Criminals camouflaged as soldiers briefly ran amok in Bangor in late summer 1862.
Volunteers and draftees started reporting to Camp John Pope in early September. After forming at the camp, the 18th Maine Infantry Regiment had mustered into federal service on August 21, 1862. Local residents had enjoyed a good relationship with the soldiers.
Not so much with the crowds pouring into Camp John Pope two weeks later.
In mid- to late September, some 3,000 men lived briefly at the camp, located “at the old race course on Union street” about 1½ miles from downtown Bangor. Carpenters had knocked together 30 wooden barracks (one per company) and “other buildings for officers’ quarters,” providing sufficient quarters “for three full regiments.”
About 1,000 men left to serve in existing regiments. The other 2,000 men were split evenly between the 22nd and 26th Maine infantry regiments.
With the population of their fair city suddenly increased by around 18 percent at the height of the federal “occupation,” Bangoreans soon learned that less-than-stellar characters had arrived in their midst. Around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 25, some 300 uniformed vandals raided a Camp John Pope building housing a sutler’s shop owned by H.L. Boyd and R.C. Boyd.
The Boyds’ sutlery was “protected by the same guard detailed for protection of the Government property at the camp,” camp commander Gideon Mayo reported afterwards.
The blue-clad mob “tore … out everything that there was in the building and stove the crockery into splinters,” Pvt. Francis Ireland of Dexter and the 22nd Maine wrote his father, John. Francis equally blamed the Boyds, who “were rather high on prices,” and “the boys … rather saucy for 3 or 4 days before.”
The officer of the day “came forward and urged the mob to desist from violence, but did not call out the guard,” Mayo noted. The next morning, officers and the Boyds scoured Camp John Pope “to discover the ringleaders,” but “without effect.
“Be assured we do not countenance this destruction of property by mob force,” Mayo promised the nervous Bangor populace.
But even worse occurred at Camp John Pope or its environs. In late September, a Penobscot County deputy sheriff from Old Town went to the camp “on business.” For reasons unclear, recruits Larry Connors, Tobias Johnson, and E. Spencer attacked the deputy, “striking and kicking him till he was wounded severely in the face and head.”
Law officers sent to arrest the trio ran into soldier-caused “riotous demonstrations,” but got their men nevertheless.
Hauled into the Bangor Police Court on Tuesday, September 30, the suspects were ordered held over for “the next criminal term of the Supreme Court.” A judge set bail at $400 per man.
Then the Penobscot County district attorney charged the trio with “high and aggravated assault,” and the judge tacked an additional $200 bail onto each man’s tab.
The justice system was not yet done with Tobias Johnson, charged along with James M. Thompson and John Thompson for committing “riotous assault” and attempting to rape “Iva Freely of Holden” on September 5. A police-court judge set bail at $150 per suspect on the two charges.
Unscrupulous local merchants — Bangor had its share of scalawags — had set up “a lot of rum shops here,” just behind the camp boundaries, Francis Ireland noticed.
After locally purchased “rot gut” poisoned some 22nd Maine lads, a few hundred men (“half a regiment”) rushed past the camp guards at 9 p.m., Sunday, September 28 and charged about 1,000 feet to the “large two story house” where the bad liquor was sold. The proprietor claimed no knowledge about the rot gut, Ireland said.
Tearing apart several rum shops “that stand at the end of our road,” the angry soldiers “found a little liquor but not the rot gut,” he reported. The mob surged back to the house; while most men encircled it, “about 25 men went” inside and convinced the proprietor to cough up “a lot of kegs, ½ barrels and bottles and jugs which they stove all to bits” before burning the alcohol.
“It was a mob[,] but the officers did not say a word” because they approved the liquor’s destruction, Ireland said.
“A hard set of boys here,” he admitted.
Bangoreans could only count the days until the two regiments left the city.
The final soldier-related criminal violence involved Pvt. Thomas A. Cunningham of the 26th Maine and Montville.
He ventured into Bangor late on October 20. He was “quietly and alone returning from the city to the camp” around 10 p.m. when “some person unknown … struck him with a bar of iron, breaking a bone in one of his arms,” a newspaper noted the crime.
“As far as we can learn the assault was wholly unprovoked,” the paper commented.
In pain, Cunningham left Bangor with the 26th on October 22. He and three other Co. B privates from Waldo County — John Currier, William Emerson, and John R. Wood — deserted the next day, never to return.
Sources: Col. Gideon Mayo letter, Daily Whig & Courier, Saturday, September 27, 1862; Francis Ireland letter to John Ireland, September 27, 1862, Special Collections, Fogler Library, University of Maine; Assault And Riot, Daily Whig & Courier, Wednesday, October 1, 1862; Police Court, Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, October 2, 1862; Assault On A Soldier, Daily Whig & Courier, Wednesday, October 22, 1862
The Civil War In Song
Join Civil War enthusiast and re-enactor Paul Dudley and his band of toy “dancing Dans” as they share traditional songs and more at 6 p.m., Thursday, March 16 at the Isaac Farrar Mansion, 166 Union Street, Bangor.
Sponsored by the Bangor Historical Society, this lively presentation has been presented in schools and is great for children and adults.
Listen to Maine at War on the air
Join me every Friday on WBFY-FM (100.9 FM) at 7:50 a.m., 11:50 a.m., and 6:50 p.m. for A Maine Civil War Moment. Broadcasting on Belfast’s new community radio station, A Maine Civil War Moment draws on the Maine at War files to tell the tales of Maine men and women who helped save the country during the Civil War.
You can also catch A Maine Civil War Moment at wbfy.caster.fm.
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.