When the steamer carrying the homeward-bound 4th Maine rounded Owls Head at 3 a.m., Saturday, June 25, Rockland church bells started pealing, the Halfway Point battery “opened a salute,” and a minute gun fired continuously at the steamboat wharf, Vose observed.
Aboard the inbound steamer, “every man was anxious to once more set foot on the soil of Maine,” Walker said.
Vose watched as the weary soldiers disembarked about 4 a.m. to form a shrunken “battalion” on the wharf. “The men bore the marks of fatigue and exposure, and the faded uniforms looked dusty, stained and worn, but nearly all [the soldiers] appeared rugged and healthy.”
As had many Maine regiments bloodied in ’61 and ’62, the 4th Maine had long since sent home (under escort) its first regimental flag, initially punctured by enemy lead at First Manassas. The flag now reappeared at Rockland.
The color guard displayed “the flags … brought from the battle-field” and “the old smoke-stained and war-torn colors … carried through all” the regiment’s battles, Vose said.
Restrained “by a guard of police,” “a very large concourse of people” parted as the Rockland Band led the Maine State Guards, Rockland firefighters, and city councilors onto the wharf. After playing Sweet Home, the bandsmen launched into When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again (enjoy this Mormon Tabernacle Choir version).
The song’s “appropriate strains” rolled across the Rockland waterfront as “the escort received” the 4th Maine” with appropriate honors,” Vose observed. “The procession was formed, and hemmed in by the eager throng, took its way to the square where the regiment was to be welcomed to the hearts and hospitalities of the city.”
He recalled the 4th Maine’s departure on Monday, June 17, 1861. “More than a thousand strong,” the regiment had “struck its white tents at Camp Knox, and marched down through our streets” with “bayonets flashing in the bright morning sun,” Vose said.
“Among the many hundreds” witnessing the regiment’s embarkation, “the remark” circulated “that it would be a glad and happy day for our city that [Rocklanders] should welcome those untried heroes back to their homes again,” Vose remembered.
“It has come at last, but three hard years of toil and battle” had passed, “and only a remnant of the brave and strong array that went out with banners unsoiled and bright, are left to bear them home again battle-stained and torn,” he said.
Walker and other officers mounted the horses “which they brought from Virginia.” The procession exited the wharf. Vose stood close by as “yundreds pressed eagerly forward to … glimpse … familiar, but now bronzed and weather-hardened features, and friends and relatives, fathers, brothers, wives and children crowded into their ranks to greet their loved ones.
“Smiles and tears of joy shone on many faces” in the gathering daylight, he noticed.
“We were royally received” in Rockland, Walker remembered. Moving along Sea Street to a city square where Rockland businessman and Maine legislator Nathan A. Farwell welcomed Walker “and your brave regiment back to the city.”
Onlookers gave “six hearty cheers” for the 4th Maine boys, who soon “repaired to Atlantic Hall” for “a bountiful and substantial breakfast,” Vose said. Soldiers and their escorts settled around “seven long tables,” a minister asked “the Divine blessing,” and the spread “was then attacked with much spirit.”
The officers sat at the center table, “laden in a manner to which we had long been strangers, and it is beyond my pen to describe the pleasure the good things afforded us,” Walker said.
Soldiers chowed down, but declined waiting until all their comrades finished eating. Slipping away here and there, “the boys of the Fourth were the first to leave the field, and began to desert before the general action was over,” Vose noticed.
“The impatience to greet wives, parents, brothers, sisters and friends” and “to change” the uniforms “they wore for fresh and clean garments, was ample excuse for them to go as soon as they had appeased their hunger,” he said.
The 4th Maine assembled a last time in Rockland on July 19 to be mustered out by regular Army Capt. Thomas J. Bailey and to receive their back pay and $100 bounty from paymaster Maj. Elias Merrill.
“Their deeds are enshrined in the hearts of our citizens,” Vose said.
Sources: William E.S. Whitman and Charles H. True, Maine in the War for the Union: A History of the Part Borne by Maine Troops in the Suppression of the American Rebellion, Nelson Dingley Jr. & Co., Publishers, Lewiston, Maine, 1865; Reception of the Fourth Maine Regiment, Rockland Gazette, Saturday, July 2, 1864; Elijah Walker, The Old Soldier: History of the Fourth Maine Infantry, Tribune, Rockland, Maine, 1895
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 email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.