Long-forgotten Maine cavalrymen ride once more into battle in a Civil War book recently released by Holden author Ned Smith.
A few years ago, Airline Community School secretary Joni Archer “asked me what I knew about the 2nd Maine Cavalry,” said Smith, who teaches part time at the Aurora school. “I said, ‘Nothing.’”
Archer’s great-grandfather, Pvt. George Cook, had ridden with the regiment. Intrigued by Archer’s question, Smith then researched and wrote “The 2nd Maine Cavalry in the Civil War: A History and Roster.” The 231-page (index included) book was published in September 2014 by North Carolina-based McFarland & Company Inc.
According to Smith, the 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment was well known for its wartime exploits with the Army of the Potomac. The 2nd Maine Cavalry Regiment, however, was “almost unknown,” so he researched the unit online and at the Maine State Archives in Augusta. Smith also sought additional “primary source material” at the National Archives and Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
His research coalesced into a detailed and well-written and -illustrated historical account of the 2nd Maine Cavalry’s service in the Deep South. Rather than presenting a bland regimental history, Smith presents a tale that flows well from the Civil War’s opening battle at Fort Sumter in April 1861 to the mustering out of the 2nd Maine in late 1865.
He examines the impact of slavery on pre-war politics in Maine and Florida, the Confederate-held state with which the 2nd Maine Cavalry was most associated. Raised in late 1863, the regiment shipped incrementally to the Deep South in March and April 1864. Although headquartered at Pensacola, the 2nd Maine sent detachments to fight in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi before the war ended.
Smith quickly introduces the characters — and some really come across that way — populating the 2nd Maine Cavalry Regiment. Utilizing period letters, military reports, and official photographs, he brings to life men from all over Maine; his book is as much an informative tale of these soldiers as it is a regimental history.
Among the officers were Orland’s Andrew Spurling, an audacious staff officer who often donned Confederate garb to lead daring raids deep into enemy territory. Good friends with Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon, Major Charles Miller of Rockland leaned on that relationship when writing whiny letters to Hodsdon about the perceived flaws of other officers.
Then there are the enlisted men; Smith peppers his book with their vignettes. Due to their letter-writing propensities, the “shoulder straps” (a derogatory wartime term for officers) left behind much resource material; Smith dug deep to find information about such soldiers as George Soule, who with his son, Augustus, enlisted in Co. F. Disease killed the 18-year-old Augustus in spring 1864; George survived the war.
Another father, Greenleaf Smart, and his son, Richard, served in Company G. Greenleaf died in November 1864, Richard came home to Maine in 1865.
While detailing the campaigns, skirmishes, marches, raids, and occasional battles of the 2nd Maine, the book avoids the boring “just the facts, ma’am” approach typical of many regimental histories. Smith blends the 2nd Maine’s tale with what was happening strategically and militarily; readers learn simultaneously about an obscure Maine cavalry regiment and such overlooked military operations as the Red River Campaign in Louisiana and the spring 1865 campaign to eliminate Confederate forts and other facilities in Alabama.
The focus on individual soldiers is the book’s salient feature. “A lot of people think a unit history is, ‘We went here, we went there,’” Smith said. “History is about people; people are interesting.”
He wrote “The 2nd Maine Cavalry in the Civil War” for “people who are interested in people, why they went and fought, why these young kids went to the Deep South. To me, history is about people.”
The book’s maps, photographs, and wartime illustrations appear with the respective chapters rather than in a centerfold cluster. Civil War buffs and genealogists will appreciate the detailed regimental roster. The book includes a well-developed bibliography; for good measure Smith added information about the various 2nd Maine troops court-martialed during the war.
This book is not Smith’s first-time foray into Civil War history; Smith previously published a well-written history of the 22nd Maine Infantry Regiment. He is married to author Diane Smith, who has published three Civil War-related books.
Priced at $39.95, “The 2nd Maine Cavalry in the Civil War” is available at Amazon.
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He would love to hear from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.