Where is Aunt Becky?

As I was reading some old issues of the National Tribune the other day, I came across the following notice from the July 26, 1883. My mother’s name is Becky, so of course my cousins all call her “Aunt Becky,” so the headline jumped out at me:

Aunt Becky

I am always impressed by reminders of peoples’ kindness.

All Star President of the New York Mutuals Captain Jack Wildey–Part 2

Currier & Ives lithograph of baseball at New York’s Elysian Fields

When the 11th New York got back to Washington and took stock of their situation, it did not look good: almost seventy men had been sent to Richmond as prisoners and as many as 177 were lost to action. At least thirty-five had been killed outright with more to soon die of their wounds. On August 12, 1861, the remaining members of the regiment were sent back to New York City to disband in preparation to reorganize, obtain equipment and recruit replacements.[1]With Captain Wildey’s fame preceding him, he rode home with his mates.

“Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall

Although most of New York’s firefighters who fought for the Union supported Lincoln’s cause, they were, for the most part, Democrats. New York Mayor Fernando Wood was a notorious Confederate sympathizer and in order to get and retain loyalty in the city, Lincoln’s future Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (a Democrat before 1862) was tasked to make deals with whomever he could. This included Tammany Hall and William Magear “Boss” Tweed. Basically, the deal was this–toss some support to Lincoln in exchange for a couple of lucrative government contracts.[2]

In New York’s 1861 fall elections, Tweed needed people to run in some specifically designed “fusion” tickets that united Tammany Democrats with Lincoln Republicans. Tweed designed the race so that his candidates were entered in weak areas, assuring a win for Tammany Hall. Included in the fusion ticket sweep of offices was John Wildey, a candidate for City Coroner. Although the office of Coroner seems like an odd choice for a former Union army infantry captain, it must be pointed out that being a coroner in New York City at the time was a political endeavor, not a medical one. Coroners were paid by the dead body, and few questions were asked about how the body came to be dead. If the remaining family members chose to have their loved one buried by a Tammany-owned funeral home, the coroner got an even bigger kickback. Wildey owed his political career to Tweed, so it is likely that he was a willing participant in the corrupt coroner process. The New York Times 1889 obituary of Wildey states with a trace of irony: “He died in poverty. He had made plenty of money, but long ago lost the last of his fortune.”[3]He did not make that fortune as a fireman, a Civil War veteran, or in baseball.

And just what did Tammany politics have to do with baseball? William L. Riordan quotes George Washington Plunkett in his book Plunkett of Tammany Hall:

I hear a young feller that’s proud of his voice… I ask him to join our Glee   Club. He comes up and sings, and he’s a follower of Plunkitt for life. Another young feller gains a reputation as a baseball player in a vacant lot. I bring him into our baseball club. That fixes him. You’ll find him working for my ticket at the polls next election. I rope them all in by givin’ them opportunities to show off themselves off. I don’t trouble them with political arguments.”[4]

John Wildey’s Coroner’s Office found employment for many players in the New York Mutuals. Within a few years, Tammany Hall was contributing generously to the upkeep of New York’s most successful “amateur ” team. In 1862, many of the Mutuals players were on salary, although not in a way that could quickly be traced back to the team itself.

The NY Mutuals–John Wildey in the center

In 1865, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) met for the first time since the Civil War. Clubs gathered from ten states to elect New York Coroner/Civil War hero John Wildey as their national president.[5]Baseball was facing two huge problems at the time: whether or not the amateur, volunteer teams should become professional, and gambling. The Mutuals were not known for their honesty in baseball. Players had been receiving money for their efforts for several years in one way or another, and cheating on a game in which large bets were placed was not unknown. When there was cheating to be done, the Mutuals could be counted on to cheat in grand style. They were avid bettors and sore losers.[6]

The first generally considered “thrown” game was the contest between the Mutuals and the Eckford Club of Brooklyn on September 28, 1865. During the first four innings, the Mutuals played like the favorites they were. Gamblers moved through the crowds, making and collecting bets. In the fifth inning, things on the field changed dramatically–the Eckfords scored eleven runs! Games could be high scoring in the days when fielders, for example, had no baseball gloves and catchers were getting battered by trying to bare-handedly catch pitched balls, but it was the suspicious way that the runs were suddenly accumulated. Experienced Mutuals catcher William Wansley had missed two catches, had six passed balls and four wild throws one after the other.[7]

