On Sunday and Monday, April 28-29, Bridgton Reporter editor Enoch Knight visited “the various companies of the [1st Maine Infantry] Regiment now about leaving for the seat of war.
“Our readers will remember that almost every town in this vicinity [western Cumberland County and adjacent Androscoggin and Oxford counties] has its sons there,” Knight wrote. “Six Brigdton [sic] boys are enrolled, and one more started to join the Auburn Artillery yesterday [May 2].”
To form the 1st Maine Infantry, Maine Adjutant General John L. Hodsdon called up the five militia companies in Portland, the Auburn Artillery, the Lewiston Light Infantry, the Lewiston Zouaves (one of two such spiffily clad companies in Maine), and a recently recruited Portland Rifle Guards company. Bridgton recruit Simeon H. Merrill already belonged to the Portland “Light Guards. His post is already won,” Knight commented.
He identified the other six Bridgton men as N. P. Boston, John Fellows, Ansel Fitch, Charles O. Lamson, George W. Warren, and John N. Wiley.
But confusion exists as to which Bridgton men actually joined the 1st Maine Infantry. Published the same day the regiment mustered into federal service, Knight’s list of Bridgton recruits was possibly incorrect. Hodsdon later identified the five Bridgton men joining the regiment as Algernon H. Churchill (not on Knight’s list), Edwin (not Ansel) Fitch, Lamson, William H. Sanborn (also not on Knight’s list), and Wiley.
But Hodsdon was probably incorrect, too.
The 1st Maine Infantry quickly coalesced in Portland. As for the Bridgton lads, Merrill and Wiley joined Co. C, but Merrill is not on Hodsdon’s Bridgton list. Sanborn went to Co. E, Boston and Fitch to Co. I, and Churchill to Co. K. Charles O. Lamson (Co. C) was credited to Portland.
A “George A. Warren” from Bridgton joined Co. H as a musician and mustered on May 3. Evidently Editor Knight apparently got the right man, but the “W”rong middle initial.
Knight watched the Bridgton lads work at soldiering. “We saw the most of them on drill at their different quarters, and certainly if there is ever pride to feel on any such occasions, our little community … may be proud of her contribution in these ranks,” he said.
“Never was a better show of courage and fitness [displayed] on the part of the boys from the rural districts,” he observed.
A 5-7½ mechanic, the 19-year-old Simeon Merrill had blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion. He was already showing talent. Named a corporal, Merrill “for some time … has been one of the most efficient and thoroughly enthusiastic members of the corps, and holds one of the most important positions as a disciplinarian,” Knight observed.
What he did not realize was that orders passed from the colonel to the captain to a lieutenant to a sergeant to a corporal, who usually got the dirty work. In Co. C, Capt. Menzies Raynor Fessenden was not spending all day, every day, drilling the entire company when he could delegate that responsibility to his two lieutenants, four sergeants, and four corporals.
Merrill got a drill sergeant’s duty, but not the pay. “We saw him drilling recruits in squads, and few men can do it better,” Knight commented. “He not only knows how, and has the confidence of officers and men, but he has a peculiar fitness and aptitude for the accomplished soldier.
“We know he will take an enviable rank in due time,” Knight said.
“But enthusiasm is common to all of the citizen soldiery, and it is a matter of surprise to an outsider, how they at once seem to mould themselves to the new position,” he said.
The 1st Maine boys took their duty seriously. Knight singled out the “Norway Light Infantry” under Capt. George L. Beal, a 35-year-old Norway resident destined for battlefield glory. Designated Co. G, this particular company was “better known to our community,” Knight said.
“The average height of the men is five feet ten and a half inches, and of fine proportions, and, as the officers of the commissary department assured us, are ‘excellent feeders,’” Knight reported. “They are worthy specimens of the ‘Oxford Bears’ and will fight if they get a chance and won[’]t be ‘denned’ or ‘treed.’
Editor Knight was correct about Simeon Merrill achieving higher rank. He mustered out on Aug. 5, 1861 and enlisted in the 11th Maine Infantry Regiment as a second lieutenant (Co. I) on Nov. 2, 1861. By then he listed his occupation as “carriage trimmer, and his growth had topped off at 5-10.
Merrill rose to captain during his three years with the hard-fighting 11th Maine. He survived his military service.
As for certain other Bridgton recruits:
• A 6-2 farmer who apparently lived in Fryeburg, John Fellows had blue eyes, light hair, and a light complexion. Only 19, he mustered into Co. D on May 3 and promptly deserted on June 1.
• For some reason later Maine records identified Nathan P. Boston, as “Nathan P. Barton,” but he’s one and the same, a 6-3 hazel-eyed and brown-haired mechanic who would join the 10th Maine Infantry in March 1862.
• Fitch was Edwin, not Ansel (another Bridgton resident), a 5-10½ farmer with hazel eyes and dark hair who rose to sergeant in the 10th Maine.
• And Algernon Churchill, a 5-11 carpenter with blue eyes and light hair, safely finished his three-month stint with the 1st Maine.
Scheduled to leave for Washington, D.C. ASAP, the 1st Maine lads never really made it out the starting gate. A measles outbreak quarantined them until June 1, when the regiment entrained for the nation’s capital.
Sources: Notes of the War Preparation, The Bridgton Reporter, Friday, May 3, 1861; Brian F. Swartz, Maine at War, Vol. 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, Maine Origins Publications, Brewer, Maine, 2019, pp. 24-25; Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, 1861, Stevens & Sayward, Augusta, Maine, 1862, Appendix D, pp. 16-17, 54-59; Appendix E, p. 1; Nathan P. Boston, Algernon Churchill, Edwin Fitch, John Fellows, and Simeon Merrill soldiers’ files, Maine State Archives
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