Rural recruits knew their “real” captain by sight

Maine’s adjutant general might believe otherwise, but the some four-score enthusiastic volunteers reporting for duty in rural Maine in mid-spring 1861 knew exactly who commanded them.

Responding to the Fort Sumter news, young (and not so young) Piscataquis County men had enlisted in a local company by late April. The Maine Legislature had carved the county from Penobscot and Somerset counties in March 1838; extremely rural then, Piscataquis remains Maine’s least populous county to this day. The towns of Dover (the county seat) and Foxcroft bordered each other along the Piscataquis River (the towns would merge as Dover-Foxcroft in March 1922).

Dedicated in October 1893, the Civil War monument erected in Foxcroft, Maine stood on the site of the former Foxcroft Academy. Foxcroft later merged with neighboring Dover, so the monument now honors the veterans of Dover-Foxcroft. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Moses W. Brown, a 42-year-old Brownville resident, initially served as the company’s commander, and as such he mustered as its captain on July 15, 1861. However, Dover and Foxcroft residents already called a particular Foxcroft neighbor “captain” — and he did not disappoint them.

Based on the 1860 U.S. Census, a confusing pedigree could enshroud Charles H. Chandler, Capt. Brown’s first lieutenant. According to the 1860 U.S. Census, 39-year-old Charles H. Chandler lived in Foxcroft with his wife, Eliza (about five years younger than him) and their four children. According to that same census, 37-year-old Charles H. Chandler lived in Sebec in June 1860 with his wife, Lucy. He was a farmer with real estate valued at $1,500.

What were the odds that Foxcroft and Sebec, which shared a common boundary, each sheltered a Charles H. Chandler? Quite high, indeed!

Foxcroft’s Charles H. was Charles Holmes Chandler, born to James Jewett and Harriet Chandler on October 7, 1821 in Garland in neighboring Penobscot County. Other sources list his birth date as November 20, 1821, but despite the natal confusion, the year remains the same. By spring 1861 the 39-year-old Chandler worked as an engineer. He had blue eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion and stood 5-10.

Sebec’s Charles H. was Charles Harrison Chandler, born circa 1823 to Ichabod and Sophia (Boardman) Chandler. I find no records that he served in the army.

So Capt. Charles Holmes Chandler made sure that “the Volunteer Company,” numbering “upwards of 80 men,” formed — “were drawn up in order” — on the Foxcroft Commons at 9 a.m., Wednesday, May 22. Reverend C. M. Herring prayed, and afterwards “a sack of ‘Nick Nacks’ were presented to each member of the company, from the ladies of Foxcroft and Dover.”

Four local luminaries (all men) then spoke. Moses Brown definitely was not present with the company when “Capt. Chandler … then proposed three cheers for the wives, mothers, sisters and ladies of Piscataquis [County], where were given with a will.” Chandler was technically a first lieutenant, but his men called him “captain.”

Neither the cheering recruits nor the women watching them could predict who would or would not return home. Among the fledgling soldiers was 22-year-old Sewall (or Sewell) C. Gray, a 22-year-old laborer from Exeter, a rural town (then and now) the other side of Charleston Hill in Penobscot County. Enlisting as the company’s first sergeant, he stood 6-foot even and had blue eyes and brown hair. He was single (fortunately in a sad way), and he would rise to command the company by spring 1863.

Sewall Gray would die a hero’s death charging up Marye’s Heights during Second Fredericksburg.

Another recruit was John C. Washburn, a 40-year-old “shook maker” from Guilford, upriver from Foxcroft. Standing 6 feet and a half inch tall, he had dark eyes, dark hair, and a dark complexion. Perhaps “dark” best described his patriotic commitment; enlisting on April 27 and mustering as a musician on July 15, he would desert on October 12.

A 5-9, hazel-eyed and brown-haired farmer from Sangerville (which bordered Dover and Guilford), 19-year-old Amasa Galusha enlisted as a private. Disease would kill him far from home on October 7, 1861.

Oliver Brown was a 35-year-old married “mechanic” from Foxcroft. The records do not confirm that his wife stood in the crowd that Wednesday, watching her 6-1½ husband leave for the war. She would soon welcome him home; the army would discharge Brown for disability on September 6.

A similar fate awaited another Foxcroft recruit standing on the town commons that May 22. Possibly named for the victor at Waterloo, 35-year-old Wellington Besser was a mechanic like Brown, but was unmarried. He had blue eyes and brown hair and stood 5-7¼, very close to the average height of Maine recruits during the war. An April 24 recruit (among the company’s first), he would receive a disability discharge on October 4.

Brothers Alonzo and Alphonso Bradley of Dover stood in the ranks on Foxcroft Common. Their soldiers’ files and another source indicate the Bradleys were 20, but a third source reports Alonzo as 19 and Alphonzo as 18. Both were farmers, and if they were twins, the resemblance stopped at “fraternal.” Standing 5-8, Alonzo had blue eyes, light hair, and a fair complexion; Alphonzo stood 5-7 and had blue eyes, dark hair, and a dark complexion.

Disease would kill Alonzo at a hospital in Point Lookout, Maryland on December 10, 1862. Alphonzo would receive an honorable discharge on August 15, 1864.

After cheering for their womenfolk, the recruits then delivered “a roaring three-times-three” cheer “for their drill master,” a Sgt. Jefferds. Horse-drawn carriages waited to transport the company to Bangor; the men “comfortably seated” themselves, and the “leave taking soon commenced.”

The wording suggests the recruits remained in their respective carriages while friends and relatives said their farewells. “Good bye, George,” one person said; “good bye, Charley,” another spoke.

Take good care of yourselves, boys,” seemed to be the quote of the day. Then “the drums beat,” civilians stepped away from the carriages, “the drivers cracked their whips,” and the carriages rolled away around 10 a.m.

Thus our playmates of bygone days, with whom we passed the morning of our life, left the scenes of their childish sports, to encounter the turmoils and vicissitudes attending a soldier’s life,” said Piscataquis Observer publisher George V. Edes. “Good luck attend them.”

The departing “Volunteer Company” became Co. A, 6th Maine Infantry Regiment, which mustered into federal service in Portland on July 15. Rising from captain to lieutenant colonel, Charles Holmes Chandler would fight on the Peninsula, but age and field service would take their physical toll. He would resign his commission on March 9, 1863.

Sources: “Good Bye, Volunteers!”, Piscataquis Observer, Thursday, May 23, 1861; 1860 U.S. Census for Foxcroft, Maine; 1860 U.S. Census for Sebec, Maine; Charles H. Chandler, Sewall C. Gray, John C. Washburn, Amasa Galusha, Oliver Brown, Wellington Besser, Alonzo Bradley, and Alphonzo Bradley soldiers’ files, Maine State Archives; Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine, 1861, Stevens & Sayward, Augusta, ME, 1863, Appendix D, pp. 311-312; MAGR, 1863, Stevens & Sayward, Augusta, ME, 1863, Appendix D, pp. 220-221


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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