Daniel E. Ginsberg, in The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game- Fixing Scandals, describes how catcher Wansley talked two more Mutuals players–Ed Duffy and Tom Devyr–into helping him throw the game against the Eckfords. Certain gamblers were informed of this new “condition,” and the fix was now a going concern. After the game, President Wildey facetiously chastised Wansley with “willful and designed inattention” as he played and, with the confession of Devyr, all three players were suspended from baseball.[8]In this way the Mutuals-Eckfords match officially became the first rigged game in the history of the sport. This was not some obscure contest. It involved the top teams in the largest city in the nation. New York was considered the cradle of baseball, and the majority of the amateur teams were in the New York metro area. This game had been thrown on the “biggest baseball stage in the country.”[9]Do not think for a moment that Wildey was not involved from the beginning.

City Coroner and former Captain John “Jack” Wildey had one more contribution to make to baseball, although this one was more honorable. He championed the return of Duffy, Wansley, and Devyr and by 1870 all three were back on the diamond. On November 30, 1870, Wildey was again elected President of the NABBP by a vote of 18-8. The organization also voted by a 2-1 margin to become professional. Wildey was completely in favor of this move. After all, the Mutuals had been illegally professional for years. His response to those who were loath to abandon their original amateur status was:

We are perfectly willing to adopt such a rule, but I fear, ladies and   gentlemen, if we did, the players wouldn’t observe it. It seems to me that the days are over when baseball is purely a game for amateurs.[10]

Four years before Wildey’s death, a history of the New York City fire departments concluded their biographical sketch of him with:

Everyone knows of Jack Wildey of ‘Black Horse Guard’ fame. He was always a great admirer of athletic sports of all kinds, and, although sixty-two years old, he would astonish some of the present generation should they try their strength against him.[11]

Captain John Wildey, of New York City’s Engine Company Number 11, of Tammany Hall, of the New York Mutuals, and of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves died in 1889. His obituary, although short, does not fail to mention that, “… in the Battle of First Bull Run he contributed by his bravery to saving the colors of the Sixty-ninth Regiment from capture by the rebels….”[12]

That, and baseball.


[1]”Reports from Alexandria,” August 31, 1861: The New York Times.

[2]Kenneth D. Ackerman, Boss Tweed, (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007), 27.

[3]”John Wildey Died in Poverty,” Obituary, June 1, 1889, The New York Times.

[4]William R. Riordan, Plunkett of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks (New York” E. P. Dutton & Co., 1963) 25-26.

[5]William J. Ryczek, When Johnny Comes Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870, (Jefferson, North Carolina and London, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1998), 247.

[6]Ryczek, 75.

[7]Philip H. Dixon, “The First Fixed Game: Mutuals of New York vs. Eckfords of Brooklyn,” Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century, (SABR, 2013); 46,47.4


[9]Mark Souder, “Captain John Wildey, Tammany Hall, and the Rise of Professional Baseball,” [online version available through https://sabr.org/research/captain-john-wildey-tammany-hall-and-rise-professional-baseball].


[11]Frank Kernan, Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies and Volunteer Fire Departments of New York and Brooklyn, Together with a Complete History of the Paid Departments of Both Cities, (New York: M. Crane, 1885), 474. [online version available through https://archive.org/details/reminiscencesol00kerngoog].

[12]Obituary, “John Wildey Died in Poverty,” June 1, 1889, The New York Times.

“The Last Notable American Duel”: California and its influence on the Civil War

The obelisk marking the general area of the duel

Part of a series about California & The Civil War

Lately, there has been a rumble here in California that cannot be attributed to another earthquake. As Civil War historians widen their scope, it must be observed that the real West had a great deal to do with the American Civil War. Writers such as Alvin M. Josephy (The Civil War in the American West), Jerry Thompson (Civil War in the Southwest: Recollections of the Sibley Brigade), and Glenna Matthews (The Golden State in the Civil War: Thomas Starr King, the Republican Party, and the Birth of Modern California) are teasing this important information out of the national fabric bit by bit. Even the American Battlefields Trust has honored California by including the Golden State in their series of broadcasts about important places.

