More than 100 people filled Rines Auditorium at Portland Public Library on May 7 to hear celebrated Civil War historian and Yale professor David Blight speak about the legacy of the Civil War. Blight is the author of numerous books and articles on the war including Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, which won eight awards. The talk served as the “endnote” to the three-year, NEH-funded Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War project that MHS collaborated on with Maine Humanities Council.
A captivating speaker with a wide-ranging intellect, Blight spoke about the many reasons the Civil War still holds sway in our national memory. These included our many periods of “racial reckoning” in this country (including the one we’re in now), the Civil War as the beginning of the modern era and so-called “big government,” and societal concepts of loss and death.
Local & Legendary team members, including ten students from Spruce Mountain High School in Jay, got the chance to speak to Professor Blight one-on-one prior to the talk.
More than 70,000 Mainers were soldiers or sailors during the Civil War. In addition, numerous women served as nurses at the front or at military hospitals. Many hundreds of other men and women gathered supplies for soldiers, raised money to support nurses and relief efforts. Few people in the state were untouched by the war.
This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War explores the personal experiences of those men and women through letters they wrote, artifacts they collected, photographs, and official records, among other items saved and treasured long after the four-year conflict ended.
Visitors will be able to read letters from soldiers, family members, nurses, and others commenting on the war – and will be able to listen to some of the letters being read aloud. Civil War era music also will be available throughout the exhibit.
More than 9,000 Maine soldiers and sailors died during the war. This Rebellion presents a Memorial to Maine Soldiers – a visual representation of the names of those who died while serving in Maine regiments. This moving tribute is similar to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC; it lists the names of more than 8,500 soldiers who died, and another 300 who were Missing in Action at war’s end.
The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 10AM-5PM, and Sunday from 12-5PM. For more information, visit the Museum page on the MHS website.
We are pleased to present below the 2nd Honorable Mention 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.
by Ann Worster
“Attention, Forward, March” and the little command of Company E, 14th Maine Volunteers, under Lt. George W. Worster, moved up the railroad track towards Ponchatoula.
Worster noticed that his command had begun to be separated from the main body of troops. He knew not what the orders were save to press on, and this he did. He had noticed that there was a piece of woods, something in the shape of a flatiron with the point towards him. The main body had passed, doubtlessly to one side of this point while he and his command had passed on the other side.
Worster began to feel anxious and calling a private to his side, said, “Go back and find Captain Trask and ask for instructions.”
The private had scarcely left when suddenly the enemy assembled their skirmishers in front. Worster, fearing a charge did the same. But no charge came. The rebels had now disappeared over a tall bank. As soon as they arrived at the top of the rise they understood the assembling of the rebels. Before them flowed the Tangipaho River, spanned by a small wooden bridge. On the other side, behind a previously erected breastwork of oak and dirt, the rebels had gathered.
They laughed tauntingly and cried, “Why don’t you come on Yanks, what are you waiting for?”
“Oh, to get our breath. You didn’t suppose it was on your account did you?” shouted a young private.
“Oh, go home to your mother, sonny,” replied a grey headed Confederate, unwisely showing a part of his body. The next instant there was a sharp crack of the Yank’s musket, followed by a smothered cry on the other side.
Then there was a silence. The Confederate guns commanded the little bridge. In the distance could be heard the crash of musketry of the main body. But Worster was not one to give up easily.
Leaning over, he whispered to the corporal lying next to him, “Pass the word along to the boys to keep perfectly silent until I give the word, then I want them to all fire together and yell as they never did before.” Worster feared to give the order to fix bayonets for had such an order been executed, the Confederates could not have missed seeing it.
After waiting long enough for the word to be passed among the men, Worster cried out, “Fire!” The muskets cracked in unison and there followed a terrific yell. The rebels, half startled, but thinking it was some farce in which they would join fired their guns and gave back an answering yell. Now was Worster’s opportunity. He knew that their guns were empty but that in a few moments they would be recharged.
Springing from behind his shelter, he shouted, “Where are the boys that will follow me?”
“Here’s one,” replied a man of sixty years with grey hair and long white whiskers. In another moment they were all dashing behind Worster for the little bridge.
“Club muskets,” shouted Worster as he sprang up the bank on the other side, followed by his men yelling at the top of their lungs. But the rebels had not stayed to meet them. They were running away.
