Approximately 73,000 Mainers served in the Union Army and Navy during the war, the highest figure in proportion to population of any northern state.
Maine saw huge peace demonstrations, including a gathering of about 15,000 in Dexter, and along the border draft dodging was widespread; Aroostook County’s forests became a thoroughfare for “skedaddelers.”
The Civil War vexed the shipping industry with rising prices, tight money, and a general decline in cargo shipping, but in fact it simply hastened a long-term trend already evident by the mid 1850s.
Reforms and Party Politics
An acutely self-conscious state aware of its vast economic potential and its promising political future, Maine emerged from the campaign for statehood with a broad array of ideas for perfecting its political and social institutions. This upwelling of reform shattered the fragile coalitions that made up Maine’s early political organizations.
The state elected William King as its first governor, but when the legislature failed to put through his ambitious program of public improvements, he resigned in 1821. Others followed in quick succession. William D. Williamson, Benjamin Ames, and Albion Parris all served within the first few years of statehood.
Nationally, the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828 split the old Democratic party, and in Maine as elsewhere the 1830s were characterized by vicious campaigns between the new National Republicans (Whigs) and the Jacksonian Democrats.
Issues like the war with Mexico, the annexation of Texas, and the Wilmot Proviso tore at the seams of the Democratic party, while Portland’s Neal Dow, destined to become America’s preeminent liquor prohibitionist, divided his Whig colleagues.
A wealthy and politically ambitious young man, Dow campaigned vigorously for a liquor ban, forcing a weak version of his plan through the legislature in 1846. Dow was elected mayor of Portland in 1851, and that year his famous “Maine Law” – prohibition backed by stiff penalties and provisions for enforcement – passed the state legislature.
Dow had influential enemies due to his overbearing crusade for enforcing the Maine Law. Citizens attributed a riot at the City Hall in 1855 to Dow’s fanaticism, and the incident sealed his political fate in Portland. Subsequent legislatures progressively weakened the Maine law, and Dow sought solace by carrying his temperance message to other states and abroad.
The anti-slavery movement was equally divisive, splitting the Democratic party into pro-South “Wildcat” and anti-slavery “Woolhead” factions. In 1848 delegates in Buffalo, New York, formed the Free-Soil party, dedicated to ending government support for slavery, providing cheap western land to farmers, and erecting high tariffs to protect American industry. The new party attracted disgruntled Whigs and Democrats in Maine.
A Whig, Zachary Taylor, won the presidency in 1848 as Maine elected Democrat John W. Dana governor, but only by a plurality. In 1850, as the nation divided over the issue of slavery in the territories acquired from Mexico, Woolhead Democratic Senator Hannibal Hamlin reached out to anti-slavery and prohibitionist Whigs and Free-Soilers in his senatorial bid.
Two years later when the Democratic legislative caucus nominated prohibitionist John Hubbard as governor, Wildcats bolted the meeting, and both factions nominated their own candidates in most country districts.
In 1854 the Nebraska Act re-opened the issue of slavery in the territories, and in Maine this made the split in the Democratic party irrevocable. Woolheads endorsed Anson P. Morrill as governor, and Wildcats gravitated toward the short-lived Liberal party. Whigs, too, divided over the Maine Law and anti-slavery, and the appearance of the nativist, anti-Irish Know-Nothing party further confused the situation in 1854.
Morrill, who drew from Democrats, Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Know-Nothings, narrowly missed a winning majority, but the fusionist organization, called by some the Republican party, took the legislature and chose Morrill as governor, since no candidate achieved a majority popular vote.
Democrats won both houses in 1855, but in 1856 Republicans perfected their organization and won a landslide victory in the legislature, a vote that signaled a permanently altered political landscape for the state. The Republican party emerged out of the turmoil of slavery and liquor agitation to rule Maine political life almost without interruption until the election of Edmund S. Muskie in 1954.
Maine Runs Washington
In 1860 Maine supported Republican Israel Washburn for governor. The Republicans organized under the leadership of Abner and Stephen Coburn of Skowhegan, former governors Anson and Lot Morrill of Augusta, Frederick and James Pike of Calais, and the seven Washburn brothers of Livermore Falls and Orono.
As a stronghold of Republicanism, Maine played a key role in Washington, its most prominent statesman being Hannibal Hamlin.