Because I live in California, I have been asked by several folks why I don’t write about the influence my home state had during the Civil War. I usually just mumble something about Elmer Ellsworth and pivot the conversation, but the time has come for me to take this topic in hand and see how badly I can mangle it.

California was far away from the seat of the fighting in the Civil War, but it had its own issues going on. Compare the map of California to the East Coast and take a guess as to which end of Cali was pro-Union and which was pro-Confederate. Additionally, the same divisions that split the East split the West, especially the issue of slavery. California was admitted to the Union as a free state, but that didn’t stop Californians from disagreeing.  This post will focus on two men who were both Democrats but on opposite ends of that party.

David Broderick

David C. Broderick came to California from Washington, D.C. where he was born in 1820 to a stonemason who worked on the Capitol Building. Choosing opportunity and politics over stonemasonry, Broderick left the East in 1849, joining the California Gold Rush. He settled in San Francisco and quickly made a fortune in real estate.[1]As a Democrat Broderick was elected to the California state senate in 1850 and rapidly became a power broker within the antislavery wing of the California Democratic Party. In 1857 he was elected to the U.S. Senate.[2]


David Terry

David S. Terry was also a Forty-niner, coming to California from Texas, where his family had moved from Kentucky. He was nominated for a seat on the California State Supreme Court as a Know-Nothing in 1855 and served as the 4th Chief Justice of California from September 1857. At some point during his term, he became a Democrat. On June 25, 1859, the State Democratic Party nominated another man over Terry, as Terry’s pro-slavery views became better known.[3]

For a while, Broderick and Terry were friends. However, Senator Broderick was a Douglas Dem (anti-slavery) while Judge Terry was pro-slavery. They supported each other’s political efforts until Terry ran for reelection to the state bench in 1859. He was defeated and very bitter about it. He publically accused Broderick of marshaling Democratic support against him. This led to bitter words between the two men. According to a 1905 edition of Munsey’s Magazine, a popular-though-not-necessarily-historically-accurate publication of stories and articles, Broderick replied to Terry’s vitriol with some of his own:

I see now that Terry has been abusing me. I now take back the remark I once made that he is the only honest judge in the (state) supreme court. I was his friend when he was in need of friends, for which I am sorry. Had the vigilance committee disposed of him as they did of others, they would have done a      righteous act.[4]

The incident to which Senator Broderick referred was one in which Judge Terry was accused of knifing a man in order to free another man from arrest. Since no one died, Terry–with the help of the press, the Masons and, apparently, Broderick–was released.[5]

Terry and Broderick fought back and forth in the press. Things got worse when Judge Terry tried to gain a re-nomination to the California Supreme Court, an unpleasant occurrence in which Terry ascribed his failure to obtain the re-nomination to the efforts of his former friend, who had actively been speaking about the Kansas-based Lecompton Constitution and its possible influence in California. Terry made a speech accusing convention delegates of following orders issued by Broderick and denying him the bench.[6]Gossip ensued and feelings were hurt all around. “Betrayal” was the epithet being used on both sides. After Broderick lost the 1859 senatorial bid to William M. Gwin, things got even worse . . . if that is imaginable.

This letter was sent from Terry to Broderick:

            Oakland, September 8, 1859.

Hon. D. C. Broderick—Sir: Some two months since, at the public table of the International Hotel, in San Francisco, you saw fit to indulge in certain remarks concerning me, which were offensive in their nature. Before I had heard of the        circumstance, your note of 20th of June, addressed to Mr. D. W. Perley, in which you declared that you would not respond to any call of a personal character during the political canvass just concluded, had been published.

I have, therefore, not been permitted to take any notice of those remarks until the expiration of the limit fixed by yourself. I now take the earliest opportunity to require of you a retraction of those remarks. This note will be handed to you by my friend, Calhoun Benham, Esq., who is acquainted with its contents, and will receive your reply. D. S. Terry.[7]

Both men were easily able to identify the offensive remarks, and things escalated. A duel was scheduled. The infamous Code Duello was alive and well, even 3,000 miles west of the eastern end of the Mason-Dixon line.

