Of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment’s three original field officers, Lt. Col. Charles D. Gilmore developed the habit of turning sick when battle loomed on the horizon — or so Capt. (and later major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel) Ellis Spear believed.
Looking back to the Chancellorsville campaign, when Col. Adelbert Ames got his coveted staff position and the 20th Maine got the smallpox quarantine, Spear “had not thought of promotion” because “I was a junior captain, without political influence.”
But “Gilmore [had] skulked in every action in which we had been engaged & had taken no part,” Spear said. “But he was (as we did not know so well know then,) a schemer, and with some political influence.”
While commanding the regiment because sunstroke had felled Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain en route to Gettysburg, Gilmore conveniently reported sick on June 20, 1863.
That day the 20th Maine “marched through Aldie to Middleburg” to support Union cavalry prying enemy cavalry out of that town, Spear recalled.
“Col. Chamberlain was still on the sick list and just before the fighting commenced Gilmore was taken sick as usual,” said Spear, the regiment’s acting major.
During a mid-September 1863 “reconnaissance towards Culpepper [sic] Court House,” Spear took out the 20th Maine because “Gilmore had again absented himself and left me in command.” During the mid-October Bristoe Station campaign, the 20th Maine reached Manassas Junction at 4 p.m., October 14.
“The firing on the rear increased in volume … and later our brigade was hurried back on the double quick” to support the embattled II Corps, Spear said. “Participation in the battle was apparent enough at least, to the Lt. Col. [Gilmore] to halt and let me take the regiment.
“This was not done with any formality,” Spear recalled. “He simply sneaked back and I went on with the regiment.”
When the 20th Maine returned to camp, “the excitement occasioned by recent movements, and constant menace of battle, had affected the health of” Gilmore “as usual, and he reported himself sick in camp,” Spear recalled.
And there came, in Spear’s opinion, perhaps a final straw after the November 7, 1863 battle of Rappahannock Station, in which some 20th Maine lads participated in that successful nighttime attack. “Gilmore returned to the regiment” around November 10, and “this was … an indication that we were no longer in the immediate presence of the enemy,” Spear said.
He noticed that Gilmore “remained with the regiment long enough to write a letter to the Bangor newspaper, giving an account of … Rappahannock Station, and to sign it … and then disappeared for the winter & took refuge in Washington, under the protection of some mysterious, but powerful friend.”
Gilmore actually reported for court-martial duty in Washington, D.C. on December 7, 1863 and “was retained on that duty” until October 1864, according to a good friend in Bangor.
We could consider Spear’s criticisms of Gilmore as sour grapes, but Gilmore was not promoted to colonel of the 20th Maine until May 29, 1865. He promptly resigned that same day and took an honorable discharge home to Bangor.
But Gilmore did see combat during the February 6, 1865 battle of Hatcher’s Run. “Captured by the enemy,” he made his escape, by running from the enemy’s lines to his own brigade, under a severe fire of the contending armies,” his Bangor friend wrote.
Sixteen days later, Gilmore was reassigned to a military commission in the nation’s capital. He had “participated with the Army of the Potomac, in nineteen battles … served with a high degree of fidelity, and with great credit to himself and State,” his friend wrote for posterity.
Nineteen battles? Ellis Spear would beg to differ.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.