Maine Civil War History

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Maine Civil War History


The history of present-day Maine spans thousands of years, from the earliest human settlement to the advent of U.S. statehood on March 15, 1820.

The origin of the name Maine is unclear. One theory is it was named after the French province of Maine. Another is that it derives from a practical nautical term, "the main" or "Main Land", "Meyne" or "Mainland", which served to distinguish the bulk of the state from its numerous islands.

Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost portion of New England. It is known for its scenery—its jagged, mostly rocky coastline, its low, rolling mountains, its heavily forested interior and picturesque waterways—as well as for its seafood cuisine, especially lobsters and clams.

For thousands of years, indigenous peoples were the only inhabitants of the territory that is now Maine. At the time of European encounter, several Algonquian-speaking peoples inhabited the area.

The first Europeans to explore the coast of Maine sailed under the command of the Portuguese explorer Estvo Gomes, in service of the Spanish Empire, in 1525. They mapped the coastline (including the Penobscot River) but did not settle. The first European settlement in Maine was by the French in 1604 on Saint Croix Island, by Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons. The first English settlement in Maine, the short-lived Popham Colony, was established by the Plymouth Company in 1607. A number of English settlements were established along the coast of Maine in the 1620s, although the rugged climate, deprivations, and conflict with the local inhabitants caused many to fail over the years.

Maine Civil War Map
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Maine History Map

Slavery and Compromise Acts Map
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Missouri Compromise and Maine Map

As Maine entered the 18th century, only a half dozen European settlements survived. Patriot and British forces contended for Maine's territory during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Maine was part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts until 1820, when it voted to secede from Massachusetts. On March 15, 1820, under the Missouri Compromise, it was admitted to the Union as the 23rd state.

Maine was the first state in the northeast to support the new anti-slavery Republican Party, partly due to the influence of evangelical Protestantism, and partly to the fact that Maine was a frontier state, and thus receptive to the party's "free soil" platform.
Maine was enthusiastic for the cause of preserving the Union in the American Civil War (1861-1865) and contributed a larger number of combatants, in proportion to its population, than any other Union state. It was second only to Massachusetts in the number of its sailors who served in the United States Navy. Maj. Gen. (then Col.) Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment played a key role at the Battle of Gettysburg, and the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment lost more men in a single charge (at the Siege of Petersburg) than any Union regiment in the war.

One legacy of the war was Republican Party dominance of state politics for the next half-century and beyond. The state elections came in September and provided pundits of the day with a key indicator of the mood of voters throughout the North. "As Maine goes, so goes the nation" was a familiar phrase.


On March 15, 1820, Maine separated from Massachusetts and entered the Union as a free state when Congress accepted the 1820 Missouri Compromise. Separatists had argued that statehood would bring more equitable taxation and lower government expenses. However, the larger national issue of expanding slavery into western states complicated their bid for statehood. Southern congressmen would not allow Maine to enter the Union unless Congress admitted as a slave state. A joint congressional committee crafted the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri into the Union as a slave state and Maine in as a free state. This law would also prohibit the expansion of slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36 30 latitude line. All seven delegates from Maine declined the compromise, because it meant the expansion of slavery, to which they were opposed. Thirty-four years later, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed the spread of slavery through “Popular Sovereignty.” Three years later, the Supreme Court validated this repeal with the declaration that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories in the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford.

With their opposition to slavery, the Republican Party took hold in Maine in 1856, following several years of reform movements, including temperance and anti-slavery. Maine politicians held high positions in Lincoln’s administration. Maine Senator Hannibal Hamlin was Lincoln’s first term vice-president, and Senator William Pitt Fessenden served as Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury in 1864. Maine remained a Republican stronghold throughout the Civil War, and the majority of Mainers remained staunch supporters of suppressing the rebellion in the Southern states.

