DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Jim Austin of Dover-Foxcroft chokes up when he recalls standing on the Fort Fisher battlefield in North Carolina a few years ago where his great-great-grandfather William Austin died during the Civil War.
“It was very moving,” Austin said Thursday. So many men from the same towns and counties enlisted in the war and there was so much bloodshed, he said. “It’s kind of staggering the number of casualties. It’s hard for people to realize the carnage that occurred.”
Historians say that about 600,000 men and a number of women died during the Civil War, and that per capita, Maine had more soldiers in the war than any other Northern state.
This Memorial Day, as in past years, Austin will do his part to help remember the efforts of those men and women and the price they paid. Austin and the organization he commands, the Daniel Chaplin Camp, Sons of Union Veterans, will join members of the Sarah Elizabeth Palmer Tent, Daughters of Union Veterans, in a joint memorial ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 28, at the Dover Cemetery on Vaughn Road in Dover-Foxcroft.
There they will lay wreaths at the grave of brothers Noah and George Mitchell and at the grave of Sarah Elizabeth Palmer, a former Dorothea Dix nurse for whom the local daughters’ chapter is named. The public is invited to attend.
Both groups were formed to preserve the memory and sacrifices of Civil War veterans, according to Austin and Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft, president of the Sarah Elizabeth Palmer Tent. The national Daughters of Union Veterans was formed on Memorial Day in 1885. To join either organization, one must have a direct descendant who served in the Civil War.
Battick, who enjoys genealogy, said she found a tin type of two young men in Civil War uniforms in family belongings several years ago and asked her mother who the men were. Her mother said they were Battick’s great-great-uncles. Piqued by that information, she searched further and found other ancestors, including a direct ancestor who served in the war.
One of those ancestors had been imprisoned in Andersonville and had died there, Battick said.
“That choked me up and it still does,” she said Thursday.
Like Austin, Battick said she felt drawn to visit the battlefields where her ancestors fought. She also learned that one of her ancestors is buried in an unmarked grave in Fredericksburg, Va. Seeing the grave was extremely touching, she noted.
“It really does bring it home,” she said.
Battick already had established her ties with the Civil War when the Dover-Foxcroft tent was formed in 2004.
“There is almost nobody who doesn’t have somebody in their background who served in that conflict in one way or another,” she said.
With help from the National Archives, it is easy to do an ancestry search, both Austin and Battick said. Austin said he even obtained copies of his great-great-grandfather’s pay stubs.
“Its amazing what you’ll find,” Austin said.
Austin joined the Dover-Foxcroft chapter, named after Col. Daniel Chaplin of Greater Bangor, three years ago. Chaplin, who died from injuries on the battlefield in Petersburg, Va., is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. The chapter, one of six in the state, has 35 members, meets once a month and still maintains the procedures of 1883 meetings. As such, the meetings are closed to the public, according to Austin. Discussions at the meetings focus on the war and functions that the group will participate in, such as parades and war memorial dedications, he said.
Battick said the local chapter of the Daughters of Union Veterans typically conducts seven meetings a year and participates in ceremonies and parades. It also collects items for veterans at the Togus hospital. The organization has 23 members and anticipates three new members, ages 8-18, who are called “doves.”
The emphasis of both local organizations, both Battick and Austin said, is to remember the Civil War and the toll it took, especially on Maine residents.