A physician’s wife knew not whose toes her socks would cover in winter 1863, at least not until a letter arrived from a grateful 4th Maine Infantry officer.
Mary J. Germain, married to Dr. Charles N. Germain of Rockland, knit some socks — “stockings” was the correct term — that winter. She probably knit the socks from Maine-grown wool: the state’s sheep flocks had grown astronomically as the military’s demand for wool clothing increased.
Mary’s approximately 15-year-old daughter, Josephine (spelled “Josephene” in the 1860 census), likely helped her knit the socks.
The socks shipped to the 4th Maine, then camped in Stafford County, Virginia, across the Rappahannock River from shattered Fredericksburg. Other Rockland-area women likely contributed their home-knitted socks, too, but Mary’s identity arrived with her particular knittings.
Stockton Springs “joiner” Robert H. Gray quickly penned a thank-you note to Mary. He had enlisted in Co. I, 4th Maine as a sergeant on April 27, 1861, showed talent, and risen to captain of Co. I by early March 1863. Six feet tall, he had black eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion.
“Madam,” Gray wrote Mary Germain, “Your stockings are on my feet, for which, thanks.
“Two weeks since one of my men, Taylor of Rockland, had no stockings, and the weather was cold,” Gray recalled. “I had two pairs, and I gave him one thinking of ‘cast your bread upon the water, &c.’ but the past week, my protruding toes often told me that ‘charity begins at home.’”
The good captain had only one pair of socks, now worn at the toes. “But yesterday my ‘bread returned to me again,’ in the form of a pair of nice stockings from you,” he told Mary.
“I received six pairs from Lieut. Col. [Lorenzo D.] Carver [of Rockland],” Gray wrote. “I gave the other five pairs to Chris.[topher] Martin, Charles Hodges, John Gray, James McLaughlin, and Sergt. Mark Perry, as being most needful of Co. D.”
Why he distributed the socks in Co. D, Gray did not explain. Perhaps the five soldiers lacked socks, period.
“The soldier’s lot is hard, but all he asks is your sympathy,” Gray wrote. “How it saddens their hearts to hear that at home their efforts are underrated, and to hear that disloyal sentiments are uttered there.
“Let the women of the North frown on all, who will neither speak nor fight for our country, in these, her darkest days of peril,” Gray implored Mary.
“To you, lady, and such as you, whose sympathies extend down to their pockets” — a reference to Mary buying the wool for the soldiers’ socks — “I will pledge, in a glass of pure cold water, the following sentiment, and though in it are combined a queer mixture of the real and the sentimental, yet I hope it will be accepted,” Gray wrote.
“As my feet glow with warmth, in their woolly garments, so may your hearts be warmed by prosperity and affection’s encircling protection, and by long years of sunny happiness, is the warmest wish of R.H. Gray, Capt. Co. I, 4th Me. Vols.”
Mary Germain received the unsolicited “receipt of stockings sent from this city.” Gray’s gratitude apparently touched her heart, for she shared the letter with the Rockland Gazette, “published every Saturday morning” by John Porter & Son, located in Office No. 5 in the Custom-House Block.
By 1870 Dr. Germain still practiced medicine in Rockland, and he and Mary had another daughter, 4-year-old May. Josephine, identified as “Josie” and listed as 22 in the 1870 census, lived with her parents.
Robert H. Gray was later promoted to major in the 4th Maine Infantry. Wounded in action in the Wilderness on May 5, 1864, he died four days later.
Sources: Robert H. Gray, Soldier’s File, Maine State Archives; 1860 and 1870 U.S. Census for Rockland; Acknowledgment, Rockland Gazette, Saturday, March 21, 1863
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.