So close, yet so far: Some Maine soldiers who witnessed the literal dawn of peace at Appomattox Court House on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865 did not see its sunset.
Their blood, along with that shed by many other Union soldiers that day, was the price to end the Civil War.
As the 11th Maine Infantry Regiment advanced along the Lynchburg Stage Road to engage John B. Gordon’s Confederate veterans, Col. Jonathan Hill of Stetson presented a particularly tempting target atop his tired horse. Like Hill’s footsore infantrymen, the horse had gone with little sleep (but at least some fodder) during the regiment’s 100-mile sprint during the past few days to cut off Robert E. Lee and his retreating Army of Northern Virginia.
With the 11th Maine marched other men from the lower Penobscot Valley. Over in Co. A was Pvt. Robert Douglas, a 32-year-old from Hudson who had joined up on Nov. 18, 1864; like so many late-comers to the Union ranks, he had probably chased bounty-related dollar signs all the way to the recruiting office.
The feds, Augusta, and many Maine cities and towns were paying cumulatively pricey bounties to lure men into uniform during the war’s waning months.
In Co. B was Manuel Raymond, 32, a Prospect soldier likely drawn into the ranks by a bounty on Nov. 11, 1864.
First Sgt. Charles F. Wheeler kept an eye on the Co. E boys. Twenty-one when he enlisted on Sept. 25, 1861, he came from Alton. In the same company were two Bangor privates: Charles Trask, only 20 when he signed up on Oct. 8, 1864, and John Walker, 18 when he joined on Aug. 14, 1862.
And over in Co. K was Sgt. Augusta D. Locke of Bangor, also 18 when he joined the original 11th Maine on Oct. 18, 1861.
Advancing west of the stage road on Palm Sunday morning, the 11th Maine got into a pretty good dust-up with well-handled Confederate cavalrymen. An enemy soldier shot Hill off his mount; grabbing the wounded colonel, enemy soldiers threw him on a horse and tried to haul him away as a prisoner.
His angry boys swarmed forward and rescued their colonel.
No Confederate was going to haul off the 11th Maine’s one-armed colonel; badly wounded in an earlier battle, he wore his right sleeve pinned shut.
Soon the shooting stopped, and a mounted Union officer caught up with the 11th Maine. “Lee has surrendered, and the war is over!” he shouted.
Just hours before the Civil War ended on this Palm Sunday, the last battle in Virginia killed Charles Wheeler from Alton and Robert Douglas of Hudson. Wounded in the last advance of the 11th Maine Infantry were Augustus Locke from Bangor and Manuel Raymond from Prospect.
And in the war’s ultimate indignity, Confederate cavalrymen captured Charles Reinbold and Charles Trask of Bangor.
Other infantry regiments advancing on Appomattox Court House met Union cavalrymen retreating as Gordon’s Confederate infantrymen advanced on Sunday morning. Running “through a thick belt of woods,” many 20th Maine soldiers “met cavalrymen riding back, badly broken up and demoralized,” recalled Pvt. Theodore Gerrish.
“They told us they had been fighting all night, and holding the rebels in check until we should arrive,” he said.
Union infantrymen approaching Appomattox Court House found blue-clad cavalrymen lying dead or wounded in the fields and woods southwest of the village. Among the 1st Maine Cavalry dead was Pvt. George E. Emery of Hampden and Co. A. He had survived the regiment’s determined stand at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31, only to die with the war almost over.
Sgt. Charles A. McIntyre of Warren and Co. B sprawled dead on the rolling terrain where he had fought his last fight.
The 1st Maine’s Co. E had lost a captain, a sergeant, a corporal, a bugler, and a private (and later a mortally wounded private) during an April 6 attack on a Confederate wagon train near Sailor’s Creek, Va. To the list of dead was added, Corp. Albert Gardiner of Fairfield, mortally wounded at Appomattox Court House on April 9; he died before midnight.
Lubec and Co. G lost Pvt. William E. Clarke just hours before Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.
And Co. M of the 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment lost four men wounded outside Appomattox Court House. Corp. Cyrus Geary and Pvt. George Cushman later died of their wounds.
They were among the last Mainers who sacrificed their lives to help restore a shattered nation.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would love to hear from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.