During the beginning of the American Civil War, several vocal abolitionist organizations kept the issue of slavery in the public eye. Newspaper editors informed the populace of the conduct and outcome of the war efforts. Maine factories produced ships, naval stores and supplies, army equipment, tents, etc. Thomas Lincoln Casey oversaw the state's coastal fortifications including forts McClary and Preble. He completed the massive Fort Knox on the Penobscot River.

Although no Civil War land battles were fought in Maine, anti-Confederate passions were inflamed in June 1863 when Southern raiders triggered the Battle of Portland Harbor after seizing a revenue cutter and trying to escape to the ocean. During the war, there was still a contingent of Southern sympathizers in Maine. Democratic newspapers criticized the war and Republican decisions. The passage of the Federal draft law prompted a large peace demonstration in Dexter, Maine. Draft dodgers took to the border, especially in the forests of Arastook County. All the male citizens in Winter Harbor left together for Canada. Confederate privateers also took advantage of Maine’s unprotected coast.

Hannibal Hamlin of Paris, Maine, was Lincoln's vice-president during his first term. A strong orator and opponent of slavery, he urged both the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the arming of African Americans. He became aligned with Radical Republicans, which may have caused him to be dropped from the ticket in 1864. Augusta newspaperman and U.S. Congressman James G. Blaine was a powerful voice on Capitol Hill and dominated post-war politics during the Reconstruction period. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was substantially Blaine's proposition, and later he was the 1884 Republican nominee for President.

Maine, North, South, and Border States Map
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Maine and Sectionalism Map

Civil War

According to the 1860 U.S. census, Maine, a free state, had a population of 628,270. Although Maine did not fight any battles on its soil, Mainers fought in practically every major battle and campaign during the Civil War.

Approximately 73,000 men from Maine served in the Union Army and an additional 6,000 served in the U.S. Navy. They were organized into 30 regiments and 22 companies of infantry, 3 cavalry regiments, 1 regiment of heavy artillery, 3 companies and 7 batteries of light Artillery. Hundreds of civilians served as nurses, doctors, relief workers, and agents at home and on the field of battle. Many served in the United States Sanitary Commission or United States Christian Commission, as well as similar organizations.

During the Civil War, the state of Maine was a source of military manpower, supplies, ships, arms, and political support for the Union Army. Maine was the first state in the northeast to be aligned with the new Republican Party, partly due to the influence of evangelical Protestantism, and partly to the fact that Maine was a frontier state, and thus receptive to the party's "free soil" platform. Abraham Lincoln chose Maine's Hannibal Hamlin as his first vice president, and said on meeting Brunswick novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin), "so this is the little lady who made this big war".

Maine, eager for the cause, contributed a larger number of combatants, in proportion to its population, than any other Union state. It was second only to Massachusetts in the number of its sailors who served in the Union Navy. Although Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, who would rise to the rank of major general, and the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry played a key role at the Battle of Gettysburg, the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment lost more men in a single charge — during the Siege of Petersburg — than any Union regiment in the war.

First Maine CIvil War History
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Fox, First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment

(Right) Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889). First Maine Heavy Artillery Regimental history and its unthinkable casualties. First Maine H.A. suffered the most killed for any regiment, including infantry and cavalry, during the Civil War. While its inconceivable casualties had occurred in only ten months, it set several undesirable, but yet heroic, records for a single regiment, including infantry and cavalry, during the four year conflict: most killed for a regiment during the Civil War; most officers killed for a regiment in the conflict; most soldiers killed or mortally wounded in a single battle.

