Friendly receptions drew loud “huzzahs” as the 3rd Maine Infantry Regiment headed south to the war zone in early June 1861.
And then there was Baltimore.
Beneath “a cloudless sky,” the 3rd Maine boys left Augusta by train on Wednesday, June 5, 1861, recalled Col. Oliver Otis Howard, the professional soldier from Leeds who had resigned his Army commission to command the regiment.
Spring abounded in the Kennebec Valley, where “fruit trees and the luxurious lilacs were in full bloom,” and “the maples in … Augusta were thick with leaves as rich and charming as fresh green could make them,” Howard described the foliage.
Friends, relatives, and the inquisitive turned out early to bid “farewell” to the departing soldiers. Amidst tears and shared conversations, an impatient railroad engineer blew a train whistle, “and the engine bells began to ring,” according to Howard.
His men packed the “rail coaches”; as the train chugged south toward Hallowell, soldiers sat or stood on the car roofs and waved to the civilians seeing them off.
In those heady weeks before Bull Run, patriotic fervor surrounded Union regiments departing for war. Men, women, and children packed train stations rural and urban to glimpse their heroes. For the next 48 hours Howard and his men encountered raucous greetings in municipalities small and large.
And then there was Baltimore.
The Boston & Maine Railroad train rumbled south. During a whistle stop at Brunswick, Bowdoin College “professors and students, forgetting their wonted respectful distance and distinction, mingled together in the same eager crowd” that cheered his men, Howard noticed.
“At Portland … we met a marked demonstration,” with many civilians passing “food, drink, and flowers” to the train-bound soldiers, he said.
In early afternoon the train reached North Station in Boston. The 3rd Maine boys disembarked to march through the Beantown streets. “A company of guards in spotless uniform and with wondrous perfection of drill” escorted the gray-clad Maine soldiers “through the eddies and whirlpools of city people” to Boston Common, Howard recalled.
There “the choicest supper was spread upon long tables.” After a warm greeting from Gov. John A. Andrew (himself born in Maine), Howard’s men chowed down as the “mothers and daughters of Massachusetts” waited on them. Then the 3rd Maine traveled by train to Fall River to board the “Bay State,” a steamer that “ferried us the length of Long Island Sound” that night, Howard said.
In pouring rain, the Maine soldiers disembarked at a North River pier in New York City on June 6. Comprised of people with ties to the Pine Tree State, a local organization named the “Sons of Maine” had organized an incredible welcome that included “a military and police escort” and a rain-soaked march “via Battery Place and up Broadway to the White Street city armory,” Howard said.
In the drill hall, his men dropped their haversacks and sat on them. Married to a Maine woman (which explained his Sons of Maine membership), attorney Stewart Lyndon Woodford extended a patriotic greeting to the 3rd Maine. He also presented Howard with a new American flag.
Thanking the New Yorkers for their hospitality, Howard “called for cheers” for New York, the Union, the Constitution, and President Abraham Lincoln. His men leaped to their feet to shout their “huzzahs!”
The enlisted men ate in the armory, and the 3rd Maine’s officers dined with the Sons of Maine at the Astor House. The regiment later crossed the Hudson River by ferry to catch a train for Philadelphia.
There, with the rain ended, the Maine lads “received a delightful supper” served “between eight and ten” p.m. that Thursday, Howard remembered. Clad in white dresses with flowers adorning their hair, local women waited tables by filling coffee cups and empty plates; Howard recalled the “gentle voices” that “made us feel that we were already heroes.”
Then the 3rd Maine entrained for the journey to Baltimore, where Confederate sympathizers had ambushed the 6th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment on Friday, April 19. Railroads extended only to President Street Station in the east of Baltimore and Camden Station two miles to the west; everyone passing through the city by train disembarked at either station and crossed the inner city to reach the other station.
A running street battle on April 19 had killed four soldiers and 20 civilians. For several weeks the federal government had diverted Washington, D.C.-bound regiments around Baltimore; now the 3rd Maine “was among the first to resume the direct route,” Howard commented.
“In order … to protect ourselves” in Baltimore, “I had ordered the men supplied with ten rounds apiece of ball cartridges,” he recalled. A large police contingent awaited the 3rd Maine at President Street Station; the senior police officer reported to Howard “as I left my coach.”
The police officers formed “where they could clear the way for my column,” he noticed. Howard crossed the train yard and watched as his men formed into their respective companies; a few Union sympathizers, unwelcome among a predominantly pro-Confederate populace, shook Howard’s right hand.
A large crowd had gathered to watch the 3rd Maine arrive. The civilians kept quiet as Howard faced his formed regiment and shouted, “Load with cartridges, load!” The message was clear as the soldiers efficiently loaded their muskets; “we were then self-confident — ready for anything that might occur,” Howard explained.
Wheeling into “a column of platoons,” the Maine boys set off behind their police escort.
Baltimore remained eerily quiet that Friday, June 7. Closed businesses lent “a gloomy effect” to the tense atmosphere. No flags flew, and onlookers stood “silent, yet curious and observing” as the soldiers crossed the city, Howard recalled. For fear of retribution from their pro-Southern relatives and neighbors, loyal Union men dared not cheer the passing Mainers.
For fear of Union bullets, pro-Confederate Baltimoreans dared not curse the blue-clad soldiers — and a single tossed brick might have drawn a vengeful fusillade.
“It was a little strange that the ominous silence on our arrival had not been broken and our bold march through the flagless city interrupted,” Howard commented.
As his men loaded their gear onto a train at Camden Station, he was invited “to dine with a Union man at his house.” There he met “a few chosen friends [of the homeowner] who were in sympathy with us.”
The 3rd Maine Infantry departed Camden Street Station on a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train that reached Washington, D.C. that evening.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would love to hear from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.