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.

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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.

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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.

MRGCover

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

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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.

MRGCover

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

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.

MRGCover

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

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.

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.

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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.

Adelbert Ames

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Adelbert Ames (Library of Congress)

Adelbert Ames, the first colonel of the 20th ME, was the man responsible for turning the regiment into an effective fighting force. Born in Rockland, Maine, on October 31, 1835, Ames grew up around the wharves and docks of Rockland harbor. In the fall he would go duck and goose hunting with his father and older brother. “He was immensely proud of his home State, with its cold trout streams, granite-based salmon rivers and forests full of virgin timber,” wrote his daughter, Blanche.

Ames graduated fifth in his West Point class of 1861 and was assigned to 5th United States battery, commanded by Captain Charles Griffin. At First Bull Run, Ames received a serious wound in his thigh. Unable to stand or ride a horse, he refused to leave his guns. He directed their fire while sitting on the ground, and had to be helped to his feet to sit on a caisson when his battery shifted position. His men placed Ames in an ammunition wagon for the Union retreat. Ames later received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Bull Run 

In August 1862, Ames received orders to take a leave of absence, return to Maine, and take command of a new infantry regiment, the 20th ME. He earned a reputation as a strict disciplinarian while he whipped his green regiment into shape. “Col. A. takes the men out to drill,” wrote Tom Chamberlain, “and he will d—n them up hill and down. I tell you, he is about as savage a man you ever saw . . . . I swear the men will shoot him the first battle they are in.” When the men of the 20th Maine finally understood the harsh realities of combat, though, they came to appreciate the lessons Ames had taught them. In May 1863, shortly before the Battle of Gettysburg, Ames was promoted to command of a brigade in the XI Corps. His second in command, Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain—Tom’s older brother—received command of the regiment.

Ames was the great-grandfather of writer George Plimpton, who once wrote about a time when he visited the White House while John F. Kennedy was president. Kennedy asked him if he could do something about the letters Plimpton’s grandmother kept writing to him. The grandmother was Blanche Ames, and she had been incensed by a passage about her father in young Senator Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. Kennedy had written that when Ames served as a Reconstruction governor of Mississippi, “His administration was sustained and nourished by Federal bayonets.” Blanche wanted Senator Kennedy to rewrite that passage for subsequent editions. Young Kennedy had written back that he doubted there would be any more editions. But there were, and Blanche Ames continued to write her letters, even after Kennedy became president. Kennedy wondered if Plimpton could do something to stop the correspondence—“it was cutting into the work of government,” the president said.

Plimpton could actually remember his great-grandfather, who had lived to be 97 and died in 1933. Plimpton said he remembered as a young boy of six looking into his great-grandfather’s eyes and even then realizing this man had witnessed Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg.