2nd Maine deserters pop up in odd places

Smoke erupts from rifled muskets as a Federal firing squad (center, right) shoots five deserters from the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in summer 1863. The deserters were seated atop their coffins. Even after the 2nd Maine Infantry mustered out in May 1863, the muster rolls still carried some men as “deserters.” (Edwin Forbes/Library of Congress)

Historical records tell us that when the 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment mustered out in May 1863, the three-year recruits transferred to the 20th Maine while the two-year men went home.

Not every 2nd Maine lad went in one direction or the other. In fact, while sailing to Bangor in May 1863, the regiment strewed deserters in its wake — and the runaways turned up all year long.

Established in February 1862, the Broad Street Hospital in Philadelphia occupied a corner at the intersection of Broad and Cherry streets, both mentioned in the hospital’s official letterhead. Broad Street could house 525 patients, among whom in May 1863 was 2nd Maine bad boy Pvt. James Gallagher of Co. F.

Writing to “to the officer commanding Co. F 2 Me. Regiment” on May 29, the “Surgeon in Charge” reported that “I have the Honor to inform you that” Gallagher “has this day deserted.”

Thus Gallagher “is dropped from the Hospital Register,” noted the surgeon, scribbling his signature in execrable cursive; the surgeon might be John Neill, named the doc in charge when the hospital opened.

Portraying a soldier in Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, Pvt. Morgan Gunnell of Milford looks around nervously (above) as Civil War re-enactors skirmish at UMA-Bangor on Saturday, August 11, 2018. Gunnell suddenly deserted his post and ran away, but was quickly stopped in his flight by cavalryman Scott Ramsey (below). (Brian F. Swartz Photos)

On June 9, hospital officials discovered Nicholas M. Camera (either of companies A or I, 2nd Maine, and his name could be Canvera, but the cursive writing’s not clear) occupying a bed “in the U.S. Army Hospital in York,” Pennsylvania, wrote N.L. Jeffries, assistant adjutant general for Maj. Gen. Robert Schenck, commanding the 8th Army Corps in Baltimore.

Because Camera had arrived “without his descriptive roll,” the “Commanding Officer” of Camera’s company must “promptly … furnish the Military history of the man, and his clothing, money, and other accounts with the Government,” Jeffries indicated.
With this demand issued in name Schenck’s name, the results had better be forthcoming.

The 2nd Maine had mustered out two weeks earlier, however, and finding the paperwork about Camera would be difficult.

Guarded by Pvt. Jim Trudell (left) and 1st Sgt. Tim Brochu (right) of Co. A, 20th Maine Infantry march deserter Morgan Gunnell (center) to learn his fate during a court martial held at Drums on the Penobscot in Bangor on August 11, 2018. Found guilty of desertion in the face of the enemy, Gunnell was “shot” by a firing squad (below). He was up and moving a few minutes later. (Brian F. Swartz Photos)

Dudley H. Leavitt Jr. of Plymouth was 19 and single when he mustered with Co. A on May 28, 1861. Then he fell in with “a sickness contracted while in the swamps of the Chickahominy” River in spring 1862, Capt. Rinaldo B. Wiggin indicated in a July 22, 1863 letter to Maine Gov. Abner Coburn.

“Sent away from the regt (regiment) by order of the surgeon, Leavitt was gone more than three months “without reporting himself in person or by letter” to Wiggin, “and I was ignorant of his whereabouts.”

Therefore under General Order No. 92, Wiggin dutifully reported Leavitt and six other Co. A lads (their whereabouts unknown, too) “as deserters.” Wiggin dropped “their names from the rolls,” and word went home that seven Co. A boys had deserted.

Now, however, the Lincoln Administration promised not to punish deserters if “they should return” to their regiments “and satisfy “the three senior officers” of those respective regiments “that they were absent from proper and sufficient cause,” Wiggin wrote.

He diligently weeded through the seven A deserters. “Four … have since been discharged by surgeon’s certificates,” and two men “have returned to duty,” Wiggin told Coburn.

That left only Leavitt. Because the regimental surgeon had sent Leavitt to a hospital “and as he had always performed his duty well up to the time of leaving,” Wiggin believed “he never had any intention of deserting and that he is entitled to an honorable discharge.”

Reinstated with Co. A, Leavitt was listed in the 1863 Maine Adjutant General’s Report as mustering out with his comrades.

On Wednesday, December 23, Assistant Adjutant General E.D. Townsend issued the War Department’s Special Order No. 568. Written “by order of the Secretary of War,” item “No. 11” summarily dealt with a 2nd Maine runaway in two paragraphs.

“Now in the hands of the Provost Marshal” in Washington, D.C., Pvt. Elijah Hodgkins of Co. C could have faced a firing squad. Instead, Townsend indicated that Hodgkins was “hereby restored to duty, without trial, upon the condition that he make good the time lost by desertion.”

With “the 2d Maine Volunteers … mustered out of service,” Hodgkins was now “assigned to the 20th Maine Volunteers.”

He was better off facing the Little Round Top heroes than a Union firing squad, for sure.

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. —————————————————————————————————————–

Sources: Report to Officer Commanding Co. F. 2 ME Regiment, May 29, 1863, Maine State Archives; 1863 Maine Adjutant General’s Report, Appendix D, p. 104; E.D. Townsend, Special Order No. 568, Maine State Archives

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.