The 17th Maine Finds a Wall

When the 17th Maine reached Gettysburg, there was some turmoil swirling in the regiment’s upper levels. Its original colonel, Thomas Roberts, resigned in June, leaving Lt. Col. Charles Merrill in temporary command. Merrill, a Bowdoin graduate and Portland lawyer before the war, had served with Roberts in a militia unit back home, and it seems there was bad blood between them. Perhaps the ill will trickled down through the regiment, or maybe its soldiers knew that Merrill had a brother who was fighting for the Confederacy, because a movement began to secure the colonelcy for Maj. George West—a move that was doubtlessly spearheaded by George West. He had been born in Massachusetts and gained military experience with militia there, but West later moved to Maine’s Aroostook County to take up work as a lumberman. He had begun the war as a captain with the 10th Maine. He had since advanced to major in the 17th, but he had his sights set on higher rank.44

As has had happened with the 19th Maine, letters and petitions began traveling from the army to the governor, recommending West and tearing down Merrill. A petition drawn up on May 23 and signed by 21 officers claimed that Merrill had taken the colors and gone to the rear during the fighting at Chancellorsville on May 3, and he had returned to the regiment only after his brigade commander ordered him to. That behavior, the petition said, “was such as to destroy all our confidence in his bravery.” On the other hand, Generals David Birney and Hobart Ward both wrote to Coburn to recommend Merrill, and other soldiers testified to his bravery at Chancellorsville as well.

“Col. Merrill was a kind, fatherly man, abounding in good qualities and he didn’t fancy the domineering and reckless ways of West,” noted Pvt. John Haley, who appreciated the major’s military skills, but thought West was cold and ambitious. “We admired his smartness and military genius, but as a man, we despised him as thoroughly he did us.” For the time being, Merrill remained in charge, even though his courage on the battlefield had been questioned.

The regiment arrived late to the battlefield on July 2, having remained behind in Emmitsburg to block mountain passes to the west. Merrill was still in command, despite the groundswell of support for Maj. George W. West. The regiment began its march to Gettysburg around five o’clock on the morning of July 2, and the men were disgruntled because they had not been given time to make coffee. Even without caffeine, the Union men summoned enough energy to cheer loudly when they crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania. After a march of about three hours brigade commander Regis De Trobriand allowed his weary soldiers a break. Many immediately kindled fires for the all-important task of brewing coffee—only to receive orders to resume the march before they had time to finish. Time was of the essence. As De Trobriand’s brigade marched up the Emmitsburg Road south of Gettysburg, enemy bullets started whistling over their heads. Had they arrived 15 minutes later, regimental historian Edwin Houghton wrote, they would have found Confederates blocking their path.

As the soldiers headed north, they passed Gettysburg citizens going in the opposite direction, laden with whatever they could carry. South of town, the regiment made a right turn off the road, passed through Sherfy’s peach orchard, and finally found a position near some woods along a rocky ridge. To their south was a 20-acre wheat field. There were woods at the far side, with a low stone wall running along the edge. Soldiers flung themselves onto the ground and fell asleep. The time was about three o’clock.

Many men were still sleeping sometime around 4:00 when a gun discharged from the peach orchard and jolted them awake. More guns began firing off to the south, where Smith’s New York battery was defending Devil’s Den. Lt. Charles Verrill of Company C walked to a high point above the wheat field to investigate. Off to the south he could see Union signalmen on the rocky heights of Little Round Top. They were frantically waving their signal flags. Before Verrill could determine much more, orders came for the regiment to move to their left at double-quick.

The 17th Maine rose up and made a dash across the wheat field toward the stone wall at the south end. Already “the bullets were whizzing,” Verrill said. A sergeant fell dead. Like the wheat field and the peach orchard, the stone wall, under ordinary circumstances, would have been nothing special. It was “just a common old fashioned, thirty-inch stone fence,” Verrill said. On the battlefield, nothing was ordinary. “The stone wall was a breastwork ready made,” Verrill said, and the crucible of battle transformed it into “the best stone wall the 17th Maine ever came across in its travels.”


