The 1862 holiday season brings disaster to two Army majors — William L. Pitcher and Stephen Decatur Carpenter — heroically representing Bangor on far-flung battlefields. Likely known as “Bill” or “Billy” in his childhood, Pitcher hails from Knox, where he was born to Horatio and Anna Pitcher on May 11, 1836. He lives in Monroe until the family moves to Bangor in the mid-1840s.
Pitcher attends school and church in Bangor and, when his country needs him, joins the 4th Maine Infantry in spring 1861. He fights at Bull Run that July.
Pitcher takes to war a sword that he carries into action during battles at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Chantilly, and Bull Runs 1 and 2. Sometime in late summer 1862, the 4th Maine skirmishes with Confederate cavalry led by J.E.B. Stuart; capturing an evidently better-made enemy sword, Pitcher boxes up his first blade and ships it to his father, who lives on Grove Street in Bangor.
“I thought you might like to keep it,” William Pitcher writes in an attached note.
Named for a Navy hero from the War of 1812, Carpenter hails from Foxcroft, where he was born to Col. Joshua Carpenter and Susan (Heald) Carpenter on May 14, 1818. Graduating from West Point in 1840, he leaves Maine to join the 1st Infantry Regiment and gains combat experience fighting Comanches, Mexicans, and Seminoles.
Carpenter’s Bangor connection lies with his second wife. He had married a Miss Gear while stationed at Fort Snelling, Minn. in the early 1850s; she later dies at Fort Terrett, Texas.
Then in 1856 Carpenter marries Laura Clark, the adopted daughter of Bangor’s Richmond Hayward. The Carpenters soon have a daughter, Sara Elvira; unfortunately Laura dies at Fort Stockton, Texas in late 1860, likely after giving birth to Stephen Decatur’s son.
Briefly assigned to Key West in spring 1861, Capt. Carpenter receives a promotion to major on May 14 and leaves Florida in June; while en route to a recruiting assignment in Indianapolis, he probably visits Bangor, where his 9½-month-old son, John, dies on July 7.
The toddler receives a burial and a small, ornate headstone at Mount Hope Cemetery.
On April 7, 1862, Maj. Carpenter leads four 19th U.S. Infantry companies into battle at Shiloh, Tenn. He loses 37 men that day. He later fights at Corinth, Miss. that spring and probably fights at Perryville, Ky. in early October.
By mid-December, Pitcher and Carpenter again head for battle. Dawn on Saturday, Dec. 13 finds Pitcher and the depleted 4th Maine maneuvering across foggy bottomlands along the Rappahannock River downstream from Fredericksburg, Va. Far away in central Tennessee, Carpenter leads about 150 men of the 19th Infantry toward Murfreesboro.
Along with the 3rd Maine and three other regiments, the 4th Maine deploys along the Bowling Green Road at Fredericksburg in early afternoon on Dec. 13. Soon Pitcher and his comrades charge across muddy corn fields to dislodge Confederates firing from scrub woods; the Maine boys then chase the Confederates to a railroad embankment, “where we met them at close quarters,” remembers Col. Elijah Walker, who commands the 4th Maine.
“Officers used their pistols and the men their steel [bayonets],” he says.
A bullet strikes Pitcher’s forehead; the gallant major dies instantly. Retreating comrades retrieve his body; a mortician soon embalms Pitcher and places him a zinc-lined wooden box for shipment to Bangor.
“Dear Sir,” Bangor historian Elnathan F. Duren addresses a letter from Bangor late on Tuesday, Dec. 23. Apparently writing to Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon, Duren thinks “you might be glad to know & be able also to inform the Governor [Abner Coburn] that the remains of Major William L. Pitcher … have come home safely and that the funeral will be held on Friday forenoon next at 10 o’clock, at the Hammond St. church.”
Earlier “this evening,” a Maine Central Railroad train delivered Pitcher to the Bangor train station near Front and Railroad streets, and “a guard escort was detailed to meet the body … & convey it to the [Pitcher] house,” Duren writes.
