• Addressed to the correct newspaper (The Sentinel), check;
• Addressed to the right person (“Mr. Editor”), check;
• Espoused the Republican war goals (“every seceding state” has rejoined the Union), check;
• Bashed the pro-Democratic competition (the Machias Union), check;
• Criticized pro-peace Democrats (“secession sympathizers”), check and double check.
Nutt, publisher and editor of the Wednesday-published Sentinel, liked Andrews’ letter (written from Fernandina, Fla. on June 27, 1863) so much that he hurried it into print on July 22. Nutt’s readers got a combined lesson in civics and geography, plus a behind-the scenes look at suspicious land deals.
Twenty-one when he joined the 11th Maine as a private on July 24, 1862, Andrews hailed from Robbinston, two towns “up” Passamaquoddy Bay from Eastport. Revealed by his 1863 letter as an observant and literate individual, Andrews had made corporal on Sept. 26, 1862.
Sailing from Beaufort, S.C. on June 4, the 11th Maine had landed at Fernandina to relieve the 7th New Hampshire Infantry, now assigned to Hilton Head, S.C. The 11th Maine’s imperturbable Col. Harris Plaisted had barely deployed two companies to garrison “Fort Clinch, which commands the entrance to the harbor,” according to Andrews, when a copy of the Machias Union made the regimental rounds.
An article in that pro-Democrat, anti-Lincoln Administration weekly really, thoroughly irritated Philip Andrews. He assured The Sentinel readers “that we are not all copperheads in the army as the Machias Union and other secession sympathizers at the North would try and make the people believe.”
To the contrary, the 11th Maine lads supported the war effort. “I can assure the people in Maine that we are not willing for this war to close until every seceding state has returned to its allegiance and acknowledged itself willing to be protected by the Constitution and the Laws,” Andrews quickly got to his civic lesson.
“Then and not till then are they [soldiers] willing to give up the contest in which so many of the interests of humanity are at stake,” Andrews stated.
“We have lost too many valuable lives to give up the contest at its present advanced stage,” he noted four days before Harry Heth’s infantry pitched into John Buford’s cavalry west of Gettysburg.
As for the geography lesson, in that pre-Maine snowbird era, Andrews described Fernandina as “the best [harbor] on the eastern coast of Florida.” A “Gen. Finnegan and Hon. David Yulee” had “first laid out [Fernandina] as a city in 1855 … and in [it had] 1860 fifteen hundred inhabitants,” Andrews wrote.
A railroad had been “built from here to Cedar Keys” on the Florida Gulf Coast, he pointed out.
He dealt with the mundane. A Confederate “lieutenant and about twenty men” had, just “a few days ago,” responded to “a flag of truce” flown by 11th Maine adjutant Henry O. Fox “for the purpose of receiving two ladies and their children within our lines,” Andrews wrote.
The Confederates “all talk of being tired of the war,” he noted, and enemy deserters routinely came into the Union lines at Fernandina.
An Illinois colonel “is here raising and organising a colored regiment” and “has nearly two companies already under instruction,” according to Andrews.
Speaking of blacks, “the land sales took place here last week, and the prices exceeded what the most sanguine could expect,” he reported. Properties belonging to known Rebels (Union soldiers seldom used the term “Confederates” when referring to their enemies) had gone on the block; “large purchases were made,” and “many of the negroes were purchasers.”
One property that attracted a good price was “the house formerly owned by Hon. David Yulee,” a U.S. senator from Florida who had helped establish the railroad from Fernandina to Cross Keys. Now the commander of the Union garrison at Fernandina, Plaisted (who lived in Bangor) bought Yulee’s home and promptly moved in.
Was Plaisted the first Maine Yankee to buy retirement property in the Sunshine State? Probably not, since no one had yet heard of “snowbirds.”
“For The Union,” Philip Andrews closed his letter. He would make second lieutenant and survive the war before mustering out in February 1866.
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.