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

Into Pitzer’s Woods

Sometime around 11:00 on July 2, 1863, Col. Moses Lakeman of the 3rd Maine received orders to support about 100 of Hiram Berdan’s sharpshooters who were going to move across the Emmitsburg Road and check enemy activity in a patch of forest called Pitzer’s Woods. The sharpshooters took the advance, with the Maine soldiers trailing. As Berdan’s men approached farm buildings near the Emmitsburg Road, they encountered a local boy who warned them that Confederate soldiers lay waiting “in rows” in the woods. Some of the sharpshooters told the lad he was talking nonsense and continued forward.

The sharpshooters realized soon enough that the boy knew what he was talking about when they spotted men wearing butternut and gray moving through the trees. They were Alabamians of Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade. The sharpshooters opened fire, and the 3rd Maine came running up at double-quick in support. The Union soldiers drove back the Rebel skirmishers, but could see three lines of Rebel infantry advancing beyond the trees. “We felt that the life of the Nation was at stake, and every man in the ranks was conscious of personal responsibility,” said one man. When the two sides were about 300 yards apart they commenced firing. The Maine soldiers were not pleased to realize that the sharpshooters had pretty much monopolized the trees to shelter behind.

Cpl. Jonathan Newcomb Jr. of the 3rd Maine’s Company A had moved about a hundred yards into the woods when the regiment received orders to deploy as skirmishers. The firing soon became general. Newcomb said he saw General Berdan on a big white horse gallop along the line between the 3rd Maine and the sharpshooters as the bullets flew all around. “After the work began and as I stood in my place, loading and firing, I looked to my right and the only man I could see was John Little,” Newcomb recalled. “His face was as white as a sheet of paper. I supposed he had his mortal wound then.” Newcomb managed to squeeze behind a tree next to a sharpshooter, and watched as a Rebel regiment advanced his way. When Newcomb jumped out from behind the tree, he found a dozen enemy rifles aimed his way. Newcomb dove to the ground and the bullets flew over him. The sharpshooter was not so lucky, and he fell with a badly wounded knee.

After a short but intense fight of 20 or 25 minutes, the Union troops withdrew. The 3rd Maine had suffered 48 casualties, most of them prisoners. One of them was Newcomb. Taken to a Rebel hospital, he helped nurse the wounded sharpshooter and a mortally wounded private from Company I. The dying private asked Newcomb to write to his wife and say he died happy, “and to keep the promise she made before he enlisted,” whatever that might have been. Newcomb ended up a prisoner on Belle Isle in Richmond.

The survivors of the 3rd Maine moved back across the Emmitsburg Road to rejoin their brigade, but then they received orders to retrace their steps until they reached a peach orchard on a bit of high ground east of the road. The little orchard, the fruit still green on the trees, was about 300 yards by 150 yards in expanse. Its owner was farmer Joseph Sherfy, whose house and barn stood on the other side of the Emmitsburg Road. The orchard’s western edge lay along the road, with the Millerstown (Wheatfield) Road bordering it on the north.

Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, commander of the III Corps,  had been eyeing Sherfy’s peach orchard with considerable interest. He did not like the position army commander Meade had assigned his corps. Sickles was supposed to form to the left of the II Corps on the line where Cemetery Ridge largely loses its ridge-like qualities and descends to a low point before rising again to the northern slope of Little Round Top. Sherfy’s peach orchard offered a bit of high ground to his front. It was also an open space that would provide a good place for artillery and prevent the Rebels from springing any surprises as they had done at Chancellorsville. Sickles seemed haunted by the ghosts of the battle from two months earlier. When he looked out from Cemetery Ridge and saw the peach orchard, he probably thought about what happened when the Confederates occupied Hazel Grove and used its high ground as an artillery platform from which to shell the Army of the Potomac. Berdan’s report about the encounter in Pitzer’s Woods only reinforced Sickles’s concerns that the Rebels were about to fall on his left and capture the high ground on his front.


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

Ames at Gettysburg

Adelbert Ames was the original commander of the 20th Maine, and he made a mark on the regiment with his strict discipline. The regiment made a name for itself on Little Round Top under Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain during the fighting at Gettysburg on July 2. Ames, however, did not have a particularly glorious experience at Gettysburg. He entered the fight on July 1 as the commander of the second brigade in Francis C. Barlow’s first division of the XI Corps, and ended it as division commander following Barlow’s wounding. The division was driven back from its advanced position on the rise known today as Barlow Knoll and suffered a casualty rate of nearly 60 percent. When he reported to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard on Cemetery Hill, Ames said, “I have no division; it is all cut to pieces.”

