They spoiled for a fight.
Edward Parsons Tobie Jr., a corporal in Co. G, 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment, figured “the spring campaign” officially began when the regiment left its wretched winter quarters at Camp Bayard near Belle Plain in Virginia’s Stafford County on Monday, April 13, 1863.
His company, plus K, formed the rear guard as Union troopers rode “through Falmouth and along the (Rappahannock) river bank, giving the boys a fine view of the city of Fredericksburg.” For the last time in months, well-rested men and horses passed unmolested within eyesight of Confederate pickets.
Pvt. John Parris Sheahan rode among the Co. K troopers pulling rear-guard duty. He likely heard the veterans talking about the approaching campaign. After a cold, wet winter spent picketing the Army of the Potomac and caring for horses sickened by exposure to the damp and mud, these hard-bitten men with weather-creased faces spoiled for a fight.
Tobie and Sheahan epitomized the young thrill-seekers pouring into the 1st Maine’s ranks in 1861 and ’62. “If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!” the rollicking Confederate-centric tune Jine The Cavalry promised aspiring recruits North and South lured into the saddle months before realizing they would also “catch the Devil” and “smell Hell.”
Both single, Tobie and Sheahan enlisted 11 months apart. Employed as a Lewiston printer, the 23-year-old Tobie enlisted in September 1861 and mustered as a private in Co. G on Halloween.
Sporting light hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion, Tobie stood a light and lean 5-7. His stature paled beside heftier comrades drawn from farms, logging camps, and the sea; the regiment’s original colonel, John Goddard, needed a large horse to accommodate his ample frame.
Bitter weather engulfed Maine as the 1st Maine Cavalry and several infantry regiments and artillery batteries camped at Augusta in winter ’ 61-62. Men and horses shivered, shook, and sporadically died as snow piled up around the stables and Sibley tents. Tobie remembered that winter as “extremely cold, even for Maine, and ‘big snow storms’ were the rule rather than the exception.”
Summoned to Virginia in mid-March 1862, the 1st Maine split asunder, with five companies going to the Shenandoah Valley and the remaining seven companies patrolling near Washington, D.C. Not until summer did the War Department reassemble the regiment, yet to fight as a corporate entity.
Born in Dennysville, the 21-year-old Sheahan lived in Biddeford before joining the 1st Maine in late August 1862 and mustering into Co. K as a private on September 8. His Irish ancestry and a bit of Viking blood apparent in his sandy hair, hazel eyes, and light complexion, the 5-8 Sheahan had not let patriotic fervor sweep him into the fledgling 6th Maine Infantry when it took five companies and 500 men out of Down East Maine in spring 1861.
Sheahan mustered at Augusta with other recruits, of whom “the cavalry boys are ‘tip top’” and “are by far the best soldiers that have camped here this summer,” he wrote his parents, John and Eleanor Sheahan, on Sunday, August 31.
“Bully boys, hey! Bully boys, ho!” Sheahan could have hummed Jine The Cavalry that fine day. “I like it bully” and “no money could tempt me to come home again,” he wrote. “I am with good boys and in a good cause,” recruits had “good tents and good beds,” and what more could a new soldier want?
Like many other Mainers plunging into that last incoming volunteer tide prior to the national draft, Sheahan debated why he joined the military. “Should I even wish to come home[?],” he asked, then responded, “No[,] I do not wish to come yet [as] I have a duty to perform for my country.
“There is many battles to be fought and I must help to fight them,” Sheahan realized. “I know that I am in danger[,] but what of that? Am I not willing and ready to take my place and chance[?]
“What is my little life compare with peace and union[?] I do not value it the least, I say it because I mean so,” Sheahan stated.
Within months the disenchanted Sheahan would realize there was a whole lot more to war than striking a heroic and patriotic stance.
Sources: Edward Parsons Tobie, History of the First Maine Cavalry, 1861-1865, First Maine Cavalry Association, Emery & Hughes, Boston, 1887; Edward Parsons Tobie Jr. and John Parris Sheahan, Soldiers’ Files, Maine State Archives; Pvt. John P. Sheahan, letter to parents, August 31, 1862, Maine Historical Society
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.