March 24, 2018
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Civil War veterans were fading away

By Wayne E. Reilly, Special to the BDN

The annual “encampment” of the Department of Maine, Grand Army of the Republic would be meeting in Bangor in a few days, said Bangor newspapers in mid-June a century ago. Hundreds of Civil War veterans from all over the state would be on hand to swap war stories and sing patriotic tunes such as “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” at the Penobscot Exchange — the hotel that was the group’s official headquarters — and at City Hall, which was the scene of this year’s “campfire.”

The list of eligible veterans was getting smaller every year. Who would be there from Bangor? Here are a few likely candidates taken from a series of profiles of living Civil War veterans published in The Bangor Daily Commercial in the months before the event. I have enough space here to introduce only a few of the men.

Edward Jordan, a harness maker in the Queen City for 44 years, might have attended. Jordan served in Company M of the 1st Maine Cavalry for the entire war, according to a June 11, 1910, story about him. He went in as an enlisted man, appointed as a saddler, and came out a lieutenant in charge of his company. He fought in 23 pitched battles — from Second Bull Run to Petersburg — without receiving a wound. “I don’t think I could have stood another year of it even if the bullets, bayonets and shells had continued to spare my life,” he said.

Maj. R.G. Rollins, who was in the insurance business in Bangor, was the only surviving staff or line officer of the 31st Maine Infantry, according to a Jan. 11 profile. He had kept a diary of the entire war and could entertain people with stories for hours. “Major Rollins took part in every battle from the Wilderness up to Cold Harbor, when he was wounded, and afterwards was in all the engagements until the surrender of Lee.” He led the regiment as adjutant after higher officers were killed or wounded. As a member of the committee in charge of local arrangements, Rollins was sure to be in attendance at the 1910 encampment.

Another aging veteran was A.S. Field, manager of the Eastern Maine State Fair. He enlisted near the end of the war in the battle-weary 14th Maine, the youngest man in his regiment. “I have many times seen men fall in their tracks as they marched, dead, overcome to the death by fatigue. I believe this took away as many brave fellows as did the bullets of the enemy. We started with 111 men in our company and returned with 42, the other 69 being left behind, never to return,” said Field in his profile on Feb. 5. He emerged from the war unscathed, only to lose his left arm later in a fall from an icehouse roof that he was working on.

The aftermath of the Civil War produced a war of a different sort between Republicans and Democrats. William Patterson, who served in the 2nd Maine Infantry, had been severely wounded at Fredericksburg. After the war, he served for 17 years as a janitor at the Customs House, under successive Republican administrations. Then Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was elected president. “When Cleveland was elected, an old colonel in my regiment, Charles W. Roberts, was appointed collector of the port and he immediately proceeded to distribute Democratic plums. I was one of those who was wounded in this [political] battle, for my old colonel bounced me seemingly without the least compunction,” Patterson said in his profile on Feb. 12. Earlier that year, Mayor John Woodman had appointed Patterson special officer at the GAR Hall.

One of the best-known Civil War veterans in Bangor was M.H. Andrews, the city’s popular bandmaster, orchestra leader and music store owner. The leader of the 12th Regiment Band, Andrews had two treasured gifts given to him at Savannah where the regiment had been stationed for a year and a half after Sherman’s march to the sea, according to a profile of him on Sept. 26, 1908. One was a gold watch presented to him by the officers of the regiment. The other was a German silver cornet, given by the residents of Savannah. Andrews’ band was apparently the most popular band in the city, where the social life continued even after the war.

Robert B. Cookson, a local lawyer, had exciting tales to tell. Enlisting in the 14th Maine, Cookson contracted measles before ever getting out of the state. His father brought him back to Bangor and applied for his discharge papers. Upon recovering, Cookson, who was about 15, ran away from home and rejoined his regiment after a harrowing journey to Louisiana. During the fighting that followed, he was shot in the leg and captured, but escaped after a mortar shell killed his captors. After he was found and taken to a hospital in Baton Rouge, his left leg was amputated. Many other perilous adventures followed. “During all the field experiences, Mr. Cookson had no official standing as a soldier, as he had been discharged before starting for the front, and during all this time received no pay,” according to the March 12 profile of him.

Like so many other soldiers and sailors in the Civil War, John J. Flynn, the son of Irish immigrants, lost a limb. Flynn served on the USS Ceres, a gunboat. In 1864, it headed up Roanoke River to Plymouth, N.C., in response to a Confederate attack. Flynn’s term of service had expired 20 days before, but his captain asked him to stay aboard because he was short-handed. Flynn was first loader of a 30-pound Parrott gun. Under fire from several batteries, both of Flynn’s arms “were sadly mangled by splinters,” leading to the amputation of one. When the town capitulated, Flynn was taken captive from the hospital, eventually arriving at the dreaded Andersonville prison in Georgia where he developed gangrene, dysentery and scurvy, according to his profile on April 30. He was able to leave Andersonville under a prisoner exchange, and he was discharged from the Navy seven months after his term of service had expired. Later, he served nine years as Bangor’s harbor master.

These are but a small sampling of Bangor men who fought in the Civil War and who were still alive a century ago when the annual encampment of the Department of Maine, Grand Army of the Republic was held in the Queen City of the East.

An illustrated collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire” is available at bookstores. Comments about this column may be sent to

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