From late May through most of June 1863, Pvt. Francis Ireland wrote not a word to his folks back in Dexter.
None of his usual reassuring words about his health, nothing about the June 14 battle at Port Hudson, La.
When a letter finally did arrive, the young man told of the loss of Sgts. Charles Knight of Dexter and John Allen of Lincoln, the latter “a near friend of mine” according to a new book by Ned Smith, “The 22nd Maine Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War: A History and Roster.”
But it was the fate of a Levant man, Col. Simon G. Jerrard, that really stirred young Francis Ireland’s passions:
Our brigade lost its acting commander at the first charge. It then fell upon our Col. Jerrard to command. He led us to a ravine near the fort where we remained till we got orders from Gen. Grover to charge and take the works at all hazards, they must be taken! One brigade had gone in with a few men in the morning a few getting inside the works but were all killed or taken prisoners! The rest were laying near the works and every time one lifted his head he was shot sure! Our Col. examined the position and commenced to file his brigade in position to charge, but they were shot so fast that he called them into their old position contrary to the wishes of their drunken colonel, but agreeable to the good judgment of all sober officers, and he told one of the Gens. aides de camp that he could not put his force in without more support for the first brigade would certainly be cut all to pieces, and the 2nd not much better and then we should be at the mercy of the enemy! and that knowing the inevitable result as he did he considered it folly to put men in there and would not and he would give up his sword and command before doing it.
Francis was not alone in his loyalty to Jerrard. When the colonel ended up arrested, tried and dishonorably discharged, two of the regiments at Port Hudson declined to read the general order.
Jerrard eventually was restored his rank and, back home in Maine, was a selectman in Levant, and even Penobscot County sheriff at one point.
Francis Ireland’s letters, now in the hands of Special Collections at the University of Maine’s Fogler Library in Orono, are a primary source for Smith’s detailed, but very readable book. This new book on the 22nd Maine is a Civil War treasure.
The 22nd Maine was a nine-month regiment whose roster of 850, each listed with age, rank and town, shows how widely the war affected the communities and counties of this rural state.
The letters from Ireland and other enlisted men, such as Co. E’s Charlie Farrar of Dexter, bring the Civil War to life in a special way from Dexter to Hampden to Calais and up to Aroostook County. The maps and photos also are very helpful.
Countless Mainers will find a great-great-great-grandfather or uncle or cousin of some sort among Companies A to K of the 22nd Maine Infantry.
My Alfred Hart, born in England, was discharged near Washington, D.C., for illness, but years later received a pension for his respiratory problems.
Smith taught high school for many years and now teaches at Husson University. He already has given talks about his book, which was published by McFarland & Co. Inc. in Jefferson, N.C., at Bangor Public Library and the Dexter Historical Society.
Next up will be a special program by Smith and his wife, Civil War author Diane Monroe Smith, to kick off the Maine State Archives’ Civil War Sesquicentennial project.
The public presentation is set for 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, at the archives in the museum-library-archives building next to the State House in Augusta.
Dianne Monroe Smith, whose background is in human development, is the author of “Fanny and Joshua; the Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain” and “Chamberlain at Petersburg.” The latter includes an examination of the 5th Corps and Chamberlain’s brigade, based largely on his own previously unpublished personal account.
The Smiths will discuss their books and the research that went into them, and their future projects. They also will have books available for purchase and signing.
They live in Holden with their three cats. They have two grown sons and two grandchildren.
The couple doesn’t think it unusual that a husband and wife should both be Civil War authors. To them, “that’s just the way it is.”
Union Historical Society will host a costumed presentation on the life of a Civil War infantry soldier at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 1, in the sanctuary of People’s United Methodist Church, Depot Street.
After a brief business meeting, society member Hank Lunn of Camden, in costume in the persona of Littleton volunteer Myron Harris, will discuss the life of a Maine soldier during the War Between the States.
Lunn worked in the public schools in midcoast Maine for more than 40 years as a history teacher and school counselor.
After the program, refreshments will be served. Meetings are open to all. The Dec. 1 meeting is the last one until March. For information, call 785-5444 and leave a message.
The Greater Portland Chapter of the Maine Genealogical Society will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 29 Ocean Road, Route 77, Cape Elizabeth.
Kimberly A. MacIsaac, executive director and curator of the Fifth Maine Regiment of Peaks Island, will share the experiences of the Civil War soldiers from that unit. Meetings are free and open to all. For information, call Linda at 490-5709.
Send queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, PO Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.