Readfield father threatens to turn recruiter into dead hero

Paid to recruit men for the Army, a broker (center) drags an elderly recruit into a barber shop and provides instructions as indicated in this cartoon’s caption. (Harper’s Weekly)

Sgt. Maj. Abner R. Small of Waterville enjoyed a snug recruiting gig at the State House in Augusta as Stonewall Jackson and his hard-marching infantry battered three Union armies in the Shenandoah Valley in May 1862.

Confident of victory in the Valley and on the Peninsula, the War Department had halted recruiting efforts in April. Now a suddenly nervous Lincoln Administration hollered for more men, so on Thursday, May 22, Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon issued General Order No. 12 to create the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment, comprising “not less than” 866 men and “nor more than 1,046 men, in the aggregate.”

Small had enlisted in Co. G, 3rd Maine Infantry in 1861, fought at Manassas, and sought a transfer home to Maine in early winter 1862. He worked for Maj. John Gardiner, Federal superintendent of recruiting services in Maine.

Abner Small was a sergeant major in the 3rd Maine when offered a commission if he could recruit a company for the 16th Maine Infantry. Although unsuccessful, he became the regiment’s adjutant. (Maine State Archives)

A few mornings after Hodsdon issued General Order No. 12, Small “was laying out the work on my desk” inside Gardiner’s office. Suddenly the major told Small, “Sergeant-Major, the governor wishes to see you at once. I’ve recommended you for a commission.”

Taking “the stairs three at a leap,” Small reported to Governor Israel Washburn Jr. He “swung round in his chair” and informed Small that “we’re to raise a new regiment.” If Small could raise Co. B, 16th Maine Infantry, then “I’ll commission you captain. When can you go?”

“This afternoon, sir,” Small replied.

Moments later he thanked Gardiner for his recommendation. “Make good my promises to the governor,” the major said.

Small promptly exited Augusta stage left and enthusiastically preached about the joys of soldiering to anyone who would listen. His first afternoon on the hunt, he secured his first recruit in Vienna. After signing up a second recruit in Mt. Vernon, Small suddenly struck out.

In Readfield he “painted the town red with patriotic posters ornamented with pictures of proper soldiery” and enrolled a youngster under age 18. Arriving promptly on the scene, the boy’s father “threatened to make a dead hero of me if he should find me in town by Saturday night,” recalled Small, facing a danger as real as a discharging Confederate cannon.

The irate father “led him (son) home by the ear,” and Small decamped for safer environs.

He soon realized that “recruiting was a discouraging business. “I called up all the eloquence of my ancestors, if they had any; I pleaded, cried, swore, and prayed, yet only two patriots were enrolled to my credit,” he commiserated with himself.

Other equally ambitious young men also fanned out across Maine in late May to recruit companies for the 16th Maine. Out-hustling and out-recruiting Small, Charles Hutchins of Augusta enlisted enough men that he dared lobby Washburn for the Co. B captaincy. A deal was a deal; because “I was failing to raise” Co. B, Hutchins received the promised commission instead, Small admitted.

But his fortunes improved when he opened a letter on Friday, June 6. Washburn had appointed his military advisor, Asa Wildes of Skowhegan, as colonel of the 16th Maine; writing Small from Augusta on June 5, Wildes reported that “I have appointed you Adjutant of the 16th Regiment. Please report here at once.”

The position gained Small a lieutenant’s commission and a heavy workload. “In Room No. 9, off the rotunda of the State House, I began in earnest my work” to organize the 16th Maine, “and … I had my hands full,” Small admitted.

Originally a 2nd Maine Infantry captain, Charles Tilden appeared in the State House office occupied by Abner R. Small and succinctly introduced himself as the new lieutenant colonel of the new 16th Maine Infantry. (Maine State Archives)

Recruits dribbled into the 16th Maine camp at Augusta as May faded from the calendar. Officers and recruits gradually populated the 16th Maine’s camp. “One day, as I was busy … at guard mounting,” Small saw “a handsome young man” watching the hubbub inside the camp. “He sported a white beaver hat … and carried himself with the dignity of a senator.”

The civilian kept watching as Small went about his duties; soon “a feeling came over me that he was my military superior,” Small thought.

The man finally approached Small and quietly said, “Farnham, late of the 2nd Maine.”

Newly appointed as major of the 16th Maine Infantry, Augustus Bowman Farnham “requested me to show him through the camp,” Small recalled.

On “another day,” a uniformed captain “came briskly into No. 9 and informed me that his name was Tilden, that he was the new regiment’s lieutenant-colonel, and that I was to take my orders from him,” Small remembered his succinct introduction to Charles Tilden of Castine.

Small could not imagine that Tilden would take him to a place called Gettysburg.

Sources: 1862 Maine Adjutant General’s Report, Appendix A, p. 3; Henry Adams Small, “The Road to Richmond: The Civil War Letters of Major Abner R. Small of the 16th Maine Volunteers,” Fordham University Press, New York, 2000, pp.33-40

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.