A lawyer from Paris Hill, Hamlin edited the Oxford Jeffersonian, then moved to Hampden and was elected to the state legislature as a Jacksonian Democrat. He served two terms in the U.S. House in 1843-1847 before moving to the Senate. In 1856 he joined the Republican party and was elected governor in 1857.
He resigned almost immediately to return to the Senate and was picked in 1860 as vice presidential candidate on Lincoln’s ticket. He languished in the vice presidency and was dropped at the 1864 Baltimore convention in favor of Andrew Johnson, an overture to the Confederate border states. He returned to the Senate and after the war served as ambassador to Spain.
Senator William Pitt Fessenden, a Bowdoin graduate and Portland lawyer, was elected to Congress from the second district and then to the Senate in 1854. There he served on the Senate Finance Committee where he guided legislation for the nation’s first income tax through Congress in 1863. When Salmon Chase resigned in 1864, he became Lincoln’s secretary of treasury, controlling the vast outlays of money used to conduct the war in its last year.
Fessenden returned to the Senate after the war. Although he sided with the Radical Republicans as chair of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, he cast a deciding vote against impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1865, a stand that cost him a good deal of political support.
Maine and the Civil War
Mainers participated in the Civil War in more ways than politics. After the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Governor Israel Washburn issued a call for 10 regiments of volunteer infantry and three regiments of militia to be armed by the state.
Some 10,000 Maine volunteers responded, and after a few weeks of drilling in crisp new uniforms, they shipped south on steamers, leaving behind families, farms, and jobs.
In the early months, Maine met its draft quotas easily, furnishing altogether 31 regiments of infantry, three of cavalry, and one of heavy artillery, along with assorted companies of artillery, sharpshooters, and unassigned infantry, and 6,000 sailors for the Navy. Approximately 73,000 Mainers served in the Union Army and Navy during the war, the highest figure in proportion to population of any northern state.
Many served with distinction. The 7th Infantry, for instance, fought bravely during the Peninsula Campaign in spring 1862 at Williamsburg, Garnett’s Farm, and White Oak Swamp, winning acclaim from Major General George B. McClellan, and again under Major Thomas W. Hyde during the desperate battle of Antietam in September 1862 at the Piper and Roulette farms. The First Maine Heavy Artillery suffered more battle losses than any other federal regiment (having 12 companies rather than 10) in an attack on the Confederate defenses at Petersburg.
Joshua L. Chamberlain of Brewer best exemplifies Maine’s role in the war. A Bowdoin College graduate and professor of rhetoric and modern languages at Bowdoin at the time of his enlistment, Chamberlain took part in 24 major battles, was wounded six times, and led a desperate charge at Petersburg in 1864.
He is most remembered for his role in the valiant stand taken by the 20th Maine at Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg, for which he was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. Gettysburg was a pivotal battle of the war, bringing to a halt General Robert E. Lee’s plan to drive into Union territory and drop down on Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. Victory there, he hoped, would encourage peace sentiment in the North and convince Great Britain and France to recognize the Confederacy.
More than 150,000 soldiers fought in the three-day battle, resulting in 50,000 casualties and making Gettysburg the largest battle ever fought in North America. On the first day, holding actions by units of Maine’s 2nd Artillery and 16th Infantry helped delay Lee’s advance while Union forces found positions.
On the second day, Lee sent troops in a flanking maneuver around the southern slope of Little Round Top, where Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Regiment was positioned. The troops held up under relentless Confederate assault, and as their ammunition ran low, Chamberlain, by his own account, noticed that southern troops were equally exhausted and nearing the end of their own supplies. In a desperate gamble, he ordered a bayonet charge.
The 20th routed the Alabama infantry and halted the Confederate flanking maneuver. Chamberlain was later promoted to brigadier general and chosen to receive the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox.
Equally distinguished was Oliver Otis Howard of Leeds, who commanded the 3rd Maine Regiment at the first battle of Bull Run, after which he, too, was promoted to brigadier general. Howard lost an arm in the Peninsula Campaign and was later promoted to major general in the 2nd and later 11th Corps.
After the war, Howard became commissioner of the Freedman’s Bureau, in charge of accommodating former slaves, and he founded and became first president of Howard University, which provided instruction for African Americans.
During the war several Maine women distinguished themselves as nurses, the most famous being Dorthea Dix of Hamden, already well known as an advocate for reform in prisons and insane asylums. Dix served as superintendent of nurses during the war.
