June 25, 2018
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Stockton soldier ‘marched’ his gray-clad prisoner back to Maine

By Brian Swartz, Of the Weekly Staff

Philip Souder Holmes of Stockton Springs brought home a gray-clad Confederate that he captured in southern Louisiana.

Assigned to Co. K, 26th Maine Infantry Regiment, Holmes participated in the April 14, 1863, Battle of Irish Bend. A day earlier, a Confederate gunboat had shelled the Union troops. One shell “struck a tree and knocked a nest of young [fox] squirrels out,” Holmes remembered. Checking on the young rodents, he “got one and put it in my haversack, and I always carried him with me.”

On April 14 Confederate and Union troops fought at Irish Bend, and “I was hit three times by as many different bullets,” Holmes wrote.

A Co K comrade, Josiah Nickerson of Swanville, “helped me up and I started for the rear. I went to where the wounded were coming in and had my wound hastily dressed and was sent to an old sugar house, where I lay on the cold ground.”

So did the fox squirrel. “When I was wounded … the squirrel was found tucked snugly in the breast of my coast and it refused to leave me even at the hospital,” Holmes later wrote about his furry companion.

The squirrel accompanied Holmes to Port Hudson, where the 26th Maine fought later that spring. Federal regiments dug siege lines to entrap the town’s Confederate garrison. “When lying in the trenches in the day time[,] he would go off and be gone for some time but on the firing of a gun he would come back on the run and dive for the old haversack,” Holmes recalled.

“The squirrel had become so tame that it would go the full length of the regimental line, jumping from shoulder to shoulder of the men, but it always came back and crept into my knapsack to sleep,” he noted.

“I brought him home [to Stockton Springs] and he was given the full run of the farm and would go off into the woods and fields but always returned at meal times and to sleep,” Holmes wrote.

The fox squirrel still slept “in the old haversack[,] which was kept hung up on the corner of the chimney-place, filled with paper,” he recalled. “One day, in cleaning house, Mrs. Holmes neglected to hang the haversack back in its place,” and the startled squirrel vanished.

Searching his house and outbuildings, Holmes finally discovered the squirrel “snugly tucked in my old haversack at the bottom of a barrel in a shed and beneath a lot of papers as well.

“The haversack was returned to its place and the squirrel slept in that the remainder of his life,” he wrote. “This wasn’t for long, as one day he was missed and never returned.

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