The California State Marker for the Broderick-Terry Duel

The odd thing about the duel was that it had to be scheduled twice. The first attempt was scheduled to take place in early September but was halted by the San Francisco Chief of Police, Martin J. Burke. Although the police arraigned the would-be duelists, they were discharged on the grounds that there had been no active misdemeanor.[8]

Terry and Broderick, miffed that they had been denied their duel, made plans to continue the hostilities. They agreed to move the place of the duel to an area near Lake Merced. The date was set for September 13, and the chosen weapons were Belgian .58 caliber pistols. The type of gun was Terry’s choice, and he spent some time before the duel practicing, whereas Broderick did not see the guns until the appointed time. It was reported by onlookers that, at the moment of the duel, Broderick’s gun fired into the dirt. Terry then took aim at Broderick’s chest and pulled the trigger. Although Judge Terry later claimed that he had only grazed Broderick, the bullet entered Broderick’s chest and lungs. The wounded senator was rushed to the nearby home of Leonidas Haskell and despite the best efforts of a doctor, David Broderick succumbed to his wound three days later. He reportedly claimed that “They killed me because I am opposed to the extension of slavery and a corrupt administration.”[9]

Close-up of the name engraved on the place marker for David Terry


Close-up of the name engraved on the place marker for David Broderick

Senator Broderick was remembered in the California Police Gazette, September 17, 1859:

           Not only does a State mourn for its champion and defender, not only does the population of the Pacific slope wail for the loss of its favorite, but a whole confederacy—a whole people, are full of sorrow and regret for his death. As was aid of another, “The heart of a nation is throbbing heavily at the portals of his tomb.”[10]

Senator Broderick’s funeral was held in San Francisco, attended by thousands of mourners. Senator Edward Dickinson Baker, a friend of Abraham Lincoln who would later be killed at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, presented a moving eulogy. The duel drew national attention, turning Broderick into a martyr for the antislavery movement. Terry and his supporters were accused of assassination.[11]The duel reflected the more violent divisions afflicting the entire nation, and many count this tragedy in “far-away California” as one of the events that pushed the country into war by 1861.

Where each man stood–Terry was on the right, Broderick on the left


[1]United States Senate, “Senator Killed in Duel,”  https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Duel_By_The_Lake.htm (accessed May 14, 2018).


[3]”The Late Affair in San Francisco,” Sacramento Daily Union, June 28, 1859. California Digital newspaper Collection, https://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18590704.2.7&srpos=7&e=01-06-1859-14-09-1859-185-en–20–1–txt-txIN-broderick+terry—-1859—1 (accessed May 15, 2018).

[4]Cyrus Townsend Brady, “Famous American Duels,” Munsey’s Magazine, Frank A. Munsey and Company, January 1, 1905, Vol. 33, 615-616. https://books.google.com/books?id=sy0AAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA608&dq=famous+duels&hl=en&ei=69GDTMf2L4-isQPVvIn4Bw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=flake%20merced&f=false (accessed May 16, 2018).


[6]”Senator David Colbreth Broderick 1820-1859,” The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco Francisco, http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist6/broderick.html (accessed May 16, 2018).

[7]Thomas Samuel Duke, Celebrated Criminal Cases of America, (San Francisco, CA: John H. Barry Company, 1910), 53. https://books.google.com/books?id=M1ocAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA9&dq=duel+at+%22lake+merced%22&hl=en&ei=IO2DTP30JYOosAO118T2Bw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CFIQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=terry&f=false (accessed May 17, 2018).

8″Chiefs of the SFPD,” website of the City and County of San Francisco, https://sanfranciscopolice.org/chiefs-sfpd (accessed May 18, 2018).

[9]”The Broderick-Terry Duel,” National Park Service-Golden Gate National Recreation Area–California, https://www.nps.gov/goga/learn/historyculture/broderick-terry-duel.htm (accessed May 14, 2018).

[10]Senator David Colbreth Broderick 1820-1859,” The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco Francisco, http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist6/broderick.html (accessed May 16, 2018).


Maine at War: A Conversation with Writer Brian Swartz (part four)

Brian Swartz and 96th Penn Inf monument at Gettysburg

Brian Swartz, who writes the Maine at War blog, stands beside the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry monument at Gettysburg in early May 1863. Describing Gettysburg as his “Lourdes Shrine,” Swartz visits the battlefield every year. (Photo and shadow courtesy of Susan Swartz)

conclusion to a four-part series

In wrapping up yesterday’s segment, Brian Swartz, author of the Maine at War blog, mentioned Tom Huntington’s new book, Maine Roads to Gettysburg. “He has done Maine history quite a service in articulating the stories of those particular units,” Brian said. But of course, when people think of “Maine” and “Gettysburg,” there’s generally one figure who comes to mind.

