Volunteers dedicate new 1st Maine Cavalry monument, part 1

Steve Bunker stands beside the 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment monument that was dedicated this past June 22 on the Middleburg battlefield in northern Virginia. Bunker has portrayed Maine cavalry troopers since 1962. (Courtesy Steve Bunker)

Re-enactors staging a cavalry brawl at Antietam, Md. in September 2012 fight hand to hand as did Union and Confederate cavalrymen participating in three northern Virginia battles that began at Aldie in mid-June 1863. Seventeen Maine cavalry troopers were killed during those fights. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

This past June, volunteers erected what is only the second monument in Virginia dedicated to a Maine combat unit from the Civil War.

Steve Bunker of Gray was among “a number of New Englanders” who founded the 1st Maine Cavalry re-enacting organization at Jacksonville Beach, Fla. in 1959. “Most of the guys were 16, 17, 18,” he recalled. “I was the youngest, 13, 14.

We were the only Union re-enacting outfit in the South for the [Civil War] centennial,” Bunker said.

The re-enactors portrayed the 2nd Maine Cavalry, which “operated from Florida to the Texas border,” he said. “Whenever we would come north, we would be the 1st Maine,” which served with the Army of the Potomac.

I was raised with a sense of history,” Bunker said. His father, a chief engineer in the United States Merchant Marine, “started out on schooners here in the Gulf of Maine” before shifting to “square rig” vessels in the 1920s.

Dismounted Confederate cavalrymen defended this stone wall (left) at which Union cavalrymen charged from the right at Aldie, Va. on June 17, 1863. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Bunker believes his father was born on the schooner John R. Fell, a three-masted schooner built at Bath in 1880. His father “was largely raised on that ship” because his grandfather, Capt. Charles Foster Bunker, “was a well-known sea captain from Gouldsboro.

My grandmother, Abbie Elizabeth Miner,” hailed from Concord, Mass. and “traveled at sea with my grandfather,” Bunker said. Abbie’s father “was an abolitionist and a friend of [Henry David] Thoreau’s.”

Combat artist Alfred Waud sketched Union cavalry (moving from right to left) attacking Confederate cavalry at Aldie. (Library of Congress)

A military veteran now living in Gray, Bunker still re-enacts. From being the youngest member of the 1st Maine Cavalry, “now I am the oldest guy in the outfit,” he chuckled during a telephone interview. “I sill have my gear, still have my uniform. I still mount up regularly.”

A few years ago, Bunker and other re-enactors departed Fort Laramie and, following the Oregon Trail, “rode across Wyoming to Platte Bridge Station, which is now the town of Caspar.” The re-enactors followed the route taken in July 1865 by 23 troopers of the 11th Kansas Cavalry and three mule-skinners to reinforce the garrison at Platte Bridge Station, under almost constant harassment by Plains Indians seeking vengeance for the November 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado.

That’s the last thing I did in terms of a re-enactment,” Bunker said. “I’ll probably do something again.”

Col. Calvin Douty of the 1st Maine Cavalry was killed at Aldie. He lies buried at the family plot at the Dover Cemetery in Dover-Foxcroft (below).

Rather than riding regularly with the other 1st Maine Cav re-enactors, “I spend more of my time trying to get the history across, doing the research, giving talks,” Bunker said. Appearing before historical societies and other groups, he talks “principally about the history of the Maine regiments, but my specialty is the Maine cavalry units.”

The 1st Maine Cavalry re-enactors were familiar with the regiment’s participation in the June 1863 battles at Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville in northern Virginia. After bloodying J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry at Brandy Station on June 9, Union cavalry attempted to break through the enemy cavalry screening the roads leading to passes through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

En route to Maryland and Pennsylvania, Confederate infantry moved through the lower Shenandoah Valley toward the Potomac River. Senior Union generals sent their cavalry to learn how much infantry was headed northeast and where that infantry was going.

Union cavalry regiments, including the 1st Maine Cavalry commanded by Col. Calvin Sanger Douty of Dover, shoved westward toward Ashby’s Gap and Snicker’s Gap. Union troopers fought their Confederate counterparts at Aldie (June 17), Middleburg (June 19), and Upperville (June 21).

The fighting killed 17 Mainers, including Douty, shot down at a stone wall at Aldie. His embalmed body went home to Dover and burial in the family plot at the Dover Cemetery, located off the Vaughn Road in what is now Dover-Foxcroft.

Until recently, no monument has honored the 1st Maine Cavalry’s troopers who fought in the three battles. That all changed with the June 22, 2019 dedication of a 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment monument in Middleburg.

It came about for two reasons,” the first related to his membership in the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Bunker said. After attending many SUVCW meetings, “I thought, ‘We need to do something.’

The second thing was, our guys in the 1st Maine. We’ve got guys all over New England” and “some living in Maryland” and other Middle Atlantic states, he noted. “There’s Maine people here who are open to it.”

He proposed “creating a Maine memorial” in Loudon County, “about 40 miles out of Washington,” a region Bunker described as “a beautiful area, a great place to ride.” Some 1st Maine Cavalry re-enactors explored the region where the battles took place, and Bunker “went to look at Aldie.”

The monumental dream started moving toward reality.

Next week: Volunteers dedicate a monument carved from Maine granite

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

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.