Waldo at War, Part 5
This is the last of a monthly series of articles dealing with Waldo County during the Civil War. It is related to a grant provided by the Maine Humanities Council to the Belfast Free Library. The library and the Belfast Historical Society, the Game Loft and the Belfast Senior College have presented programs and exhibits related to the war. Sources used in preparing 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 Age. Frequent reference to Fact Checker on the internet proved helpful.
The Civil War led to major changes in our nation. The rebellion had resulted in all elected officials from those states that seceded from the Union leaving Washington. Both houses of Congress and the presidency were left under the control of the Republican party.
One important project long under consideration was funding and selecting the route of a transcontinental railroad. Southerners had hoped the route would connect major Southern cities to the West. The route approved by the Republicans almost completely denied any Southern access. By the end of the war the United States railroad system would be the largest in the world.
The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres in the new Western territories to anyone who would settle and develop the land. Southerners had opposed such a plan, viewing it as an expansion of areas that might in the future become free states. The Morrill Act made land available in each of the states to build colleges called Land Grant schools to teach agriculture and mechanical skills.
Perhaps the most significant new law was the Legal Tender Act creating a national bank empowered to issue paper currency to augment silver and gold coins. Prior to this move private banks across the nation had been able to print their own currency. The President had also called for an income tax, the first ever in the U.S. to help pay the cost of the war. This short-lived levy required those with annual incomes up to $800 to pay 3 percent, those with incomes of over $100,000, 10 percent. Up to this time virtually all federal income was acquired by taxes on imports. To collect these fees Customs Houses were located in most coastal and border cities. The present Belfast Post Office has the Customs House imprint on its facade.
In late autumn of 1864 the city council established a Night Watch for which all able bodied men who were property owners or who had paid a substitute to serve in his place in the war were eligible. The Watch called for eight men each night to be on duty from 9 p.m. till dawn.
The presidential election was a hot topic. Lincoln was opposed by retired General McClellan, a Democrat. Private James Flint of Thorndike in a letter to one of our newspapers expressed his thoughts: “If you ever feel discouraged by this war let me assure you that it is folly, General Grant is sure to win. About the President, you may feel safe about him especially if they let all the soldiers vote. I don't believe McClellan will get as many votes in this whole corps as live in this town. Don't worry about me. I feel I shall never have to go where the lead and iron will fly thicker than where I have already been." Maine went for Lincoln 60 percent to 40 percent with Belfast and Waldo County giving Lincoln nearly the same margin.
Sherman's march through the heart of the South inflicted serious damage to the Confederacy. The capture of Atlanta, the main hub of the Southern railway system, virtually paralyzed both industry and agriculture in the South. The fall of Savannah saw the South lose its last functioning seaport.
The surrender at Appomattox which led to wild celebrations throughout the North was suddenly turned to anguish with the news of the assassination of the President. Soldiers returned to their homes with mixed feelings of relief and sadness. Union forces had suffered more over 140,000 killed and well over 400,000 wounded. Confederate casualties numbered some 74,000 dead and 250,000 wounded. Some 100 of the 858 men Belfast had sent to war were killed, wounded, or held prisoner. For decades to come, veterans who had lost limbs, were blinded, or had other disabilities were a common sight in the streets.
Many families had no idea what had happened to their loved ones who did not return. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, formed an organization to assist families in finding the last resting place of their sons, husbands and fathers. Official military records accounted for fewer than one third of all Union dead and missing. Barton appealed to soldiers for information about comrades who had been killed in battle or died later of wounds, illness or in Southern prisons. She published newspaper ads proclaiming: "They were your comrades in battle. The fact and manner of their death may be known only to you." Barton's efforts helped acquire information on more than 22,000 missing men. She was also instrumental in helping form the first military Graves Registration unit.
The 4th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment had two companies of men from Belfast and surrounding towns. They fought at the First Bull Run, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Gaines Mill, White Oak Swamp, Malvern Hill, the Second Bull Run, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Bristoe Campaign. Local men also served in other Union units and in the Navy.