Chris Mackowski: Since you mention Gettysburg, I have to pop the Chamberlain question. Do you have any thoughts about Chamberlain? 

Brian Swartz: He was heroic and a natural-born leader. I think he had the heart of a warrior. Obviously he was at least somewhat of a tactician, and an effective governor, but his ability to write—he was a prodigious writer after the war—is what let him overshadow the tales of other Mainers. Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine saved the left flank of the Union army at Little Roundtop, but there were other Maine units that suffered as bad, if not worse, and other Maine officers who were just as brave, some of them in somewhat more difficult situations.

I’m thinking of Colonel Elijah Walker and his 4th Maine, down on and around Devil’s Den. The 17th Maine was down on the wheat field. I was just there a little bit over a week ago, and if you walk it back and forth, you still can’t really get a sense of the violence of the combat there. There was the 19th Maine over on Cemetery Ridge, plugging the hole with their charge on July 2nd.

And then of course Charles Tilden and the 16th Maine’s sacrifice on Oak Ridge on the afternoon of July 1st. Tilden, to me, of all the Maine officers at Gettysburg, is the one that to this day is the most overlooked. Part of his problem was that he wasn’t a prodigious writer. He was a very enigmatic individual. It’s difficult to find information on him or letters he’s written and other material he’s cited in post-war. Maine at Gettysburg probably contains the most original Tilden-based material there is that I’ve found.

Chris: You mentioned you were just at Gettysburg and went out to Brandy Station. How often are you able to visit the battlefields?

Brian: I try to go to Gettysburg every year. It would be the equivalent of my Lourdes shrine, and to me is an annual pilgrimage.

Chris: Do you have other battlefields that you like particularly?

Brian: Antietam. I love Washington County, Maryland. If you’re heading westbound on I-40, there’s a spot where, just as it crests South Mountain, you can look to the west and see the valley before you with all the farm land with the different colors and such.

Antietam, to me, is a very haunted place, and it’s a very small, compact battlefield. During my research for volume one of my “Maine at War” book series, I spent a considerable time there tracing the movements of the 10th Maine and also the 7th Maine and their advance to the Piper Farm.

I like Brandy Station. Manassas. Shiloh is one that I particularly enjoy of all the battlefields east of the Mississippi. There are only a few minor battlefields that I still need to visit on this side of the river. Shiloh to me is a battlefield where, if you remove the monuments and are there on a fine April morning, it could be the opening moment, the opening volley. It’s so well preserved.

Chris: I feel that way about Spotsylvania. If you take away those few monuments, it feels like a step back in time.

Brian: I just had the pleasure three or four years ago to walk Laurel Hill. I’ve been out to the Mule Shoe over a half-dozen times over the years. This time we stayed in Fredericksburg for a few days, so I parked and followed the trail up to the top of Laurel Hill, which we would not even call a hill here in Maine—it was just a little rise actually.

Fredericksburg, the Slaughter Pen farm, I walk out there and follow the route of the 16th Maine. You’ve got what can be a really noisy airport right next door to you, but it really helps you appreciate what Tilden and all his boys and the other Union troops went through as they were charging out across that farm towards the Confederate-held hills.

Chris: Let me back up to something you said just a second ago just to shine a little light on your “Maine at War” book series. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Brian: Maine at War, volume one—the book is titled, From Bladensburg to Sharpsburg. It opens with the duel in which Congressman Jonathan Cilley of Thomaston was shot and killed. The reason I open with that is that his young son became Jonathan Prince of the 1st Maine Cavalry. He’s one of my favorite Maine characters out of all of them who served in the Civil War. After the opening chapter, which covers the duel and the aftermath of what that does to the Cilley family, the book covers Maine’s involvement in the war from early April 1861 to November 1862. I take different characters, and I weave their stories in.

It tells the story of particularly the army, because I had great difficulty in finding letters and reports and such of Navy personnel. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but I am focused primarily on the Army soldiers and such and their families back home. I cover from basically the first regiments in Maine to the 16th Maine Infantry and their march from Antietam to Fredericksburg, and how they became known as the Blanket Brigade. That’s what ends the book.

