Building on the success of his epic documentary Sixteenth Maine at Gettysburg, filmmaker Dan Lambert will recall another hard-fighting Maine regiment with the June 18 premiere of Forlorn Hope on MPBN.
Focused on the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment, Forlorn Hope will debut at the Alamo Theater in Bucksport at 2 p.m., Monday, June 18 and will be broadcast at 9 p.m. on MPBN that same day. The documentary will run again on MPBN at 10 p.m., Thursday, June 21 and at 11 a.m., Saturday, June 23.
Raised in Bangor in summer 1863 as the 18th Maine Infantry Regiment and commanded by Col. Daniel Chaplin, the regiment was converted to the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery the following winter and assigned to the forts encircling the District of Columbia.
To replace men lost in The Wilderness in early May 1864, Ulysses S. Grant summoned several heavy artillery regiments from Washington, D.C. to join the Army of the Potomac. Roughed up during its first fight at the Battle of Harris Farm, the 1st MHA arrived outside Petersburg in mid-June.
Orders came for the regiment and its brigade to charge Confederate defenses on June 18. Veteran Union soldiers in the adjoining regiments took one look at the open ground across which the charge must be made and decided, “No way.”
So the 1st MHA boys charged alone. Within 10-15 minutes, at least two-thirds (632 men) were shot down. No Union regiment suffered a higher percentage of casualties in a single action during the war.
Describing himself “as a Mainer” who has “always been interested in Maine’s participation in the Civil War,” Lambert said that “it wasn’t until 2011 that I had learned about the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery and their ill-fated charge at the Battle of Petersburg.
“I thought, if I’m just learning about this Maine regiment’s place in history, there must be many Mainers who have yet to learn about their sacrifice on that fateful day,” Lambert told Maine at War.
He decided to produce Forlorn Hope in 2014 after contacting David Cheever at the Maine State Archives “to learn all I could about” the 1st MHA. The documentary’s goal “is to make the sacrifice of these fallen sons of Maine better known to Mainers and to Maine students,” Lambert said.
“Though the charge of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery did not result in glorious victory, like the 20th Maine, there was genuine selfless valor in their sacrifice,” he said. “These men deserve to be remembered.”
The initial filming of Forlorn Hope took place in 2015 at the site of the charge at Petersburg National Battlefield. The park staff “was very helpful in explaining the circumstances leading up to, during, and after the charge,” Lambert said.
Filming then moved north. “Civil War re-enactors, Union and Confederate, from all over New England generously volunteered their time at filming locations, including at Togus, Maine, and Blackstone, Massachusetts,” Lambert said.
“There is always a challenge in telling any historical story, when all the participants are long dead,” he said. “In the 1860s, photography was in its infancy, so the only imagery available is often soft-focused portraits of soldiers or images of the dead on the battlefield, as the cameras of the day required long exposure times, which made action shots nearly impossible to capture.”
According to Lambert, “the Maine State Archives was the primary source for the film. The archives has a trove of historical documentation, CDVs (cartes de visites), which are portraits of soldiers, and all manner of holdings in their digital collections.
“I was also aided by the research of Andrew MacIsaac, of Massachusetts, whose research of the charge provided several insightful points,” he said.
Rumors about Forlorn Hope circulated in Maine’s Civil War community (yes, such a world exists) as Lambert shifted to post-production by Lambert Films. “Post-production (editing) is the most enjoyable part of the film-making process to me,” Lambert said.
“This is where the story takes shape, and the process is full of ‘a-ha’ moments when things just fall into place,” he explained.
“It also has its share of frustrations, and it often takes a little hair-pulling to make the narration, music, and imagery work together symphonically,” Lambert stated.
According to Lambert, “‘Forlorn Hope’ will also be made freely available to Maine schools for use in their curriculums,” Lambert said. Teachers interested in acquiring the film for classroom use can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.