Civil War Essay Contest: 1st Honorable Mention

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.

Three Brothers

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.

John Jordan

John Jordan

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.

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.

Civil War Essay Contest – 1st Place!

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 Grove LenfestJohn 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.

Bone ring carved by prisoner of war from Bangor, ca. 1861. MMN #73421.

Bone ring carved by prisoner of war from Bangor, ca. 1861. MMN #73421.

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.

Student Interns Contribute to New Civil War Exhibit

“This Rebellion,” the 2013-2014 MHS museum exhibit, opens to the public on June 28 and will be up through May 26, 2014. A special Members’ Only exhibit opening takes place on Thursday, June 27, from 5-7PM.

Memorializing Civil War Soldiers

Eben Calderwood engraved his name on this ring to ensure he could be identified. (Collections of Maine Historical Society)

Eben Calderwood engraved his name on this ring to ensure he could be identified. (Collections of Maine Historical Society)

At some point during Eben Calderwood’s seven months as a private in Co. H of the 21st Maine Infantry Regiment, he purchased a ring engraved with his name, hometown, company, and regiment.

Calderwood of Vinalhaven, who had been a fisherman, was 39 years old and had a wife and five children when he enlisted in the nine-month regiment on October 11, 1862. In the era before dog tags, soldiers often pinned or wrote their names in their clothing or found other ways—like Calderwood’s ring—to make sure they could be identified if anything happened to them.

Letter from Eben Calderwood to wife, from Baton Rouge, 1863. (Collections of Maine Historical Society)

Letter from Eben Calderwood to wife, from Baton Rouge, 1863. (Collections of Maine Historical Society)

On May 17, 1863, during the Siege of Port Hudson, Calderwood became one of more than nine thousand Mainers who died during the war. Family legend is that his death, and that of other soldiers, was caused from drinking poisoned water. The family saved the ring—an unusual artifact to survive the war, especially since Calderwood was buried in the Baton Rouge National Cemetery in Louisiana. The family also saved his letters home along with other documents and ultimately donated them to MHS, enabling us to become familiar with him.

Calderwood’s story is one of many that will be told in the new museum exhibit This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War. Battlefield relics, uniforms, documents, letters, paintings, photographs, and evidence of post-war commemorative activities are the core of the exhibit, and help bring to life the people and events of the Civil War era.

The Memorial Wall

One important element of This Rebellion will be a Memorial Wall that will list the names of more than 8,000 members of Maine regiments who died or were killed during the war. No comprehensive record like this has existed and developing it has been possible in large part because of the hard work of student researchers.

Candace Kanes, curator of Maine Memory Network and curator of This Rebellion, enlisted the help of University of Southern Maine Associate Professor of History Libby Bischoff, who recruited two students in the fall semester and two in the spring to work on the project.

The students went through the Maine Adjutant General’s Report for each year of the war, page by page, looking for “remarks” that indicate a soldier was killed, died of disease or accident, or was missing in action. They used a spreadsheet to record the soldier’s name, rank, company, regiment, hometown as well as the date, cause, and location of death, if given.

The Memorial Wall will not include every detail recorded, but we hope to make the spreadsheet available to researchers—and hope to be able to add to it in the future. The list of names will be incomplete, as it will not include those Mainers who fought for regiments in other states, or, like black soldiers, for federal regiments; nor the names of sailors who died.

Ellie Brown and Andrew Robinson, who worked on the project during the fall 2012 semester.

Ellie Brown and Andrew Robinson, who worked on the project during the fall 2012 semester.

Ellie Brown of Brunswick, who is majoring in history and minoring in studio art, is especially interested in American history from the colonial period to the Civil War. She worked on the project during the fall 2012 semester, and identified more than 1,200 names of soldiers who had died or were missing in 1862. She said, “The most lasting impression I got from the project was simply the realization of just how many men died during the war. It is one thing to be told and to know that 8,000 or 9,000 men from Maine died during the war, but another to spend hours and hours writing down the names of each of those men. It certainly changed my own understanding of the Civil War.”

Also working during the fall was Andrew Robinson, 26, a senior history major and economics minor from Dover-Foxcroft. Robinson said his academic interests have centered on 20th century U.S. foreign policy, especially in Southeast Asia. Working on compiling names of Civil War deaths, he said, “has given me the opportunity to work from primary sources, creating a database and information platform for further research.” He compiled names some 1,250 names from 1861 and 1863.

Robinson added, “Searching through the names of those who served and the towns they were from helped to humanize the enormity of the Civil War. Often, discussions of the Civil War focus on politics, the reasons for war, and the reasons for its outcome. This project, for me, has shed light on the social aspect of this war, allowing me to interact with the research through previous knowledge of the state of Maine and many of the municipalities mustering soldiers. ”

Matthew Rodney worked on Adjutant General's reports from 1862 and 1864-65.

Matthew Rodney worked on Adjutant General’s reports from 1862 and 1864-65.

During the spring semester, Matthew Rodney of Litchfield, a senior double major in history and classical humanities, worked on Adjutant General’s reports from 1862 and 1864-65, entering 3,164 names into the database. While his primary interest is in ancient history and the classics, Rodney said, “Working on this project has made me realize the true nature of the Civil War. It’s something that is always taken for granted, but when you see 60 names of young boys all from the same town among the dead you realize just how devastating this war really must have been for the country and our state. I feel very privileged to be working on collecting these names so that they can be displayed to the public and truly reflected upon.”

Amanda Fawn Leach compiled 3,069 names from 1864-65.

Amanda Fawn Leach compiled 3,069 names from 1864-65.

Amanda Fawn Leach, a native of Alfred, who now lives in Portland, is graduating this spring with a major in history with plans to continue on to a doctoral program. In her free time, Leach enjoys the theater and great food and wine. She compiled 3,069 names from 1864-65. She called the project “a wonderful experience” and said it “solidified her love of historical research, even at its most basic level.”

Civil War Symposium a Success

More than 170 people attended Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War Sesquicentennial Symposium at USM’s Hannaford Hall on Saturday, April 27. The event was the kick-off to more than two years of programming as part of a joint Civil War project between Maine Historical Society and Maine Humanities Council.

Keynote speakers Manisha Sinha (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) and Patrick Rael (Bowdoin College) delivered talks on emancipation and Maine in the Civil War, respectively, while popular breakout sessions on medicine, theater, literature, and photography explored scientific and cultural aspects of the time.

Special presentations by living history presenter (and theater breakout session facilitator) Richard Sautter as Civil War-era actor James E. Murdoch, and a rousing musical performance by the 3rd Maine Infantry Fife and Drum Corps, were highlights of the day.

As part of the MHS/MHC joint project, which is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, four communities will participate in a year-long exploration of their local Civil War history. Teams from Belfast, Gorham/Windham, Portland/Westbrook, and Presque Isle were in attendance at the Symposium and will attend a three-day orientation in July at Bowdoin College to begin their projects in earnest.