A Senator’s Son

Fessenden, Samuel

Samuel Fessenden died at Second Bull Run. (Maine State Archives)

Sam Fessenden was the youngest son of Maine’s Senator Charles A. Fessenden, and he had already gained some experience with sectional conflict before the Civil War began. Back in June 1856, at the tender age of 15, Sam had run away from home to throw his weight behind the Free-Soilers in Kansas, when the territory was being torn apart by conflict between proslavery and antislavery factions. He headed to Kansas, determined, he said, “to rush into exploits of some kind, the more dangerous the better I thought, and looked around for an opportunity of acting on my resolution.” Senator Fessenden feared for his son’s life, but Sam had been lucky. His band of Free-Soilers had hardly arrived in Kansas when they were surrounded by a mob of proslavery “border ruffians” and forced back on a steamer and out of the territory. His father didn’t learn of Sam’s whereabouts until that fall.

Sam later attended Bowdoin College, where one of his friends was Thomas Hyde. After First Bull Run, the two of them found like-minded friends George O. McLellan and George Morse, and tracked down a lawyer named Frederick Sewall—a Bowdoin graduate who would later serve on Otis Howard’s staff and then command the 19th Maine—to swear them into the service of the United States. Then they went to Augusta to get the papers necessary to raise a company.

In Bath, Hyde, Fessenden, and McLellan opened a recruiting station and printed out handbills. They read:

A few good men wanted for the Bath Company of the 7th Regiment. Pay and sustenance to commence immediately.
$15.00 A MONTH.
$22.00 bounty and $100.00 when mustered out of service. Apply at their recruiting office, opposite J. M. Gookin’s store, Front Street.
Bath, Maine, Aug. 6, ’61.

They called their new company the Harding Zouaves after Col. E. K. Harding, a Bath native who served as the state’s quartermaster general.

Young Fessenden later received a position of the staff of General Zealous Tower. He fell mortally wounded while leading Tower’s men into battle at Second Bull Run. McLellan was killed in a skirmish during the siege of Yorktown during the Peninsula Campaign. Half of the four Bowdoin students who had raised a company for the 7th Maine were dead.


Flag Day


This is the national flag that the 20th Maine had on Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg. It’s on display in the Maine State Museum.

Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about museums. In general I think they are among the greatest things in the world. Sometimes, though—and I hate to admit this—they bore me. I don’t like to read a lot of explanatory placards when I visit a museum. I don’t go to read things. I go to see things and feel a connection with historical artifacts.

In that respect, my recent visit to the Maine State Museum did not disappoint.

When I was a kid living in Augusta, my dad would take us to the museum when it was still housed in the State Capitol. The museum moved to its more modern facility in 1971. I had been through the current museum before, but I couldn’t tell you when. The last time must have been when my own children, now in their 20s, were young, and we were in Maine for our summer vacation. When I visited Maine in January 2018, I enjoyed going through the museum again, and was pleasantly surprised by its size and scope. There were cars and trains and boats; recreations of Maine living rooms and kitchens and factories; and even a huge section of the square-rigged ship St. Mary. Launched in Phippsburg in 1890, the vessel sank on its maiden voyage, after colliding with another ship while trying to make it around the “Horn” at the tip of South America and eventually running aground in the Falklands.

I also enjoyed the wildlife dioramas, realistic slice of the Maine wilderness, populated by mounted specimens of the deer, moose, bear, birds, and fish you would expect to find in the great outdoors today. There were also some live trout in the streams. I remember being fascinated by the dioramas when I was a kid and I was still captivated as an adult.

All that stuff was great, but I came to see the Civil War material. The museum had a bigger Civil War display during the 150th anniversary commemorations, but that exhibit has been taken down. Fortunately, there was still an exhibit of Civil War flags. The state’s banners had been displayed for years in glass cases in the capitol building, where they deteriorated badly. After significant restoration, flags now rotate through the permanent exhibit, where they are displayed in low light to preserve the fragile silk.

