Drafting Soldiers is all the Talk
By Bruce R. Tucker, Alfred Historical Society
The spring of 1862 arrived as all springs do in Alfred, eagerly anticipated and full of promise. Farm life moved in its easy familiar rhythms, dictated by the seasons and easily recognizable to generations of New England farm folk. Diarist George Came, on the Back Road, put up the sleigh and got out the wagon, hauled manure and waited for the fields to dry for planting. Life seemed little affected by the world beyond his rock walled fields. Most of his thoughts were occupied by family matters, planning a new town hall, and thwarting a dastardly plan to move the courts out of Alfred. He kept an interested eye on the war far to the south, making detached references to distant battles and partisan National politics. The minimal impact the war had on his life surprised even him, “It is a very quiet war, for so great a one. Should scarcely know that there was a war but for the rise of goods and seeing now and then a man in uniform.”(G. Came Diary 2-4-62) The war tax levied,” upon everything from a piano to a hoop skirt” was annoying but as George finished making up next years wood, storm clouds were brewing that threatened to wash out his peaceful existence as well as his coming hay season. The first sprinkles arrived May 1, when George compiled the militia rolls of all men in town age 18-45 for the State Adjutant General. He no doubt contemplated his own and his brother’s name among the 155 Alfred men listed. George was 25 years and Sam had recently graduated from Bowdoin, both were prime draft bait- if it came to that. In July, Lincoln called for 300,000 troops (Maine’s share was about 7000 men) and George expected the draft would be utilized to raise that many men. Alfred’s quota was 13 men and the town raised $1300 bounty to encourage enlistment ($100/ man). (G. Came 7-29-62) The regiments raised statewide in this call were the 16th - 20th Maine Volunteer Regiments. The end of July came off rainy, making for a succession of poor hay days. When dreary skies coincided with discouraging enlistment news, George’s mood turned gloomy. On Aug. 5, George had a truly bad day. “Finished mowing high ground and the Clark Field. Poor hay day...Had a thundershower this evening, rains now. Lincoln calls for another 300,000 troops. The Country has gone all to smash, I guess, but as Mr. Orr [local Congo minister – ed note] tells us, “we shall see what we shall see”. Only about 5 of Alfred’s quota have been enlisted. My head aches, good night.” The war that seemed so distant in February had come home with a vengeance. On August 23, George reported that ,“ Mr. Drew has been to Portland and succeeded in getting soldiers to complete Alfred’s quota.” and though both of George’s hired men had volunteered and left him with all the haying, he must have breathed a sigh of relief.
As Maine towns struggled to raise July’s quota, Lincoln requested another 7000 troops that would eventually comprise the 21st - 28th Maine Vol. Regiments. Alfred’s quota was 21 men. These troops had to serve only a nine month enlistment term but if volunteers could not be found, a draft was ordered to be held Sept. 3. Recruitments did not pick up until Alfred raised the bounty to $200 per man on Aug. 31. The next day 11 men stepped forward, offering to enlist if the whole 21 were raised from town. By Sept. 4,18 had enlisted but on the 6th a physician rejected two of the volunteers, Luke Roberts and Oliver Yeaton (the former unwell, the latter too young). It was not until Sept. 8th that the quota was full. On Sept. 15th,21 Alfred boys went off to war cheering. George Came noted with relief- VOLUNTEERS ALL.
The 27th Maine Vol. Reg.
The 27th Maine was a unique regiment. The whole regiment was raised in York County, the companies that comprised it were from very local areas. Company A was largely from Saco and Limerick, Company B from the Berwicks, Company E from Sanford and Wells, Company F almost entirely from Biddeford etc. Alfred men served in Company I along with enlistees from Lyman and Kennebunk. The soldiers elected their officers, just as they had in the militia, the companies from Waterboro and Sanford met in Alfred for that purpose the night of Sept. 11th. Alfredians Henry B. Osgood and Fred Harmon hoped to be Lieutenants. (Osgood was successful but Harmon served as a corporal for a time before returning to ranks). The Company was mustered at Portland on Sept. 30 and left by train for Boston Oct. 20. caught a steamer to Jersey City then a train to Philadelphia. The 27th then boarded cattle cars to Baltimore, then recently used cattle cars to Washington, D.C. Here they were issued flintlocks and marched to their headquarters at Arlington Heights. It was wryly noted that the property’s current owner Robert E. Lee was not in residence.