To meet the Union shortfall in the infantry ranks caused by attrition from three years of bloody Civil War, many Union heavy artillery regiments were redesignated as provisional infantry regiments in 1864 and rushed to the front lines during the Overland Campaign and to the trenches of Petersburg. While most heavy artillerists had never fired a shot in battle, they were now confronted by determined veteran Confederate infantry in some of deadliest battles of the war. From lines of battle at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor, to the nearly 10 month Siege of Petersburg it caused the heavy artillery units to sustain the majority of their casualties during the last year of the war. In only ten months of Civil War, the exceptional First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment suffered more in killed or mortally wounded than any other Union regiment, including infantry, cavalry, and artillery. At the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, VA., the First Maine lost 147 artillerists (turned infantry) in killed or mortally wounded and another 329 in wounded, only to suffer an additional 210 in killed the following month at Petersburg:
On June 18, 1864, 900 men of the First Maine H.A. Regiment, assigned as provisional infantry, advanced across a cornfield when the Confederate line erupted in volleys of mortal fire at the Mainers. Unsupported on their flanks, the Maine men were subjected to fire that seemingly hit from every angle. Within a mere seven minutes, a staggering 210 men, including 13 officers, lay dead on the field, while 422 additional First Mainers were wounded, and not a single man had come close to reaching the enemy line. Although the regiment had advanced into battle, June 18, with 900 soldiers, it had lost 632 of Maine's finest in 420 seconds, or 3 men every two seconds. In the span of one month, from Spotsylvania to Petersburg, the First Maine H.A. had been decimated with an unfathomable loss of 357 in killed or mortally wounded, and 751 of the unit's men had been wounded. Grand Total Casualties: 1,108. See also Civil War Artillery: Field, Garrison and Siege, and Seacoast.
Where Fox states that on "...May 19, 1864, where it lost 82 killed and 394 wounded; total 476," it should have been amended because said casualties were one of the preliminary after battle reports. Of the 394 wounded, 65 subsequently died, meaning mortally wounded. So the report should indicate: "May 19, 1864, where it lost 147 killed and 329 wounded; total 476." Fox, however, did update and correct the report for other chapters in his acclaimed statistical work.
Prior to May 1864, the First Maine had enjoyed, according to many, comfy garrison duty at Washington. Inconceivably, this regiment had suffered all its losses in merely 10 months while deployed in the field as provisional infantry. The inexplicable casualties for the First Maine in those 10 months were as follows: 23 officers in killed or mortally wounded; 400 enlisted killed or mortally wounded; 260 died of disease, as prisoners of war, and from all deaths other than battle. Grand Total Deaths: 683. Total Wounded: 860 (from amputations to simple flesh wounds). Grand Total Casualties: 1,543. The total wounded of 860 is different from Fox's total for one reason: many of the soldiers with flesh wounds continued to muster for subsequent battles, some being wounded a second and even third time, and were therefore counted as a casualty for each battle they were wounded. The First Maine had suffered the greatest loss of life for any regiment, infantry and cavalry included, during the four year conflict. In addition, this H.A. unit suffered the greatest loss in killed during a single engagement, 210, at Petersburg. The regiment, setting yet another Civil War record, had lost 23 of its finest officers in the line of fire; more officers in killed than any other Union regiment, including infantry and cavalry. See Civil War Artillery Losses.
In the first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, the troops of Maine bore an honorable and conspicuous part, and despite the reverse suffered by the Union Army of McDowell, won fame for themselves and glory for their state.

By the close of the year 1862, there had been sent into the field from the State of Maine, twenty-seven regiments of infantry, one regiment of cavalry, one regiment of heavy artillery, six batteries, and one company of sharpshooters, exceeding 30,000 men. These were all volunteer troops, and were distributed in Virginia on the Peninsula; southwest of Washington; at Port Royal, S.C.; Fernandina and Pensacola, FL.; and at New Orleans. In addition to the troops above mentioned, a considerable number were also recruited for regiments in the field, which had become depleted from active service.

The Civil War had a tremendous impact on the state’s maritime and agricultural economy. Prior to the war, Maine’s shipping industry faced rising prices and a general decline in cargo shipping. However, while foreign trade declined in other Northern ports during the war, it nearly tripled in Maine because of its commercial ties with Canada. Many Maine commercial vessels were sunk by Confederate raiders during the war. Of the fifty-three vessels sunk by the CSS Alabama, eleven were from Maine. Federal cutters also captured several Maine vessels that tried to run the Southern blockade.