16th Maine

The regimental flag of the 16th Maine.

On the day of my visit, I was pleased to see the regimental flag of the 16th Maine on display. This was not the banner the regiment had at Gettysburg. The soldiers tore that one up and distributed the pieces among themselves before being overwhelmed by the Rebels on July 1. (I saw one of the pieces in the collections of Abner Small at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. The state museum had another fragment on display, too.) I was also pleasantly surprised to see a guidon from the 31st Maine, the regiment to which my great-grandfather, Daniel True Huntington, belonged.


A guidon from the 31st Maine.

The exhibit’s star attraction was the U.S. flag of the 20th Maine, the same banner the regiment had when it defended Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. A photograph shows that same flag when veterans returned it to Round Top in 1882. Even then the flag was in bad shape, but at least it’s been cared for since. This was the banner that Andrew Tozier supported in the crook of his elbow as he fired at the approaching soldiers of the 15th Alabama. Chamberlain recalled seeing Tozier through the whirling clouds of smoke, “defending his sacred trust in the manner of the songs of chivalry.” (As I wrote in a previous post, Tozier is now buried in the same Litchfield cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandfather are.)

Nearby, in a glass case, is the Colt pistol that Joshua Chamberlain captured from Lt. Robert Wicker of the 15th Alabama after the Maine soldiers charged down the hill and ended the fighting.


The pistol that Joshua Chamberlain captured on Little Round Top.

The soldiers who carried these relics are long gone, but at least these things of metal, wood and silk remain to remind us of what the soldiers did during that horrible, terrible, fascinating war.

Winter Camp


Adelbert Ames was wounded at First Bull Run when serving with Charles Griffin’s battery. In 1862 he was assigned as colonel of the 20th Maine.

For the ordinary soldiers, life in their winter camps was woefully short of adventure and glory. “Father I regret having enlisted for camp life is something that is not suited to my mind yet while I stay I shall try to do my whole duty,” wrote the 3rd Maine’s John L. Little in October 1862 while he was recuperating from illness in a Washington hospital.

There were some rude comforts. Pvt. Charles Doak of the 6th Maine wrote home to describe his holiday. “The day before Christmas we had to clean up our things then we spent the evening in merriment,” he said. “At nine oclock we went to bed and had a pleasant nap till morning then it was turn out to roll call then it was a wish you mery Christmas all over the Regt then after that came breckfast what do you suppose it was that we had well I will tell you we had baked beans and hot biscuit and coffee then we had turkey for diner it was nice baked beef and potatoes then for supper we had fried donuts and hot tea. We had the day to our selfs to go any whare we wanted to but that has pased and now comes New Years and thare is considerable excitement in getting ready to day for it.” Doak was content with his lot in this new life. “We have a plenty of cloths to ware and have a good log house to sleep in and have a fire-place in it and it looks a good deal like an old farmers house with the fire place in it to make it look comfitable and plesant.”

“I am well, but have no news of importance to write,” noted John S. French of the 5th Maine in a letter home on January 28, 1862. “[T] he weather is still morderate, and muddy, and, about all we have to do is to eat, smoke, sleep, read the papers, tell stories, sing songs, and—but I guess I shall make out that we do conciderable if I keep on, but then, it ain’t likely that we do all of these things at once oh! No of cource not.” French assured his family back in Lewiston that he was keeping clear of the usual camp vices of drinking, gambling, and stealing, and he had even been selected by his captain to serve as his company’s drill master.

George Rollins of the 3rd Maine decided to try his hand at writing for a temperance journal called the Fountain. He started with a vignette of life in winter camp, describing the variety of jury-rigged stoves the soldiers used to keep their tents warm. They were made of tin, stone, and brick, while a lucky few men managed to purchase real stoves. “Between the tents, may be seen numerous chimneys, usually of barrels and mud; but occasionally a confiscated stone pipe, puffs its satisfaction at being once more in the service of the friends of the Union,” Rollins wrote. “He who says that this randomeness of living is altogether an unpleasant one, is not of our number; for I assure you that a soldiers life is not devoid of its charms, tho’ it is not a life I would prefer.”

