Merry Maine mutineers meet their match

 

When a major mutiny broke out in the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment on Sept. 16, 1861, the mutineers could have been shot. Such a fate befell five deserters from the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment on Aug. 29, 1863, as sketched by combat artist Edwin Forbes. (Library of Congress)

When a major mutiny broke out in the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment on Sept. 16, 1861, the mutineers could have been shot. Such a fate befell five deserters from the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment on Aug. 29, 1863, as sketched by combat artist Edwin Forbes. (Library of Congress)

The 4th Maine Infantry boys who merrily mutinied near Washington, D.C. in September 1861 soon met their match.

Drawn primarily from the Midcoast, the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment officially mustered into Federal service on June 15, 1861. On Saturday, Sept. 16, the boys of Co. H got to thinking that, since they had enlisted for 90 days and today was Day 91, well, by God, they were going home.

The boys were happy at the thought of leaving Army life.

Figuring the boys had enlisted for two or three years, Army officials decided the mutineers were not going anywhere near Maine. Brigade commander Col. John Sedgwick promptly transferred the merry Maine mutineers to the 38th New York Infantry Regiment; he ordered the 96 men scattered throughout its 10 companies.

And Col. Hiram Berry, the 4th Maine commander, as promptly disbanded Co. H, sacked its officers, placed its few loyal members in other companies, and called for a new Co. H to be recruited in Maine.

The 4th Maine mutineers had met their match in Sedgwick — and ditto with their service in the no-nonsense 38th New York. What happened to some of them during the next few years was not pretty.

A little while ago, Tom McKay tracked and charted the fortunes of all 96 deserters. He had grown up “living adjacent to Bowdoin College,” he writes, so “it was quite natural that I put an emphasis on the 20th Maine and Col. Joshua Chamberlain.”

In time McKay moved to central Pennsylvania and found himself drawn to Gettysburg. His interest in the 20th Maine “grew deeper as our children grew and we all spent numerous weekends exploring the typical haunts of Devil’s Den, [and] Little Round Top.”

One day, while “updating the family bible,” McKay “noticed a paper that I had seen many times but obviously had never read with interest,” he says. “It was a copy of the discharge papers of a Pvt. James B. Walker from the 4th Maine.”

Walker was a Co. H mutineer transferred to Co. F of the 38th New York. He was also, as McKay soon realized, “my mother’s grandfather” and thus McKay’s great-grandfather.
His subsequent research into Walker led McKay to chart the 4th Maine mutineers and their individual fates. He also portrays his great-grandfather while volunteering for the Park Watch at Gettysburg.

Two officers stand on the Red Redoubt parapet as soldiers from the 38th and 40th New York Infantry regiments march into the abandoned Confederate fort at Yorktown, Va. in early May 1862. After their September 1861 mutiny, 96 members of the 4th Maine Infantry were transferred to the 38th New York, which had a reputation as a no-nonsense outfit. (Library of Congress)

Two soldiers stand in the Red Redoubt as soldiers from the 38th and 40th New York Infantry regiments march into the abandoned Confederate fort at Yorktown, Va. in early May 1862. After their September 1861 mutiny, 96 members of the 4th Maine Infantry were transferred to the 38th New York, which had a reputation as a no-nonsense outfit. (Library of Congress)

James Walker was among the 44 mutineers who rejoined the 4th Maine in late spring 1862. Of the 52 men who did not return to the regiment, many met fates that they might not have encountered otherwise.

• Pvt. Bradford Bailey deserted the New York colors as soon as possible, in his case on Oct. 29, 1862. That date’s not particularly significant; the Army of the Potomac was recouping its losses from Second Manassas, Chantilly, and Antietam, so no one was shooting at Bailey.

• Pvt. Timothy Call, assigned to the 38th New York’s Co. K, was another full-time malcontent; he ran away at White’s Ford, Md. on Halloween Day 1862.

• Pvt. William C. Farr was tossed by Sedgwick into Co. F of the 38th. Apparently sent to the Army’s De Camp General Hospital on Davids’ Island in New York harbor, he deserted on March 26, 1863. Farr, at least, had fought at Fredericksburg.

• Pvt. Peter Haskil (a member of the 38th’s Co. B), did not hang around after the Peninsula Campaign. Sent to an Army hospital in Alexandria, he beat feet for somewhere other than an Army camp on July 18, 1862.

• Going out as a hero was Pvt. Leonard Hilton, thrown into the 38th’s Co. B. Unlike Bailey and Call and Haskil, Hilton stayed with the colors; a Confederate soldier wounded him at Chantilly on Sept. 1, 1862, only 11½ months since the Co. H mutiny. Sent to Emory Hospital in Washington, D.C., Hilton died there on Sept. 28, 1862.

• Assigned to the 38th’s Co. D, Pvt. James Erskine was killed in action at Williamsburg, Va., on May 5, 1862, during a battle in which the New York regiment lost 88 men killed, wounded, or missing.

• During the Williamsburg battle, the first large-scale fighting of the Peninsula Campaign, Pvt. James McDevit was wounded while fighting in Co. E, 38th New York Infantry.

He was killed at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862. Ironically, the 4th Maine took significant losses in that battle, too.

• Another 4th Maine mutineer wounded at Williamsburg was Pvt. Edwin Keiser, assigned to Co. I of the 38th New York. He was discharged for disability (meaning he was no longer useful as a soldier) at Augusta on July 1, 1862.

• Pvt. John Smith was another merry Maine mutineer assigned to Co. I of the 38th. Behaving himself, Smith showed talent and earned a sergeant’s stripes.

A Confederate killed him at Chantilly on Sept. 1, 1862.

• Alphabetically No. 96 on the list of 96 mutineers, Pvt. Asbury (or Albra) Young was assigned to Co. F of the 38th. He was killed at Fredericksburg.

• A few other 4th Maine boys who abandoned (ran from) the colors of the 38th New York Infantry were privates John Runnet (appropriately named), Isaac Saunders, Edwin Snow, and George Warren.

Saunders apparently conspired with Timothy Call to desert at White’s Ford in Maryland on Oct. 31, 1862. Runnet was so useless that the officials records aren’t sure if he ran away in July or August 1862. Snow fled from Alexandria, Va. on March 18, 1862; Warren deserted that October.

James Walker, 23 or so when he joined the Co. H mutiny, learned his lesson while serving with the 38th New York. Welcomed back to the 4th Maine, he fought with that regiment during its heroic defense of Devil’s Den at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.

Walker returned to Maine after the war and married. He was a widower and a stone mason when he died at a Main Street address in Calais on Sept. 27, 1914; James B. Walker was laid to rest in the Milltown Catholic Cemetery in Milltown, New Brunswick.

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.