Seven days in May shatter the 7th Maine

A combat artist sketched Union infantry fighting their Confederate counterparts in the Wilderness in early May 1864. The drawing does not accurately depict the dense undergrowth in which the battle took place. (Harper’s Weekly)

My God.

The casualty list runs almost 1½ columns in the Daily Whig & Courier — and this is real “broadsheet,” not the narrow pages that pass for newsprint nowadays.

And this is only the 7th Maine Infantry Regiment, which will muster out in 98 days. Paraphrasing George Pickett post-Gettysburg charge, Capt. John H. Channing can truthfully claim, “Maine Attorney General John L. Hodsdon, sir, I have no regiment.”

He’s correct. Channing’s a captain commanding the veteran 7th. Think about that: A captain’s in charge because everybody above him in the chain of command has been shot.

So was almost everybody below Channing in the chain of command, too.

Assigned to the 3rd Brigade (Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Neill), 2nd Division (Brig. Gen. George W. Getty), VI Corps (Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick), the 7th Maine marches into the Wilderness in early May 1864 and gets destroyed “in [the] actions of May 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th,10th and 12th,” Channing informs Hodsdon from “Camp Near the Battle Field” at Spotsylvania on May 16.

The dates encompass the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, including the May 12 slaughter fest at the Bloody Angle. Four days later, Channing sends the compiled the casualty list — “aggregate: 261” names — to Hodsdon in Augusta.

“Sad indeed is the duty which I am now compelled to perform—a duty that will carry sorrow to many a loyal heart in Maine, and mourning to the home[s] and friends of the brave men who have fallen nobly defending the cause of their country,” Channing writes.

He gets to the point with the names. My God: The casualty list goes on and on.

Of the 7th’s “Field and Staff,” Col. Edwin C. Mason — a hard-bitten fighting rooster — is slightly “wounded in left foot,” and Maj. James P. Jones suffers a “severe” shoulder wound. Shot “in right breast,” Adjutant Charles H. Hasey dies on May 14, and Sgt. Maj. Perry Greenlief goes “missing.”

Company A loses 36 men, included Capt. Henry F. Hill, “killed.” His lieutenants are wounded, six men are missing, and six are dead besides Hill. Company B counts 26 casualties, no one killed, and five men missing.

In Company C, 2nd Lt. Charles Lorrell loses a leg, 1st Lt. Alvin S. Hall suffers a severe hip wound. Corporal Daniel Worcester, Francis Kaliff, and Joseph Nedo are dead, and two privates go missing. Thirteen men are wounded.

Losses number 19 men in Company D. Capt. Joseph Walker is wounded “dangerously” in “breast,” and 2nd Lt. William Hooper takes an arm wound that kills him on May 14. C.H. Moore is “killed”: The three names printed after his all read “do,” the mid-19th century abbreviation for “ditto.”

A Confederate bullet left Corp. R.W. Jackson “dangerously” wounded in the head, but he’s missing. Frank Wadworth (probably “Wadsworth”) loses his right arm, and six comrades besides Jackson are not answering the roll call, and no one knows what happened to them.

That’s one horror (among many) from savage fighting spread over seven days in May: Many 7th Maine lads vanish in the Wilderness thickets (imagine fighting in a dense coastal Maine spruce-fir forest) and Spotsylvania canister bursts and bloody combat. These men disappear, and not all will be found before the army moves on.

Spring growth limits sight distance in the modern Wilderness, a central Virginia forest where Confederate and Union armies fought a savage battle in early May 1864. Brush and thickets severely hampered soldiers’ abilities to maneuver; thick gun smoke and spreading forest fires almost blinded soldiers trying to see friends only 20 to 30 feet away. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Company E lucks out with only eight casualties, but Company F loses 26 men, including five dead and three missing. The Co. G list runs long, but not forever as does Co. K’s. Channing starts with that company’s “killed,” 10 men listed mostly as “do.” The “severe” wounds number 19 men; odds are good that George F. Houston, shot in his “bowels,” will shift to the dead list. The captain and first lieutenant are out of action, wounded, and four privates are missing.

Over in Co. I, privates Julius Chandler and Edwin Conlon are wounded twice. Corporal Albion Hardy loses a thumb, Pvt. James Walker a finger, “amputated.” The lucky Co. H loses 10 men, with two dead and three missing.

Channing has fought alongside the men whose names appear company by company. On May 1, the 7th Maine’s camp sparked with life and camaraderie, the veterans melded by that horrific charge at Antietam and by other battles the boys had survived these past 2¾ years.

By May 16, the 7th Maine casts a thin shadow, has lost way too many veterans, a problem endemic throughout the Army of the Potomac that month. As he writes, Channing recalls the faces he will never see again.

I have no eulogy to deliver on the lives and deeds of these brave men who have fallen, in the front rank, face to the foe,” he informs Hodsdon.

You will be kind enough to oblige me and their many friends, by publishing the accompanying list of casualties in the papers of Maine,” Channing instructs the adjutant general. There’s no other interpretation for this sentence; a lowly captain tells a senior civilian what to do.

And Hodsdon obliges him.

Source: Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, May 26, 1864

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Brian Swartz can be reached at 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