Adelbert Ames, the wound he had received at First Bull Run now healed, wrote home to his parents on New Year’s Eve. “With a stove in my tent and a buffalo robe as a blanket I manage to live comfortably,” he said. He remained busy keeping the affairs of his battery in order. “No one is more anxious for an advance than I, when our leaders see fit to order the movement,” Ames told his parents. “In fact I am very anxious to go into battle and whip our enemies, yet I have sufficient confidence in our commanders to wait without murmuring.”

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg by Tom Huntington. Available from Stackpole Books on May 1, 2018. You can pre-order here.

Family History

Service RecordAfter years of saying I was going to look into my family history, I finally took the plunge a few weeks ago and signed up for Ancestry.com. It didn’t take me long to find out that I have two direct ancestors who fought in the Civil War. Both of them fall outside the scope of my book, Maine Roads to Gettysburg. One of them served in a Maine regiment but enlisted too late to fight at Gettysburg. The other soldier was quite possibly at Gettysburg, but he served with a Massachusetts unit.

The Maine soldier was my great-grandfather. Daniel True Huntington was an 18-year-old farmer from Litchfield when he enlisted as a private in the 31st Maine in March 1861. His service record notes that he was five feet, five inches tall, had a fair complexion, dark eyes and brown hair. His regiment entered the war in time to participate in Ulysses S. Grant’s brutal Overland Campaign as part of the second brigade, second division of the IX Corps. It fought in the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, was under fire during Cold Harbor, and took part in the movement across the James River toward Petersburg. There the 31st Maine fought in the misbegotten battle of the Crater, where it had 10 killed, 31 wounded, and 47 captured, including its colonel. By the end of September 1864, only about 60 members of the regiment were able to report for duty.

adj gen report

My great-grandfather’s name appears in the roster of the 31st Maine, as it appears in the Maine adjutant general’s report.

My great-grandfather must have seen plenty of action. He was still a private when he was mustered out with the rest of the regiment on July 15, 1865. (Ninety-five years later, to the day, his great-grandson—that’s me—was born.) After the war, Daniel Huntington lived in Litchfield, a tiny town in Kennebec County. He married my great-grandmother, Almeda Colby Haines, in 1870. They had three daughters and four sons. One of them was my grandfather, Arthur, who was born in 1883 in Richmond. Daniel died in 1918 at the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Togus, Maine, and was buried in the Litchfield Plains Cemetery.

My father’s parents, Arthur and Josephine Huntington, are buried in the same cemetery. Arthur died before I was born, but my grandmother—we called her Gigi—was a big part of my life. She watched over us kids during the day after my mother returned to teaching school. When I was young, I would go with my family to the cemetery in Litchfield to put flowers on my grandfather’s grave. Gigi’s name was on the stone, too, along with her birth year. The year of her death remained blank. My grandmother was very matter of fact that she would be under that stone one day and the missing year would be filled in. I remember wandering around the cemetery and seeing another tombstone with the name Huntington. I realize now that it must have been my great-grandfather’s. Gigi must have known that it was her father-in-law, but I can’t recall her ever mentioning it.

IMG_1156I went back to Litchfield recently. It was a cold and breezy November morning, the sun yellow and anemic in a partly cloudy sky. I found Litchfield Plains Cemetery easily enough. It was on a fairly flat plain in front of the Baptist Church. A Civil War monument stood among some trees by the main road, the Union soldier on the top staring resolutely northward, his back to the graves. There was nothing fancy about this burial ground, just irregular rows of tombstones of all shapes and sizes, but nothing particularly ostentatious. Some were old and some were fairly recent. The cemetery didn’t so much end as it petered out at the edge of a field that stretched off towards some woods.

By now my grandmother’s stone had both dates on it. She died in 1991. Daniel Huntington’s grave was not too far away from hers. His tombstone was much larger than the one over his son and daughter-in-law. “Daniel T. Huntington,” it read,

Co. I 31st Me Vols
Sept 25, 1847-July 15, 1918.