Like Barlow, Ames did not have much respect for the many Germans in his command. Ames’s official report of the day’s fight is relatively terse. He devoted fewer than 200 words to the events of July 1. Among them: “My brigade was ordered to a number of different positions, and finally it formed in rear of some woods, near a small stream some half a mile from town. From this position we were driven, the men of the First Brigade of this division running through lines of the regiments of my brigade (the Second), and thereby creating considerable confusion.”

At the end of that trying day, Ames found space in the cemetery gatehouse and went to sleep. He shared the room with Charles Wainwright, who handled the artillery for the I Corps. Wainwright took time to observe the young Maine general over the next few days. “I found him the best kind of man to be associated with, cool and clear in his own judgment, gentlemanly, and without the smallest desire to interfere,” said Wainwright. “We consulted together, but during the whole time we were here he never once attempted to presume on his superior rank. Ames is a gentleman; and a strange thing in the army, I did not hear him utter an oath of any kind during the three days!”

Ames suffered more disappointment in the waning daylight hours of July 2, when his division was in the thick of a fight for East Cemetery Hill and did not perform well. Fortunately, Winfield Scott Hancock sent a II Corps brigade under Samuel Carroll to East Cemetery Hill and the reinforcements arrived in time to repulse the attacking Rebels. Ames was terse about the evening’s fight when he wrote his report. It is not difficult to detect some tight-lipped fury between the three short sentences he contributed. “On the evening of the 2d, an attempt was made to carry the position we held, but the enemy was repulsed with loss,” Ames wrote. “Colonel Carroll, with a brigade from the Second Corps, rendered timely assistance. The batteries behaved admirably.” He pointedly did not mention how his own infantry had behaved. Ames did single out three officers for praise—his assistant adjutant general, Capt. John Marshall Brown; Harris of the 75th Ohio; and Young of the 107th Ohio. It’s probably no coincidence that none of them had a German surname.

On July 3, 1863, Ames dashed off a note to Chamberlain after hearing about the 20th Maine’s fight on Little Round Top. “I am very proud of the 20th Regt. and its present Colonel,” he wrote. “I did want to be with you and see your splendid conduct in the field.” Perhaps Ames was thinking about his own disappointments at Gettysburg when he added, “The pleasure I felt at the intelligence of your conduct yesterday is some recompense for all that I have suffered.”

In a letter written home that August, Ames recounted how he was reunited with his old regiment. He was riding with Gouverneur Warren when the men they were passing began shouting and waving their hats. Ames thought they were cheering Warren, but the engineer corrected him. They were cheering Ames. “I soon found it was the 20th,” he wrote. “They gave me three times three. They will do anything for me.” He also mentioned that the regiment’s officers had chipped in to buy him a sword, sash, and belt. “The sword is very elegant. It has some fine carbuncles on the hilt—It was made to order, and all cost some two hundred dollars.” All that strict discipline had paid off.


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

Oliver Otis Howard

Major General Oliver Otis Howard was seeking a measure of redemption at Gettysburg. His XI Corps had been routed at Chancellorsville when Stonewall Jackson fell on its unsuspecting right flank. Howard knew he and his corps had failed, and he understood that the rest of the army believed it, too. On May 10 he felt compelled to issue a general order acknowledging “a feeling of depression” in the corps. “Some obloquy has been cast upon us on account of the affair of Saturday, May 2,” he said. “I believe that such a disaster might have happened to any other corps of this arm, and do not distrust my command.” He said the events of May 2 would be a learning experience, and felt that his officers and men were eager for another chance to prove their worth.

Howard was up before dawn on July 1, 1863, to begin preparations to send his three divisions—under Francis Barlow, Adolph von Steinwehr, and Carl Schurz—forward toward Gettysburg. The long columns of men finally set out around 8:30 a.m. for the 11-mile march. After some morning showers, the day was promising to be hot and dusty. Howard rode along the Emmitsburg Road ahead of his corps, and he often had to detour through woods and fields to avoid the wagons and men of the I Corps. He had two Howard brothers with him on the march—his brother the major, and his minister brother Rowland, who had reached the XI Corps on June 24 with John Chamberlain as a member of the United States Christian Commission. Rowland had never experienced combat. He was excited by the “pomp and circumstance” of an army on the march, and the way the men waved their banners as they approached the Pennsylvania border.