During the progress of the war the Confederates made increasing efforts to acquire a navy, and already several powerful vessels flying their flag were inflicting much damage upon Northern commerce. In the spring of 1863 rebel privateers appeared off the coast of Maine and attacked a number of vessels. On June 26, 1863, the crew of the Confederate bark Tacony, under the command of Lieut. Reade, entered Portland Harbor in the disguise of fishermen, on board a fishing schooner they had recently captured. After the capture of the schooner, their commander had transferred to her his crew and effects, and then burned the Tacony. The night after their unsuspected arrival in the harbor, they succeeded in capturing the United States revenue cutter, Caleb Cushing, an armed vessel, as she lay at anchor. Inquiry the next morning soon disclosed the method of her disappearance, and a volunteer fleet was sent in pursuit. Being a sailing vessel, the cutter was soon overhauled in the outer harbor. After a brief resistance, the Confederates set the cutter on fire and took to their boats in an attempt to reach the fishing schooner. The magazine of the cutter was stored with 400 pounds of powder, which exploded at 2 p.m. with terrific force, in full view of thousands of citizens who were watching the proceedings from vantage points on the shore. The daring Confederates, 23 in number, were captured before they could reach the schooner, and proved to be from the man-of-war, Florida. Their leader held a regular commission from the Confederate government and they could not, therefore, be adjudged pirates. After a short confinement at Fort Preble, they were exchanged.

During the year 1864, Maine contributed to the military and naval service of the country an aggregate of 18,904 men, of whom 3,380 were enlisted under the call of Oct., 1863, and 3,525 were veteran soldiers, who reenlisted. Enlistments for the navy numbered 1,846. By the close of 1864, the state had furnished for the military and naval service more than 61,000 men, a number nearly equal to one-tenth of her whole population.

Soon after the capitulation of General Lee, April 1865, the Maine troops began to return home to their families and friends. The regiments returned, sunburned, ragged and worn, sacred for their losses and crowned with honor. Many flags had been captured, but not one had been lost, by the gallant sons of Maine. The troops furnished by Maine to the Union army during the progress of the war comprised two regiments of cavalry; one regiment of heavy artillery; three companies of garrison artillery; one battalion of seven batteries of light artillery; one battalion of six companies of sharpshooters; thirty regiments and sixteen companies of infantry, inclusive of the coastguard battalion of seven companies, a total of 72,114; or, reduced to a three years standard, 56,776. In addition to the above, the state was credited with a total of 6,750 men in the navy and marine corps, and also furnished about 800 men for the 1st D.C. cavalry, an independent organization under the command of Col. L. C. Baker. It will thus be seen that Maine contributed considerably more than one-tenth of her 'total population' to the service of the nation.

Of the numbers above given, according to The Union Army, 1908, Maine suffered 2,801 in killed or died of wounds, 4,521 died of disease; and 6,642 were mustered out for disabilities resulting from casualties occurring in service or from sickness. According to Frederick H. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, 1908, during the course of the Civil War, Maine suffered a total of 9393 deaths: 3,184 in killed and mortally wounded; 5,257 died from disease; 541 died as prisoners-of-war; 118 died from accidents; 298 died from causes other than battle. See also Maine in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Maine and Secession Map
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Civil War Maine Map