His wife, my great-grandmother, is buried with him. She died in 1929.

A few days before my visit I learned that someone who is very much within the scope of my book is also buried in Litchfield Plains Cemetery. Andrew Tozier was the color bearer for the 20th Maine during the fight for Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Tozier was one of the three-year men of the 2nd Maine who refused to fight after the rest of the regiment returned to Maine when their two years were up. He and the other mutinous men were transferred to the 20th Maine, where the regiment’s new colonel, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, had to handle them. He dealt with them fairly, and almost all of the recalcitrant men returned to duty.

On Little Round Top, Tozier supported his flag in the crook of his elbow while firing a musket at the attacking men of the 15th Alabama. Chamberlain recalled getting a glimpse of him through the whirling clouds of smoke, “defending his sacred trust in the manner of the songs of chivalry.” Chamberlain employed Tozier for a time after the war, and lobbied to get him the Medal of Honor, which he received in 1898. Tozier died in Litchfield in 1910. Did he know my great-grandfather? It makes sense that two Civil War veterans with connections to the same tiny Maine town might have been acquainted. They certainly would have had a lot to talk about, if either one of them cared to talk about the war. Maybe Daniel Huntington attended Tozier’s funeral, unaware that eight years later it would be his turn to be lowered into the ground of Litchfield Plains Cemetery. And he certainly had no idea that his great-grandson would pay him a visit almost a century after that.

A Golden Star


Photographs of Abner Small, from the scrapbook in the collections of the Maine Historical Society.

Abner Small was aptly named, standing only about 5 feet 4 inches tall. He was born in Augusta but was living in West Waterville when the Civil War broke out. His Civil War carte de visite reveals a balding young man with a big mustache and a sardonic cast about his eyes. The accounts he wrote about his war experiences have a sardonic cast about them, too, though it took long years of war, including a spell in a Confederate prison, to infect him with cynicism. Small fought with the 3rd Maine at First Bull Run and later joined the new 16th Maine regiment as its adjutant. He left behind two accounts of his experiences. The first was The Sixteenth Maine in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, which was published in 1886. The Road to Richmond: The Civil War Memoirs of Abner R. Small of the Sixteenth Maine Volunteers. Together with the Diary which He Kept when He Was a Prisoner of War was published posthumously in 1939. Both make for excellent reading.

At Gettysburg the 16th Maine 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’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 replied. He turned to his officers. “You know what that means,” he said, and he gave the order to move forward.

“It was an hour when bands of brave men did heroic things which have been obscured in history by the turmoil and confusion of the general agony of the army,” noted the history of the regiment in Maine at Gettysburg.

‘The rebels fired upon us from all sides, from behind the wall, from the fences, from the Mummasburg Road,” remembered adjutant Small. “They swarmed down upon us, they engulfed us, and swept away the last semblance of organization which marked us as a separate command.” The regiment did what it could to hold back the rebel tide, but it was a doomed and bloody enterprise. Once the soldiers realized their time had run out, they determined that the enemy would not capture their flags. “We looked at our colors, and our faces burned,” Small recalled. “We must not surrender those symbols of our pride and our faith.

“Our color bearers appealed to the colonel, and with his consent they tore the flags from the staves and ripped the silk to shreds; and our officers and men that were near took each a shred,” Small wrote. Captured men kept the pieces hidden while in captivity, and many flag remnants eventually became enshrined in scrapbooks back in Maine. “I have one with a golden star,” said Small.


Abner Small’s star, torn from the flag of the 16th Maine at Gettysburg. Photographed at the Maine Historical Society.

I came across Small’s star while looking through his files at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. It had been pasted into a scrapbook, on the same page with photos of the young soldier. I assume the label in the photo below was created by one of Small’s children, the same one who had typed out transcriptions of his Civil War letters. Items like this really help personalize the war. It’s not just an event in the history books; the war was something that had affected hundreds of thousands of people–like Abner Small.

