Courtroom wars part 1 – Corinna promises its recruits big bucks

Two people riding an ATV cross the Central Maine Adventure Trail bridge spanning the East Branch of the Sebasticook River in Corinna. To the left stands the Corinna United Methodist Church, constructed in 1851 and extensively revamped in 1900, 1944, and 1958. Farmer John Winchester left Corinna in September 1864 to serve with the 4th Maine Battery. The town promised him a $300 bounty and $16 per month served, as long as he was in the army a full year. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

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.

Autumn foliage decorates the shore of Corundel Lake in Corinna, located in western Penobscot County. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

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.

Corundel Lake reflects the summer sky above Corinna in central Maine. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

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.”

Part 2: His hometown shafts John Winchester

Part 3: John Winchester sues his hometown for the money due him

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 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.