The Mainers then settled into 9 months of guard duty and building fortifications around Washington D.C.. (Pullen 35-44). As June 1863 approached, so did the end of their enlistment but the real excitement was in Pennsylvania where Lee was driving deep into the Union heartland. For a couple days in late June, the 27th was attached to the Army of the Potomac but the orders were remanded when it was learned their enlistment was due to end June 30. Reluctant to have troops leave while Washington was threatened, Sec of War Stanton asked for troops to volunteer to stay beyond their enlistment until the crisis was past. Regimental commander Col. Mark Wentworth made the plea and after some wrangling, about 300 of the companies members agreed to stay, including 54 members of Co. I. The other roughly 550 in the company headed back to Maine to do some haying. After Lee was defeated at Gettysburg, the threat to the Capitol was past and the 27th volunteers were released on July 4, overstaying their enlistment by four days. They arrived in Portland the 6th and were in Alfred soon after. Came saw Pel Tripp on July 8 and the next day related,” Our nine month men have come home.”
With the 27th safely back in Maine, Washington officials cast about for a way to reward the 300 men who had overstayed their enlistment. Secretary of War Stanton suggested they be given a newly commissioned medal and requested a list of the deserving soldiers. The War Dept. was sent the muster list of the entire 27th Maine -all 863 names. That list was sent to the engravers in Philadelphia who began the long process of etching every name onto the back of a medal. In January 1865, 200 pounds of Congressional Medals of Honor in morocco leather cases arrived in Augusta for presentation to the entire 27th Maine. The governor contacted Col. Wentworth in Kittery to get the story and plan his next move. Wentworth declared that not everyone in the regiment was deserving of a medal, only those who stayed past their enlistment. Exasperated, Maine officials sent Wentworth all the medals and let him sort it out. With his company officers help, Wentworth compiled a list of the 300 volunteers who had stayed in Washington and handed out the medals to those soldiers only. Fearful that the unused medals would be distributed if they were returned to Washington, Wentworth sent the medals back to Augusta, which promptly returned them to him. Wentworth decided to lay the issue to rest and stuck the barrel of unused medals in his stable. There they languished until his death in July 1897. Fearful of another distribution to unworthy recipients, the medals were spirited away by members of the company anxious to safeguard their honor. The medals were never seen again. Because there was never an official roster of the 300 volunteers, the War Dept. records indicated that the entire 27th Me. were issued medals with the caveat that not everyone listed was deserving.
Over time, the Congressional Medal of Honor took on a very selective cache and other recipients of the honor tried to have members of the 27th removed from the list. As time passed, so did the ranks of living members of the regiment and finally in 1917 the surviving recipients were told not to wear the medals anymore. For near half a century, 13 Alfred residents could claim to be recipients of our nation’s highest military honor. In what John Pullen referred to as “a shower of stars”, Alfred had its own constellation.
As an aside, the late Lew Gordon’s father, George Washington Gordon, served in this regiment from Lyman and received a medal. He later reenlisted in the 32nd Maine and fought in the savage battles that closed out the war. Lew said his father recalled “walking around Virginia and being real hungry.” He also said any war letters or mementos were lost in the fire that consumed the Gordon family homestead in Lyman. Lew never mentioned the Medal of Honor.
Note: John Pullen’s “A Shower of Stars “ tells the story of the 27th Maine and the medals in greater detail and far more eloquently than I can. It is available in the Parsons Library (as soon as I return it). ye olde ed.
Alfred Members of the 27th Maine Volunteers
1st Lt. Henry B. Osgood, age 18 *
Sgt. Erastus Moulton, age 20 *
Cpl. Frederick M.Harmon, age 24 *
Cpl. John G. Whitten, age 25
Cpl. Stephen Blanchard, age 22
Musican John H. White, age 24
Pvt. John Bracey, age 42
Pvt. James H. Brown, age 18*
Pvt. Eben Cluff, age 24
Pvt. George W. Cluff, age 21*
Pvt. Thomas Doieg, age 33
Pvt. Charles H. Moulton, age 23*
Pvt. William H. Nason, age 25*
Pvt. Joseph H. Ridley, age 20*
Pvt. Alvah Roberts, age 23*
Pvt. Luke H. Roberts, age 19*
Pvt. John R. Stanley, age 20*
Pvt. Osborn Trafton, age 31
Pvt. Pelatiah R. Tripp, age 20*
Pvt. Daniel Wormwood Jr., age 42
Pvt. John P. Wormwood, age 28*
Pvt. George C. Wright, age 24
*denotes Congressional Medal of Honor recipients
note: Luke Roberts, rejected in Alfred on his first attempt, evidently found a more compliant physician, joined the regiment and came home with a medal. Oliver Yeaton, rejected as too young, experienced a maturity spurt and joined the 8th Me. in March 1864- reported age 20 years.
Came, George Diary
Maine Adjutant General Report, 1863-64
Pullen, John A Shower of Stars 1966
Stone, James M. History of the 27th Reg. Me. Vol. Infantry 1895
The cover image of the 27th Maine Infantry at a reunion in Arundel, 1905: https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/13668/