You can read more about Small and other soldiers from the Pine Tree State in Maine Roads to Gettysburg by Tom Huntington. It will be published in May 2018 by Stackpole Books. In the meantime, try Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg.


The full scrapbook page. Photographed at the Maine Historical Society.

A Peaks Experience

IMG_0140Peaks Island is 740 acres of real estate plopped down in Casco Bay, about three miles from downtown Portland. At one time during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was a tourist magnet, with amusement parks and attractions that earned it the nickname of “The Coney Island of Maine.” It’s a little quieter now, but the island still has its attractions, especially if you are interested in the Civil War. For there are not one but two Civil War museums on the island, one for the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry and the other for the 8th Maine. Each is housed in a big building that the regiment’s veterans constructed on the island to provide a summer retreat for its soldiers.

IMG_0139Of the two, I am more interested in the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry. This is one of the regiments I write about in my book, Maine Roads to Gettysburg. It was mustered in on June 24, 1861, and was fighting at First Bull Run, as part of the brigade of Oliver O. Howard, less than a month later. Truth be told, it did not fight particularly well in that battle, which was a debacle for the Union forces. George Dyer of Calais was in Washington, working as assistant quartermaster general for Maine, and he wrote home to Gov. Israel Washburn after the battle. “The 5th it is said broke and ran badly, he reported. “Scattered and many are prisoners.”


The Fifth Maine’s Regimental Flag. 

Under a new commander, Col. Nathaniel Jackson (“Old Jacks”), the regiment improved. It fought well on the Peninsula and at South Mountain, although it reached the battlefield at Antietam after the fighting there had ended. It fought at Fredericksburg and at Chancellorsville as part of the VI Corps, and also participated in that corps’ epic march to Gettysburg, arriving in time to bolster the Union line on July 2 but largely spared from serious fighting. The regiment remained with the army through the initial stages of the bloody Overland Campaign in 1864, but was mustered out after it reached the North Anna River.


The war over, the regiment’s veterans commissioned the construction of a large summer residence on Peaks Island. It opened in 1888 with 15 rooms that the veterans could rent, plus a large central hall and a spacious porch. This is the maine reason my wife and I are heading out to visit the island on a foggy and misty summer day. We take the car ferry from Portland’s Old Port District, for the bargain price of only $7 per round-trip ticket. We find a bustling scene at the ferry terminal, as cars line up to board the vessel and a long line of pedestrians waits their turn. We finally begin to file aboard the ferry, which casts off and heads out into the bay. Behind us we can see two Tall Ships moored to one of Portland’s docks. They soon disappear in the mist.

It’s not a long ride to the island, and once ashore we find that it’s not that long of a walk to find the 5th Maine’s museum. It’s big, yellow, wooden building with a distinctive turret in the back overlooking the ocean. A friendly docent greets us at the door and fills us in on the building’s history. Today the structure houses a small museum with a number of interesting relics. Stained glass windows in the spacious main hall contain the names of 5th Maine soldiers. Glass cases along the walls include relics recovered from various battlefields. In a back room, there’s a regimental flag, plus a glass case that holds the coat and hat worn by regimental adjutant George Bicknell, who wrote a history of the regiment after the war. A shell fragment wounded Bicknell in the head at Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign; you can see the rip in the kepi inside the glass case.

I don’t write about the 8th Maine in the book. It was not part of the Army of the Potomac and did not fight at Gettysburg, heading south to  South Carolina and Florida instead. As part of the Army of the James, it took part in the Petersburg campaign and in the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia to Appomattox. The 8th Maine Regiment Lodge and Museum is just a stone’s throw away from the 5th Regiment’s lodge, housed inside a similar large summer house. It doesn’t have as many relics, but it does offer rooms that visitors can rent. Peaks Island might not be the Coney Island of Maine anymore, but it does provide some Civil War history in a place where you might not expect it. That makes it well worth the trip.

