July 29, 2011

The fate of the Union

This week, the Maine State Archives will launch a four-year commemoration of Maine's important role in the Civil War.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Joshua Chamberlain, one of Maine's favorite sons, is shown in 1864.

Photos courtesy of the Maine State Archives

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A Civil War-era advertisement, dated 1861, calls for boys and girls to work nine hours a day in Bates Mill in Lewiston making cloth for soldiers' tents.

Additional Photos Below


Commemorative Events

Today: Open house, Fifth Maine Regiment Museum, Peaks Island, 1 to 4 p.m.; speakers, Civil War-era music and children’s activities; admission free.

Friday: “Saving the Union: The Call for Volunteers,” Augusta Civic Center, 1 p.m.; historical readings, musical performances and re-enactment groups; admission free.



Maine and the Civil War

Maine’s 1860 population: 628,279

Total number of Maine troops: 70,107

Maine men in Union Army: 56,000

Maine men in Union Navy: 14,000

Civil War veterans buried in Maine: 38,000

Total deaths during war: 9,398

Killed in battle: 3,184

Deaths from disease: 5,257

Deaths from disease in Confederate prisons: 541

Deaths by drowning and accidents: 118

Maine soldiers murdered: 13

Deaths from sunstroke: 16

Deaths by suicide: 5

Deaths by military execution: 5

Discharged for injury or illness: 5,820

Missing in action: 616

Sources: Maine State Archives and William Fox’s “Regimental Losses in the American Civil War”

"And we have plenty of documents and artifacts across the state illustrating Maine's role in the war," MacIsaac said.

It's not surprising that Maine is such a rich repository of Civil War memorabilia. Mainers tend to save things. Old jars for canning vegetables. Scrap wood to build hunting camps. Grocery bags for all sorts of uses.

Maine's Civil War collections are, however, uniquely comprehensive, organized and well documented, according to Cheever, the state archivist.

The state archives alone contain 14,640 pages of company muster rolls, 180,000 war-related letters, several hundred lithographs, nearly 500 war-related books and journals, the adjutant general's annual reports, 55,000 service cards, 38,000 veterans' grave cards, 500 pieces of war-related legislation and five volumes of State House telegram logs. Many of the items are posted online at www.maine.gov/sos/arc or may be viewed at the archives.

The simplest documents tell extraordinary stories.

In a telegram sent in May 1861, the state's newly appointed surgeon general, Dr. Alonzo Garcelon of Lewiston, notified Gov. Washburn of an outbreak of measles in the Fourth Maine Infantry Regiment that was mustering at Rockland. Garcelon, who would become governor in 1879, asked if he could quarantine the sick soldiers and inoculate the rest.

"Washburn authorized what was then a novel medical procedure," Cheever said.

Legislative records show that 60 percent of the state's annual budgets during the war were spent on the war effort, Cheever said. At one point, while legislators argued over funding the purchase of blankets for Maine soldiers, the state took its first casualty of the war. A soldier died of pneumonia while mustered outside the State House in the freezing cold.

The archives also contain more than 3,100 cartes de visite, or calling cards, that feature photos of Maine soldiers. The Union Army didn't issue dog tags, so many soldiers carried the popular 2-by-4-inch cards so they could be identified if they were killed in battle.

Unfortunately, unsanitary camp conditions proved more dangerous than bullets and caused many soldiers to contract every imaginable disease. Of an estimated 620,000 men who died in the war, Union and Confederate soldiers combined, 414,000 or two-thirds died from disease. Among Maine's casualties, 3,184 men were killed in battle and 5,257 died from disease.

Chamberlain, Maine's most famous Civil War soldier, contracted malaria following his success at Gettysburg and was relieved of duty in late 1863 until he recovered. He returned in early 1864 to command the 20th Maine in the 10-month Siege of Petersburg.

In June, Chamberlain was shot through the hip and groin, a near-mortal wound that forced him to wear an early catheter and undergo several futile operations throughout his life to relieve relentless pain and infections.

Regardless of his injuries, Chamberlain was back on the battlefield by November 1864.

"There was always the possibility that your mortal demise was at hand," Cheever said. "Many more died from disease than were killed in battle, and those who didn't die often wished they had."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:



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Additional Photos

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A letter by Attorney General Josiah Drummond warned Gov. Israel Washburn in 1862 against appointing Chamberlain lieutenant colonel.

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