“On opening it (the casket) we found it (the body) in good condition, very natural,” he notes. “The wound was in the head, through the forehead,” which was “a great comfort” to Pitcher’s family; “he probably had no lingering suffering,” Duren explains.
The Christmas Eve edition of the “Bangor Daily Whig and Courier” reports that Pitcher’s funeral will actually take place at Norumbega Hall in downtown Bangor. The mourning family receives friends and relatives on Christmas Eve and spends a gloomy Christmas gathered near Pitcher’s bier.
Upon the casket lies the sword that Pitcher sent his father.
After breakfast on Friday, his family holds a private service. At 9 a.m. pallbearers carry the casket outdoors and place it on a horse-drawn “funeral car.” Escorted by fellow Masons and two local militia companies (Vice President Hannibal Hamlin possibly marches with one unit), the hearse proceeds to Norumbega Hall for an intensely religious funeral well-attended by Bangor patriots.
Afterwards, a long procession escorts William L. Pitcher on his 2-mile journey to a burial plot in Mount Hope Cemetery. Masons perform “the usual Masonic ceremonies at the grave,” and the militia companies fire “three rounds of small arms,” the Whig and Courier reports.
William Pitcher will lie about 300 feet from little John Carpenter.
On Tuesday, Dec. 31, Confederate troops launch a surprise attack against Union troops moving into Murfreesboro, Tenn. Maj. Stephen Decatur Carpenter maneuvers his 19th Infantry to protect Batteries H and M, 4th U.S. Artillery as enemy infantrymen burst through the cedar thickets near the Cowan House ruins.
Carpenter faces a full Confederate brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Daniel S. Donelson. The ruins split apart the attacking troops; the 8th Tennessee Infantry Regiment shifts to the west and runs squarely into the 19th Infantry.
The regiments shoot each other apart on terrain later called “Hell’s Half Acre.” The 8th Tennessee’s commander, Col. W.L. Moore, dies when shot in the heart, but his troops press Carpenter’s men backwards.
“Scatter and run, boys!” Pvt. Joseph R. Prentice remembers Carpenter shouting. Confederates fire another volley; six bullets simultaneously strike Carpenter, and he pitches dead from his wounded horse.
Prentice recovers Carpenter’s body, which a mortician soon embalms. Ironically, an Army order promoting Carpenter to lieutenant colonel arrives in Murfreesboro not long after his death.
The Army ships Stephen Decatur Carpenter home to Bangor; his body arrives on an MCRR evening train on Monday, Feb. 2, 1863. On Saturday evening, the Bangor City Council meets in special session to resolve “that the Mayor and Two Aldermen … be a committee to procure a burial lot” for Carpenter and “that the City Council will attend his funeral.”
So Joshua Carpenter, the War of 1812 veteran, outlives his heroic son and attends his Episcopalian-themed funeral at Norumbega Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 11. The same two militia companies — the Independent Fusileers and the Independent Volunteers — that escorted Pitcher’s body now escort Carpenter’s.
Attorney Charles P. Roberts delivers the eulogy, and with the Bangor Band playing appropriate music, the flag-draped coffin rolls out State Street to Mount Hope Cemetery. “The funeral car … was preceded by a color guard of returned and wounded soldiers, bearing the ensign of the Union,” the Whig and Courier reports on Feb. 12. Carpenter’s relatives — including his elderly father, who now lives in Houlton — accompany the body to a gravesite near the intersection of today’s Riverside Avenue and Monument Avenue in Mount Hope Cemetery.
On Friday, June 17, 1864, local dignitaries and a large crowd gather near Carpenter’s grave to dedicate Bangor’s Civil War Memorial, now called the “Soldiers’ Monument.” According to its engraving, the monument was erected “In Memory Of Our Citizen Soldiers Who Died For Their Country.”
The names of fallen Bangor (or Bangor-affiliated) soldiers are etched on three sides. Stephen Decatur Carpenter tops the list on the side facing intown Bangor; William L. Pitcher tops the list on the side facing Mount Hope Avenue.
In 1881 other Carpenters relocate the heroic major elsewhere in the cemetery. He now lies next to his son in plot 718CG, just off Central Avenue.