Civil War Essay Contest – 2nd Place

We are pleased to present below the 2nd Place winner of our Civil War Family Story essay contest. The contest ran in the summer and the winners were announced in the fall print newsletter, which was mailed to MHS members last week. The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, and two Honorable Mentions, will appear on the blog throughout the week. Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to all the entrants. Judging was made difficult given the volume and high quality of the submissions.

Farmer, Father, Soldier, Murderer, Inmate

By Jeffrey Larsen, Barrington, Rhode island

Robert Grindle, born in 1813 and raised in Brooksville, Maine, was the grandson of a bricklayer of Swan’s Island, and son of a laborer/farmer of Sedgwick and Blue Hill. Robert left the family farm in Brooksville in 1839 to serve in Captain Dority’s Company of Infantry in the so-called Aroostook War over lumber rights and the exact boundary line between the United States and Canada near Fort Kent.

He married Marcy Varnum in Brooksville in 1841 and began his family that would total three sons, five daughters, and his widowed father. Census records show Robert “Keeper of the Town Poor” and a pew holder in the Brooksville Baptist Church.

18th Regiment recruiting poster, Aroostook County, 1862. MMN #16119.

18th Regiment recruiting poster, Aroostook County, 1862. MMN #16119.

In July of 1862, President Lincoln asked for volunteers to bolster the war effort. Robert was 49 years old. Was it an inner surge of patriotism, a desire for adventure, a chance for a regular income to support a full house at home…or some problem he was escaping that might have been an indicator of what would happen in the years ahead?  He wrote on his enlistment papers that he was 44 and headed to Bangor.

The Regiment mustered in as the 18th Maine Volunteers but six months later was changed to the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. The experiences of the 1st Maine have been well documented but my great-great-grandfather Robert Grindle’s time with the unit ended when he was injured at Cold Harbor, June 1864. The regimental history says his leg was crushed by a heavy pine log rolling on him while working on the breastworks.

Robert was taken to Union medical facilities at City Point, Virginia, and Wolfe Street Hospital in Alexandria. The gruesome details of these facilities almost match the horrors of battlefields. But he was safely away from the action when the 1st Maine Heavy made its charge at Petersburg just a couple weeks later, losing 632 men in ten minutes of carnage.

Something changed in Robert Grindle following the Civil War. The details are sketchy. He continued on as “Keeper of the Town Poor” when he returned home, but family records call him a “demented alcoholic.” His wife left him and in 1884, in what was described as an alcoholic fit provoked by a card game, he struck and killed a resident of the Poor House. It is claimed that the influence of his two doctor sons, one also a State Legislator, got him committed to what was then called the Maine Insane Hospital in Augusta. No trial records or newspaper accounts have been found.

The 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association had an article about the traumatic effects on Civil War soldiers, often fighting side-by-side with relatives and neighbors because of the recruiting methods, seeing loved ones dying, resulting in high levels of alcoholism, disease, and early mortality. Robert died in the hospital in 1899, many years after the Civil War but likely a casualty of it.

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