Maine’s role in the Civil War
On April 15, the Maine State Archives celebrated the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the state’s entry into the American Civil War. The event “Saving the Union: The Call for Volunteers” featured a Civil War re-enactment and honored Maine’s significant role in the war.
The State Archives estimates that more than 80% of Americans are unaware of how involved Maine was in the war if at all.
Among the guests in attendance were several color guards from the Maine National Guard, Secretary of State Charles Summers Jr. (R-Maine) and Adjutant General John Libby. Governor Paul LePage (R-Maine) and other state legislators were also present.
Music was a major part of the celebration and the College’s chorus took part in the event, as did Bowdoin. Letters that were written from Maine soldiers to their families were read at the ceremony.
Maine has over 3,000 photos in its archives featuring local soldiers that were involved in the war. These photos were put on display at last Friday’s event.
The American Civil War took place from 1860 to 1865. On April 15, 1861, former President Abraham Lincoln asked Maine and a few other states to gather as many volunteers as they could to join the army and to help out their country.
Maine got involved following the first shots of the war at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Southern Maine served as the site for most wartime activities within the state. Three camps were created to train Union soldiers along the Fore River, which is located in modern day South Portland. The first camp was established in 1862, referred to as Camp Lincoln after the President at the time.
"Our role in the Civil War was significant because people came from all over southern Maine and western Maine to muster in and train here in South Portland," Kathy DiPhilippo, a historian for the South Portland Historical Society, said in a press release.
Over the course of the war, 80,000 men from Maine joined the Union army and navy to campaign throughout the country. By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, there were only 254 soldiers remaining of 900 soldiers from the 16th Maine Regiment.
Joshua Chamberlain of Maine was one of the most well known soldiers in the war. He joined the Union Army and he quickly became a decorated Union officer. He ultimately ranked as a brigadier general and he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his win at Gettysburg.
After the war, he became the 32nd Governor of Maine. He also served as the president of Bowdoin College, which was his alma mater. His former house can still be seen near Bowdoin.
Two of Maine's best-known infantries, the 17th and the 20th Regiments, both trained at Camp Lincoln in the summer of 1862. Chamberlain was part of the 20th Maine infantry.
The only battle that was physically fought in Maine was the Battle of Portland Harbor. It took place near the current Southern Maine Community College campus in June of 1863.
It was primarily a naval battle, fought only in the waters of modern day Portland. It was ultimately a Union victory and the Confederates involved in the battle were captured and brought to Fort Preble in South Portland.
"To have the Confederates come right up to Portland Harbor, it was quite a bold move," DiPhilippo said. "It was the only time in Maine’s history where a battle of any war was brought to Maine.”