Maine in the Civil War
- By: Paul Doiron
Photograph by Lori Traikos
One hundred and fifty years ago, Confederate batteries opened fire on U.S. Army forces stationed at Fort Sumter, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The date — April 12, 1861 — is widely recognized as the beginning of the American Civil War. This month, Down East marks the war’s sesquicentennial with a special report (page 56) by contributing editor and award-winning historian Colin Woodard, author of The Lobster Coast and The Republic of Pirates.
Most Mainers know that our state played an outsized role in the war. Maine sent thousands of its men to the front lines and suffered the second highest casualty rate, after Vermont, of all the northern states. Regiments like the 20th Maine and its brave commander (and one of my personal heroes), Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, have been immortalized in popular culture for the roles they played in winning key battles. Visit any Maine town, and you are likely to find a statue or plaque honoring Civil War veterans on the village green or standing vigil in some shady corner outside the library.
Northerners tend to think of the War Between the States as a chapter in the past that has ended; a page in history that has been turned. But to look at the conflict this way is to misunderstand its legacy. As you will read in this issue, that distant war continues to shape life in Maine in ways most of us don’t even realize. We might be aware that our state was once an economic and political powerhouse — home to the nation’s lumber capital and a maritime fleet that reached the four corners of the world — but we don’t ask what happened to Maine. We did not always exist at the margins of the national consciousness. How is it that we now find ourselves there?
The answer to that question begins with an inquiry into Maine’s experience during the years between Sumter and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, an event witnessed by the great man, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who wrote: “On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!” It is an epitaph that could also apply to the glorious epoch in Maine that was also passing away.
- By: Paul Doiron