Gettysburg shot them all out

Camped somewhere near Washington, D.C. in 1861, two Union soldiers write letters as a comrade (foreground) repairs his clothing. Some Maine soldiers often filed pseudonymous reports with local newspapers. (Library of Congress)

Maine newspapers are excellent “original source” documents from the Civil War. The Daily Whig & Courier in Bangor, the Republican Journal out of Belfast, the Eastern Argus and Portland Daily Press of Portland, the Ellsworth American, and the Maine Farmer of Augusta are among the better Fourth Estate sources for letters and reports from Maine soldiers in the field.

Often writing under pseudonyms, certain soldiers became de facto regimental correspondents, writing to let the good folks back home know how they boys were doing. Proud parents offered their sons’ personal correspondence for publication in the local broadsheet.

Other soldiers (particularly chaplains) wrote directly to newspapers, which printed their names and unit affiliations.

Despite the mounting casualties from December 1862 to spring 1863, the letters and reports continued unabated in Maine newspapers, even after Chancellorsville. Suddenly the correspondence slowed, almost to a trickle, as news about Gettysburg and the draft filled the pages. July 1863 dragged into August drags into September drags into October, and apparently the soldiers in the field didn’t have much to say.

For a historian, it’s like having the Golden Goose refuse to lay her golden eggs. What gives?

Well, reading between the lines, I sense that Gettysburg shot out many faithful newspaper writers. Yes, the Maine boys took a pounding during that battle, and the Union pursuit of Lee kept men from writing.

But I’ve come across anecdotal evidence that the 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment lost its correspondent, perhaps before Gettysburg, perhaps during the battle. The regiment also lost something else: 122 men out of the 210 soldiers whom Col. Moses Lakeman led into battle.

Noting the loss of the 3rd Maine Infantry’s regular correspondent with the Kennebec Journal, a soldier with the pseudonym “Reveille” filed a report from camp on August 10, 1863.

Writing “To the Editors of the Kennebec Journal” from “Headquarters, 3d Maine Vols.” on August 10, 1863, a soldier calling himself “Reveille” fed some news to 3rd Maine fans in the Kennebec Valley. He admitted that while not the regiment’s original correspondent, he took a stab at reporting.

For a long time I have missed the correspondent who was wont to furnish you with the events connected with the regiment,” Reveille commented. “Now I do not propose to fill his place, even if I had the ability I would make no promise to that effect.”

His words reveal that an unidentified soldier routinely shared 3rd Maine news with the KJ. Something had happened “a long time” ago to that uniformed correspondent, but we are not told what or when.

Did Reveille consider the five weeks since Gettysburg “a long time”? We do not know.

The 3rd Maine was camped “near White Sulphur Springs,” the so-called “‘Saratoga’ of Virginia, where oft doubtless the wit, wisdom and beauty of the F. F. Va. [First Families of Virginia] was wont to resort for recreation, health and pleasure,” Reveille wrote.

He referred to a famous antebellum resort (now called The Greenbriar in West Virginia) to which aristocratic Virginians flocked in summer, when bug- and water-borne diseases stalked Tidewater and Piedmont residents. Right now, “the fate of cruel war has transformed the once beautiful hotel into a pile of blackened ruins,” Reveille observed.

Meandering to “the Spring house itself,” he drank “water, pure and cold ’tis true, but so strongly impregnated with the same peculiar odor that bubbles up at ‘Togus’ that you soon satisfy all craving after mineral water.”

This observation marks Reveille as familiar with the spring water served at the Togus Springs Hotel in Chelsea, just east of Augusta. The White Sulphur Springs water stunk as bad as the Togus water, or so he thought.

The 3rd Maine was camped “about one mile from the Springs, in a location once healthy and beautiful,” Reveille wrote. “You will doubtless picture to yourself the long streets of canvas tents such as were our quarters when encamped near the State House in your goodly city [Augusta].

But our encampment now is neither so comfortable or extensive,” Reveille noted. “On two short streets are now gathered all of the serviceable part of the 3d Maine Regt., numbering less than one hundred men, in such shelters as their ingenuity can invent from a piece of cotton drilling 6 feet by 5, and the production of the neighboring forest.”

The 3rd Maine lads had even torn down “two buildings” and used the lumber to build shelters, he wrote.

Reveille’s reference to the regiment “numbering less than one hundred men” hints at the 3rd Maine’s losses incurred while supporting the U.S. Sharpshooters on Seminary Ridge and later defending the Peach Orchard on July 2. Worn out by “fatiguing marches and the hardships and exposure” endured since mid-June, the survivors thought “our present rest is indeed a luxury.”

The 3rd Maine lads looked forward to seeing their ranks “filled by conscripts … those who are lucky enough to draw prizes in the Great National Lottery now in active operation,” Reveille wrote. With “our share of these reinforcements,” the regiment could once again “meet the rebels in battle.

The health of the regiment is generally good,” although summer maladies plagued some men, he noted.

Lakeman and Lt. Col. Edwin Burt were “both absent sick,” and Maj. Samuel Lee was “wounded at Gettysburg,” so “the command devolves upon Capt. Wm. C. Morgan, who ably performs the duties of his position.”

Morgan was from Cornville in Somerset County.

The 3rd Maine Infantry was down to fewer than 100 soldiers and was led by a captain.

Gettysburg shot the regiment all out.

Source: Kennebec Journal, Friday, August 21, 1861; the italics are in the original issue

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.