Notable Mainers
More than two dozen men from Maine served in the Union army as generals, and dozens more Mainers led brigades at one time or another as colonels. The highest-ranking officer was Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard of Leeds, who commanded the XI Corps in several major battles, including Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He had lost an arm at the Battle of Seven Pines during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. In the fall of 1863, Howard and his corps were transferred to the Western Theater to join the Army of the Cumberland in Tennessee. In the Battle of Chattanooga, Howard's corps helped capture Missionary Ridge and force the retreat of Gen. Braxton Bragg. In July 1864, Howard became commander of the Army of the Tennessee and fought in the Atlanta Campaign. He led the right wing of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's forces in the famous March to the Sea and the subsequent Carolinas Campaign.
The women of Maine also distinguished themselves during the war, including Dorothea Dix Hamden, who served as a superintendent of nurses, and Amy Bradley, who supervised the Soldier’s Home in Washington. Other women helped coordinate the Sanitary Commission while others joined the Soldiers’ Aid Society. They worked doubly hard to maintain their homes, farms, and businesses, with their husbands, sons, and brothers away.
Brewer native Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, perhaps the most widely known officer from Maine, defended Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg and was awarded the Medal of Honor "for daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top." His subordinate officers, including Ellis Spear and Holman S. Melcher, and the men of the 20th Maine successfully repulsed a series of charges made by Alabama troops of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Earlier in the war, the 20th had been led by Adelbert Ames of Rockland. The son of a sea captain, Ames rose at Gettysburg to command of a division. He led the successful assault in the Battle of Fort Fisher (commanding the 2nd Division, XXIV Corps), accompanying his men into the formidable coastal fortress as most of his staff were shot down by Confederate snipers.

Other notable generals from Maine included George Lafayette Beal of Norway, who led a brigade in the Red River Campaign and the Valley Campaigns of 1864. He was promoted to general for gallant service at the Battle of Cedar Creek, where his brigade broke the Confederate lines during the turning point of the battle. Hiram Berry of Rockland was killed at Chancellorsville while leading his 2nd Division of the III Corps in a bayonet charge. James G. Blunt, a fiery abolitionist born in Trenton, won a victory at the Battle of Honey Springs, bringing much of the Indian Territory into Union control. In 1864, Blunt's division inflicted the final defeat to Sterling Price at the Second Battle of Newtonia, ending Price's Missouri Raid.

20th Maine Volunteers
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20th Maine Infantry Reunion

(Photo) In 1889 veterans of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry gathered at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with General Joshua L. Chamberlain, the officer who commanded them in battle. Chamberlain is seated at center right, bracketed by the Maltese Cross banner and the unit's regimental flag. Upright object on the left is a monument to the unit erected by its veterans.

Hiram Burnham of Narraguagus was killed while assaulting Confederate positions near Richmond, Virginia, during the Battle of Chaffin's Farm. Lowell's John C. Caldwell led a division in the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg in the fighting in the Wheatfield. Aaron S. Daggett of Greene was the last surviving Union Civil War general when he died in 1938 at the age of 100. Neal S. Dow of Portland led a brigade during the Federal capture and occupation of New Orleans and later commanded the District of Florida.

Brothers Francis and James Fessenden, members of a prominent Maine political family, were both generals in the Union Army. Cuvier Grover of Bethel commanded a division in the XIX Corps during the capture of Baton Rouge and the Siege of Port Hudson. Hampden's Cyrus Hamlin led a brigade of black troops at Port Hudson and in other engagements. Albion P. Howe of Standish commanded 2nd Division of the VI Corps at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Rufus Ingalls of Denmark, Maine, was the Quartermaster General of the Army of the Potomac and later of all armies operating during the sieges of Richmond and Petersburg. He built up the huge supply depot at City Point, Virginia.

Erasmus D. Keyes of Kennebec County commanded the IV Corps of Army of the Potomac during the first half of the war. Augusta's Seth Williams was assistant adjutant general of the Army of the Potomac and later was inspector general on the staff of Ulysses S. Grant. At Appomattox Court House in April 1865, he carried Grant's message offering to accept Robert E. Lee's surrender to the Confederate lines and later delivered Grant's terms to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

James Alden, Jr. of Portland commanded the steam sloop USS Brooklyn in the action with Fort Gaines and Fort Morgan and with the Confederate gunboats in the Battle of Mobile Bay. Henry K. Thatcher of Thomaston commanded the West Gulf Blockading Squadron in a combined arms action against Mobile, which surrendered April 12, 1865. Danville Leadbetter, born in Leeds, however, had cast his lot with the Southern states and would serve as a Confederate general. See also Maine in the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Maine Civil War Battles and Battlefields Map
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High Resolution Map of Maine


As a result of the Civil War, Maine suffered nearly 9,000 killed and thousands more wounded, and it was one of only two states that saw a net loss in population.

