SWANVILLE — On Sept. 19, 1864, 21-year-old Capt. Ira Gardner of Patten found himself leading Company I of the 14th Maine Infantry against rebel troops on the outskirts of Winchester, Virginia. He was squarely in the middle of the largest Civil War battle ever fought in the Shenandoah Valley. In “charging across the field we were exposed to heavy fire from the rebel line in the edge of the woods,” Gardner recalled. “I had felt all morning that I should be hit, perhaps killed; I had crossed the field, the rebel line had retreated and had gone perhaps fifty feet into the woods, when I was hit.”

When Gardner returned to consciousness. he found “Sergt. Dick Ashton tying a handkerchief around my arm trying to stop the blood. I started to the rear supporting my injured arm by the wrist and had to recross the field over which we had charged, but being in so much agony I almost wished that some of the shells would make an end of me.”

When Gardner finally reached the house-turned-field hospital, the doctor examined him and quickly determined that his right arm needed to be amputated. Gardner pleaded with the doctor not remove his limb. The doctor responded: “I think I shall have to in order to save your life.” With help of a few drops of chloroform, the wounded soldier was out. When he awoke, he impulsively yelled: “Doctor, don’t you take that arm off.” The doctor replied simply: “It’s off.” If not for the kind attention of the woman who owned the home, who checked on him frequently and monitored his pulse, Gardner would have died; before he left, he gave her a $5 gold piece.

Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 19, 1864, some 40,000 Union soldiers under Gen. Philip Sheridan were destined to struggle in several major battles during the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. During this operation some 2,000 Maine soldiers would fight here. Of this number nearly 500 men, or some 25 percent, would end up killed, wounded or missing. Many of these fatalities would be buried at the national cemetery in Winchester. The casualties would originate from four Maine infantry regiments and two artillery units. Among these would be the 1st Maine Veteran Infantry and the 12th, 14th and 29th Maine Infantry Regiments. The 1st and 5th Maine Artillery Batteries would clash here as well.

On Sept. 19, 1901, 37 years later to the day after he was wounded there, Ira Gardner returned to Winchester. “An unerring instinct guided Captain Gardner to the house in which he lay that memorable night and he met the same woman who was so kind to him. It was Mrs. Charles L. Wood, and not knowing who her visitors were and being asked to talk of the fight Mrs. Wood related among others the very incident in which the Captain figured and spoke of him as the only one who ever gave her anything.”

Imagine her surprise when Gardner identified himself to her. Once recovered from the shock, she invited them into the front hall, where Gardner had lain for the night after his arm was amputated. Gardner remembered his “arm had bled very much” and in the morning when he awoke, he found the comforter on which he had lain was “saturated with blood. There upon the floor, thirty-seven years afterward, the blood stains still shown plainly, having changed the color of the wood so much that the lady said although she had made many attempts to do so, she had been unable to erase them.” Those bloodstains are there still.

The Maine Legislature recently passed a resolution endorsing the placement of a permanent marker upon the battlefield to commemorate the sacrifice of Maine soldiers such as Ira Gardner, but no state funding has been approved for this private effort. So far, we have raised about half the money needed to erect a monument to these brave Maine men. I ask all those who read these words to assist in memorializing the service of these veterans. Please consider making a contribution to the Maine Monument Fund in care of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation, Attn. Maine Monument Fund, P.O. Box 897, 9386 S. Congress St., New Market, VA 22844.


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