A heart-felt weekend sent 200 new soldiers to war

Crowds line up rows deep on Broadway in Manhattan to cheer for the 7th Regiment marching along the Great White Way in spring 1861. Infantry companies leaving particular Maine towns at that time encountered smaller, yet just as emotional crowds. (Harper’s Weekly)

Discipline held some 200 departing soldiers in their ranks at Steamboat Landing at Belfast on Monday, May 20, 1861 — but tears still flowed.

Scrambling that spring to form infantry regiments, Maine Governor Israel Washburn Jr and Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon created Nos. 1 through 6 by blending existing militia companies with newly recruited companies. To help fill the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment forming at Rockland, state officials called up the Belfast City Greys, commanded by Capt. Silas M. Fuller, a 42-year-old Belfast merchant. First Lieutenant Alden D. Chase was 39, and 2nd Lt. Horatio H. Carter was 38. Both men lived in Belfast,

The City Greys became the 4th Maine’s Co. K.

Henry W. Cunningham, a 48-year-old engineer from Belfast, recruited the regiment’s Co. A and got its captaincy. From Montville in the Waldo County hills came 1st Lt. Richard S. Ayer, and up from Rockland came 2nd Lt. Isaac C. Abbott.

Belfast residents honored their fledgling warriors with a ceremonious sendoff that began when “a large crowd filled Peirces’ Hall” in downtown Belfast on Saturday evening, May 18, 1861, said Republican Journal editor and publisher William H. Simpson, as rabidly pro-Democratic as any anti-Republican Maine newspaper editor would be during the war. Despite his well-articulated doubts about the Lincoln Administration’s goals, he knew many men leaving Belfast to fight; Simpson set aside his editorial horn-blowing for this particular weekend.

As Mainers were wont to do, organizers elected officers, including William O. Poor as the meeting’s president. Simpson was elected a secretary, along with W. M. Rust, and organizers chose 12 vice presidents.

After [making] remarks pertinent to the occasion,” Poor called Maj. Thomas H, Marshall up front, and “Miss Livia Angier … in behalf of the ladies of Belfast, presented him a pair of revolvers.” Marshall “responded in remarks of considerable length” while thanking “the generosity of the donors.” Other young women presented revolvers to four other Belfast officers

Fuller formed the Greys “in line fronting the rostrum,” and the company received “an elegant banner … a beautiful United States ensign, made of rich and heavy silk 41 by 70 inches” in size, Simpson noted. Atop the staff perched “a beautiful gilt eagle” and a pendant from which hung “gilt tassels and cord.”

Three speakers rounded out the program, and “the meeting then adjourned.”

On Sunday morning, the soldiers “attended divine services” at the Universalist church, built in 1839 at the corner of Court and Spring streets. In 1861 the pastor was Rev. Frederic A. Hodsdon, who would become chaplain of the 24th Maine Infantry Regiment in September 1862.

The Universalist church in Belfast, Maine was packed when two 4th Maine Infantry companies attended a religious service there on Sunday, May 19, 1861. (History of the city of Belfast in the state of Maine)

The house was appropriately decorated with flags for the occasion, a large American flag suspended over the pulpit,” Simpson reported. All pews except those “reserved for the companies” were filled to overflowing, he noticed.

The companies then marched in, filling the edifice with the unwonted sound of martial music, and the tramp of soldiery,” he said.

An organ solo, a prayer, and “the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ … sung by Mrs. Lizzie Baker” opened the service. The choir joined Baker on the last two verses and, after selected scriptures “were then read,” sang “God bless our Native Land.”

Drawing his sermon from Isaiah 9. Hodsdon said, “Soldiers, I would utter no flattery, certainly no irreverence, but I cannot but gaze on you as part of the army of the living God, going forth for the defence of the dearest blessing ever given to a nation. I had hoped never to see the occasion, but it has come, and thank God, he has raised up hosts” to “be terrible to the enemy, but merciful to the vanquished.

Let no blood guiltiness stain your cause,” Hodsdon told the soldiers.

The choir sang “God save to Union” to close the service. “Then at the sharp word of command, the soldiers filed into the aisles, formed ranks, and marched out to the sound of fife and drum, followed by the audience generally,” Simpson observed.

Two 4th Maine Infantry companies boarded the steamer Daniel Webster at Steamboat Landing in Belfast on Monday, May 20, 1861 for a short cruise to Rockland. (Wikipedia)

On Monday morning, May 20, the two companies marched to Steamboat Landing to board the steamer Daniel Webster, a familiar sight along the Maine coast. When the soldiers “marched to the wharf, a very large crowd accompanied them, which, joined to those already there, largely composed of females, made one of the largest gatherings ever seen in our city,” according to Simpson.

The soldiers stood in their lines while awaiting the order to board the steamer. “Discipline did not permit them to leave the ranks,” Simpson said, “but friends crowded around, hands were pressed, words of farewell spoken, and prayers for safe return uttered.”

He noticed that “cheeks that will never blanch in the presence of an enemy were pale with the pain of parting, and hands shook at the farewell pressure that will not tremble when drawing the sword.” Women probably cried quite freely; looking closely at the stalwart soldiers, Simpson said, “It may be that manly cheeks confessed to a tear.”

Forward!” an officer shouted, and the soldiers marched “in close order” onto the steamer. “The bell sounded, and as the boat glided away, cheer on cheer rent the air,” Simpson said.

Thus departed those with whom go the smiles, the prayers and the hearts of thousands of fair women, and the hopes of men,” he said. “God speed them.”

Sources: Local Military Matters, Republican Journal, Friday, May 24, 1861; Joseph Williamson, History of the city of Belfast in the state of Maine, Vol. 1, Loring, Short, and Harmon, Portland, ME, 1877, pp. 309-310

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Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. 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 visionsofmaine@tds.net.