Unofficial integration: Maine Indians and “white” regiments

Observing Passamaquody practices, the Huntley Brook Drummers appeared at the June 14, 2019 ground-breaking ceremony for the new elementary school at Sipayik (Pleasant Point). Some Maine Indians, including Passamaquodies and Penobscots, enlisted in “white” Maine regiments during the Civil War. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

The War Department required that no “white” regiments, whether regular Army or state-raised, enlist minorities. Blacks could join “black” regiments, and as for American Indians, maybe they could serve with an Indian unit in Indian Territory, a.k.a. “Oklahoma” from statehood onwards.

Black was black, white was white, Indians were Indians, and never the trio should meet in a “white” outfit: no racial integration whatsoever.

So how did Maine account for John Saul, a 19-year-old laborer who agreed to enlist as the substitute for Josiah L. Ricker? Saul enlisted at Bangor on July 28, 1864, and Capt. Elijah Low — the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners provost marshal for Maine’s Fourth Congressional District — signed the “Substitute Volunteer Enlistment” form.

Saul went into Co. E, 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. An Old Town resident, he stood 5-6½ and had black eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion.

He was a Penobscot Indian.

So were Thomas Dana, Sappill Orson, William H. Over, Lewis (also “Louis”) M. Thompson (enlisted on July 16, 1863), and John Tomar (probably “Tomah”). All joined the 1st MHA and survived the war, except for Thompson, who under “How Left Service” was listed as “Died” on March 1, 1865.

He possibly participated in the 1st MHA’s suicidal charge at Petersburg in mid-June 1864.

Thompson, a 5-10 mason, was born in Brewer and lived in Old Town. He shared a physical description applied to most enlisting Maine Indians: black eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion.

Not so Orson Sappill, 24 and married when he enlisted on December 29, 1864. A laborer, he stood 5-8½ and had black eyes, black hair, and a copper complexion.

John Tomar, an 18-year-old “river driver” from Lincoln, was also described as having a “copper” complexion. He enlisted on January 2, 1865 and mustered out on June 5, 1865.

At least a few more Penobscot Indians joined Maine regiments. So did some Passamaquoddies from Down East Maine.

Born at Pleasant Point, Peter W. Mitchell was 22, single, and living in East Machias when he enlisted in Co. G, 7th Maine Infantry Regiment on February 26, 1864. Mustering on March 8, he arrived in Virginia a few months before the 7th Maine completed its three-year term of service

A similar situation occurred with the 5th and 6th Maine infantry regiments, also raised in spring 1861. When these three regiments mustered out of federal service, those soldiers also completing their three years’ service could either go home or join the 1st Maine Veteran Volunteers.

Some did so, especially with a 30-day leave and a re-enlistment bonus dangling before their eyes.

No such luck awaited soldiers not yet completing their service. These lads went into the 1st Maine VV, too; for Pvt. Mitchell, the transfer date was September 20, and he went into Co. G.

Mitchell, a “lumberman,” stood 5-8 and had blue eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. As an ordinary infantryman, he probably fought at Cedar Creek in October, later went into the Petersburg siege lines, and marched with the 1st Maine Vets during the Appomattox campaign.

Born in Marion Township in Washington County, 19-year-old Alvin B. Moore was a Passamaquoddy “lumberman,” single, and living in Baring Plantation when he joined Co. A, 9th Maine Infantry Regiment on September 5, 1861. He mustered 17 days later and served through the war, finally mustering out with an honorable discharge on July 13, 1865.

Standing 5-5½, Moore had black eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. Enlisting as a private, he made corporal, then either surrendered or lost his second stripe, not at all unusual for many Maine corporals.

History overlooks the 9th Maine, which served quietly along the Southeast coast before arriving at Folly Island, South Carolina on July 4, 1863. Moore went along as the regiment landed on Morris Island under fire and then participated in the disastrous July 11 mass attack on Confederate-held Fort Wagner.

If you’ve seen the movie “Glory,” a footnote towards the end indicates that the white regiments charging behind the leading 54th Massachusetts Infantry took heavy casualties, too. The 9th Maine Infantry was two regiments behind the 54th Massachusetts — and suffered accordingly.

Alvin Moore and the 9th Maine later fought at Bermuda Hundred, Virginia in 1864 and helped occupy Wilmington, North Carolina in 1865.

Although born in New Brunswick, Peter Atwine was living in Princeton when he joined Co. A, 1st Maine Veteran Volunteer Infantry on August 15, 1864. He was initially credited to the 7th Maine, but that regiment merged with the 5th and 6th Maines into the 1st Maine Veteran Volunteers about the time Atwine reached Virginia.

Atwine stood 5-11½ and had black eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. Born in 1836, he was married, and his listed occupation was “hunter.” He wound up in the Shenandoah Valley with Maj. Gen. Phil Sheridan.

If you have any information about the experiences of minority Mainers serving in the state’s white regiments, I invite you to contact me at

Sources: Soldiers’ Files and enlistment papers, Maine State Archives; Ken Ross, Washington County, Maine in the Civil War: 1861-66

“Swartz delves into the personal stories of sacrifice and loss…” — Civil War News

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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