Amy Bradley, nurse for the 3rd Maine regiment, took charge of the Soldier’s Home in Washington, while other Maine women helped coordinate the Sanitary Commission. Some women followed sons or husbands into the campaigns and in some cases disguised themselves to participate in battle.
In Maine, women kept homes and farms running and fed and clothed needy families of Union volunteers. Thousands joined the Soldiers’ Aid Society or worked through their churches to sew bandages, bedding, and clothing. In Rockland, for instance, 25 to 50 women met daily to make shirts, drawers, socks, towels, bedsacks, pillow ticks, and bandages and package soap, sponges, spices, cornstarch, wine, and jellies. Others took “men’s” jobs in the towns or stayed home to nurse the returning wounded.
The Civil War at Home
At home the war hung like a cloud over most Mainers. In 1861 President Lincoln asked for 75,000 men to serve in the Union Army, and in 1863 the federal government issued a draft law calling on all men between ages 18 and 45 to enroll in local militia units.
Draftees were selected by state lottery, and to distribute this burden equitably each town in Maine was given a quota. Toward the end of the war, towns were forced to raise money to hire substitutes when their supplies of young men were exhausted.
As in previous wars, Maine’s long coastline left the state vulnerable to depredation by privateers. In June 1863 a Confederate privateer disguised as fishing vessel entered Portland Harbor, captured the Caleb Cushing, and sailed out of Casco Bay before being captured.
The federal government began modernizing fortifications in Portland Harbor, at the mouth of the Kennebec, and at the narrows of the Penobscot River, but these projects were finished only after the war ended.
The war opened cleavages that were difficult to close. For 40 years Maine had prospered on shipping southern slave-raised cotton, and in the process citizens developed strong ties with their southern “neighbors.” There was a great deal of southern sympathy in Maine, and issues like abolition, the Fugitive Slave Law, states’ rights, and southern succession generated thorny debates that divided Maine politically and religiously.
State Democratic papers highlighted Union military reverses, the draft riots in New York and Boston, and the corruption in the Republican administration. Marcellus Emery, editor of the Bangor Democrat, called for a peace convention after Bull Run, and on August 12, 1861 his press was destroyed by a mob in Bangor.
Passage of the federal draft law triggered riots in several New England cities. Maine saw huge peace demonstrations, including a gathering of about 15,000 in Dexter, and along the border draft dodging was widespread; Aroostook County’s forests became a thoroughfare for “skedaddelers.”
In Warren the provost marshal in charge of the draft was subjected to an “egg attack,” and a marshal in Washington County was killed for attempting to arrest a draft resister.
Winter Harbor’s male citizens left en masse for Canada. Rebel sympathizers threatened to burn Camden, and in Rockport, a U.S. cutter sailed into Goose River Harbor with its decks cleared and guns stripped for action, causing Rockport’s copperheads – anti-war Democrats who wanted an immediate peace settlement with the Confederates – to beat a hasty retreat for Canada.
Portland dentists apparently did a thriving business extracting front teeth, since older cartridges required the soldier to bite them before loading. The city’s recruitment encampment was located on Mackworth Island to discourage runaways.
The story of one draft-resister suggests the lengths to which some would go to avoid the draft. A newspaper account noted that:
The person in question was naturally of fine physique and commanding personal appearance. But for the occasion he arrayed himself in a grotesque suit, much too small, and from which legs and arms protruded in the most surprising manner; pantaloons of the most ancient pattern, white vest, blue swallow-tail coat, ornamented with rows of brass buttons, which his grandfather might perchance have worn on his wedding day.
On his head he wore a battered white tile of bygone days. With a stooping form, wildly disheveled hair and bleary eyes, protected by a pair of green spectacles, he presented himself to the Provost Marshall’s headquarters. With tottering gait, he was led to a vacant chair, where he seated himself, with his mouth agape and idiotic stare gazing straight up at the ceiling, to all appearances totally unconscious of his surroundings. Soon the surgeon began to question him, but for a time he paid no heed to his interrogatories. At length he turned to his attendant, in a deep nasal bass tone, drawling “Be they talking to you, or to me, Pa?” “To you, Erastus,” shouted his attendant, in stentorian tones.
Ha? interrogated the conscript, as his chin dropped until it nearly rested on his shirt front. “To you, Erastus,” again shouted his attendant, placing his mouth close to the listener’s ear and shouting out his reply in tones which might have been heard several blocks away. “Tel-um to Tawk Louder,” roared the conscript. ‘Here’s a pretty go,” exclaimed the examining officer, “a fellow as deaf as an adder, and evidently not sound in the upper story. Enter this man non compos, Mr. Clerk.”