“It is magnificent, but it is not war.”


Hyde, Thomas

Thomas w. Hyde (Maine State Archives)

One hundred and fifty-five years ago today, in the fields and woods near the town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, Union and Confederate forces fought the Battle of Antietam. It remains the country’s bloodiest single day of combat. One of the regiments involved was the 7th Maine. At Antietam it was commanded by Major Thomas Hyde, a young graduate of Bowdoin College. In his memoirs, Following the Greek Cross or Memories of the Sixth Army Corps, Hyde recalled his experiences on September 17, 1862. Late in the day, near five o’clock, Rebel sharpshooters were harassing a Maryland battery from behind haystacks at the Piper farm. Hyde’s brigade commander, William Irwin, ordered Hyde to take the 7th Maine and clear the snipers out. Hyde had just seen a large body of Rebels move into that area, and informed Irwin of the fact.


“Are you afraid to go, sir!” Irwin barked. Hyde later came to believe he was drunk. (“He was a gallant man, but drank too much, of which I was unaware,” Hyde later wrote.) He asked Irwin to repeat his order so that the whole regiment could hear it. Irwin did. Hyde had no choice but to obey. He assembled his men and sent them into motion.

Of the 166 enlisted men who made the charge, Hyde reported 12 killed, 60 wounded, and 16 missing. He counted three of the 15 officers as killed, seven wounded, and two missing. “I suppose I was fired at in that battle a thousand times, and what saved me was that Providence knew that I was an only son and my mother was a widow,” he wrote home.

That night, Hyde and his surviving officers wept over the regiment’s losses. “We had the consolation of knowing that we had gone farther into the Rebel lines than any Union regiment that day, that we had fought three or four times our numbers, and inflicted more damage than we received, but as the French officer at Balaklava said, ‘It is magnificent, but it is not war.’ When we knew our efforts were resultant from no plan or design at headquarters, but were from an inspiration of John Barleycorn in our brigade commander alone, I wished I had been old enough, or distinguished enough, to have dared to disobey orders.”

Conduct Unbecoming


Colonel Moses B. Lakeman (Maine State Archives).

Moses B. Lakeman, commander of the 3rd Maine, was a fighter. A Boston native and the nephew of Hallowell’s mayor, Lakeman joined the 3rd Maine as the captain of Co. I. “Lakeman is a gallant officer, deserves such credit for his exemplary behavior, and should make an excellent Colonel, Lieut. Col. or Major,” said his division commander, David Birney. “He has energy, and great decision of character.” Lakeman did rise to take command of the 3rd Maine and his regiment fought in Pitzer’s Woods and in the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg.

Perhaps it was the stresses of war, but documents in Lakeman’s service record at the National Archives indicate that Lakeman had a problem with drinking. In October and November 1863 Lakeman’s behavior led to court-martial proceedings on charges of being drunk on duty, habitual drunkenness, and conduct unbecoming of an officer and gentleman. On one occasion, Lakeman had gone to Birney and asked to visit army headquarters to locate a deserter. He used the pass to attend a horse race instead, “and did publicly boast that he had fooled or deceived the said Major General Commdg 1st Division 3d Corps.” On another occasion Lakeman, while drunk, had taken umbrage when Lt. Col. Edwin Burt, in acting command of the regiment, had sent out a detail in compliance with orders he had received. Lakeman felt Burt was usurping his position. Lakeman loudly declared that Burt did not “run this machine, and that he, Moses Lakeman did,” and loudly proclaimed that Burt “is a damned, damned, damned, God-damned son of a bitch.” Furthermore, Burt said, Lakeman had made faces at him whenever the Lt. Col. looked in his direction.

It appears the charges didn’t stick, for Lakeman remained in his position. He was wounded during the fighting around the North Anna River on May 23, 1864. (Edwin Burt had been killed in the Wilderness on May 6).

