Note: We thank attorney Joseph G. Donahue, a re-enactor with Co. A, 3rd Maine Infantry, for providing the Maine Supreme Judicial Court opinion that sparked this three-part post.
A deal was a deal, John Winchester believed, and his hometown selectmen had better keep their end of the bargain — or else.
Born January 25, 1822 in Corinna, Winchester typified the yeomen farmers tilling the rich soil in this western Penobscot County town bisected by the East Branch of the Sebasticook River. Married to Elizabeth Stewart in mid-May 1844, Winchester worshiped at the Morse’s Corner Baptist Church, voted Republican from the 1850s onward, and belonged to the Grange. Daughters Mary and Alice were born in 1845 and 1861, respectively.
After the Lincoln Administration demanded more men in July 1864 to fill the army’s thinning ranks, Corinna voters gathered “at a legal [town] meeting held on August 24, 1864.” They approved paying a $300 bounty “to each volunteer” credited to that town and also approved paying “each volunteer $16, per month, for each month in the service.”
To collect the lump-sum bounty and the monthly pay, a recruit must serve “one year,” voters stipulated.
Under state law, Corinna selectmen Robert Knowles, Charles H. Morse, and Emery Southard signed the town-meeting warrant. They knew exactly what the articles meant.
By now 42½, John Winchester probably figured the monthly $16 town pay, the $300 town bounty, and a private’s federally funded 13 bucks a month added to a princely sum. He hopefully talked with Elizabeth (pregnant with her third child) before mustering at Augusta on September 17 and shipping to Virginia to join the 4th Maine Battery.
Raised by Capt. O’Neil W. Robinson Jr. in autumn ’61, the battery garrisoned Fort Miekel next to the Petersburg & Norfolk Railroad in late August ’64. Capt. Charles White had replaced the ill Robinson, since promoted to major. He went home to Bethel to recover and died there on July 17.
Shifted to Battery 16 on September 24, the 4th Maine split its gun sections between forts Haskell and Stedman the next day. Winchester settled into the battery’s siege routine. “Although we were on the front line and in constant danger, it got to be rather monotonous and lonesome,” commented Sgt. Judson Ames from Foxcroft in Piscataquis County.
When not operating their guns, soldiers sheltered in the adjacent bomb-proofs and watched “through the peep holes” as infantry pickets traded lead between the lines during the day, he said. Sometimes a gunner borrowed “an infantryman’s rifle” and fired at the enemy.
If designated a driver, Winchester cared for his section’s horses, withdrawn to the rear where enemy shells should not reach them.
On Thursday afternoon, October 27, the Maine gunners suddenly spotted an enemy regiment moving at “the double quick” across an opening in the Southern lines. A while later another regiment trotted past the same point, and the Union boys feared that “a large force [was] massing for an assault,” Ames said.
Men grew antsy. Winchester would have learned that much of II and V corps had just slipped westward to attack the Southside Railroad, “and the [Union] forces left in the front lines were not much more than a heavy picket line,” Ames admitted.
A Confederate thrust might carry a few forts and batteries. Was combat imminent?
A sharp-eyed Yankee quickly realized the running Johnnies had simply veered “out of sight” and made a circle before reappearing, reported Ames, calling the maneuver “a little bluff game.”
Sources: George Thomas Little, editor, Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine, Vol. 1, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1909; John Winchester versus Inhabitants of Corinna, Cases In The Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Maine, Eastern District, Penobscot County,1867; Lilla E. Wood, A Brief History of Corinna, Maine: 1814-1916, J.P. Bass Publishing Company, Bangor, ME, 1946; Judson Ames, History of the Fourth Maine Battery Light Artillery in the Civil War: 1861-1865, Burleigh & Flynt, Augusta, ME, 1905
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.