Blanket Brigade: Forming the regiment

 

Just hours after the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment captured the Stone Wall and Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg in early May 1863, one battle-shrunken company posed for this epic photograph. These combat veterans are wearing uniforms and carrying equipment similar to that supplied to the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment at Augusta in early August 1862. (Library of Congress)

Just hours after the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment captured the Stone Wall and Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg in early May 1863, one battle-shrunken company posed for this epic photograph. These combat veterans are wearing uniforms and carrying equipment similar to that supplied to the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment at Augusta in early August 1862. (Library of Congress)

In early April 1862, United States Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas ordered that recruiting cease in the loyal states. On April 3, Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon issued General Order No. 11, directing that “all officers and others engaged” in “Volunteer recruiting service in this state” should “close their several offices and [points of] rendezvous.”

But the Lincoln Administration miscalculated its manpower needs. Even before George McClellan oozed the Army of the Potomac through the Chickahominy River swamps and into the Seven Days’ Battles later that year, the War Department reopened the recruiting spigot.

Hodsdon’s General Order No. 12, issued on May 22, called for the creation of “one Regiment of Infantry, the Sixteenth of Maine Volunteers … to serve for three years or during the war, if sooner ended.” The new regiment would field “not less than” 866 men and “nor more than 1,046 men, in the aggregate.”

Recruiters must accept only “able-bodied men” from age 18 to “under the age of forty-five years.” Youngsters under age 18 could enlist with “the written consent of their parents or guardians.”

Each recruiter must find “some reputable physician to examine candidates for enlistment,” General Order No. 12 indicated. While a doctor must check every potential enlistee, he would receive only 25 cents per recruit “finally accepted by the United States mustering officer.”

According to Hodsdon, the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment would muster at Augusta, preferably as soon as possible.

But events hindered the regiment’s formation. Reflecting the ongoing strategic disarray at the War Department, Maine Gov. Israel Washburn learned within a few days from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that the Lincoln Administration needed even more soldiers “at the earliest moment practicable.”

On May 26, Hodsdon issued General Order No. 13, which called for three more infantry regiments to form in Maine for 90 days’ service with the Army. Potential soldiers signed on immediately; who would rather not serve for three months rather than three years?

But within 24 hours, Lorenzo Thomas telegraphed Washburn that Stanton had withdrawn his request for the short-term regiments. On May 27, Hodsdon issued General Order No. 13, instructing recruiters to “cease enlisting from this date” and discharging all 90-day recruits.

Where they had needed only 1,000 able-bodied men (Hodsdon’s italics) on May 22, recruiters had briefly sought 4,000 men from May 26 to May 27. Now only the 16th Maine Infantry was needed.

Recruits dribbled into the 16th Maine camp at Augusta as May faded from the calendar. “From every part of the state, recruits came forward slowly in June,” said Adjutant Abner Small of Waterville. Of the recruits reporting for duty, failed medical examinations sent some patriotic men home on the next available stage or train.

But the jumpy Stanton — like the equally gullible George Brinton McClellan, he saw a Confederate lurking under every Virginia bush that spring —soon decided that more regiments were necessary after all. On Saturday, July 5, Hodsdon’s office issued General Order No. 16 to create two full-term infantry regiments. The 17th Maine would form at Portland, the 18th Maine at Bangor — and this time Lincoln, not Stanton, had requested the reinforcements.

Three days later Lincoln telegraphed Governor Washburn to create a third infantry regiment; consecutively numbered the 19th Maine, this regiment would “rendezvous at Bath,” Hodsdon revealed in General Order No. 18.

Recruiting proceeded slowly; by early August, Hodsdon’s correspondence mirrored the trepidation radiating from Washington, D.C. Spring and summer had seen a new Confederate field commander, Robert E. Lee, outfox and outfight the conceited McClellan at the gates of Richmond and chase his numerically superior army to Harrison’s Landing on the James River. In early to mid-July, John Hunt Morgan and his hard-riding Confederate cavalry had run amuck across Federal-held central Kentucky.

“The Governor and Commander-in-Chief orders and directs, that all enlisted men [joining the three latest regiments]… shall report to the general rendezvous … without delay” and “must come in at the latest, before Saturday,” Aug. 9, Hodsdon stressed in General Order No. 24 on July 31. The 16th Maine boys must report to Augusta by Thursday, Aug. 5.

Report they did, but at least a month later than Stanton would have liked. Washburn tapped Asa W. Wildes of Skowhegan to command the 16th Maine and Charles Tilden of Castine as Wildes’s lieutenant colonel. The third staff officer (and sole major) was Augustus Farnham, a combat veteran from Bangor.

Col. Asa Wildes of Skowhegan was the first commander of the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment. (Maine State Archives)

Col. Asa Wildes of Skowhegan was the first commander of the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment. (Maine State Archives)

Coalescing at Augusta in early August, the 16th Maine Infantry lacked (unlike some previous and subsequent regiments) emotional and political ties to a particular region. The veteran 3rd Maine was affiliated with the Kennebec Valley — and the ill-fated 18th Maine Infantry, mustered at Bangor on Aug. 21, 1862, was always linked to the Queen City.

Within months that regiment became the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery.

The 16th Maine boys came from cities, towns, and unorganized plantations. Named captain of Co. A, Charles Williams of Skowhegan commanded recruits from Anson, Augusta, Benton, Fairfield, Madison, and Waterville on the Kennebec River and Detroit and Newport on the Sebasticook River.

He had five recruits — Corp. Winslow Morrill, Owen Cunningham, Alden Hackett, John McKeen, and Alonzo Tripp — from Township 4, Range 5; 23-year-old James Witham came from Township 3, Range 3.

John Kealiher hailed from Moose River Plantation, 18-year-old Josiah Nutting from Canaan, and 40-year-old Cyrus Hall from Concord Township. James Leavitt was the only recruit from Lincoln, 22-year-old Austin Poor the only one from Patten. How 26-year-old William Nelson wandered into Co. A from New York City, the muster rolls did not explain.

The state scurried to equip the assembled 16th Maine as well as possible. Hodsdon, as Maine’s acting quartermaster general, later reported that, among other items, the state government issued “1000 Enfield Rifle Muskets, Bayonets and Appendages, calibre 58” to the regiment.

The 16th Maine also received “1270 Drawers, pairs of”; “1009 Hats, trimmed, infantry”; “1010 Great Coats”; “1010 Trowsers”; “1000 Blankets”; “50 Sibley Tents” and “50 Tent Poles”; “28 Wall Tents” and “28 Wall Tent Flies”; and “1010 Knapsacks, complete.”

The 16th Maine boys could not imagine that, as they mustered into federal service at Augusta on Thursday, Aug. 14, they would need — and soon miss — the clothing issued to them.

Next week: Blanket Brigade: hard luck on the Potomac

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He would love to hear from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.