The general remembered coming within sight of Gettysburg with his entourage at around 10:30 that morning. He could hear the roar of artillery and the ripping sheets of musketry ahead. For Rowland, the sound of the guns “excited a thrill of patriotic emotion.”

The rest of his corps was still coming up, so Howard spent some time examining the terrain. He rode through a peach orchard to the right of the Emmitsburg Road, and then along a ridge that ended on a hill south of town that was crowned by Evergreen Cemetery. He was there when a messenger arrived from Reynolds with confirmation that the battle had started. “Here was a broad view which embraced the town, the seminary, the college, and all the undulating valley of open country spread out between the ridges,” Howard said. “There was a beautiful break in the ridge to the north of me, where Culp’s Hill abuts against the cemetery, and touches the creek below. It struck me that here one could make a strong right flank.” He turned to Theodore Meysenberg, his adjutant. “This seems to be a good position, Colonel,” he said.

“It is the only position, general,” Meysenberg replied.

The pious, one-armed general from Maine had made a decision that would have enormous ramifications for the Union army at Gettysburg.

For the rest of his life, Howard believed that his decision to post his men on Cemetery Hill was the key to the Union victory at Gettysburg. It was his redemption for the disaster at Chancellorsville. He objected when one of Reynolds’s aides, Joseph George Rosengarten, claimed that Reynolds had made the decision and told one of Howard’s aides to have the general occupy Cemetery Hill. Howard refuted that account. The only aide of Howard’s who had spoken with Reynolds that morning was Capt. Daniel Hall, and Hall, he said, had received no such instructions. “General Reynolds gave no order whatever in regard to occupying Cemetery Hill, nor did he make any allusion to it,” Hall affirmed.

The weight of evidence tilts in Howard’s favor, although not everyone was convinced. Abner Small of the 16th Maine, who developed a poor opinion of Howard’s generalship, believed that Reynolds should receive the credit. “General Howard’s memory is conveniently defective,” Small averred, “as it would otherwise conflict with his claim to the championship of Gettysburgh.”


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


The 16th Maine

At Gettysburg, the 16th Maine Infantry served in Gabriel Paul’s brigade of the I Corps. During the fighting on July 1, the advancing Confederates began to overwhelm the I and XI Corps, forcing them to retreat towards Gettysburg. Division commander Brig. Gen. John Robinson rode up to the 16th Maine’s colonel, Charles W. Tilden. “Take that position and hold it at any cost,” Robinson ordered. He wanted the 16th Maine to delay the Confederate advance long enough to give the rest of his division time to retreat.

“All right, General, we’ll do the best we can,” Tilden said. Robinson wheeled and spurred his horse, which jumped over a stone wall and carried the general toward Gettysburg.

Tilden turned back to his men. “You know what that means,” he said.

“Yes, the regiment knew what it meant,” remembered Frank Wiggin, then a sergeant in Co. H. “It meant death or capture, and every man realized it perfectly.” Robinson was going to withdraw his division, and he wanted the 16th Maine to serve as a last-ditch defense and buy time for the rest of his men. Wiggin compared the situation to a pair of shears, with the two blades closing in on the I Corps, and the 16th Maine sent into the pivot point to keep the blades from snapping closed until the rest of the division could escape.

The 16th Maine’s last, desperate stand did not last long—probably no more than 20 minutes. As the Rebels pushed closer on two sides and the surviving men of the 16th Maine realized they were most likely going to die or be captured, thoughts turned to keeping the regimental flags from falling into enemy hands. “We looked at our colors, and our faces burned,” wrote adjutant Abner Small. “We must not surrender those symbols of our pride and our faith.” Captain S. Clifford Belcher, a Bowdoin College graduate who had just started practicing law in Belfast when he joined the 16th Maine, received the approval of the other officers and ordered the staffs broken, the flags torn to shreds, and the pieces distributed to the men in the regiment. The soldiers hid them away beneath their shirts or in their pockets. “These fragments were carried through Southern prisons and finally home to Maine, where they are still treasured as precious relics more than a quarter century after Gettysburg,” Small noted in 1889.