That book is due out sometime this fall, I’d say maybe later in the fall. It’s being published by Maine Origins Publishing out of Brewer. Volume II is going to cover Fredericksburg, possibly through Gettysburg. There’s quite a bit of material for me to read through there. That is probably half-written.

I mentioned earlier, I just finished up the battle of Brandy Station. That took quite a bit of research, quite a bit of coordinating and, even though I knew quite a bit about the Civil War campaigns and such, I find that when I try to write up a particular battle chronologically, I have to do additional research to get everything in the correct order. It’s very easy to make a mistake.

Chris: Good luck with that. I look forward to picking up a copy, for sure. Before we wrap up, is there anything I’ve not asked you that I should have?

Brian: I guess I’d just like to say I really enjoyed telling the story of Mainers involved in the Civil War, and in using their stories, educating readers about specific moments or battles in the war.

Gettysburg: it wasn’t just Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine. We have hundreds, if not thousands of acres out there on which Maine soldiers fought: in Spotsylvania, the Wilderness, Appomattox Courthouse. I wrote a series on that, which was very eye-opening for me.

I just like telling the stories, and I always like hearing from readers if they like something, or disagree with it, or whatever, I really like hearing from the readers.


You can reach out to Brian directly at visionsofmaine@tds.net. And don’t forget to check out his blog, Maine at War.

Maine at War: A Conversation with Writer Brian Swartz (part three)

Whenever he visits Fredericksburg, Maine at War blogger Brian Swartz stops by the Slaughter Pen Farm to walk the route taken by the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment on December 13, 1862. (Photo courtesy of Susan Swartz)

part three in a four-part series

I’m talking this week with writer Brian Swartz about his excellent blog Maine at War. In yesterday’s segment, we talked about the connection people in Maine felt—or didn’t feel—to the war taking place so far from home, and how Brian’s blog really gets at those connections on a very human level.

He’s also good at capturing big events from a soldier’s-eye view, like, “Joe Hooker takes command, and here’s what the soldiers think,” “emancipation happens, and here’s what the soldiers think.”

Chris Mackowski: Tying that back to what you just said [in the last segment], I think you do a good job of making the war very personal through the stories of these individuals. 

Brian Swartz: Well thank you. That’s been the goal from the beginning. I’ve learned the hard way not to trust the validity of what the generals publish in the original records. I’m sure you’re aware that there were some Union generals that would ignore what they had done wrong or take credit for something that somebody else did right. I’m thinking about Oliver Otis Howard at Chancellorsville, who spent very little time talking about his failure to secure his flank in his official records report. But the soldiers, the ones on the front lines, identify what’s happening.

Both sides of my family have had strong military traditions. My father was a United States Marine aviator in World War II, and then he was an Air Force combat pilot for two tours in Korea. My mother was a Coast Guard veteran, a Coast Guard SPAR in World War II. Her brother served a year in Vietnam in a non-combat role. My brother just retired from the Maine National Guard as a colonel after 30 years in service in both the Guard and the Army, and that included a year’s tour as the coalition brigade commander in Afghanistan. Particularly from my father, some of his tales were probably where I learned to focus more on the people on the lower-echelon levels. He retired as a major, so he never became a general, but sometimes I think wearing your first star can change a man’s attitude about himself, whereas down among the grunts, I really appreciate what the man at the regimental level did, from the lowest private even up to colonel. Ordinary Mainers got the job done and came home. It was just incredible.

Chris: The way you articulate that makes it sound like no-nonsense Yankee sensibility.

Brian: It is. There’s the attitude up here that, at least when you get away from the halls of government and anything above Augusta, that “We’ll take care of this and get it done.” You see it often at the local level. The town needs something done and volunteers will get together—say, it’s something like a construction project—they make the plans and they build it. The Mainers that were here were very independent and self-sufficient, particularly the farmers, sailors, loggers, and fishermen, and they would not let anything stand in the way of getting the job done.

I am surprised at how many and why so many rallied around the flag of our state. Fifteen percent of the state’s population went off to war, and even considering the draft, I still cannot determine why these volunteers all did it. But they took with them their ideals of “We want to get the job done, and we want to go home.”

