Uniformed Maine tourists arriving in the nation’s capital on Monday, Oct. 27, 1862, soon learned that Uncle Sam had cancelled their round-trip tickets to Bangor.
The 26th Maine Infantry boys would be going to New Orleans, instead.
A nine-month regiment that mustered at Bangor in early October, the 26th Maine was led by Col. Nathan Hubbard. Piling into train cars at the Maine Central Railroad station in the Queen City, the Maine boys rumbled south to Washington, D.C.
“We were treated friendly at all our stopping places in passing through and cheered lustily at every depot and in nearly every village” until the regiment arrived in Baltimore, wrote Sgt. Maj. Richard H. Young of Camden (identified as “R.H.Y.” in his letter). The police suppressed the “latent coals of disloyalty in that city.”
Nathan Hubbard scratched one name from the regimental rolls by the time he reached Washington; Alphonso Clark of Searsmont, a member of Co. A, was killed by the locomotive, almost instantly, in attempting to cross the tracks,” explained Young.
Where the accident occurred, he did not indicate.
Like the 25th Maine, the 26th Maine arrived at Camp Tom Casey in Arlington, Va. Unlike the 25th Maine and the 27th Maine infantries, which stayed in the Washington defenses, the 26th Maine spent 2½ weeks on Virginia soil before shoving off for the Deep South.
Issued on Nov. 15, Special Order No. 10 informed Nate Hubbard that his regiment would “proceed immediately to Alexandria.” The “knapsacks were packed, rations cooked, [and] haversacks filled, Young noted.
Darkness lay heavily over Camp Tom Casey before dawn on Sunday, Nov. 16. Tossing in his sleep, Young gradually awoke to a racket outside his tent: snorting horses, jingling curb chains, and rattling sabers, the sounds caused “by the tramping of passing Cavalry.” He donned his uniform, walked into the predawn, and gazed around Camp Casey.
“All the camps were lighted a long time before reveillee (sic), and the encampment was literally on fire,” Young noticed. “The burning of straw, surplus wood, and other needless camp accumulations, illuminated the surrounding space.”
The 26th Maine boys tumbled early from their tents, packed everything, and started marching for Alexandria at 8 a,m, while “receiving copious showers of applause from our neighboring regiments and many ‘words of cheer,’” Young observed.
What he probably did not realize that the “neighboring regiments” cheered for a particular reason. Ditto the splendidly dressed bandsmen of the 25th Maine who “accompanied to us Fort Albany and gave us several ‘invigorating valedictories,’” said Young: Like every other man in Camp Casey, the 25th Maine’s musicians figured the 26th Maine boys were headed to war.
“Better them than us,” all the other soldiers figured.
So off to war Hubbard and his men went. At the Alexandria docks, five companies boarded the SS Pocohontas, five companies the SS Matanzas. The Maine lads speculated about their destination; “like all military motions, ours was made under sealed orders,” Young acknowledged.
The two steamers sailed on Sunday afternoon. He sailed aboard the Matanzas; the regimental officers ate in the cabin “while the poor privates and noncommissioned officers were obliged to gnaw salt junk and hard bread from their haversacks on deck.”
The steamers sailed unmolested along the Potomac River and anchored that night well downstream from Washington. “Nothing of importance occurred during the day, every officer and private except the sick and hungry, seeming to enjoy it like a home excursion in midsummer,” Young noted.
The steamers continued southward on Monday, Nov. 17. That night, the captain of the Matanzas tossed “a literal jubilee” for the 26th Maine’s officers, all of whom “enjoyed themselves in the cabin as much, apparently, as they would surrounded by the sweet influences of home.”
Weighing anchor at 8 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 19, the steamers arrived off Fort Monroe at 12:30 p.m. The uniformed Maine tourists gawked at their surroundings; “the wonders of Fortress Monroe was looked upon for the first time by a regiment of rude Yankee boys,” Young noted.
Not far away was “the little Monitor … and the masts and rigging of the [USS] Cumberland looming obliquely through the fog above the smooth surface of the water,” he wrote. Every man had heard the tale of how the Cumberland had been sunk by the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia the previous March.
The two steamers moored at a Newport News wharf on Wednesday, Nov. 19, and the 26th Maine boys went ashore, formed into column, and marched at 1 p.m. for a distant campground. Setting up a temporary camp, Young and his comrades enjoyed an 11-day visit to the Virginia Peninsula.
One day a spar from the USS Cumberland “floated ashore and was used by the Yankee boys of the 22d and 26th Maine in making staffs, pen-holders and other relics for preservation,” according to Young. “The boys are sending them to their friends at home to furnish conversation on their return.”
The 26th Maine tourists explored the region as best they could and continued speculating about their ultimate destination. Charleston was top on the list, but any destination beyond that port was inconceivable.
“We earnestly desire and sincerely hope that a decisive victory will be gained in Virginia,” Young wrote at Newport News on Nov. 30.
Two days later, the 26th Maine boys boarded steamers that took them to New Orleans. Fighting at Irish Bend in mid-April 1863, the Pine Tree State tourists would tromp through Louisiana bayous and participate in the June 14 assault on Port Hudson.
The War Department finally ordered the 26th Maine sent home in late July 25.
Unlike their compatriots in the 25th and 27th Maines, the boys of the 26th Maine traveled far afield and actually fought to save their country.
The November 30 letter written by R.H.Y. (Sgt. Maj. Richard H. Young) was published in the Rockland Gazette on Saturday, Dec. 13, 1862.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.