Not until six Confederate bullets accomplish what Comanche arrows could not does Bangor finally claim the Foxcroft kid named for a Navy hero.
Susan (Heald) Carpenters bears her husband, Joshua, a son in Foxcroft on May 14, 1818. A militia officer during the recently concluded war, Col. Carpenter names his bouncing baby boy Stephen Decatur to honor the American sailor of Barbary Pirate fame.
Joshua cannot imagine that his son will be a hero, too, albeit in other wars and at later times.
Stephen Decatur Carpenter graduates from West Point on July 1, 1840, joins the 1st Infantry Regiment as a shave tail lieutenant, and fights Seminoles, Mexicans, and Comanches, in that order.
He traipses from post to post in the Upper Midwest, where he marries Margaret Gear while at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. Her father apparently was Ezekial Gear, an Episcopal minister who served as the fort’s chaplain and as a missionary among local Indians.
Ancestry.com postings indicate that the Carpenters have a daughter, Alice. After her father dies years later, she will become a ward of Iowa resident John Gear, likely a relative of her mother, and later marries her ward’s son.
Margaret Carpenter later dies at Fort Terrett in Texas.
Then Stephan Decatur Carpenter establishes a Bangor connection. In 1856 he marries Laura Clark, the adopted daughter of the Queen City’s Richmond Hayward. The Carpenters soon have a daughter, Sara Elvira, whose birth date and location remained clouded.
Laura Carpenter accompanies her husband to Texas, where circa 1857-58 he establishes his Comanche-fighter bonafides. While stationed at Fort Lancaster, Carpenter rides out one day with the post surgeon and five enlisted men to find a tree suitable for a flagpole.
Far from the fort, 20 Comanche warriors ambush “the little party,” which “was saved only by the coolness and intrepidity of its leader,” Charles P. Roberts will inform a rapt Bangor audience during Carpenter’s funeral on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1863.
With Comanche arrows dropping around him, Carpenter conceals his men in the tall grass. The Comanches encircle their perceived easy pickings and finally charge; Carpenter orders his men to shoot.
“Captain Carpenter, with wonderful quickness of motion, dispatched two savages with his revolver in instantaneous succession,” Roberts will tell Bangoreans. Leaving behind five dead warriors and Carpenter with an arrow stuck through his hand, the Comanches flee.
But marital happiness eludes Maine’s Indian fighter. Laura dies at Fort Stockton, Texas in late 1860, possibly after giving birth to Carpenter’s son. Then when Texas secedes from the Union, Army Brig. Gen. David Twiggs betrays the Federal troops under his command in the Lone Star State; he surrenders them and every fort to Confederate militia.
Carpenter will have nothing of it. He commands Camp Cooper, an outpost on the road to California. When some 1,000 Confederate surround the fort and their commander demands its surrender, Carpenter tells them to go to hell.
“He … declared that rather than surrender as demanded, the bones of himself and his men should bleach on the prairie,” Roberts reports about six years later. “His subordinate officers, in council, shared the noble and heroic resolution.”
The Confederate commander realizes that the Comanche fighter will not hesitate to shoot. He negotiates a deal: If Carpenter abandons Camp Cooper, he and his men can march “with their arms and their country’s untarnished flag, to Indianola, the nearest place on the coast, seven hundred and fifty miles” away on Matagorda Bay, Roberts says.
Carpenter’s men probably march out with their weapons loaded and a desire for vengeance burning in their hearts. Twiggs, that traitor who will join the Confederate army and will not survive the impending war, has caused many loyal soldiers to languish in captivity.
Not Carpenter: He will shoot first and not ask questions later. For several weeks he leads his men on a trek across central Texas to the Gulf Coast, where as “the last U.S. troops which quitted Texas, they embarked for Key West,” Roberts reminds his listeners.
Sara Elvira and the baby boy, John, may accompany their father on the arduous journey. The details are sketchy; promoted to major on May 14, 1861, Carpenter soon leaves Florida for a recruiting assignment in Indianapolis. He probably visits Bangor, where 9½-month-old John dies on July 7. The toddler is buried near today’s Riverside Drive in Mount Hope Cemetery.
In Indiana, Carpenter recruits soldiers for the regular Army’s 19th Infantry Regiment while training raw Indiana state regiments. In early spring 1862, Stephen Decatur takes his regulars to Pittsburgh Landing, about 10 miles “up” the Tennessee River from Savannah, Tenn.
On Sunday, April 6, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston hurls his large Confederate army at the poorly deployed Union army commanded by Gen. Ulysses Simpson Grant. The battle rages all day, and sunset finds Grant and his shattered divisions holding onto a final defensive line almost atop Pittsburg Landing.
Every available Union soldier hurries to help. Carpenter’s 19th Infantry regulars “had been huddled, during the night [of April 6-7], on board a steamboat, without room to lie down, exposed to a drenching rain,” Roberts describes the miserable weather that engulfed soldiers North and South that dark spring night.
“Without breakfast or even a mug of coffee,” Carpenter and his men “went into the work of retrieving the waning fortunes of the preceding day,” Roberts says. “Major Carpenter’s battalion (actually four companies) occupied” the center of the Union line, “which was hardest pushed by the enemy.”
Confederate troops launch an assault, evidently their last. “Seeing the imminent danger which menaced his position,” Carpenter asks Gen. Lovell Rousseau, “his particular friend, for an Indiana regiment which he had drilled, and had confidence in,” Roberts reports.
