MAINE AT WAR

Civil War left many Maine women and children destitute

Posted Oct. 08, 2012, at 4:35 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2014, at 9:58 a.m.
The wife and daughter of Union Gen. John A. Rawlins joined him at the rude quarters he occupied at City Point, Va., in mid-1864. Rawlins' family was fortunate; throughout the Union, and especially in Maine, most soldiers' families did not know what was happening to their men as the war dragged on. In mid-October 1862, six Cutler women informed Maine Gov. Israel Washburn that their families were almost destitute because promised state financial support had not arrived in that Washington County town.
Library of Congress photo
The wife and daughter of Union Gen. John A. Rawlins joined him at the rude quarters he occupied at City Point, Va., in mid-1864. Rawlins' family was fortunate; throughout the Union, and especially in Maine, most soldiers' families did not know what was happening to their men as the war dragged on. In mid-October 1862, six Cutler women informed Maine Gov. Israel Washburn that their families were almost destitute because promised state financial support had not arrived in that Washington County town.

The Civil War reached Cutler by mid-October 1862, as six local women politely informed Gov. Israel Washburn.

Just two months earlier, Abigail C. Ramsdell had kissed her 37-year-old husband, Ithiel, goodbye as he left for war with the 11th Maine Infantry Regiment. Born in Lubec, the 6-foot, dark-haired, and blue-eyed Ithiel had resigned his position as a Cutler schoolteacher before signing up to fight the Johnny Rebs for three years.

That same day, Lydia Maker had shared a similarly poignant farewell with her 34-year-old husband, Nehemiah, now a private in the 11th Infantry’s Co. B. Born and raised in Cutler and employed there as a mill man, Nehemiah sported hazel eyes and brown hair; at 5-10¾ he stood taller than many companions.

In early July 1861, elderly widow Emmy B. Maker had watched her 22-year-old grandson, Reuben Maker, leave Cutler to serve for three years with Co. F, 6th Maine Infantry. He had black eyes and brown hair; like Nehemiah Maker, the 5-9 Reuben worked in Cutler as a mill man.

During the war’s first 16 months, O.P. Perkins, E.A. Ramsdell, and Pheby Suffell of Cutler had also sent their men to serve the United States.

Now, while writing to Washburn on Oct. 14, 1862, the six Cutler women told him about the price that their families paid for their loyalty to the United States.

After asking the governor to “pardon us for troubling ( you with wants, wishes and complaints,” the women succinctly explained in their collective letter that “our husbands are in the army. We are entirely dependent upon them for the support of ourselves and families. While they were at home we were well cared for; at the present time we are really in want.”

That last sentence hinted at hungry children, empty larders, and little hard cash as the women held together home and hearth with winter lurking just below the Down East horizon.

Now the proverbial wolf howled at six Cutler doors. The women wrote Washburn “that the state has made some provision for us [and other military families] so that we might not become paupers.” Unaware of the state program’s exact details, but anxious to read the fine print, “some of us called on the Fathers [selectmen] of the town.”

Apparently “the Fathers” cared not a whit about destitute Cutler women; “all the satisfaction we could get, was, ‘go to the overseers of the poor.’” This imperious response directed the women to declare themselves paupers unable to feed or clothe their families. Proud of their roles as homemakers, the women refused to take that declarative step into abject poverty: “We think it rong (sic) for us to be compeled (sic) to do so as well as very trying,” they wrote Washburn.

Could he help them?

“Will you be so very kind to inform us what course we are to take in order that we may obtain the amount we should receive from the state,” the women wrote. “Any favor that you may be able to render us will be greatfully (sic) appreciated by us.

“Your’s with Honered (sic) respects,” the Cutler women concluded, and, by the way, could Washburn “please direct your answer to F.C. Burbank”?

The Cutler Six then signed their names.

By the time he received the Cutler letter, Washburn already knew that many other Maine families faced financial ruin resulting from husbands, sons and brothers being absent in uniform.

Maine warriors were telling him so.

An allotment system let a sailor or soldier send his pay — a percentage or a specific amount — to a designated recipient or bank. Single men might send money home to help their parents or to save for the future; married men usually sent money to their families, who desperately needed the cash.

Soldiers’ letters often asked if a wife had received the allotted funds; wives often responded that they had not. Despite his best efforts, Washburn could not solve the problem; he tried, oh, he tried, even in the Deep South.

On Oct. 9, 1862, he wrote Col. Henry Rust Jr. and asked him why the allotment money from his 13th Maine Infantry Regiment had not arrived in Maine. Rust responded by letter on Nov. 22, when the regiment was stationed at Ship Island, Miss.

According to Rust, one paymaster had died, and his replacement had not yet forwarded the regiment’s allotment money. Almost all of 1862’s funds would not reach Maine for months; “We all realize very keenly the suffering caused to the families of the soldiers by this delay: really pauperizing, as it does, or making dependent on charity, many who rely upon the earnings of those in the Army as their only means of supports,” Rust wrote Washburn.

In Washington County, the Cutler Six shared news of the war and “made do” as they awaited word about their men’s fates. Here and there along the Down East coast, other women learned that a husband, son, or grandson would never return. However, joyous news awaited at least three of the Cutler Six; their Johnnies came marching home.

Ithiel Ramsdell reached Cutler first, striding through the door to ecstatically greet Abigail about 18 months after leaving with the 11th Maine. He still wore a blue uniform, however, but this time as a sergeant in Co. C, Maine Coast Guards. By November 1864, Ithiel commanded 12 soldiers at a coastal artillery battery in Castine; on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1865, he officially mustered out at Portland.

The battle-tested Reuben Maker mustered out and received an honorable discharge at Portland on Monday, Aug. 15, 1864. Promoted to corporal and then to sergeant in the hard-fighting 6th Maine, the dark-complexioned Reuben headed for Cutler.

Sgt. Nehemiah Maker stayed with the colors until mustering out on Monday, June 12, 1865. He soon swept Lydia into his arms, and for a short time at least, all was right in the Cutler world.

Brian Swartz may be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net or visit his blog at http://maineatwar.bangordailynews.com.

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