Maine responds when Lincoln Administration threatens to draft the militia

The immediate and historical attention given the New York draft riots suggest that July 1863 was the first time the Lincoln Administration organized a national draft. That’s incorrect. Let’s rewind the draft clock 11 months to Monday, August 4, 1862, when Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issued General Order No. 94. It mandated “that […]

Battle of Baton Rouge hero drowns courtesy of the U.S. Navy

Confederates shot Reverend Joseph P. French, and his own navy drowned him. Born in Solon in Somerset County, the 35-year-old French was a Methodist clergyman living in Old Town in 1860 with his 34-year-old wife, Lucretia. They had three daughters: Clara (5), Sarah (4), and Josie (2). Hannah French, 64, lived with the family; she […]

The Confederate standing watch at Frankfort, Kentucky

They were Americans who later called themselves Confederates. Killed in battle or by wounds, disease, or old age, they lie together for eternity, their graves placed circularly within the obscure Confederate Cemetery in the 100-acre Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky. And they lie almost forgotten, except by Civil War buffs or those descendants remembering distant […]

Maine soldiers watch the army disintegrate in winter 1863, part 2

The arrival of Joe Hooker at Army of the Potomac headquarters in late January 1863 stirred interest, trepidation, and many questions. Within weeks he instituted morale-building improvements that restored the army’s elan. “Never was the magic influence of a single man more clearly shown than when Hooker assumed command,” said Capt. Charles P. Mattocks, 17th […]

Maine soldiers watch the army disintegrate in winter 1863, part 1

Despite all the immorality-related baggage (drinking, carousing with prostitutes, etc.) historically associated with him, Joseph Hooker helped save the Union in winter 1863. In the regimental camps sprinkled across Stafford County opposite Fredericksburg, morale all but collapsed that midwinter. Ambrose Burnside had ordered the Army of the Potomac to outflank the Confederates dug in at […]

A Prince for Joshua Chamberlain

A surprised Joshua L. Chamberlain received a unique present before departing for war with the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment. Several “energetic friends” (identified by the Brunswick Telegraph as W. R. Field, S. R. Jackson, “and a few others”) purchased “a splendid dapple gray horse and trappings [saddle, bit, reins, etc.] to match.” Its previous owner, […]

Gardiner teen-ager in the 2nd Maine Battery exemplified Maine’s best

His hometown newspaper thought Charles T. Sprague “would … have made an excellent soldier.” Boy, did the press ever get that wrong. According to the 1860 U.S. Census for Gardiner, Josiah L. W. Sprague (the “W” was for “Winter”) was a 44-year-old “house carpenter” with real estate worth $2,600. He and his wife, Melinda Joy […]

Fathers from Gardiner sought the 16th Maine’s dead at Fredericksburg

New Year’s 1863 proved bitter for Gardiner resident John Berry. He was a lumber dealer, with real estate worth $2,800 and a personal estate worth $2,500, according to the 1860 U.S. census. Four sons lived with Berry and his same-age wife, Mary; the oldest boy, 17-year-old George H. Berry, worked as a clerk, possibly in […]

The 23rd Maine builds a Maryland subdivision

A wealthy and populous District of Columbia suburb, modern Montgomery County in Maryland borders the District and Prince George’s County to the southeast and Frederick County to the northwest. Housing construction involves complex zoning laws and the latest building, electrical, and plumbing codes, and no one starts building a dwelling without all the requisite permits […]

Chickens don’t fly at Christmas

With Christmas 1862 approaching, relatives and friends of Maine soldiers serving far afield packed and shipped boxes filled with holiday goodies. Women knitted warm socks and mittens and cooked and baked food for their menfolk so far away. Everything went carefully into a wooden box carefully marked with its recipient’s name and address (if only […]