Waldo at War, 1861-1865 — Part 4
Rumors of confederate gun boats off the coast of Maine were verified when the revenue cutter, Caleb Cushing, was attacked and captured in Portland Harbor in the summer of 1863. Citizens in cities along the coast were frightened into taking precautions. Belfast requested artillery to defend its harbor. A volunteer company of “Coast Guards” was formed consisting of men over 45 years of age. Two batteries were constructed at the mouth of the harbor, one on the north and one on the south side. Each housed five guns which were protected by reinforced parapets and which provided accommodations for the men.
1863 was a year of important political developments. On January 1, the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation which made ending slavery a primary goal of the war. While the Proclamation did not outlaw slavery, it stated that if those states in rebellion did not rejoin the Union, all persons held in bondage in those states would be considered free. This reversed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. The Proclamation was limited to the states of the Confederacy. It was not until passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that all former slaves, north and south, were made free citizens granted the right to vote. Not all northerners agreed with Lincoln. Democrats had opposed the war, the draft and the president as a leader. Some radical Democrats called Copperheads went so far as to encourage men to avoid the draft or even to desert if taken into the army. In the most serious cases there were some Copperheads who aided confederate agents. To deal with such acts of treason the president suspended the writ of habeas corpus, making it possible for the authorities to arrest and hold a suspect without a specific charge being made.
In August the first soldiers from our area who had completed their term of enlistment returned to Maine. The effects of their experience left many ill and depressed. They asked that there be no parade or welcoming ceremonies as they preferred to simply go home and try to resume their prewar lives.
A confederate flag was displayed at the Belfast post office. It had been taken from the rebel schooner Emma by acting master E.E. Pendleton of the Union gunboat Kittaniny on Sept. 27, 1863. Captain Pendleton, a resident of Belfast, brought the prize vessel, which was valued at $300,000, to Philadelphia. Half the value went to the federal government with the other half divided among the 64 officers and men of the Kittaniny.
In a more mundane event, as life went on for most people, Mrs. Mary Black of Cross Street reported her cow had strayed from her premises. “Said cow is slightly red with a star on her forehead and parts of its tail and hind feet white. Who ever returns the wanderer will be duly rewarded.”
A letter from a Belfast soldier, John O. Johnson, stationed in North Carolina in the spring of 1863, reported that he had found many Union supporters in that state. They hoped for a speedy end to the war. Many said their chief concern was the cost of food. Pork was $100 per pound, if you could find any. Lard was $6 per pound; beans and peas, $6 per bushel; flour, $40 a barrel; molasses, $800 a gallon; and salt, $1 a quart. There was no fish to be had at any price. Johnson reported hearing a slave owner bemoaning, “ I expect to sell Polly's oldest child for $1,300 and expect I will have to sell the rest soon as I fear holders of confederate currency face a bust-up and total loss of value.”
The Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the South, was a death knell to the South’s economy. In 1861 the average price of a slave was $800. Southerners owned 4 million slaves. The greatest impact would be on large cotton plantations, some of which had more than 1,000 slaves employed in tending and picking cotton. Facing ruin, the South would fight on. In Northern states most farms produced food crops. While prices rose, most commodities were affordable even to city dwellers. Industry in the north flourished as the government required huge amounts of most everything to support the war. In Maine, the Bates Mill in Lewiston needed two shifts to produce uniforms for the Army. Founder Benjamin Bates had been clever enough to foresee hostilities and had stockpiled enough cotton to maintain production throughout the war.
This is the fourth in a monthly series dealing with Waldo County during the Civil War era. It is related to a grant by the Maine Humanities Council to the Belfast Free Library. The library, in cooperation with the Belfast Historical Society, the Game Loft, and the Belfast Senior College, will be presenting programs and exhibits related to the war. Sources used in the preparation for this series include "History of Belfast," by Joseph Williamson, "This Republic of Suffering," by Drew Gilpin Faust and back issues of two local newspapers, The Republican Journal and The Progressive. Frequent reference to a fact checker on the internet proved helpful.