Betty Spearing of Winterport had a connection with Gettysburg when she first visited that battlefield as a child.
She just didn’t know it then, nor when she returned to Gettysburg for the second time.
Thanks to a great uncle, Henry Hathaway, Spearing learned 15 to 20 years ago that her great-great-grandfather, George Henry Fisher, had fought with the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment.
Henry Hathaway had a brother, George, who “was my mother’s father and my grandfather,” said Spearing, who teaches English as a Second Language at Cohen Middle School in Bangor. Henry took “a writing class and in his first chapter he mentioned [that] his great-grandfather had been involved in the Civil War,” Spearing said.
“That’s the first I learned of it,” she said.
Some time later she watched a “Bill Green’s Maine” program that included a piece about Maine and the Civil War. “I saw a pair of white gloves holding a little journal. It was George Fisher’s!” she exclaimed. Her second cousin, Dr. Dean Fisher, had contributed the journal, a canteen, leather and metal shot flasks, and other items of George’s to the Maine State Museum.
Spearing contacted the museum and in October 2002 received a photocopy of George’s wartime diary. She learned that a precious scrap of cloth saved by George had also gone to the museum as a poignant relic of a military disaster.
Born to Henry and Rebecca Fisher July 23, 1836, George Henry Fisher grew up on Fisher Road in Winterport before joining Co. H, 16th Maine Infantry in July 1862. His older brother, Robert, had been lost at sea in October 1856.
George rose to the rank of sergeant before trooping to the Lutheran Seminary and then north to Oak Hill in Gettysburg on Wednesday, July 1, 1863. There the 16th Maine was sacrificed to buy time for other Union troops to escape the Confederate juggernaut, and there George and other comrades surrendered to Confederate infantrymen.
Before surrendering, the 16th Maine soldiers tore the regimental flags (including a national flag) into scraps and stuffed them into their pockets. George kept an American flag fragment that included a dark blue background and a gold star.
Besides the flag scrap, George took with him into captivity his diary. The entry for July 1, 1863 says “Gettysburg” and nothing else.
His captors marched him south across the Potomac River and then “up” the Shenandoah Valley. On Thursday, July 16, George and other prisoners “Marched all day in the rain, drew rations, have plenty to eat.” The next day, the prisoners “Marched to Stanton [and] camped for the night [and] drew rations.” The prisoners arrived at Richmond on July 21 and reported to the notorious prison camp on Belle Isle.
Later exchanged, George returned to the 16th Maine. He was wounded in May 1864 and then captured that August at the Battle of the Weldon Railroad. Surviving imprisonment again, George was paroled in March 1865.
After the war he returned to Winterport. He married Hattie Black, and they had several children. After George died on Aug. 8, 1914, his obituary in the “Bangor Daily Commercial” cited his capture at Gettysburg and mentioned his flag scrap; “this bit of flag has always been kept and cherished deeply by him,” the paper indicated.
After learning about George’s involvement in the war, Betty returned to Gettysburg and focused on where the 16th Maine maneuvered and fought. She has photographed the regiment’s monument and flank markers on Oak Hill and has amassed a notebook full of information about George, his wartime exploits, and his family. She has returned to Gettysburg a fourth time.
“He’s a relative,” Spearing said. “I’ve always been interested in history. It was exciting” to learn that “I had a great-great grandfather involved in the Civil War.”
Spearing and her husband, Richard, have traveled to many battlefields in Virginia, including Appomattox Court House, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor, Five Forks, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and the Wilderness. A trip to the Shenandoah Valley took the Spearings to Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters in Winchester and to several sites in Lexington, such as Jackson’s grave and house, the Virginia Military Institute, and the Washington and Lee University chapel, site of the graves of Robert E. Lee and his horse, Traveler.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.