Total losses that day were around 80%, (11 dead, 59 wounded, and 164 captured). What remained of the regiment stumbled back through the town of Gettysburg and the relative safety of Cemetery Hill.

Col. Tilden was one of the men taken prisoner. Before capitulating, Tilden thrust his sword into the ground and snapped it in two. Taken back to Virginia, Tilden was one of the 109 men who managed to use a tunnel to escape from Richmond’s Libby Prison in early 1864. He returned to his regiment-only to be captured a second time. And he managed to escape once more.

2nd Maine Battery

To celebrate the publication of Maine Roads to Gettysburg, I am going to kick off a series of blog posts highlighting the monuments to Maine units and soldiers who fought at Gettysburg. As Selden Connor, formerly of the 7th Maine, said at the 1889 gathering of veterans to dedicate the monuments, “In proportion to the number of her troops in the action, no one of the eighteen states whose regiments flew the stars and stripes on this hard-fought field contributed more than Maine to the victory. At whatever point the battle raged, the sons of the Pine Tree State were in the melee.” You can provide a good overview of the three days of fighting by telling the stories about Maine at Gettysburg and connecting the dots.

So let’s do that. I will start with a Maine unit that was in the thick of things on the morning of July 1, 1863: The 2nd Maine Battery, under the command of James A. Hall of Damariscotta.

As I write in the book, “Capt. James Hall and the 2nd Maine Battery had no idea what the day had in store for them when they left Marsh Creek with the rest of the I Corps early on the morning of July 1. Hall, a stolid-looking 27-year-old redhead with a bushy walrus mustache and hazel eyes, had entered service with the battery as a lieutenant back in November 1861. He advanced to command when the unit’s original captain, former Maine adjutant general Davis Tillson, was promoted. On July 1 Hall had six three-inch ordnance rifles in his battery, with 127 men and officers reporting for duty.

Hall reported personally to Maj. Gen. John Fulton Reynolds, who posted the battery in an advanced position along the Chambersburg Pike to shell Confederate artillery to the west. Hall wasn’t happy to have his guns so exposed, and his fears were soon justified when Rebel troops appeared on his right, rising up from the unfinished railroad cut. With their infantry support falling back, Hall and his battery were forced to make a fighting retreat.

The boys fought like the d____ never better,” Hall later told John Hodsdon, Maine’s adjutant general. “You may judge when I tell you that many of our horses were not shot but bayoneted that it was a close and desperate struggle for our guns two of which they actually had hold of at one time. I have seen hard fighting before and been badly smashed up, but I never saw a battery taken from the field and its guns saved in so bad a state as the Old Second came off that day.”


The 2nd Maine Battery marker on Cemetery Hill.

The battery’s main monument in on the Chambersburg Pike, where it fought on July 1. There’s a smaller position marker on Cemetery Hill, where it fought on the afternoon of July 2, until the recoil from a shot shattered an axle and the battery had to move back to make repairs.


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

Here Today . . .


Brigadier General George Bayard (Library of Congress).

While in Princeton, New Jersey, recently, I stopped by the historic Princeton Cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Some famous people are buried there, including the 22nd and 24th presidents of the United States. (They are both Grover Cleveland. He served non-consecutive terms.) Aaron Burr reposes there, too. Burr, of course, was a vice president of the United States and the man who shot Alexander Hamilton. For that act, he has become a character in a famous musical.

I stopped by those two graves, but I was most interested in someone less notable. George Dashiell Bayard was a cavalryman in the Civil War. By the time of the Fredericksburg campaign in December 1862 he had risen to brigadier general and commanded a brigade of cavalry in the VI Corps, part of Maj. Gen. William Franklin’s Left Grand Division. Bayard was killed at Fredericksburg, but not in any grand cavalry charge. He was reclining against a tree at Franklin’s headquarters south of town on December 12 when a Confederate artillery shell hit the ground and ricocheted into him. He died two days later. “His loss is universally regretted,” said General George Gordon Meade.

I had encountered Bayard before while writing Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. Bayard had offered to give Meade’s son a position on his staff, but the elder Meade had declined, saying he thought it best that the young man received some combat experience before becoming a staff officer. In a letter, Meade had reminded his wife about Bayard, telling her she might remember him “from the protuberance on his cheek, produced by an arrow wound.” (Before the war, Bayard had fought Native Americans out west.)

