Edward Baker was a country boy, all the way. He was raised in the country, he fought and died for his country, and his family gave him a country funeral.
Born to Joseph D. and Belinda C. Baker in Orrington on September 22, 1843, Edward grew up in what’s called Orrington Center, focused around the Center Drive-Dow Road intersection in the town’s (naturally) central area. Nearby stood the wood-framed, white-painted “Orrington Centre Methodist Church,” called the Orrington Center Church today and still active at 468 Dow Road.
Orrington lies between the Penobscot River and the Dedham Hills in southern Penobscot County. A few built-up areas, like the villages in East Orrington and South Orrington, dot the town, which has about doubled its 1860 population of 1,950 people. Orrington’s still decidedly country, by any stretch of country music’s definition of “country.”
According to the 1860 census, Edward had one sister, Helen (20) and four brothers (Joseph A., Charles, Jefferson, and David) ranging in age from 23 to 2. Their father was a farmer with real estate worth $2,700 and a personal estate worth $618. The oldest son, Joseph A., was described as a “farm laborer.”
Eighteen when he enlisted in the 3rd Maine Battery in Augusta on August 16, 1862, Edward listed his occupation as “farmer.” He stood 5-6½ and looked out at the world through blue eyes. He had brown hair and a light complexion.
“Led by pure motives of his country’s need,” Edward enlisted for three years and mustered on August 25, 1862.
Raised in 1861, the 3rd Maine Battery literally fired no shot in anger during 1862. Instead, Edward and his comrades built bridges (including railroad bridges) and served as engineers. In spring 1863, the War Department attached the 3rd Maine Battery to the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery (née 18th Maine Infantry) as its Co. M.
The War Department then yanked the 3rd Maine lads from the 1st MHA in late February 1864 and sent them to Camp Berry (also spelled “Barry”) in Washington, D.C. as, surprisingly, the 3rd Maine Battery. Equipped with “six 3-inch rifles” on April 15, the battery did not leave Camp Berry for Petersburg until July 7.
By then it was all over for Edward Baker. Stricken with “chronic diarrhea,” he died in a Camp Berry hospital on Friday, June 24, 1864. The official records list that as his “date of discharge,” as if he had any choice in separating from the army that day.
A few days earlier, “a comrade telegraphed to his father” that Edward would die, so Joseph D. Baker “started at once for Washington, only to find his son dead,” reported an Orrington resident.
“But how his heart was touched to learn that the body was embalmed and coffined[,] ready to be sent home, with money sufficient to pay all expenses and procure tomb stones—done by the men of his company, the officers also contributing liberally for the same purpose,” the Orrington resident indicated.
So many privates had already died during the Overland Campaign, and most lay in Virginia graves, not all marked. Edward Baker was so highly regarded by his 3rd Maine Battery mates that they raised the money to embalm his body and ship it to Maine.
“He has won the highest honor due any soldier, for he always did his duty,” 3rd Maine Battery commander Capt Ezekiel M. Mayo of Hampden informed Edward’s family, possibly by letter.
Indirect evidence suggests that Joseph accompanied his son home, probably arriving in early July. The family held Edward’s funeral at the Orrington Centre Methodist Church on Saturday, July 9. “The house was overflowing,” said the Orrington resident, an attendee.
The Reverend C.B. Dunn conducted the funeral. “He declared patriotism and religion to be more closely related than twin brothers, and discoursed … upon the inducements which lead young men to sacrifice their lives in the present context,” the Orrington resident noted.
So intense was Dunn’s preaching against the Confederacy “that any rebel sympathizer present must have felt himself decidedly in the wrong place,” the eyewitness said.
The funeral ended, and the pall bearers carried the coffin outside to the wheeled conveyance (possibly a hearse) for transportation to Oak Hill Cemetery, perhaps a mile to the southeast. “A very large procession followed the body to the grave,” the Orrington resident noticed.
Men lowered the coffin into a grave dug near the cemetery’s southern boundary, and (according to the Orrington resident) a church “choir sang, ‘Wrap the flag around me[,], boys.’” a three-verse funeral dirge composed by R. Stewart Taylor in 1862.
The song could start war-hardened veterans crying. “So affecting a scene I never witnessed and can scarcely expect to again,” the Orrington resident said. “Tears coursed down the furrowed cheek of the old man and the fair face of the young child.”
His comrades paid for Edward’s tombstone, a white monolith standing on a square granite base. The engraving indicates that Edward was 20 years and 10 months old when he died.
Oak Hill Cemetery lies at the end of the gravelly Oak Hill Road, which intersects the paved Dow Road not far from Orrington Center Church. The setting’s truly “country,” with the forest rimming three sides of the cemetery, the road the fourth side, and a field bordered by woods across the way.
Edward Baker was country, all the way.
Sources: Edward Baker Soldier’s File, Maine State Archives; 1860 U.S. Census for Orrington; Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, 1864-1865, Stevens & Sayward, Augusta, Maine, 1866, pp. 234-235, 1064; Wrap the flag around me boys!, Library of Congress; Daily Whig & Courier, Wednesday, July 13, 1864
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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.