There’s room in Maine Civil War lore for more than one Hiram Berry. The most famous, the general killed at Chancellorsville, has a quasi-monument at a Rockland cemetery.
According to the soldiers’ files maintained by the Maine State Archives, three other Hiram Berrys served in the army during the Civil War. The Hiram Berry who fought with Phil Sheridan in f all 1864 is now immortalized by the first Maine monument erected in the Shenandoah Valley — and so are his 12th Maine Infantry comrades and all the other Mainers who marched with Little Phil to thrash Jubal Early.
Our Hiram Berry was born to Ruth Berry on April 22, 1843 in Scarborough, then a regular Cumberland County town and not a well-to-do Portland suburb.
“After his mother passed away, he was sent to live on a neighboring farm,” grandson Morris C. Berry shared with Maine at War. “Little is known of his early life.”
“Family lore has it that he had gone to the post office and either saw a recruiting poster or met a recruiter there,” Morris Berry indicated. Hiram joined Co. C, 12th Maine Infantry Regiment at Cape Elizabeth on Nov. 15, 1861. By then Hiram stood 5-8 and had gray eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion.
Most Mainers are unaware that 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th infantry regiments were specifically recruited to accompany the capture-New Orleans expedition proposed by Massachusetts Democrat Benjamin Butler, he whom the Big Easy’s ladies would soon revile. Butler convinced President Abraham Lincoln that having a Democrat (a.k.a. Butler) lead such an expedition would allay other War Democrats’ suspicions that only Republicans had something to gain from the Civil War military career-wise.
From Boston the 12th Maine took a steamer to Ship Island off Mississippi, acclimated somewhat to the Gulf heat there, and followed David Farragut and his fleet up the Mississippi River in April 1862. To Farragut and the Navy went the honor of capturing New Orleans.
Hiram and the 12th Maine stayed in Louisiana. According to Morris Berry, Hiram fought at Manchac, Ponchalsula, Irish Bend, during the Teche campaign, and at Port Hudson. Irish Bend was a vicious one-day battle in April 1863, Port Hudson the war’s longest siege, stretching from May into July 1863.
Vicksburg got all the media attention and martial glory; Port Hudson featured heat, humidity, disease, insects, and suicidal charges ordered by the glory-craving Nathaniel Banks. That Hiram Berry survived all this attests to a strong constitution.
Morris Berry quotes a passage from the Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine 1863 (usually abbreviated MAGR 1863):
“In the spring of 1863, during the early stages of the campaign towards the reduction of Port Hudson, they [12th Maine] performed an important part, assisting in covering the successful movement under Admiral David Farragut, which resulted in his passing the enemy’s stronghold with his fleet and communicating with the fleet up river.”
According to Morris, “it was reported that at Port Hudson, they were one of the first units to enter the city.”
Upon re-enlisting in 1864, Hiram returned home on furlough and received a $200 bounty from Scarborough. With the failure of 1864’s Red River campaign in Louisiana, the 12th, 14th, and 29th Maine infantry regiments shipped to Virginia and ultimately marched with Phil Sheridan to destroy Early’s Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley.
Early and his Confederates had boiled out of the Valley in July 1864 to attack Washington, D.C., which was saved by VI Corps’ timely arrival. That was second time in American history that an assault brought friendly troops to the nation’s capital.
Hiram and the 12th Maine fought at Third Winchester (Sept. 19), Fisher’s Hill (Sept. 21-22), and Cedar Creek, the Oct. 19 surprise sprung by Jubal Early that almost shattered Sheridan’s army. The 12th Maine lost men in all three battles.
Unknown to many Mainers, some state regiments served on Reconstruction duty down South after the Civil War. The 12th Maine went to Savannah, Georgia, and Hiram served there from January 1865 until his honorable discharge on April 18, 1865.
Afterwards Hiram returned to Scarborough, took up farming, and joined John R. Adams Camp 101, Grand Army of the Republic, which was based in Gorham. At age 48 he married Edith Storey n Sept. 28, 1895 and sired nine children.
“My father, Ralph Berry, was the eighth child, born in 1912,” Morris Berry said.
Hiram Berry died at age 71 on January 8, 1915. He lies in the Dunstan Cemetery in Scarborough.
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
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Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.