I particularly see that in some of the writings from John Haley in the 17th Maine. [Haley’s book, The Rebel Yell and the Yankee Hurrah: The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer (Downeast, 1985) is one of the best-written primary accounts of the war available.] Some of the other material I’ve come across from that Army of the Potomac regiment in the battle of Fredericksburg and that disastrous fall and winter, thanks to Burnside and his incompetence—that’s my own opinion—were men who just stayed with it.

A year or two ago I wrote a blog post about a letter that was written by a local soldier who explained why he and his comrades were staying with the flag. It was very poignant and moving. I am proud to be able to write about these people.

Unfortunately, I do not have any blood ancestors who served in a Federal unit, at least from Maine. Even though I had family here in the Penobscot Valley by the 1850s, none of them served in the military. Fortunately, my maternal grandfather’s mother was a widow. She married someone who was a veteran of the 22nd Maine as her second husband, so I view him as a Union soldier who was adopted into the family. I’m proud to claim him as my one Maine connection.

Chris: I still have family in Maine, but I don’t have any ancestors from the state who fought. But it’s been really neat to find guys who are from the same places I lived and worked up there. You have these connections and, like you said, you sort of adopt these guys and become very partial toward them. Do you have a particular regiment that you’re partial to?

Brian: Yes, the 11th Maine Infantry.

Chris: What do you love about them?

Brian: Specifically, Company D with Sergeant Robert Brady and his son, who was 16 when he joined, Robert Brady Jr., who actually went on to write the regimental history. I just had the impression that this particular regiment epitomized the ordinary men of Maine that got together, served together, went and fought some confusing battles for this particular outfit. They were tough, they had that ability, as Mainers do, to look up the chain of command and see which of the officers were phonies and which officers really cared for their men. Other than that, I can’t really tell you why, other than that they seemed to be a real cast of characters, many of them being from the Penobscot Valley—and because I’ve lived here most of my life, there’s a connection there. I’m familiar with the area.

Chris: If you were to point someone in the direction of trying to learn more about Maine’s story during the war, obviously your blog is the place to go, but if people want to know more, what would you tell them?

Brian: There are some books out there but not many. I would recommend that if someone was looking for the history of a particular Maine regiment to read Edward Tobie’s History of the 1st Maine Cavalry. It’s well written, and the action often flows very well—granted that it’s in 19th Century grammar and writing style. The book Maine Roads to Gettysburg by Tom Huntington is a very good introduction to some of the Maine regiments and units at Gettysburg. I like the way he takes these units from their muster or formation to when they arrive at Gettysburg and what they do there. He has done Maine history quite a service in articulating the stories of those particular units.


Of course, if you’re going to mention “Maine” and “Gettysburg,” there’s one personality who towers over the rest. When we wrap up our conversation tomorrow, I’ll ask Brian about JLC.

Maine at War: A Conversation with Writer Brian Swartz (part two)

Maine at War blogger Brian Swartz stands at Lookout Point on Lookout Mountain. With either his wife, Susan, or their son, Christopher, in tow, Swartz has visited many Civil War battlefields east of the Mississippi River. (Photo courtesy of Chris Swartz)

Part two of a four-part series

I’m talking this week with Brian Swartz, a former writer and editor for Maine’s Bangor Daily News. While with the paper, he started a regular column and blog called Maine at War. He belongs to Richardson’s Civil War Round Table in Searsport, Maine and for the past two years has chaired the Bangor Historical Society committee that organized Drums on the Penobscot: A Civil War Experience.

Yesterday, Brian explained the origins of his work, and we began to get into the particulars of how he pulls his material together.

Chris Mackowski: You talk about old newspapers. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at old editions and I just find them to be fascinating sources of soldier letters, particularly—and as sources they’re often overlooked. I’ve gone through old editions of the Bangor Whig & Courier and found gold nugget after gold nugget.

Brian Swartz: I will agree with you there. Obviously, you and I have researched some familiar pages. I find that I ignore the reports from the battlefield and the general press accounts. They’re inflated and inaccurate. But when you read the soldier accounts. . . . The soldier either sent the letter directly to the paper or a proud mother or father asked the paper to publish a letter. The nuggets that are dropped in, a paragraph at a time in these pages, take you so incredibly close to the war.