I ran into Bayard again while researching Maine Roads to Gettysburg. Artilleryman Charles O. Hunt of the 5th Maine Battery encountered Bayard riding along the lines near Fredericksburg just days before the general died. “He was a young looking man, no more than twenty-six or twenty-eight, I should think,” Hunt wrote. “I liked his looks very much. He came sauntering along singing ‘Then let the wide world wag as it will, we will be gay and happy still.’ The only mark of any rank whatever about him was his brigadier’s buttons, which were on a very ordinary looking coat, which was anything but military. His pants were like a private’s, and his hat an old black felt. Poor fellow. I did not think then that he would so soon be shot.”

Bayard rests among other members of the Bayard family at the cemetery in Princeton, not far from Burr’s grave. I’m glad there was a cemetery map available at the entrance, because I doubt I would have found him. The crossed sabers on his obelisk would have provided a clue to his location, but the inscription on his tombstone has largely worn away and it’s nearly impossible to decipher his name. Here today, gone tomorrow.


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


Elijah Walker


One of my favorite soldiers from Maine Roads to Gettysburg is Elijah Walker, who commanded the 4th Maine at Gettysburg and was wounded during the fighting at Devil’s Den. He struck me as a typical Maine Yankee—flinty, outspoken, and unwilling to suffer fools gladly, even if those fools were his superior officers. For instance, he couldn’t stand David Bell Birney, who commanded his division (and the III Corps after Dan Sickles was wounded). Other soldiers testified to Birney’s bravery, but not Walker. He described Birney as “a sarcastic Philadelphia lawyer” who was as “brave as a lion, when in a safe place, but in danger he wilted.” He also had little respect for Maine governor Abner Coburn, feeling that the governor “yielded to the influence of political demagogues back home, and commissioned men who were the reverse of worthy and desirable.”

Walker was from Rockland, where he had served as the foreman of the town’s Dirigo Engine Company. When war broke out, Walker remained uncertain about enlisting. As a married man with seven children, the youngest a baby of seven months, he had pressing family obligations. Yet he decided to answer the call to preserve the Union. Not only did he volunteer the 25 men of his engine company, he also opened a recruiting office and signed up 80 more. He became the captain for Company B of the 4th Maine, which was commanded by Hiram Berry, Walker’s former business partner. When Berry was promoted, Walker received command of the regiment.

At Gettysburg on July 2, the 4th Maine was in Devil’s Den, protecting James E. Smith’s 4th New York Independent Battery. Worried that the Rebels might be able to outflank him from the left, Smith asked Walker to move his regiment to a belt of trees south of Devil’s Den and protect that flank. The battery, he said, could handle the front. Walker, independent as always, told Smith he could protect him just fine where he was. “I would not go into that den unless I was obliged to,” he said. Smith complained to brigade commander Hobart Ward, and Ward sent a staffer with orders for Walker to do as Smith asked. “I remonstrated with all the power of speech I could command, and only (as I then stated) obeyed because it was a military order,” Walker said. “The enemy were near, there was no further time for argument. I must obey and suffer the results, or disobey and take the consequences; I obeyed.” The disgruntled colonel moved his regiment to the woods south of Devil’s Den in the Plum Run valley.



The 4th Maine’s monument at Gettysburg. Little Round Top is in the background.

During the ensuing fight, a Rebel soldier yanked Walker’s sword from his hand, but the Maine colonel managed to recover it during the melee. Walker was also shot, the bullet almost severing his Achilles tendon and killing his horse. The wound left Walker unable to walk, so he had two sergeants help him to the rear. He was trying to mount a new horse when General Ward arrived. He asked Walker if he was wounded. “Slightly,” Walker replied, “but if I can get on the horse I can ride.” Ward looked him over and said he was wounded worse than he thought. Maj. Ebenezer Whitcomb had also been wounded, so Walker turned command over to Capt. Edwin Libby.

Walker abandoned his horse for an ambulance and a bumpy ride to the III Corps hospital. “I lay on the ground, in full view of our Third corps amputating table, congratulating myself that I was not obliged to lose a limb,” he said. A surgeon cut off Walker’s boot and dressed his wound. Helped onto a horse, he rode to the rear until he grew too faint to continue, and then he found a house and made a bed on a straw sack. Walker reached Baltimore in a cattle car on July 5, and was home in Rockland two days later. “I always have and ever shall regret that I obeyed the order and moved my command into that Den (the Devil’s Den) which caused our entire loss of prisoners and most of the other casualties,” he said.