That did not end Lakeman’s troubles with alcohol. On September 8, 1864, he was arrested at a theater in Baltimore. The 3rd Maine, its three years of service over, had been mustered out in June, so it’s not clear what Lakeman’s status was at that point. But the acting provost marshall who made the arrest said Lakeman was using “abusive and threatening language” against Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace (the Union commander at the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland and future author of Ben-Hur). According to the charges, Lakeman said, “‘God damn him’ (pointing with his hand at the General) I can whip him for $50. They make Major Generals now from Politicians.’” While under arrest, Lakeman—apparently sobering up—expressed his regrets and said he did not remember using such language. The arresting officer released him after Lakeman promised to call on Wallace and apologize.


Blackstone Cas

The report of Blackstone’s death, from the National Archives.

The Civil War Regimental Correspondence at the Maine State Archives in Augusta is an amazing resource. It contains thousands of letters sent to state officials—primarily adjutant general John Hodsdon and whatever governor was serving at the time—that covered all sorts of topics. Many were letters from citizens seeking commissions in the army, either for themselves or for people they knew. There are battle reports submitted by Maine officers. There are heartrending letters from parents seeking to get their wounded or sick sons sent home to Maine.

Sometimes it’s a bit of a mystery how a letter got into these files, but most likely they were submitted to provide support for a soldier seeking a promotion. One case in point is this missive from Charles O. Blackstone of Pownal, a private in Co. A in the 17th Maine who had enlisted at the age of 23. He wrote this letter to his father, but it somehow made it way to the state records.

Blackstone was only a private, but he had ambition. He was tired of his lowly place in the army hierarchy but decided if he could get transferred to a new heavy artillery battery he could obtain a commission. On January 7, 1863, he wrote to his father and outlined his plan.

Camp Pitcher near Falmouth, VA.

Jan. 7, 1863

Dear Father: Probably you will be surprised on receiving another letter at home so soon after my last; but I wish to talk with you on a different subject from any heretofore brought up. I entered the army as I would any other school, and that with similar motives. I have gone through with the preliminaries, and have become dissatisfied with my present position on account of my acquaintance with men and things with whom I have been brought in contact. It is my intention now, to rise a little, and I shall require some of your assistance. The following is, in short, what I propose to do, and I hope that it will meet with your hearty approval and that I shall have the benefits of your influence in my behalf.

The 18th Regt. of Infantry of Maine Volunteers is to be changed to one of Heavy Artillery: and , in order to do this there will be a large accession of officers as well as privates. Now, what I want you do to is this. Get some of the most influential men in town to request the Governor to appoint me as a Lieutenant in said Regiment. This Regt will be stationary – or in other words, it will remain in some fort. I am well drilled in Heavy Artillery as well as Infantry tactics, and I find, by observation, that my abilities as a soldier are not far below those of nine tenths of our army officers. I want a 1st Lieutenants commission, and I think that with the prompt assistance of my fellow townsmen I can obtain it. Mr. Benj. True will be a good man to help you I think. So will C.C. Cobb, Esq. To encourage you I will say that a private in the 5th Maine was made a lieutenant in this Regt a few days ago. Now, Father dont fail to make the thing a success. I will write as soon as I can obtain more information. I shall consult cousin Alfred about it soon. You can readily see the advantage I shall gain by being transferred from a roving regiment to one that will seldom move. Now please dont lose a day in getting posted and in getting the petition started. Let me know how you succeed soon.

I remain your obd. Son
Charles O. Blackstone

Blackstone’s father must have done his son’s bidding, for letters and petitions began to reach Augusta seeking a commission for his son. Letters arrived from the towns of Pownal and South Freeport. Young Charles was also doing his part, for Capt. Charles Mattocks of the 17th Maine wrote to Gov. Abner Coburn recommending Blackstone, and soldiers in the regiment circulated a petition for him. All seemed on track to satisfy the young private’s ambition.

