Sumter’s 9/11 aftermath: Old Hancock County speaks

Historic buildings form one corner at the intersection of Main and Water streets in downtown Castine, formerly a busy Penobscot Bay port and once the shiretown of Hancock County, Maine. The Fort Sumter news stirred a patriotic outpouring in many corners of the county. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

The Fort Sumter attack sparked patriotic fervor never before seen in eastern Maine.

Ellsworth-area residents rallied “for the Union” at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 23. Gathering “in the Square, near the Post Office,” a “large assemblage” watched as rally organizers selected Arno Wiswell as the event’s chairman (a typical mid-19th-century practice).

Likely standing so he could be seen, Wiswell spoke “in an eloquent manner, tracing the causes, remote and immediate, which have brought on the present crisis, and as earnestly appealed to all good citizens to stand by the Government at this time.”

Next up to speak was Col. Joseph S. Rice, delivering “a most thrilling speech of some twenty minutes. He was frequently applauded,” noted The Ellsworth American. The rally’s organizers summoned Bucksport resident T.C. Woodman to speak; he did so “in a happy manner, full of patriotic sentiments and strong Union feeling.”

The American’s editor and co-publisher, Nathaniel K. Sawyer, “responded to a call for remarks, and John Wasson[,] Esq. of Brooksville “made some interesting remarks.”

Two cannons, stacked cannonballs, and a statue high atop a granite shaft comprise the Civil War monument erected on Bridge Hill in Ellsworth, Maine. (BFS)

A bit too old himself to join the army, Sawyer stood and urged organizers to create “a committee of four … to see that recruiting offices are opened at once for the enlistment of volunteers, and also to procure subscriptions [donations] for the maintenance of the families of all such as volunteer” to defend the United States. His motion passed, and five influential men volunteered to join the committee.

With a local band “enlivening the occasion with many a National air,” the rally organizers approved several resolutions, distilled as “that”:

• “We love our Country, its Constitution, and its laws:”;

• “In this its hour of peril, we will answer its calls, uphold its authority and stand by its glorious flag”;

• “We hold to-day in the same contempt and scorn the Tories of Traitors of the North, as did our Fathers those of 1776”;

• “They who lay unhallowed hands upon the pillars of the Union, are ‘Traitors of the blackest dye,’ and deserve a Traitor’s doom”;

We offer upon the alter [sic] of our Country, our time, our property, and if need be our lives”;

• “When Old Hancock [County] speaks, she means it.”

At Bucksport on the Penobscot River, residents erected a Civil War monument in Oak Hill Cemetery, where many Civil War veterans lie buried. (BFS)

Old Hancock County certainly spoke. Bucksport, a Penobscot River town 20 miles west of Ellsworth (perhaps a 30-minute drive today on Route 1, depending on the traffic), bustled with noise and patriotism on Tuesday, April 30. “A company of 75 good and true men has been formed here and organized” that day by electing its officers, a local correspondent informed the American.

The volunteers elected Joseph Snowman as their captain, Franklin Pierce as their first lieutenant, and Virgil Wardwell as their second lieutenant. “The company is already now awaiting marching orders, and another company will be organized in this section soon,” the correspondent wrote.

An excellent Union feeling is almost universal in this town,” he observed.

At Castine, the lovely coastal town bordering Penobscot Bay’s northeastern shore, the Castine Light Infantry (numbered among Maine’s few militia companies) assembled soon after Fort Sumter fell. Under Capt. Seth K. Devereux, “the fine corps consists of about 80 members—all good and true men who will not flinch in the hour of trial,” wrote an Ellsworth American correspondent.

Local businessman Charles W. Tilden served as Devereux’s first lieutenant, and the CLI carried a second, a third, and a fourth lieutenant (another Wardwell, a ubiquitous surname in western Hancock County) on its rolls. Devereux would later resign his commission, bumping Tilden to captain and, as a colonel, to an appointment with destiny on Oak Ridge at Gettysburg.

At the suggestion of the ladies, a public demonstration was given [on Friday evening, April 26] to the members, in the Unitarian church,” today known as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Castine. People packed the church, “beautifully decorated” with American flags, “wreaths of evergreen,” and “a large portrait of Washington … placed over the pulpit,” the correspondent noted.

Carpenters built a stage occupied that evening by 34 “young ladies, representing the several [loyal] states,” he wrote. Quite a few men, including a “Mr. Thompson” come over by boat from Stockton across the Penobscot River estuary, spoke to “fresh bursts of applause,” and Miss Lucy V. Little presented “beautiful boquets [sic] of flowers to Devereux and Tilden. She shared with the soldiers “the interest … taken in your welfare and success” by “the ladies of Castine.”

Standing atop a granite pedestal on the Town Common, the Castine Civil War monument honors the men who enlisted to save the Union. Castine’s militia company left town to join the 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment only two weeks after Fort Sumter fell. (BFS)

Sharing stirring paragraphs “written by Miss A.A. Hawes,” Little said that “you who enter the lists as the champion of the oppressed in every land; and the page you this day make in the history of the United States of America, shall wake many a throb of manly pride and womanly sympathy when you … shall be greeted as veterans of the last Revolution, heroes to us, who witness this holy consecration of self—this brave sacrifice of home and ease, and heart treasures.”

Forming early on Saturday, April 27, the Castine Light Infantry started its march to Bucksport and a waiting steamer at 5 a.m. “The company, encouraged by the cheers of the ladies, was escorted by many of our principal citizens” as a band played “enlivening strains of martial music,” the correspondent wrote.

Their escorts accompanied the militiamen “as far as North Castine,” which lies on modern Route 166, and then “bade them an affectionate adieu.” As the Castine company vanished northward toward Orland (the town between Bucksport and Castine), onlookers hoped the militiamen “would a give a good account of themselves, if needs be, in the day of Battle.”

They certainly would. Arriving in Bangor, the Castine Light Infantry became Co. B, 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment, destined for glory at First Manassas.

Old Hancock County had spoken.

Sources: The Meeting Tuesday Night, The Ellsworth American, Friday, April 26, 1861 and Friday, May 3, 1861

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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