A Bangor farmer headed to war with the 31st Maine Infantry Regiment left his family in dire financial straits — and so his patient wife informed Maine Adjutant Gen. John Hodsdon in spring 1864.
On Saturday April 9, exactly 365 days before the shooting would stop in Virginia, George W. Huntington mustered with Co. H, 31st Maine. The regimental muster-out rolls compiled some 15 months later correctly identified him as “M” for “married” and incorrectly described him as 23.
Actually in his early 40s, Huntington was no spring chicken headed to the regiment’s violent introduction to combat in far-off Virginia.
Among other married Bangor men marching away with the 31st Maine were 26-year-old Miles J. Sweeney, 29-year-old Charles H. Stocker (a wagoner), 38-year-old Thomas Cuncannan, and 44-year-old James M. Davis. The competent Sweeney would wear sergeant’s stripes before returning home, and Stocker would receive a disability discharge 11 months later.
Cuncannan (as Irish-sounding a name as any in Co. K) and Davis would die by war’s end.
Like Huntington, these men left behind wives. Like Huntington, these men provided the bulk of their families’ incomes. Federal and state bounties probably eased some financial burdens, but only 32 days after George Huntington went to war, Anna Huntington was in economic trouble.
“Dear Sir. Permit me to address you by writing a few lines for your perusal,” she wrote Hodsdon on Wednesday, May 11. “My Husband George W. Huntington enlisted and went in the Thirty first Maine Regiment,” her neat cursive informed Hodsdon.
Anna cut immediately to the chase. “I am left with a small child (daughter Nellie, likely age 5) and an Aged Mother,” she wrote. “I wish to ask you if I may not draw State Aid for my Mother.”
Now 78, Anna’s mother had been “dependent on us for support for the past fifteen years. She is … very infirm and feeble so much so that she has not been able to have her dress on for three months past nor does not sit up nearly half of the time.
“She is my constant care by day and by night,” Anna told Hodsdon.
With the family’s primary breadwinner gone to war, Anna had apparently sought help from city officials. Not mentioning names or titles, she explained to Hodsdon, “They tell me that they cannot let me draw [support] for her [mother] because she is not my husband’s own mother.
“What is the difference[,] Husband and Wife are one or should be, and she has been his mother and he has considered her so and respected her as such ever since we were married[,] which was fifteen years ago,” Anna wrote. “She has been all the mother he has had for many years.”
With spring overtaking central Maine, farmers already worked the fields and orchards. While a hearty laborer could find work during that fourth spring of the war, a 36-year-old woman raising a little girl and caring for a fading mother would find no employment outside the home.
The Huntingtons had evidently arrived in Bangor sometime since the 1860 census, which did not record the family’s presence in the Queen City. Anna probably had few friends; she definitely knew not where to turn for help, as Hodsdon learned while reading her letter.
“I am left with but little means to help myself with and I Humbly ask you if you will not permit me to draw the State Aid for my Feeble Mother,” Anna pleaded. “Hoping you will deign to Reply to this soon[,] I am Yours Respectfully, Mrs. George W. Huntington.”
Her capable command of grammar, sentence structure, and spelling reveals that Anna Huntington was an educated woman. George obviously loved her; why else would a man marry a young woman saddled with an ailing mother? But George had gone to war, and Anna needed help.
Somehow she held the family together until George, by now a corporal, was discharged from the 31st Maine on Saturday, June 3, 1865. Unlike William Rodgers, another married Bangorean in Co. H, George would return home; killed in action in July 1864, the 45-year-old Rodgers left his wife a widow.
The 1870 federal census found George (48), Anna (42), and Nellie (11) still living in Bangor. George was a farmer; Anna’s occupation was “keeping house.” A city record indicates that they lived at 5 Finson Road, near a schoolhouse.
The Huntingtons had survived the war, which had not brought them any prosperity.
Brian Swartz is the BDN special sections editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or visit his blog at http:maineatwar.bangordailynews.com.