The Battle of Chancellorsville intervened. By then Blackstone had been promoted to corporal, one step up the ladder, but that was as far as he would advance. On May 3 the regiment endured a fierce artillery barrage. One shell exploded among the men of Co. A, “and made fearful havoc in the ranks,” as Mattocks recorded. “It almost tore the thighs of Corpl. Blackstone . . . .” It was a mortal wound. On May 8 Mattocks visited the dying soldier in the hospital. “I find that Corporal Blackstone cannot live,” he wrote in his journal. “He has a terrible wound in the thigh, it being carried away bone and all, by that murderous shell. I very much doubt if he lives forth-eight hours. He bears up under his sufferings like a hero, and seems willing to die. He thinks he has fallen in a good cause, and so he has, but still it seems sad to see wo young and ambitious a fellow die here away from friends and home.” Blackstone died the next day.

“I Felt a Sharp Sting”


The 5th Maine Battery (Stevens’ Battery) on Stevens Knoll at Gettysburg. Charles O. Hunt never made it this far, having been wounded before the battery retreated to this point. You can see the Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse in the background. (Tom Huntington photo)

One of the joys of historical research is coming across great stories from the past. That happened to me many times while I was researching Maine Roads to Gettysburg (due out next spring from Stackpole Books). I discovered one of those stories in the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives at Bowdoin College. The collections there include two thick, hand-written volumes that once belonged to Charles O. Hunt, Bowdoin class of 1861. I submitted Hunt’s account of his Gettysburg experiences to Civil War Times, and the magazine published it in the July 2017 issue. You can read the full account by clicking here

Hunt was a lieutenant with Capt. Greenlief Stevens’ 5th ME battery. When he reached Gettysburg, it must have felt a little bit like coming home. Hunt was from Gorham, Maine, and had been a senior at Bowdoin when the war broke out. Many of his classmates enlisted, but Hunt wanted to complete his studies. After graduation, he spent time with his sister while he pondered his future. His sister, Mary Carson, was living in Pennsylvania, in the crossroads town of Gettysburg where her husband, Thomas, was a clerk for the Bank of Gettysburg. Hunt stayed with the Carsons from September until the end of 1861 and became very familiar with the town and the surrounding countryside. He climbed the Round Tops, rode across the yet to be capitalized wheat field, and collected hickory nuts on Culp’s Hill.

Hunt decided to fight for the Union, and he joined the Fifth Maine Light Artillery, then under the command of George Leppien, a Pennsylvanian who had received military training in Germany. Leppien was mortally wounded at Chancellorsville, and command of the battery fell on Capt. Greenlief Stevens. As the battery made its way north through Pennsylvania on July 1, Hunt joked to Stevens that if he were to get hit, he hoped it would happen in Gettysburg, because he knew people there would take good care of him. He soon learned that you had better be careful what you wish for.

Read the article to find out what happened next.

Hunt’s wartime adventures were not over. He recovered from his Gettysburg wound and returned to the 5th Maine Battery, but he was captured outside Petersburg in 1864. Later that year he attempted to escape from Camp Sorghum, his prison camp in South Carolina, with Charles Mattocks of the 17th Maine and Julius Litchfield of the 4th Maine. Taking advantage of the guards’ laxity in allowing men to forage unsupervised for firewood in a nearby woods, the three men left the camp on November 3 and set their sights on Knoxville, Tennessee, in Union-held territory about 200 miles away. They had a crude map of the region, and E.A. Burpee of the 19th Maine had loaned then a compass. Their journey was fraught with danger and required swimming across a river, traveling at night, and finding concealed places in the woods to sleep during the day. They would not have made it if it weren’t for local slaves, who supplied them with food and shelter. “We never met one who showed any disposition to betray us to the whites,” said Hunt. On November 8, election day back home, the three men held their own election and voted unanimously for Abraham Lincoln. After two more weeks more of travel, with the men achingly close to Tennessee, their luck ran out and they were captured and sent to a prison in Danville, Virginia. On the way, they heard the news that William T. Sherman had captured Atlanta and was on his way to the sea.

After the war, Hunt studied medicine and became the superintendent of Portland’s Maine General Hospital, a position he held until just before his death in 1909.