Sgt. Charles H. Haynes of Ellsworth marched toward his appointment with destiny as he crossed the Rapidan River on a pontoon bridge around sunset on Wednesday, May 4, 1864.
His life would change dramatically within 72 hours.
Twenty-six when he enlisted in Co. I, 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment on December 13, 1861, the married Haynes showed enough initiative that he soon made sergeant. “After serving nearly two years in the 2nd Me. Vols., I was transferred to the 20th Me.” in spring 1863, recalled Haynes, assigned to Co. E in the regiment then commanded by Joshua L. Chamberlain.
The Army sent him home on leave in March 1864. During the morning of Monday, March 28, he left for Bangor accompanied by “J.F. Whitcomb, Lena and Carrie.” Bundled into a horse-drawn stage or a sleigh while traveling northwest through the Dedham Hills, “we had a very pleasant time from Ellsworth to Bangor,” Haynes noted.
Boarding a Maine Central Railroad train with at least five other 20th Maine comrades, Haynes rumbled out of Bangor at 7 a.m., Tuesday. “We had a very pleasant time through to Boston,” wrote the jolly traveler from Ellsworth.
Haynes probably looked back as the Bangor railroad station receded in the distance. “I found it much harder leaving home this time then it was the first times for this reason, that we have not been successful in the Army of the Potomac,” he admitted to his diary.
Haynes had stood in that disintegrating line of heroes on Little Round Top, had survived two winters in camps that Maine loggers would deem execrable. Hopping by train from Boston to Philadelphia on Wednesday and from Philly to arrive in Washington at 8.a.m., Thursday, March 31, Haynes wondered (as did countless other soldiers) if Ulysses S. Grant would succeed where every Union general had failed in Virginia.
“We feel in hopes that this spring campaign will cause Richard and other important points now in the hands of the rebs to be cleaned out and held by the Union Armies,” Haynes wrote.
A military train delivered him “at the Regiment” at 3 p.m., April Fool’s Day. Haynes “found everything quiet and mighty lonesome.
“I feel a little homesick tonight,” he confided to his diary.
Actually commanded by George Gordon Meade (Grant was the U.S. Army’s supreme commander), the Army of the Potomac spent April preparing for the expected spring offensive. One or two bad storms raised the rivers to flood stage, and on Sunday, April 10 “we are nearly surrounded by water,” Haynes noticed.
Company E drilled, target practiced, drilled some more, “went on picket,” and ate crappy food for so long that Haynes could write “we have not had one decent meal” on Monday, April 18. Cooks issued “S. bread, coffee, sugar and stale pork and one turnip a week for five” soldiers,” which meant they had only “S. bread, pork and coffee for breakfast, the same for dinner, and the same warmed over for supper.”
Assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, V Corps (commanded by Gouverneur Warren), the 20th Maine lads finally marched out (about “six miles”) on Saturday, May 1, crossed the Rapidan River at 8 p.m., May 4, “and had a little skirmish” with Confederates who quickly skedaddled,” Haynes wrote.
With Grant and Robert E. Lee whaling away at each other in the Wilderness, the 20th Maine and its division and corps camped Wednesday night on the Federal army’s right flank, near the junction of Germanna Highway (modern Route 3) and the Orange Turnpike, now called Constitution Highway (Route 20). Confederates lurked nearby, and the fighting then raging elsewhere in the Wilderness was horrendous.
Around sunrise on Thursday, May 5, the 20th Maine lads started constructing “breast works” and cutting “down a lot of trees in front of us,” Haynes wrote.
“After working very hard for four hours, we finished the work and cleared up in front of us,” he noted. At 2 p.m. came orders for the 20th Maine and other regiments “to advance in line of battle” through “a thick woods until we came to a field where we halted at the edge of the woods.”
Haynes looked west-southwest across Saunders Field, roughly equivalent to a moderate Maine hay field in size. Spreading across Orange Turnpike, Saunders presented significant open terrain in the Wilderness, so overgrown that soldiers could see only short distances.
Confederates lurked somewhere along the western treeline.
When the order came, Charles Haynes advanced to his destiny.
Next week: A Maine soldier bids “adieu” to a loyal friend
Source: Diary of Sergeant Charles H. Haynes; Maine Adjutant General’s Report 1861 (a copy is in the author’s possession)
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.