We are pleased to present below the First Honorable Mention 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.
by Elva Mathiesen, Providence, Rhode Island
I’ve long known that two great-great-uncles of mine from Maine, Lewis and John Jordan, were killed in the Civil War.
In 1990 I learned that letters they wrote still existed and began a journey of discovery, meeting relatives in California and obtaining from them copies of the letters.
With all these letters reunited for the first time in three generations, I wondered what they would reveal.
They preserve a family conversation about the War. Most of the letters were from Lewis and John to their youngest brother, Benjamin, and their mother; others were between John and Lewis, and several were from an uncle.
Their conversation was cut off all too soon. John, in the Maine Sharpshooters (attached to the Second U.S. Sharpshooter Regiment as Company D), was killed during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Lewis, in the 9th Maine Regiment, Company G, died a year later in the battle of Morris Island.
Eighteen-year-old Benjamin wanted to join up too, but his mother wouldn’t let him. “I gave two of my sons to the War,” she said, “and I’m not going to give the third.”
So Benjamin became the faithful correspondent of his brothers, and, after they died, the keeper of their diaries, letters, photographs, and memories.
Benjamin eventually married and had two children, Bertha and Basil. In 1898, now widowed, he and his children moved from Skowhegan to Los Angeles.
Benjamin divided his memorabilia between his children. Basil, my grandfather, got most of the photographs, including a portrait of John (posing proudly with his gun), and Lewis’s Civil War diary. Bertha got all the letters, which she divided among her three daughters, and unfortunately censored, even cutting out half a page from one. What John wrote on there, front and back, is lost forever.
Yet much has been found, as well. Lewis and John Jordan are not just names now—I know their stories. John, the younger, was a natural reporter, judging from his account of a train accident in which he was injured. He spent six weeks recuperating in an Army hospital in Washington, D.C., where he loved exploring the city and museums. Clearly, this boy wasn’t going back to Ripley. Had he lived, he might have become a writer for big-city newspapers or magazines.
Lewis enlisted with friends from Ripley and the surrounding area, and sent home reports of the “Ripley Boys” in every letter. Like John he was fascinated with all he saw on his travels but longed for home. Not as literate as John, he spelled words just as they sounded to him. In his letters I hear the Maine accent and expressions of my grandfather.
Documents are fragile; history is capricious. A chance conversation, and the scattered parts of Lewis’s and John’s stories were reunited; Bertha’s prudery, and important information may have been lost.
Lewis and John have become real people to me. But there’s a price to be paid: knowing them now as I do, I regret their loss even more keenly.
We are pleased to present below the 3rd 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. (Be sure to read all the way to the end for a special Addendum!)
A Good Man
by Brett Harvey, Brooklyn, New York
Henry Henries was born in Orrington, Maine in 1821, the son of a farmer. Although he was a poor man, Henry’s father managed to send his son to college. By the time he left school, Henry knew he hated the institution of slavery, and that he wanted to be a minister. However, he didn’t have enough education to be ordained as a regular minister. But the Methodist Church was growing fast during the 1800s, and needed ministers, so Henry was appointed a “supply minister” to the Methodist congregation in Lincoln, Maine.
He had met a small, energetic woman in Boston named Abbie Paine, who shared his abolitionist sentiments and liked that he was a minister. They married and moved into a little house next to the Methodist Church in Lincoln, and began to raise their family of two daughters.
In 1861, when President Lincoln issued his call for volunteers for the Union Army, Henry immediately enlisted as a chaplain, in the 8th Maine Infantry Regiment. But his delicate constitution was ill-suited to the life of a soldier. After a twenty-two day journey by steamer bound for Hilton Head, South Carolina, his company encountered heavy gales and found themselves in the middle of the bombardment of Hilton Head by the Union Army. Seventy-two days after he’d enlisted, Henry was forced to resign his commission “on account of declining health.” But Henry Henries was determined to serve, and six months later he was re-commissioned and appointed Full Hospital Chaplain of the new military hospital at Annapolis.
How could he have been prepared for the conditions he found there? Wards were overcrowded, unheated and unventilated. Sanitation was primitive, surgical instruments were unsterilized, doctors moistened stitching thread with saliva and sharpened surgical knives on their boots. Blood poisoning, tetanus, and gangrene were rampant, not to mention typhoid, dysentery and malarial fevers.