For those who failed to evade the draft, the war was a heavy financial burden. A soldier’s wages at the beginning of the war were $13 a month, while a skilled city worker commanded around $30.
This paltry wage was even more burdensome because prices rose steadily between 1861 and 1865, and local governments increased taxes to pay bounties to fill draft quotas. Thus social and economic wounds added to the physical wounds of war. As the war dragged on, the Democratic party split into war and peace factions, further rupturing a party already split by antislavery and liquor prohibition campaigns.
Maine emerged from the war, however, reasonably united behind the Lincoln administration. Lingering memories of the war served the party that denounced slavery and preserved the Union, as did continuing links to the veterans’ Grand Army of the Republic. The trauma of war thus accelerated a trend toward one-party Republican rule in Maine.
As the ruling party in Maine, Republicans forged strong ties to big business. This, along with a fixation on temperance, currency, and tariffs, benefited the party. Republicans were also successful in balancing the needs of Bangor lumber interests and Portland-Lewiston manufacturers, and it hosted a series of extraordinary political leaders at the national level.
The charismatic James G. Blaine was elected to the House of Representatives in 1863, served as speaker between 1869 and 1875, was appointed Secretary of State in 1881, and became a major contender for the presidency in 1876, 1880, and 1884. He was reappointed secretary of state in 1888 and helped to initiate what became America’s Good Neighbor Policy toward Central and South America.
Along with Blaine, Portland’s Thomas Brackett Reed, speaker of the House of Representatives between 1889 and 1891 and again after 1896, was one of the most powerful political figures in America. Republican leaders like these gave Maine a national prominence no Democrat could hope to match.
The War Economy and Beyond
The Civil War had a dramatic impact on Maine’s maritime activities. By the 1850s Maine enjoyed a virtual monopoly in the cotton carrying trade, and the loss of this business due to Union blockades was a serious blow. Bath shipyards completed an average of 23 vessels yearly between 1850 and 1860, but built only nine in 1861.
Like other northern states, Maine suffered from Confederate raiders. Of the 52 vessels sunk by the Alabama, 11 were from Maine. Federal cutters captured several other Maine vessels as they attempted to run the southern blockade.
At one point the Tallahassee appeared among the fishing fleet off Matinic Rock, gathered the crews into one small craft, and set fire to the rest. Island people feared Rebels would land and burn their homes, and Maine towns that depended on ocean lanes for their connection to the outside world found times hard indeed.
These risks caused insurance rates to soar, and as a result, nearly 300,000 tons of capacity were sold, transferred to foreign registry, or otherwise disposed.
In some ways the war brought prosperity for Maine shippers. While foreign trade declined in other northern states during the war, it tripled in Maine due to intensified commercial links with the Canadian provinces. Portland became the fourth busiest harbor in the country. Benefiting from strong connections in Washington, Portland and Bath received contracts for federal gunboats like the Agawam, Pontoosac, Katahdin, and Iosco and even a monitor, the Wassuc.
Still, the general trend in Maine shipping and shipbuilding was downward, accelerating a long-term national trend that saw the percentage of U.S. imports carried in U.S. ships decline from 91 percent in 1800, to 78 percent in 1850, to 25 percent in 1866, to 15 percent in 1906.
The Civil War vexed the shipping industry with rising prices, tight money, and a general decline in cargo shipping, but in fact it simply hastened a long-term trend already evident by the mid 1850s.
Historians are still debating the impact of the Civil War on America’s industrial development, but they seem to agree on one point: nationally, the loss of agricultural labor to the war effort, coupled with high prices for produce, encouraged farm mechanization.
Maine farms were not typical however; most were geared to regular seasonal absences as males left for lumber camps, the banks fisheries, or the coasting trade. Those left behind – wives, daughters, older men – were accustomed to taking up slack on the farm, and Army volunteers were typically young, unmarried, and transient, or they were second or third sons; thus their leaving had less impact on farm routines than one might expect.
Still, the war added to these seasonal burdens the task of farming in peak summer months, and this extra effort, coupled with the loss of non-family farm-hands, might have turned thoughts to labor-saving devices.
The shift to mechanized farming and specialized commercial crops was a daunting prospect that required large capital outlays and mortgages, closer attention to market conditions, and dealings with distant bankers, commercial agents, and suppliers, all of which went against the conservative Maine mentality, and wartime markets might provided incentive for this leap into the unknown.
