If you like monuments, Civil War veterans created more than you can imagine —
— and an unsung Maine soldier spawned the first privately erected Civil War monument in the United States.
The tale begins in Foxcroft in Piscataquis County and ends not that far away.
Susan (Heald) Carpenter bore her husband, Joshua, a son in Foxcroft on May 14, 1818. A militia officer during the recently concluded War of 1812, Colonel Carpenter named his bouncing baby boy “Stephen Decatur” to honor the American sailor of Barbary Pirate fame.
Stephen Decatur Carpenter graduated from West Point on July 1, 1840, joined the 1st Infantry Regiment as a shave tail lieutenant, and fought Seminoles, Mexicans, and Comanches, in that order.
He traipsed from post to post in the Upper Midwest, where he married Margaret Gear while at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. Her father apparently was Ezekial Gear, an Episcopal minister who served as the fort’s chaplain and as a missionary among local Indians.
Ancestry.com postings indicate that the Carpenters had a daughter, Alice. Years later she became a ward of Iowa resident John Gear, likely a relative of her mother, and later married her ward’s son.
Margaret Gear Carpenter later died at Fort Terrett in Texas.
Then Stephan Decatur Carpenter established a Bangor connection. In 1856 he married Laura Clark, the adopted daughter of the Queen City’s Richmond Hayward. The Carpenters soon had a daughter, Sara Elvira, whose birth date and location remain clouded.
Laura Carpenter accompanied her husband to Texas, where circa 1857-58 he established his Comanche-fighter bonafides. While stationed at Fort Lancaster, Carpenter rode out one day with the post surgeon and five enlisted men to find a tree suitable for a flagpole.
Far from the fort, 20 Comanche warriors ambushed “the little party,” which “was saved only by the coolness and intrepidity of its leader,” Charles P. Roberts later wrote.
With Comanche arrows dropping around him, Carpenter concealed his men in the tall grass. The Comanches encircled their perceived easy pickings and finally charged; Carpenter then ordered his men to shoot.
“Captain Carpenter, with wonderful quickness of motion, dispatched two savages with his revolver in instantaneous succession,” Roberts wrote. Leaving behind five dead warriors and Carpenter with an arrow stuck through his hand, the Comanches fled.
But marital happiness eluded Maine’s Indian fighter. Laura died at Fort Stockton, Texas in late 1860, possibly after giving birth to Carpenter’s son. Then when Texas seceded from the Union, Army Brig. Gen. David Twiggs betrayed the Federal troops under his command in the Lone Star State by surrendering them and every fort to Confederate militia.
Carpenter commanded Camp Cooper, an outpost on the road to California. When some 1,000 Confederate surrounded the fort and their commander demanded its surrender, Carpenter told them to go to hell.
“He … declared that rather than surrender as demanded, the bones of himself and his men should bleach on the prairie,” Roberts wrote. “His subordinate officers, in council, shared the noble and heroic resolution.”
The Confederate commander realized that the Comanche fighter would not hesitate to shoot. He negotiated a deal: If Carpenter abandoned Camp Cooper, he and his men could march “with their arms and their country’s untarnished flag, to Indianola, the nearest place on the coast, seven hundred and fifty miles” away on Matagorda Bay, Roberts wrote.
Carpenter’s men probably marched out with their weapons loaded and a desire for vengeance burning in their hearts. Twiggs, that traitor who would join the Confederate army and would not survive the impending war, had caused many loyal soldiers to languish in captivity.
Not Carpenter: He would shoot first and not ask questions later. For several weeks he led his men on a trek across central Texas to the Gulf Coast, where as “the last U.S. troops which quitted Texas, they embarked for Key West,” Roberts wrote.
Sara Elvira and the baby boy, John, may have accompanied their father on the arduous journey. The details are sketchy; promoted to major on May 14, 1861, Carpenter soon left Florida for a recruiting assignment in Indianapolis. He probably visited Bangor, where 9½-month-old John died on July 7. The toddler is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.
In Indiana, Carpenter recruited soldiers for the regular Army’s 19th Infantry Regiment while training raw Indiana state regiments. In early spring 1862, Stephen Decatur took his regulars to Pittsburgh Landing, about 10 miles “up” the Tennessee River from Savannah, Tennessee.
On Sunday, April 6, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston hurled his large Confederate army at the poorly deployed Union army commanded by Gen. Ulysses Simpson Grant. Every available Union soldier hurried to help Grant’s beleaguered men at the battle later called “Shiloh.”
Stephen Decatur Carpenter was en route.
Next week: Maine’s monumental soldier fights in a desperate Tennessee battle.
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.