Fred Morong traded his Army uniform for a Navy sailor’s garb

At age 20 in mid-August 1862, Frederic W. Morong joined the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment and went off to fight in Virginia. On April Fool's Day 1864, he transferred to the United States Navy and ultimately wound up stationed at Key West, Fla. Morong joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service late in the 19th century and served at various lighthouses in eastern Maine. (Courtesy of Lighthouse Digest)

At age 20 in mid-August 1862, Frederic W. Morong joined the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment and went off to fight in Virginia. On April Fool’s Day 1864, he transferred to the United States Navy and ultimately wound up stationed at Key West, Fla. Morong joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service late in the 19th century and served at various lighthouses in eastern Maine. (Courtesy of Lighthouse Digest)

Once a sailor, always a sailor — or so thought Frederic W. Morong of Lubec, a veteran of the 6th Maine Infantry Regiment.

Raised in spring 1861, the hard-fighting 6th Maine drew half of its complement in companies (five) and men (500 or so) from Hancock and Washington counties. Fred Morong did not join at the time; a “Mariner” (sailor) by occupation (as indicated by Maj. George Fuller in Morong’s discharge papers), Morong may have been away at sea when the 6th Maine shipped south to the war.

He did enlist in the regiment’s Co. A on Aug. 14, 1862. Why an experienced sailor opted to join the Army rather than the Navy is not known in Morong’s case. He was not the only Maine sailor to enlist in the Army; ship’s captain Freeman McGilvery of Searsport “raised” the 6th Maine Battery and fought in various campaigns with the Army of the Potomac.

Standing 5-7, Fred Morong had black hair and black eyes; the color hints at a “bog Irish” or Welsh ancestry. The 20-year-old Morong also had the dark complexion of a sailor who had spent a year or two before the mast.

Army life seemed okay with Morong, at least based on his diary transcribed by William H. Morong Jr. Opening on Friday, Jan. 1, 1864, the diary follows Fred Morong through Friday, June 10.

New Year’s Day 1864 saw the 6th Maine ordered “to March at [a] Minutes Notice,” but the Maine boys “did not move” on this day that “came off cold and freezing,” Morong noted. Blowing from the northwest, the wind drove down the temperature as Friday wore on; that night was “allowed to be the coldest night ever experienced by our Army in Va.,” he wrote on Jan. 2.

Friday, Jan. 8 was “pleasant,” with a northwesterly wind blowing around the 2 inches of snow that fell during the night, Morong wrote. The soldiers “drew soft bread” (always a desirable alternative to hard tack), and Capt. Alex B. Sumner of Co. A received a 35-day leave.

He hurried home to Lubec on Jan. 10.

The Virginia winter varied from “very pleasant & Springlike” (Jan. 12) to “drizzly” (Feb. 1) and “cold & windy” (Feb. 4), Morong dutifully recorded each day’s weather. Like an inveterate sailor he also noted each day’s wind direction, a meteorological fact usually overlooked by a landlubber.

The hometown ties were important to the 6th Maine lads. Morong and a comrade named Calkins walked to Brandy Station on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad on Monday, Feb. 15 to meet Alex Sumner, returning from Lubec.

He “brought me a package from Mother and some gum from Andrew Brawn and a box [of goodies] for the Lubec boys,” Morong happily wrote that night, despite having walked back to camp in a snow storm.

Frederic W. Morong was the head light keeper at Little River Lighthouse in Cutler from 1898 to 1913. (Brian Swartz Photo)

Frederic W. Morong was the head light keeper at Little River Lighthouse in Cutler from 1898 to 1913. (Brian Swartz Photo)

The 6th Maine broke camp at 9 a.m., Feb. 27, marched through Culpeper, and, while participating in a “five days raid” that rounded up 500 Confederate horses and 26 human prisoners, spent the next few days tramping around central Virginia. Morong and Co. A returned to their old campground at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 2.

The Maine lads were “a tired set of Boys,” Morong admitted.

Despite its success in closing Southern ports, the Navy still needed men in spring 1864. An “Order came to transfer Seamen from the Army to Navy” Morong heard on March 31. “Kennedy, Balch, Edes, & I send in our names.”

A “Judge Advocate for the Navy” swore the four soldiers into the Navy on April Fool’s Day; the men left Brandy Station by train for Baltimore on April 8, Morong said. The soldiers-turned-sailors reported aboard a receiving ship, the 185-foot and 989-ton steamer USS Allegheny.

There the men learned how the Navy expected a ship to be handled. As sailors acquired their new skills, the Navy Department transferred men to other ships, a transition that Morong noted. Sailors left for the USS Hunchback on April 16, the USS Victoria on April 19, and the USS Mackinaw on April 25.

Morong traveled by steamer to Philadelphia to report aboard the USS Princeton on April 30. Two weeks earlier he had learned about his sister’s death in Maine; “it is hard to part with those we love[,] but God doeth all things well,” Fred Morong sadly noted in his diary on April 15.

On May 3, Morong left Philadelphia aboard the USS Bermuda, outbound for a five-day cruise to Key West. “I was taken sick,” Morong noted on May 4 without providing details.

After the Bermuda arrived at Key West on May 9, he reported aboard the USS Fort Henry, a 519-ton side-wheel steamer assigned to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron.

The Fort Henry’s skipper sent Morong “to the Naval Hospital” on May 12. He was out of action for several days before returning to duty.

The war ended 11 months later, and Morong returned to Maine and the sea. Rising to the position of second mate, he sailed on several ships along the East Coast and as far afield as Cuba in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

In time Morong joined the U.S. Lighthouse Service. He first worked as an assistant light keeper at Petit Manan Lighthouse off Steuben in 1890, then became the first light keeper at the Lubec Channel Lighthouse on Nov. 7, 1890.

Before his death in 1920, Frederic Morong also worked at Libby Island Lighthouse and Little River Lighthouse in Washington County. He was buried in the Lubec Cemetery.

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He loves hearing 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.