June 18, 1864: “A Pile of Loyal Maine Legs and Arms..”
The 142nd anniversary of the Charge of the First Maine Heavy Artillery will fall this coming Sunday. I recently came across this reference to the aftermath of the charge.
June 19th, 1864
"I have been up to my elbows in blood all day, and its is a relief now just at night to turn for a few minutes homeward, where there is peace and happiness. Our Division had a terrible time yesterday afternoon charging the rebel lines- all the more terrible because the assault was repulsed. Our Brigade, fortunately was not e engaged… but the rest received an awful fire and, ever since here at the hospital, we have been full of the saddest business. The First Maine Heavy Artillery, now doing infantry services, a very large Regt. Composed of a fine class of young men was dreadfully cut up. 500 will not much exceed their loss in killed and wounded. The dear, glorious fellows have been writhing and groaning and dying ever since, and my heart aches for them. It is a sorry sight to see them brought one after the other - these Maine boys and laid on the Surgeon’s table. A pile of loyal Maine legs and arms is the token of what the day’s work has been. Petersburg seems a hard nut to crack and is costing us heavily."
Chaplin Joseph Hopkins Twichell, The Civil War Letters of Joseph Hopkins Twichell, A Chaplain's Story (University of Georgia Press, 2006)
The Charge of the First Maine Heavy Artillery has been listed as the single greatest battle loss of any regiment during the entire Civil War. To me the size of the losses on June 18, 1864 is not most important element of this story. What is most important is how the losses on June 18th effected the small towns and villages of Eastern Maine.
For example the town of Carmel, Maine in Penobscot County according to the 1860 Census had a population of 1271. In the course of the war this town had 14 men who were killed or mortally wounded. 10 out of the 14 who were members of the First Maine Heavy Artillery. 7 of those ten were killed on June 18, 1864. In other words .6% of the this town’s 1860 population was killed on June 18th. Cherryfield, Maine in Washington County had 5 men KIA/Mortally wounded on June 18th. This represented 31% of the towns total losses for the whole war.