In 1863, for example, the Portland Packing Company pioneered the process of canning agricultural produce in hermetically sealed containers, largely to meet the wartime demand for nonperishable food.
Within a decade, “corn factories” were appearing in farm centers throughout upland Maine, helping to lever farmers out of their traditional mixed-husbandry strategies. Starch factories in northern Maine provided similar incentives for expanding potato production.
Broader railroad networks, new manufacturing centers, and summer colonies and large hotels on the coast and inland lakes provided markets for dairy and cheese products, vegetables, poultry, blueberries, apples, hay, garden crops, and potatoes.
Urged on by agricultural journals, farm clubs, the Maine Board of Agriculture, the Maine State College, and the Grange, farmers experimented with new livestock breeds, better seeds, imported nitrate fertilizers, and crop rotations. In Aroostook County, Irish immigrants moving up the St. John River interspersed with Acadian farmers and shifted to potato monoculture when railroads reached across the river from New Brunswick in the 1870s, eventually making Maine potatoes a standard for the nation.
The war years also were critical to Maine’s emerging industrial base, as new wartime markets combined with the reversals in shipping to shift capital from merchant activities to manufacturing ventures.
The Portland Company, the city’s only heavy manufacturing establishment, expanded during the war into locomotives, stationary and marine engines, steam boilers, casings, large-bore cannon, and iron work in response to government war contracts. The Casco Iron Works built the pilothouse for the Monitor.
Portland emerged from the war with a mixed commercial-industrial economy, and other Maine towns, many employing women and young girls, manufactured gunpowder, oakum, tents, sailcloth, pumps, blocks, capstans, sails, tents, carriages, knapsacks, clothing, saddlery, and artificial limbs. Lime production skyrocketed as the construction of fortifications drove up prices.
Here again, the Civil War seemed to accelerate a process already in play. Nationally, manufacturing trended upward dramatically in the 1840s, dipped during the war years, then turned upward again until the Depression of 1893.
Likewise, Maine cotton goods production increased in 1850 and continued apace until 1893; boot and shoe and woolen and worsted production gained modestly from 1820 through 1860, accelerated during the war, and remained on the same upward trajectory until 1890.
Bangor’s lumber output dropped in 1861 by about a third, yet in 1863 Bangor was once again a “live city,” and between 1866 and 1873 returns from the Penobscot booms remained higher than any single peak season before the war. War brought momentary distortions in long-term trends that lasted until the 1890s.
The Civil War had a dramatic effect on Maine’s population. Between 1860 and 1870 Maine was one of only two states in the nation to experience a net loss in population, New Hampshire being the other. In the rural uplands and along the eastern coast, population loss was dramatic and profoundly discouraging to those who stayed behind.
The usual explanation is that during the war Maine soldiers learned of the vast opportunities in the virgin soils and timber in the Midwest and followed Horace Greeley’s advice, but here again out-migration was nothing new to Maine.
Bangor’s lumbermen had been eyeing western timber since the 1830s, when advertisements first began appearing in the Bangor Whig and Courier enticing loggers to the western lumber districts, and by the Civil War, Bangor lumberman Samuel F. Hersey already had towns named after him in Michigan and Minnesota.
Certainly the financial burdens of the war, the new sense of mobility, the rising taxes, and the declines in shipping and fishing activity encouraged the New England diaspora, but the loss of Maine men and women to industrializing cities of the Northeast and to the deep soils and lofty forests of the Midwest issued from more basic causes.
Set in motion by the 1816 “Year without a Summer,” outmigration was accelerated by completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the opening of the Midwest by railroad development in the 1850s, and most of all, by the gradual liberalization of federal land policy culminating in the Homestead Act of 1862.
The war’s impact was indeed extraordinary, in psychological and cultural terms, but its economic and demographic significance is more obscure.
The war is a central feature in the Maine experience as it is in many other parts of the country. It gave Maine a legend in Joshua Chamberlain and Little Round Top, a political culture based on waving the bloody shirt, and a generation of soldier-statesmen who wove the valiant Union cause into the fabric of Maine memory.
Maine was, in a variety of ways, at a crossroads in 1865, and the Civil War was part of a remarkable conjuncture of trends and special events that made this mid-century decade crucial for Maine.
How the bloody battles on southern soil fit into this economic, demographic, and cultural picture is not a simple question.