On Memorial Day, history learned in a small town cemetery

Union troops strike the Muleshoe during the May 1864 Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. The 7th Maine Infantry had already taken heavy losses during the preceding Battle of the Wilderness. (Thure de Thulstrup)

You can learn so much Civil War history by visiting a Maine cemetery on Memorial Day.

Their wooden shafts attached to five-star markers, the small American flags fluttering in the breeze identify many Civil War veterans, whose stones often list the respective units: company and regiment or artillery battery. Each stone represents history that, with some figurative digging, can be learned and retold.

This past Memorial Day, we visited three cemeteries in Eddington, the 26.54-square-mile town stretching from Eddington Bend on the Penobscot River east to Clifton. Eddington also borders Brewer and Bradley.

Located next to Route 9 (Main Road) and accessible from that highway and Comins Lane, the Meadowbrook Cemetery contains some Civil War graves, including the two Calef brothers, Francis A. and Charles H., “Sons of Henry & Mary Calef” according to the family’s inscribed pillar.

Francis served with “Co. C 7th Reg. Me. Vols.” and “fell at the battle of the Wilderness. May 8, 1864.” He was age 19 years, nine months, and seven days when he died.

Charles was “A member of Co. D. 1st Me. Heavy Artillery” and “Died Jan. 20[.] 1881” when 42 years, seven months, and 19 days old.

The Calef family’s pillar at Meadowbrook Cemetery in Eddington, Maine bears inscriptions for brothers brothers Francis and Charles, who served in different Maine infantry regiments during the Civil War. Francis was killed in action. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

The war-related information seems straight forward. Charles obviously survived the war and died during a Maine winter, certainly not the season I’d chose to check out in Maine. His body probably went into a crypt until the cemetery thawed in spring.

According to his Soldier’s File, 24-year-old Charles mustered into the 18th Maine Infantry on August 21, 1862. He was single, stood 5-8¼, had a ruddy complexion, blue eyes, and dark brown hair, and worked as a mechanic. The 18th Maine became the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery in winter 1863.

As for Francis, a historian will immediately notice the error in his inscription: The Battle of the Wilderness officially took place May 5-7, 1864, and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House began on May 8.

But wouldn’t Henry and Mary know which battle killed their boy?

His Soldier’s File describes Francis as a single 5-8 farmer with a light complexion, blue eyes, and light hair. He was 21 upon joining the 7th Maine in late September 1862. and he was “killed in action” on May 19, 1864.

So just what was his story? When did he die? And just how old was he?

According to the May 1864 returns for the 7th Maine Infantry, Pvt. Francis Caleff was one of three Co. C lads “killed in action” at the “Wilderness.” Francis died on May 6, 1864, not May 8 or May 19. His mom and dad got the correct battle.

Another four Co. C soldiers went missing on May 6. That day’s fighting eviscerated the 7th Maine.

Located next to Route 9 (Main Road) in Eddington, Meadowbrook Vemetery contains several graves of Civil War veterans. (BFS)

As for Francis’ age, his parents lived in Garland in Penobscot County during the 1850 U.S. Census, and Francis was five then. Hr would have been 21 or so upon joining the 7th Maine; his inscribed age was incorrect — and why, we do not know.

Charles was 12 in 1850, so he would have been 24 in 1862.

Looking into 1864 from 2020, we could shrug off the brothers Calef and their Civil War experiences as not important, only two men among some 73,000 who served from Maine during the Civil War. But there was a day in May 1864, perhaps around the 10th or so, when Henry and Mary Calef learned their boy had died in a dark and bloody battle in far off Virginia.

Sometimes history does not involve generals and particular campaigns. Sometimes it involves the men who gave it all for their country.

Francis A. Calef was one such hero.

Sources: Charles H. Calef and Francis A. Calef, Soldiers’ Files, Maine State Archives; May 1864 returns for 7th Maine Infantry Regiment, MSA; 1850 U.S. Census for Garland, Maine

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.