The 20th Maine’s Dirty Rotten Skulker, part 1

Historians will tell you that a bad apple served too long as the 20th Maine Infantry’s quartermaster, but looking back after the war, Bvt. Brig. Gen. Ellis Spear — the left-flank commander on Little Round Top — remembered a particular officer as, to play with a 1988 movie title, a “Dirty Rotten Skulker.”

A Warren native, Spear raised Co. C, 20th Maine. While composing his wartime Recollections in the early 20th century, he talked about the regiment’s first three field officers (colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major).

A Warren resident, Ellis Spear raised a 20th Maine Infantry company and initially served as a captain. He later recorded his opinions about the regiment’s first three field officers. (Maine State Archives)

Spear described Col. Adelbert Ames as “an able man, of great energy and courage and a trained soldier,” with one flaw — at least.

Born in East Thomaston (later Rockland) on Halloween 1835, West Point graduate (’61), Ames was badly wounded while serving with the 5th U.S. Artillery at First Manassas. Staying with the guns during the Peninsula Campaign, he lobbied Maine Governor Israel Washburn Jr. for a regimental commission in mid-1862.

Washburn gave him the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, created by a midsummer recruiting overflow.

Surrounded by army professionals since entering The Point in ’56, Ames shared a common flaw with the spit-and-polish full-timers. He was “at that time, without great experience in dealing with men and (like many of the West Pointers) understanding very little of the character of the volunteers,” Spear said.

Rockland native and professional soldier Adelbert Ames was the first colonel of the 20th Maine Infantry. (Library of Congress)

Just days removed from civilian status, the 20th Mainers lacked uniforms, equipment, firearms, and knowledge in military matters and still thought like civilians. Like Washington’s troops who drove Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben nuts during their Valley Forge training, Mainers wanted to know why officers told them “come there” or “go there.”

If the reasons made sense, the Maine boys had no problem with obeying.

While talking with “individuals of whom he knew only some officers by name, and some by designation or location” in company or regimental formations, delivered “criticisms, for which there was abundant occasion, [that] were insistent and severe,” Spear recalled.

The terms he used were rather those of West Point than of a Sunday School,” Spear commented.

The 20th Maine’s history abounds with tales from those initial weeks, including a “regimental parade” Spear remembered as “a crude affair,” the out-of-tune band “playing in which [manner] every instrument had its own key and time.

Joshua L. Chamberlain was the 20th Maine’s first lieutenant colonel. (MSA)

Deafened by its uproar the band began to move along the line” as Ames spoke. Finally “the Colonel advanced, sword in hand, & drove the drum corps” behind “the Battalion,” Spear said.

The 20th’s lieutenant colonel, Joshua L. Chamberlain, “was fresh from a Professorship in Bowdoin College where I had known him when I was a student there,” Spear note.

He was (and is) a gentleman and a scholar[,] and although he was also without military knowledge or experience[,] he was a man of such intelligence and urbanity and kindliness of feeling that he exerted a useful influence even in the organization of the regiment.”

Washburn tapped Bangor resident Charles D. Gilmore as the 20th Maine’s major. Forty and married when he enlisted as the captain of Co. C, 7th Maine Infantry on August 5, 1861, Gilmore stood 5-10 and had blue eyes, dark hair, and a light complexion.

As for his occupation, of the myriad Soldiers’ Files that I have read courtesy of the Maine State Archives, Gilmore’s is the only one (so far) to say “Soldier.”

Bangor resident Charles Gilmore was the first major of the 20th Maine.

An “eminent officer” as a Bangor admirer described him, Gilmore was wounded at Lee’s Mill on April 16, 1862. Commissioned the 20th Maine’s major on August 8, 1862, Gilmore rose to lieutenant colonel on May 20, 1863, after Ames became a brigadier. Washburn commissioned Chamberlain the regimental colonel the same day, but the official paperwork took a few weeks to catch up.

A mere captain, Spear served longer with Gilmore than he did Ames or Chamberlain, the latter given 3rd Brigade command by Maj. Gen. Charles Griffin in August 1863.

As for Gilmore, “I do remember that he afterwards proved to be a most untrustworthy, worthless skulker,” Spear commented.

Next week: Examples of skulking

Sources: The Civil War Recollections of General Ellis Spear, co-editors Abbott Spear, Andrea C. Hawkes, Marie H. McCosh, Craig L. Symonds, and Michael H. Alpert, University of Maine Press, Orono, Maine, 1997, pp. 7-9, 30, 48, 55, 64-65, 307; Charles D. Gilmore Soldier’s File, Maine State Archives; R.H. Stanley and George O. Hall, Eastern Maine and the Rebellion, 1887, p. 350

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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