I am wrapping up research I’m doing for book two of my “Maine at War” book series. I just wrapped up Brandy Station, and that included a visit about a week and a half ago to Fleetwood Hill for the first time since the Civil War Trust [now American Battlefield Trust] had acquired it and knocked down that house that was on top of it. In my research, I found a letter published in a paper written from a trooper in the 1st Maine Cavalry. He participated in that charge up and over Fleetwood Hill, and his observations about what the regiment did afterwards—it was almost like riding alongside him on a horse. It was incredible, and it was in a newspaper.

Chris: Do you have particular papers that you prefer over others?

Brian: Yes. The Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, the Portland Daily Press, the Maine Farmer, which was out of Augusta, dedicated to agriculture in Maine and had a four-page issue every week that often had excellent material like letters and reports and such from people that were involved in the war, as well as some astute political observations. There was the Eastport Sentinel Downeast. And when I have time, I go to research the Lewiston newspapers from the period.

I should mention one more paper: the Republican Journal in Belfast was a pro-Democrat, anti-Lincoln administration newspaper, and it gives delightful insight into the other side of the coin.

Chris: You also mentioned that you spend a fair amount of time in the state archives. I know they’ve got a really neat collection of stuff. Are there any particular treasures there you appreciate?

Brian: In researching the 5th Maine Infantry, I came across the commanding officer’s report of the regiment’s participation in the Chancellorsville campaign, particularly in their effort to get past the Confederate defenses on Marye’s Heights at the battle of Second Fredericksburg. And then they went out and fought the battle of Salem Church. It was very well written and very detailed. I cannot remember that officer’s name, but it comes across that it really bothered him that his regiment was so shot to pieces.

There are so many treasures. The one that I found recently that I just finished writing up: Freeman McGilvery was promoted to major in late 1862 or early 1863, and that opened up the captaincy of the 6th Maine Battery, which he had raised. The lobbying that went back and forth in the letters to the state house in Augusta is very interesting, almost to the point of being hilarious in the commentary between the men and some of the officers.

Then of course there are Sarah Sampson’s and Isabella Fog’s letters, who were both women from Maine that became volunteer nurses. Whenever volunteer nurses arrived, they usually dedicated themselves for the rest of the war serving as nurses. Both them wrote letters that are on file in the state archives.

Chris: One of the things I think is really neat about your blog is that you do have a lot of that civilian aspect—the home front, the contributions of Mainers in Maine during the war—which I think is an aspect of the war that tends to get overlooked in favor of the mud and blood and battlefield stuff. What do you think it was like to be in Maine, so far away from the front lines during that time?

Brian: If you had a direct connection with the military, like a son, husband, cousin, uncle, father, etc., who was going to war, it was difficult, especially depending on where you lived.

In the larger cities, there seemed to be more of a support network for women who saw their household income threatened because the man who was providing the money went to war. Thirteen dollars a month [a private’s pay] isn’t going to cover much. If you go out into the outlying towns, it became more serious, in the sense that now if a family has lost a father and son that went off to war, now mom is home, usually with younger children. How is she going to till the fields, chop the firewood, cook, and raise the kids? It was tough.

The lack of communications really made that loneliness more acute. The military was good at getting the mail to and from the soldiers and, in many families, the women wrote frequently. Say there was an elderly father left behind, or a middle-aged father: he would write to his boy that went off to war. Friends would write to soldiers.

But the press accounts about battles would come back before any news about casualty lists, and that would lead to a lot of fear. I sensed that particularly in the pages of the newspapers. People just worried.

There were many others who didn’t care that the war was going on. Some merchants did well, especially manufacturers of wartime goods and people who owned steamers and sailing ships that the war department would lease or rent—however they paid for that.

There was an aspect where it was almost like Vietnam, which was also concurrent to my growing up. For those who had a connection to the war, the war was going on. For the rest of us who had no family over there, it was just a story on the evening news, and I sensed that the Civil War could have been that way in Maine, again particularly in the larger towns and cities. If you had a physical connection to the war, it was happening. If you did not, it was just a press account in the newspaper, or maybe a story told at the general store or something.


Brian’s blog successfully captures the soldier’s-eye view of Maine at war, on the home front and on the front lines. “I really appreciate what the man at the regimental level did,” he says in tomorrow’s segment. We’ll explore that further, and we’ll talk about the things Brian has learned from those men by spending so much time reading their accounts.