Summer 1862: The war goes badly for the Union: Lee has driven McClellan away from Richmond’s gates, the Confederate ironclad CSS Arkansas has mocked the Navy by barreling through its blockade upriver from Vicksburg, and everywhere Confederate fortunes rise.
It’s time to “rally around the flag, boys … rally from the hillside, rally from the plains” as President Abraham Lincoln issues a call for 300,000 men to crush the armed rebellion.
In Augusta, a war-weary politician dictates a letter to his constituents:
“Executive Dept. July 4, 1862
TO THE PEOPLE OF MAINE:
An additional number of troops is required by the exigency of the public service, and if raised immediately, it is believed by those who have the best means of knowledge, that the war will be brought to a speedy and glorious issue. Of this number the President of the United States desires and expects that Maine should furnish her proportion or quota.
Our gallant and patriotic State has done her whole duty in the past, and she will not falter nor fail in the present nor the future.
That her natural interests may be protected and advanced; that tranquility and peace may be restored throughout the land; that the Constitution and the Union, which have been to us all the source of unmeasured blessings, may be preserved; that Liberty, of which they were the inspiration and are the selected guardians, may be saved; and that the light of one great example may shine brighter and brighter, to guide, to cheer and to bless the nations; to aid in all of these I invoke of the people of this State a great and hearty response to this new demand upon their patriotism. And may they all unite in the work that is before them, each laboring in his own sphere, doing what he can by his example, influence and sympathy, proffering his treasure, his time, his strength, his heart and his highest hopes to the cause of his country!
General Orders will be issued immediately, giving authority for raising new regiments of infantry and for calling into actual service a portion of the un-uniformed militia of the state.
ISRAEL WASHBURN, JR.
GOVERNOR OF MAINE”
Almost 5,000 men will respond to Washburn’s patriotic plea. Asked to raise four infantry regiments — the 16th, 17th, the 18th, and the 19th — Maine will raise a fifth regiment, the 20th.
The men filling the regimental ranks have various reasons for enlisting. In the 20th Maine, John W. Haley writes that “it may be inferred, and justly so, that patriotism promoted most of these men to enter the service. As far as my own case is concerned, I lay claim to but very little of what goes by that name. Love of a change, an overwhelming desire to see the county … furnished the key to my conduct.
“But here I am, however I came.”
Yes, here were Haley and almost 5,000 comrades, all mustered into Federal service in August 1862. “Yes, we’ll rally around the flag, boys, shouting the battle cry of freedom” became their motto as they headed to war.