The Indiana boys march immediately, and Carpenter forms their regiment “in front of his nearly exhausted battalion.” Together the Indiana volunteers and the Army regulars repel the Confederate attack.
Carpenters loses 37 regulars on this bloody Monday, April 7, 1862. He later participates in the Battle of Corinth, Miss. and probably fights at Perryville, Ky. in October.
After that bare-knuckle, knockdown brawl that strewed the rolling central Kentucky hills with bodies and parts thereof, Confederate troops abandon the Bluegrass State. Union forces pursue them into central Tennessee.
On Dec. 26, Federal divisions leave Nashville to advance toward Murfreesboro, where Gen. Braxton Bragg has consolidated a substantial Confederate army. Carpenter leads about 150 men of the 19th Infantry Regiment; war, sickness, and deployments elsewhere have thinned its ranks.
On Tuesday, Dec. 31, each army commander envisions delivering a thundering left hook against his unsuspecting opponent. Confederate divisions quietly file through the pre-dawn darkness; Union troops awaken and leisurely prepare breakfast before launching their so-called “surprise” attack.
Screaming the Rebel yell, Confederate infantrymen strike first and strike hard. The Federal right wing all but collapses, but scattered companies and regiments form temporary bulwarks that buy precious time.
Maj. Stephen Decatur Carpenter maneuvers his 19th Infantry to protect Batteries H and M, 4th U.S. Artillery as enemy infantrymen maneuver through the cedar thickets near the Cowan House ruins. He faces a full brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Daniel S. Donelson, nephew of the late President Andrew Jackson.
The Cowan House ruins split apart the attacking troops; the 8th Tennessee Infantry Regiment shifts to the west and runs squarely into the 19th Infantry.
The regiments shoot each other apart on terrain later called “Hell’s Half Acre.” The 8th Tennessee’s commander, Col. W.L. Moore, dies when shot in the heart, but his troops press Carpenter’s men backwards.
Seeing enemy soldiers overlapping his command’s flank, Carpenter tells his men to fall back. Confederate officers sense their advantage; “no sooner did the enemy see us retreating, than they opened fire on us again,” remembers Pvt. Joseph R. Prentice, assigned to Co. E.
“Scatter and run, boys!” he hears Carpenter shout. Confederates fire another volley, and six bullets simultaneously strike Carpenter — two in the head and four in the body; he pitches dead from his wounded horse.
The frightened animal bolts. “I was about to join the rest in the rush to a place of safety when I heard a horse bearing down on me like mad,” Prentice recalls.
The surviving 19th Infantry soldiers retain some cohesion as they retreat. Prentice joins them, relates what happened to their brave major, and volunteers to recover Carpenter’s body.
“Back I went at the top of my speed, and as soon as I entered the clearing the enemy’s sharpshooters opened a brisk fire on me,” Prentice says. “Still I was bound to find the major if possible, and knowing about where he fell, rushed to that spot.
“Bullets ploughed up little puffs of dust at my feet and whistled around my head,” he says. “A short spurt more and I was at the place.
“But, poor fellow, he was past need of human assistance,” Prentice recalls. “Nevertheless I picked him up and carried him to my rear, my ears filled with the mournful dirge of the bullets that threatened me at every step.”
Carpenter “was buried on the field, whence his remains were taken by his brother officers and sent to this city,” Roberts tells his audience 32 days later.
Ironically, an Army order promoting Carpenter to lieutenant colonel arrives in Murfreesboro not long after his death. The Army ships him home to Bangor; his body arrives on a Maine Central Railroad on the evening on Monday, Feb. 2, 1863.
On Saturday evening, the Bangor City Council meets in special session to resolve “that the Mayor and Two Aldermen … be a committee to procure a burial lot” for Carpenter and “that the City Council will attend his funeral.”
So Joshua Carpenter, the War of 1812 veteran, outlives his heroic son and attends his Episcopalian-themed funeral at Norumbega Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Two local militia companies — the Independent Fusileers and the Independent Volunteers — escort Carpenter to the hall and then to Mount Hope Cemetery.
Attorney Charles P. Roberts delivers the eulogy, and with the Bangor Band playing appropriate music, the flag-draped coffin rolls out State Street to Mount Hope Cemetery.
“The funeral car … was preceded by a color guard of returned and wounded soldiers, bearing the ensign of the Union,” the Whig and Courier reports on Feb. 12. Carpenter’s relatives — including his elderly father, who now lives in Houlton — accompany the body to a gravesite near the intersection of today’s Riverside Avenue and Monument Avenue in Mount Hope Cemetery. There he is buried alongside his little boy.
On Friday, June 17, 1864, local dignitaries and a large crowd gather near Carpenter’s grave to dedicate Bangor’s Civil War Memorial, now called the “Soldiers’ Monument.” According to its engraving, the monument was erected “In Memory Of Our Citizen Soldiers Who Died For Their Country.”
The names of fallen Bangor (or Bangor-affiliated) soldiers are etched on three sides. Stephen Decatur Carpenter tops the list on the side facing intown Bangor.
Relatives relocate Stephen Decatur and John Carpenter elsewhere in the cemetery in 1881. They now lie in plot 718CG, just off Central Avenue.
Yet Stephen Decatur Carpenter lives on. As he marched toward Murfreesboro in late 1862, Carpenter brought with him his school-age daughter, Sara Elvira. She survived her father and mother, married, and had children. Her descendants live into the 21st century.