On February 7, 1865, Maine was the 9th state to ratify the 13th Amendment; on January 19, 1867, it became the 14th state to ratify the 14th Amendment; and on March 11, 1869, it was the 8th state to ratify the 15th Amendment.

Shipbuilding and fishing led Maine's fast-growing economy before the Civil War. After the war, population growth slowed as residents migrated west and the state became more dependent on forestry products and textile industries. The conflict encouraged businesses to shift from merchant activities to establish an emerging industrial base by creating manufacturing centers. Farmers, too, were encouraged to mechanize and invest in labor-saving technology.

In the 50-year period 1861 to 1911 (when Democrats temporarily swept most state offices) Maine Republicans served as Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury (twice), President pro tempore of the Senate, Speaker of the House (twice) and Republican Nominee for the Presidency. This synchronization between the politics of Maine and the nation broke down dramatically in 1936, however, when Maine became one of only two states to vote for the Republican candidate, Alf Landon in Franklin D. Roosevelt's landslide re-election. Maine Republicans remain a force in state politics. The most nationally-influential Maine Republicans in recent decades include former Senator William Cohen, and Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

See also

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
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Maj. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain

Sources: Library of Congress; National Archives; National Park Service; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies; The Union Army (1908); US Census Bureau; Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War (1889); Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908); Phisterer, Frederick. Statistical record of the armies of the United States (1883); Hardesty, Jesse. Killed and died of wounds in the Union army during the Civil War (1915) Wright-Eley Co.; Barone, Michael. The Almanac of American Politics 2010: The Senators, the Representatives and the Governors: Their Records and Election Results, Their States and Districts (2009); Cimbala, Paul A., "Oliver Otis Howard", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X; Clark, Charles E. et al. eds. Maine in the Early Republic: From Revolution to Statehood (1989); Hatch, Louis Clinton. Maine A History volumes 1 through 3, (1919); Leamon, James S. Revolution Downeast: The War for American Independence in Maine (University of Massachusetts Press, 1993); Linedecker, Clifford L., ed., Civil War, A–Z: The Complete Handbook of America's Bloodiest Conflict, New York: Ballantine Books, 2002, ISBN 0-89141-878-4; MacDonald, William. The Government of Maine: Its History and Administration (1902); Morse, J. (1797). "District of Maine". The American Gazetteer. Boston, Massachusetts: At the presses of S. Hall, and Thomas & Andrews; Mundy, James H., No Rich Men's Sons: The Sixth Maine Volunteer Infantry, Cape Elizabeth, Maine: Harp Publications, 1994; Palmer, Kenneth T., G. Thomas Taylor, Marcus A. Librizzi; Maine Politics & Government (University of Nebraska Press, 1992); Rolde, Neal (1990). Maine: A Narrative History. Gardiner, Maine: Harpswell Press. pp. 175–178. ISBN 0-88448-069-0; Stevens, John, Cabot Abbott, Edward Henry Elwell. The History of Maine (1892); Stewart, Alice R. "The Franco-Americans Of Maine: A Historiographical Essay," Maine Historical Society Quarterly 1987 26(3): 160-179; Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Baton Rouge, Louisiana: LSU Press, 1964. ISBN 0-8071-0822-7; Williamson, William D. The History of the State of Maine (1832); Whitman, William E.S. and True, Charles H., Maine in the War for the Union, Lewiston, Maine, 1865.


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