Mother, wife, and Belfast intelligence agent, Part III

While anxious to reunite with her physician husband at the 20th Maine Infantry’s camp in Virginia in late winter 1863, Ann Sarah Monroe also was on a mission to collect intelligence on the conditions of Maine boys spending that winter in the Union camps. The mothers and wives and sisters back home wondered if all their hard work at shipping clothing, food, and medical supplies to the boys from Maine were to no avail, and Monroe wanted answers. (Belfast Historical Society)

Ann Sarah Monroe had not traveled from Belfast, Maine to Tidewater Virginia solely to visit her husband in late winter 1863. Charged with gathering crucial intelligence, she also came as an agent representing the Ladies’ Volunteer Aid Society of Belfast

Ann particularly wanted to see the Army of the Potomac hospitals for which the ladies of Belfast had sewn blankets and rolled bandages for almost two full years. “The hospitals I have seen are well arranged, and all comforts the sick could have from home and dear friends, they have here,” Ann observed.

She praised the United States Sanitary Commission for supplying patients with “bedsteads raised from the ground, mattresses of hair and straw, nice quilts, blankets, pillows, and constant changes of under garments.”

In her March 17, 1863 letter to her comrades in the Ladies’ Volunteer Aid Society, Ann Sarah Monroe praised the sanitary and living conditions she had found in the hospitals of the Army of the Potomac.

Unfortunately, despite the best medical care available, soldiers still died. On Sunday, March 15, Ann watched quietly as comrades buried two young 20th Maine Infantry soldiers who had died “of fevers.”

Although Ann did not identify the men in her letter, they likely were privates Thomas B. Morrill of Co. C and Moses Allen Jr. of Co. K. Morrill died on March 14, Allen on March 13.

Friends gently placed the bodies “in good coffins” soon “lowered into the grave,” and hardened veterans displayed “sad faces and teary eyes,” Ann noted.

With Chaplain Luther P. French of East Corinth away, Dr. Nahum Monroe “read over each the Episcopal burial service, and their companions sung very finely several funeral hymns,” Ann said.

The honor guard‘s volleys echoed across the Stafford County hills. “Constant volleys fired near us, reminded us that many others were finding their last rest in Virginia,” Ann realized.

With the chaplain of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment away, Dr. Nahum Monroe performed the March 15, 1863 funerals for two young 20th Maine lads killed by disease. Monroe’s wife, Ann, watched as the men were laid into their graves. Afterwards she wrote both of their mothers. (Maine State Archives)

Afterwards she sat down and wrote the dead men’s mothers. Both soldiers had mustered with the 20th Maine in Portland on August 29, 1862. Morrill, from rural Sumner in Oxford County, was 23 when he enlisted; hailing from Brunswick, Allen was 28.

Both men were single, which perhaps alleviated the agony experienced in their hometowns in March 1863.

Understanding a mother’s anguish, Ann commiserated with Morrill’s and Bunker’s mothers, whom she assured “that their sons had many comforts, far from home, and with strangers, to make easy the dying bed.”

Ann’s thoughts ventured a few years into the past. Right now, relatives and servants cared for the healthy Monroe children, Alfred and Frances, thriving at home in Belfast.

But in a local cemetery lay the lonely graves of younger Monroe siblings. Ann had birthed a son, Frank Philip, on November 5, 1852; he died three days later. A sister, Lizzie May, saw the light of day on May 15, 1857 and died three days afterwards.

Ann Monroe was all too familiar with death.

While making her rounds, she notated “what is most needed here” and “visited two commissions” (likely the U.S. Christian Commission and the U.S. Sanitary Commission) to confirm the specifics.

Forget additional clothing; “clothing is very plenty,” and springtime warmth meant that “not as much will be needed,” Ann noted.

“Food for the sick, and acids, … are constantly called for,” she informed LVAS members. Send meat: “canned chicken, for broths, lamb, mutton, veal, &c., boiled, dry and salted, and peppered, and put into air tight vessels.” Send scurvy-inhibiting “tomatoes, fresh and stewed, cranberry, currant and dried fresh apple jelly, pickles, wines, chopped cabbage and onion butter, &c.

“In fact,” send “anything that a sick person would like,” Ann stressed.

Given the thievery plaguing outgoing mails and incoming freight, she emphasized that “the safest way to send to our Maine boys” was via George R. Davis, the Portland-based agent for the Maine Soldiers’ Relief Agency. “Any little package sent by this direction will surely reach its destination,” Ann stated.

Then, directly addressing her LVAS comrades, she indicated that “I could not refrain from sending a few encouraging words, for I know you often feel the need of them.”#

After the letter was read aloud at an LVAS meeting, the ladies of Belfast temporarily set aside their needles, thread, and sewing machines and opened their larders and root cellars. The Maine boys so warmly clothed by the LVAS would soon receive boxes containing the tastes of home.

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