Sumter’s 9/11 aftermath: Penobscot Bay reacts to war

American patriots raise a flag-topped liberty pole in 1776. In similar style, residents in a Midcoast Maine town raised a 75-foot liberty pole on Tuesday, April 23, 1861 before attending a patriotic rally in the local school. (Library of Congress)

As happened after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Fort Sumter assault briefly united loyal Americans against an outrage committed against their country and upon their fellow Americans. Events taking place in Stockton and Belfast in coastal Waldo County that last full week in April 1861 exemplified Mainers’ response to the nation’s first 9/11-style disaster.

Stockton — the town would later become Stockton Springs — spread along the western shore where the Penobscot River reaches Penobscot Bay. Its population concentrated around Cape Jellison, especially in the village later bypassed by Route 1 (to the town’s betterment), Stockton focused economically on the sea.

The Waldo County seat (or “shiretown”), Belfast straddled the Passagassawakeag River about eight miles to the west. Incorporated as a Massachusetts town in and as a Maine city in 1850, Belfast bustled with businesses that supported agriculture, logging, and other economic activity in the towns hidden among the Waldo County hills.

Stockton Springs, a town in coastal Waldo County, fronted on the town’s harbor (foreground). The spire of Stockton Springs Community Church rises above the spring foliage. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

People unleashed their patriotic fervor across Maine in mid- to late April 1861. Folks in Stockton and Belfast joined the love-of-country ballyhoo that some 21st-century Mainers might call antiquated, quaint, as perhaps nationalistic.

But in those early weeks after Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, loyal Mainers recognized the affront to their country and a real insurrection — “rebellion” was the proper term — when they saw it, and they sure as heck weren’t going to take it lying down.

On Tuesday, April 23, Stockton residents — the town later became Stockton Springs — “without regard to party or sect, assembled at the Village and raised a fine Liberty Pole” standing “seventy-five feet high, and displayed the stars and stripes amid the loud cheers of the crowd.”

A “witness building” to that event still stands. In 1853 Stockton sea captains financed a new Universalist church constructed on the hill rising north from the village. Established as a Universalist congregation and now known as the Stockton Springs Community Church, the church raised a magnificent white steeple, from which the church’s bell peeled that long-ago Tuesday.

Once the clamor dimmed, “on [the] motion of [sea] Capt. Sebra Crooker[,] the citizens proceeded to the School house to hear what might be said on the occasion,” reported the Republican Journal, published in Belfast by William H. Simpson.

Built as a Universalist house of worship in 1853, the now non-demoninational Stockton Springs Community Church stands on Church Street. The church’s bell peeled repeatedly on Tuesday evening, April 23, 1861 as local residents rallied for the Union. (BFS)

In a few minutes the house was filled to overflowing,” and Stockton residents accustomed to organizing their own town meetings quickly named Crooker as chairman and J. G. Lambert as secretary. He provided the article published by the Journal.

After Crooker made “some very appropriate remarks … setting forth the object of the meeting,” residents stood and shared their thoughts. “Each speaker advocated the strongest Union sentiments, and his avowed purpose to stand by the stars and stripes at all hazards.”

The phrasing indicates that only men spoke. Women listened (and whispered) and applauded, as “each speaker … was often interrupted by loud and prolonged cheers.”

Then young Dr. P. Sprague Haskell stood and praised the 16 Stockton volunteers already signed up to defend the Union.

The promptness with which they have tendered their services to our country in the hour of her peril, is a striking indication of the value of her institutions,” Haskell said. “And, while we are confident that in the coming struggle they will act well their part, may they feel assured that there will go out with them the hearts and prayers of a grateful people.”

Haskell then circulated “a subscription paper” seeking financial commitments to help outfit the Stockton recruits. The paper “was generously responded by the citizens generally,” wrote Lambert

Nothing further being offered[,] the meeting adjourned with three cheers for the Constitution and the Union,” he reported. “Much enthusiasm prevailed.”

Boats line inner Belfast harbor, where Route 1 traffic crosses the Passagassawakeag River on a bridge dating to the 1960s. The seat of Waldo County, Belfast hummed with patriotic and recruiting fervor during the weeks after Fort Sumter. (BFS)

Most Stockton recruits joined the nascent 4th Maine Infantry Regiment, then forming along the Midcoast. Already Belfast patriot Henry W. Cunningham had raised a company, which “reported for duty” in late April, William Simpson reported on May 3. The fledgling soldiers elected Cunningham as their captain, George Gunn of nearby Searsmont as first lieutenant, and Richard S. Ayer of Montville (another interior Waldo County town) as second lieutenant.

The company is a fine looking body of men, young, hardy, accustomed to labor, and equal to all the hardships of campaign life,” Simpson observed. Living temporarily in “the New England House,” the soldiers “are daily drilled at Peirce’s Hall, by Lieut. E. H. Reynolds.”

William H. Simpson published the Republican Journal, a pro-Democrat paper that initially supported the war effort. Simpson turned against the war after the useless slaughter of Union troops at Fredericksburg in December 1862. (

Meanwhile, Capt. Thomas H. Marshall, “of the City Greys,” appeared at the Belfast armory on Saturday, April 27 and “opened enlisting papers” to form another company. Twenty-five signed their names on the appropriate lines, and within a few days “enough recruits have been added to make the number up to 75 members,” wrote Simpson.

The company is now drilling preparatory to active service,” he noted.

All Belfast buzzed with war talk. That Saturday night, city councilors met and discussed (what else) the war. They unanimously passed three resolutions:

• “That we hear with profound regret and astonishment that a deep laid plot exists to overthrow the United States Government and seize upon its Capital … and that the traitors are now marching upon Washington.”

• “The city of Belfast and her citizens pledge to the general Government all the men and means in our power to assist them to defend and maintain its integrity.”

• “That we commend our citizen soldiery about to leave us, and such others as may continue to do so at any future time, in defence of our beloved country and Constitution, to the Guardian care of the King of Kings” and that the city councilors, “with our citizens generally, will faithfully protect and defend their families and interests while they are absent on the mission, and assist them in sickness and in health as if they were our own.”

The city councilors then approved to borrow $5,000 “for the relief of soldier’s families.”

Source: Union Meeting at Stockton and Action of the City, Republican Journal, Friday, May 3, 1861

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

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. —————————————————————————————————————–

Available now: Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Civil War, released by Savas Beatie.

This new book chronicles the swift transition of Joshua L. Chamberlain from college professor and family man to regimental and brigade commander and follows him into combat at Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns.

Drawing on Chamberlain’s extensive memoirs and writings and multiple period sources, historian Brian F. Swartz follows Chamberlain across Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia while examining the determined warrior who let nothing prevent him from helping save the United States.

Order your autographed copy by contacting me at

Passing Through the Fire is also available at or


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