MRGCoverMaine Roads to Gettysburg will be officially released on May 1, 2018. In the meantime, it is available for pre-order at Amazon.


It’s Here!

It’s a long road to the point where a book finally gets published. If my calculations are correct, I started Maine Roads to Gettysburg in the fall of 2015. Yesterday the UPS guy brought me a big box (and one little one) with copies of the finished book. What a feeling!

The official book “launch” will be on Saturday, April 21, when I speak at the banquet for the Gettysburg Foundation’s annual spring muster. As far as I know, tickets are still available.




Near-Death Experience


Material about John Chase from his pension file at the National Archives.

Private John Chase, a “rugged farm boy” who had been working as a soap boiler in the Augusta area, was with the 5th Maine Battery during the Civil War. He later won the Medal of Honor for his actions at Chancellorsville, but went through a much worse ordeal at Gettysburg

First, though, he underwent a religious conversion. He had never been particularly religious when he had been growing up, but that changed on the night of July 1, 1863, when he heard a chaplain preaching to the men on the Gettysburg battlefield. Chase went behind his cannon, knelt on the ground, and said his first prayer. When he stood up, Chase said, “I was a very different boy than I was when I knelt down. I felt light as a bird; all the darkness and doubts had disappeared, and I was rejoicing in God’s holy light.” Chase’s newfound faith would soon undergo a severe test.


The monument to the 5th Maine (Stevens’s) Battery at Gettysburg. Chase was wounded near here.

On July 2 Chase’s battery was engaged in an artillery duel with the Rebel guns on Benner’s Hill to the north when a shell exploded only three or four feet away from Chase. The effect was violent and terrible. The blast tore the clothes from Chase’s body, nearly ripped off his right arm, tore out his left eye, and riddled his body with 48 other wounds. It seemed that no one could have survived such horrible injuries, and two men carried what remained of Chase to the rear and placed him on the ground near the rock where he had prayed the night before.

Yet Chase wasn’t dead. Years later, he recollected having an out-of-body experience while he lay unconscious on the battlefield. He remembered feeling “perfectly happy” as he looked down on his mangled physical form. “I was taken to a very beautiful place where all was peace and joy,” he said. His visit was all too short.

On July 4 a burial party lifted up Chase’s apparently lifeless and placed it in the back of a wagon for burial. Chase moaned. As he regained consciousness, his first words were, “Did we win the battle?” He was taken to a field hospital at the Isaac Lightner barn on the Baltimore Pike, where he lingered for three more days. No one believed he had a chance to survive. Then he was moved to the Lutheran Seminary, where his wounds became infected. The medical personnel put him in a tent outside to die. A soldier from the 8th Virginia, considered another lost cause, was placed in the tent with him. The two men clasped hands, seeking comfort and hoping for survival, but the Rebel soldier died during the night.

John chase

A photo of Chase, showing the severity of his wounds.

Chaplain J. O. Sloan, who was ministering to the wounded for the United States Christian Commission, said that seeing Chase was “one of the worst scenes that ever came under my observation.” Even though the doctors said Chase could live for no more than a day or two, the chaplain decided to do what he could for the badly wounded man. Twice a day he applied poultices of “pulverized charcoal and flax seed” and tended to him. Whether it was the poultices, an act of God, or Chase’s own will, the wounded soldier defied the odds and was eventually moved to a hospital in Philadelphia, and then home to Maine. He was discharged from the army on November 25, 1863.

After the war, Chase married and had six children. He served as a messenger in the Maine House of Representatives, and became an inventor, with 47 patents to his name. His first was for a hoopskirt with an attached bustle; his last was for a flying machine. Said one newspaper account, “According to Capt. Chase the Wright brothers will have to look to their laurels, for he is more than confident that his ship will sail the balmy air in the near future and will turn all the somersaults that will be required of a faithful flying bird of the mechanical type.” Chase was living in Florida when he died in 1914.

Maine Roads to Gettysburg will be published on May 1, 2018, by Stackpole Books. You can pre-order it here.