I ceased to be a Maine resident. After living in Brighton for a couple of years, I moved to Washington, D.C., and lived in that area for a decade or so before relocating to Pennsylvania. I have resided in the Keystone State for 22 years now. I live not far from Gettysburg, which is good, but it’s not Maine. I have been a Pennsylvania resident for about as long as I lived in my home state. That strikes me as strange. I am not a Pennsylvanian and I never will be. I am from Maine.

Being from Maine is something that stays with you. The connection even grows stronger the further away you go. I still remember my excitement at a concert in Santa Monica when I spotted someone in the crowd wearing a WBLM tee-shirt. I kept Maine plates on the car when I was in L.A., and one morning when I was driving down the Harbor Freeway a car pulled in behind me and the driver began flashing the lights and honking the horn. “What the hell?” I thought. Then the car pulled alongside me and the driver began pointing to the back of her car. When she moved ahead of me I could see she had Maine plates, too. Suddenly, I understood.

There’s something special about being from Maine. For one thing, we are the only state in the Union with a name that has only one syllable. (Go ahead. Look it up.) Second, we’re tucked way up in a corner of the nation. If you come to Maine it’s because you planned to, not because you’re heading someplace else (unless you’re going to Canada, but we won’t talk about that). Third, there just aren’t that many of us, so Maine feels like a small community. Whenever I pass a car with Maine plates I always glance at the driver, thinking there’s a good chance it will be someone I know. It never is, and even if it were, there’s little change I would recognize him or her. Or vice versa.

One of the joys of working on Maine Roads to Gettysburg is it gave me the chance to write about people from my native state. I included accounts of soldiers from Bangor, Dexter, Rockland, Wiscasset, Thomaston, Waterville, and Hallowell, all places I knew well. John Chase of the 5th Maine Battery, who was horribly wounded at Gettysburg, was from Augusta. I learned that Selden Connor, who had commanded the 7th Maine at Gettysburg, was buried in Augusta, just down the hill from James G. Blaine, who also appears in the book. I used to play Frisbee in the park around Blaine’s grave. I had the opportunity to explore archives all over the state, in Portland, Saco, Brunswick, Augusta, and Orono. As I’ve written about elsewhere, I learned that my great-grandfather served with the 31st Maine. I found his enlistment papers, with his signature, in the state archives in Augusta and visited his grave in Litchfield.

IMG_2892I certainly enjoyed talking at the visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park for the official “book launch” in April, but talking about it in Maine was even better. At the Maine Historical Society talk,  a friend of my parents’ surprised me by showing up for the talk. I used to go duck hunting with him. Someplace there’s a picture of him, my brother, and me in a hunting boat on the Sheepscot River near Wiscasset on a frigid morning during duck season. My dad probably took the picture around 8:00 in the morning, but we are all holding cans of Budweiser.

Another surprise at that talk was the appearance of my friend Peter. I hadn’t seen him in decades. He used to live on our street in Augusta, back when life seemed like an unending series of whiffle ball, capture the flag, ping pong, and sledding. One year Peter, my brother, and I rode out bikes all the way to Greenville, a distance of more than 100 miles each way. We had an epic time. Peter’s family moved to Cape Elizabeth and contact was limited after that. It was great to see him.

Bisbee, George

George Bisbee of the 16th Maine (Maine State Archives).

The Boothbay festival was a blast, too. I saw Sue, whose academic path first crossed with mine in kindergarten. Bill, a friend from college, also turned up. I was talking to a woman who bought a book and discovered that she was the daughter of another friend of my parents, who was also the realtor who had sold them their house. I met a woman who had an ancestor in the 7th Maine at Gettysburg, and an older man who told me he had an ancestor in the 16th Maine. “What was name?” I asked, feeling about as hopeful of recognizing it as I did when I peered at drivers with Maine plates. “George Bisbee,” he said. “His picture’s in the book,” I told him.

It is a small world, especially when you’re from Maine. It was like that during the Civil War, too. After the battle of Middleburg in June 1863, Walter B. Morrill of the 20th Maine was surprised to see that one of the Confederate prisoners was a man he had worked with while lumbering along the Penobscot River. During their march to Gettysburg, soldiers of the 17th Maine almost exchanged friendly fire with troops that had been sent out from the defenses of Washington. Those soldiers were from the 25th and 27th Maine regiments, and for some soldiers the encounter turned into reunions with old friends from home. When Thomas Hyde reached the battlefield at Antietam, one of the first things he did was ask around about people he knew in the 10th Maine, who had already been in the fight.

chamberlain house

The Joshua Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick (Tom Huntington photo).

My favorite experience on the “book tour” was speaking at the Chamberlain Museum. When I went to Bowdoin, the building was right across Potter Street from the fraternity I had joined. Chamberlain’s old home was then being used an apartment building for students. I recall it had been painted yellow and was adorned with fire escapes necessary to meet safety regulations. If there was any kind of plaque, I can’t recall it. I doubt I had any idea it had once been Chamberlain’s home—or if I even knew who Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was.

I should have, for he and I were fraternity brothers. We both belonged to Alpha Delta Phi. The window in Chamberlain’s office looks right out at the big brick fraternity house on the other side of Potter Street. (The building postdates Chamberlain, so it wouldn’t have been a view he enjoyed.) I had lived in the frat house for one semester and two summers, so it was a little surreal to be speaking about Chamberlain just across the street. Several of my fraternity brothers (and a sister) showed up to hear me talk, too, as well as several other friends from various phases of my life.

So I don’t care what famous novelist Thomas Wolfe said. You can go home again.


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

The George Spangler Farm


spangler farm

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.

summer kitchen

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.”


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.


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.

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.


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

On This Date (June 30, 1863)


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.


Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg, which is available for purchase now. You can find it on, 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.


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.’”


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.


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