Reverend Henries was responsible for religious services, bible study, baptisms, weddings and funerals –above all, funerals. But the most urgent and soul-destroying part of his work was sitting at the bedsides of young soldiers helping them to die. And afterwards, the heart-wrenching task of informing their families of their deaths.
The work took its toll. By November of 1864, Reverend Henries wrote a desperate plea to President Lincoln imploring him to send him an assistant chaplain. He never mentioned his own exhaustion or the deteriorating state of his health. The President, undoubtedly beset with more pressing problems, never replied. Four months later, Reverend Henries was felled by typhoid. Once again forced to resign his commission, he started home to Lincoln, but died in Philadelphia on March 30, 1865. A surgeon who visited him there wrote, “I am of the opinion that [his] fever …was induced by his excessive labors in discharge of his duties…contracted purely through his over-exertion in behalf of the cause in which he was engaged.”
And so, a good man–not a soldier, but a hero in his own way–gave his life for the Union.
The day after Brett Harvey received an email informing her of her 3rd place standing in the essay contest she visited Mt. Hope Cemetery in Bangor looking for her great-grandfather’s grave. She found it and wanted to share the inscription on the back of his stone, apparently composed by Henry’s wife Abbie:
Counting not his life dear unto himself, he labored day and night to relieve the sufferings of our returned prisoners, until he fell a victim of a malignant fever prevalent among them.
Brett shared her thoughts on the inscription with us: “This was a great surprise to me. I knew he was buried there, but had never seen his grave and did not know there was an inscription on the back of it. So everything kind of came together around Henry Henries during my trip to Maine this week. Very gratifying.”
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.
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.
We are pleased to present below the 1st 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.
The Hardships Are Hard
by Kristen Lenfest, Belmont, New Hampshire
John Gove Lenfest enlisted in Company E of the 20th Maine Volunteers on July 24, 1862. He was a 40-year-old farmer from Union, Maine. He and his wife, Lavinia, wrote letters to each other throughout his time at war. Lavinia would write on one side of the paper and John would reply on the other side. Lavinia kept him apprised of the news at home with accounts of the well being of their seven children, the town, and the running of the farm.
John gave descriptions to Lavinia about what his life was like as a soldier. Much of his time during the war was spent going on long, arduous marches in Maryland and Virginia. When Lavinia asked John to write a long letter about the dangers and hardships, his response was, “You wanted to knew the dangers and hardship I underwent. The dangers are not bad but the hardships are hard. We have to march so much.” He would send Lavinia newspapers with accounts of the battles his regiment was involved in.
In one of his letters, John gave an account of picket duty. “We are dewing picking duty here now we clost to the Raphanack River. The Rebels on one side and we the other. We go in swiming and the Rebels com in and shake hands with us. Talk with us clever as can be.”
Despite the hardships, John seemed to remain optimistic. Many times he expressed his belief that the Union would prevail and the war would end soon. “I expest Old Abe Lincoln will send men a nough to close this rebelion up in a short time now he has gut the power.” Though there were bouts of illness in his regiment and an outbreak of small pox, he remained healthy.
One of the ways he passed the time was to make bone rings and pipes for his family and friends. In one letter he mentioned a pipe he had made of laurel wood that he was going to send home for an acquaintance of the family. Lavinia’s response when she received the rings was, “We got those rings you sent. They suited nicely. Lizzie Hills wants you to make one for her. Make it like Matilda and paint a heart on it. Cora’s ring was real cunning. It pleased her verry much.”
The last letter from John is dated July 9, 1863 the day before he was captured by the Confederates on the Sharpsburg Pike in Maryland. “I am well but tired of marching. We have ben on the march fer six weaks. We have ben after the rebbels over in Pensilvana and had a three days battle with them in Gettersburge and drove them.”
For many years after the war John’s fate would be unclear. He remained listed as missing in action. He was finally found listed on a Confederate casualty list as J. Glenfish, Pvt., E, 20th Maine Vols. He had been admitted on January 21, 1864 to No. 21 (Rebel) General Hospital in Richmond, Virginia, after being held a prisoner of war, and died on the same day from dysentery.