On This Date (June 29, 1863)

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

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

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

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

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

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Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Library of Congress).

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

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

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

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

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

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Flag Day

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.