However badly that Joseph Hooker blew the Battle of Chancellorsville, an order he issued on January 30, 1863 went over very well with the Army of the Potomac’s rank-and-file.
“Orders were given on January 30th from the headquarters of the army that furloughs might be granted for fifteen days to one regimental and two line officers to each regiment and two enlisted men for every one hundred men present for duty,” explained Pvt. John Day Smith pf Litchfield and Co. F, 19th Maine Infantry Regiment.
“This gave each company a furlough for one enlisted man,” he noted.
Surprisingly, the reaction from Co. F was subdued, to say the least. “About ten or twelve men … put in an application for a furlough,” said Corp. Samuel Smith of Litchfield. Capt. Isaac Starbird of Litchfield picked a winner by drawing lots.
“One evening the applicants gathered about his tent[,] and he put into a hat as many tickets as there were applicants for furloughs,” Smith said. One ticket “was marked ‘furlough.’” The other tickets were blank.
Soldiers drew blank tickets until “I put my hand into the hat and took out the ‘furlough,’” Smith said. “Well, this was a new sensation, as I had never thought of going home until the expiration of my term of service.”
Officers sent the furlough-lottery winners’ names “to headquarters[,] and in due time the papers came around, with all necessary red tape attached,” he noticed.
His furlough bore the signatures of Starbird; Maj. Henry Cunningham of Belfast, the 19th Maine’s commander; Col. Frederic D. Sewall of Bath, commanding the 1st Brigade to which the regiment was attached; Brig. Gen. Joshua Owen, the 2nd Division commander; Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, commanding II Corps; and Maj. Gen. Darius Couch, who commanded the Right Grand Division.
The six official signatures impressed Smith; “I have the furlough yet and in good state of preservation,” he commented.
“Dated near Falmouth, Virginia, [Wednesday] February 4th, ’63,” his furlough ordered Smith to rejoin his company in 15 days “or be considered a deserter.”
On Thursday morning he joined the furlough-ee stampede to Belle Plain Landing to catch a promised “steamer … to take us to Washington. There was a small steamer waiting for us,” but he calculated “that when the steamer was loaded to the gunwales[,] there would still be a big crowd on the shore.”
Each soldier presented his furlough at “a little office window” to be “leisurely looked over by the one clerk.” Only then could a soldier “get his ticket for the boat,” Smith recalled.
Maine was at least two days’ travel away. Whether or not he applied elbows to hold his place in line, Smith did not say, but “I decided that if I was left[,] it would not be my fault.
“So when the steamer had taken about the last she could carry, I was on board and we started north, leaving many disappointed men on the wharf.”
An original enlistee in the 19th Maine, Smith later fought at Gettysburg and other battles. Already promoted to sergeant, he was sick when the 19th Maine mustered out of federal service on May 31, 1865. Commissioned a colonel on November 11, 1864, Isaac Starbird commanded the 19th Maine until the end of the war. John Day Smith later wrote the regiment’s history.
Source: John Day Smith, The History of the Nineteenth Regiment of Maine Volunteer Infantry 1862-1865, Great Western Printing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1909
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.