This column is written in memory of the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment, who first saw battle 150 years ago on July 21, 1861 at the First Battle of Bull Run.

The 4th Maine Volunteer Militia was the only Civil War infantry organization to be mustered into service in Maine’s Midcoast area. This is not to say that men from this part of the state did not serve in other regiments during the American Civil War. This they most certainly did.

This regiment was unique, however, for it was an all-volunteer unit, in so much as its formation was not a direct result of military conscription. It should also be noted that the men in this unit came primarily from Maine’s Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties.

The field staff of the regiment included several notable and able leaders. It was Hiram Berry, however, who was given overall command of the 4th Maine Infantry. Berry had been the architect, and leader, of a militia unit called the Rockland Guards. Additionally, Hiram Berry was among the first to offer his services to the state of Maine when hostilities broke out.

Though not a West Point graduate, he was a natural choice for the colonelcy of the 4th Maine Infantry. His leadership abilities were impressive, a fact which was soon recognized by the Union Army. Within a year he would be promoted to the rank of brigadier general; later, he was promoted to major general, and given charge of his own division.

Maine’s Abner Small, a Civil War veteran and a distinguished writer on the subject of Maine’s participation in the war, addressed the point of volunteering for the army in his many writings. Abner stated: “When the Rebels fired on Fort Sumter their shells traveled remarkable distances; one flew north and exploded under me.”

Abner’s reaction to the explosion was to enlist in a Maine volunteer infantry regiment. Men from the Midcoast region of Maine experienced comparable barrages and reacted similarly. In the midst of such clamor they heard the call, “The Union must be preserved!”

As defenders of the Union, the conduct of war would be a noble pursuit; a struggle involving honor and high ideals. Yet nothing in anyone’s experience could prepare them for the great struggle that lay ahead: an uncivil civil war. It would sweep them up and carry them away from home, transporting many to early death or disability.

The war would be so invasive that everyone’s life would be touched. For adolescent boys who would grow up to fight in this conflict, war was a child’s game played out between friends, using sticks and boards in place of guns and swords.

They mimicked the sounds of bullets as they careened towards their friends, each a target in search of martial glory. They feigned wounds and took a dive for the cause. Combat was an amusement where victims arose uninjured after a fight and slept safely in their beds that night.

For the men and boys from Rockland, Maine, the American Civil War began at a citizens meeting on the evening of April 23, 1861, held in the midst of the echoes of the guns of Fort Sumter. Elijah Walker, many years later, recalled that “speeches were made and resolutions passed, and a twenty dollar gold coin was tossed on the floor for the first volunteer. It was picked up by Stephen H. Chapman, who enlisted in my company and acted as orderly sergeant until appointed by Col. Berry as Sergeant-Major of the regiment.”

Similar meetings were held throughout the Midcoast region. On the morning of April 24, Elijah Walker met with Major General Jonathan Titcomb of Augusta and received “orders for raising troops.” Walker was “given blanks” and authorized to enlist a company for ninety days service.“

“At eleven o’clock a.m. seventy-three names had been signed to the roll. The general then took the roll and would not allow me to make further enlistments as he wanted others to raise companies. Capt. O. J. Conant and Capt. L. D. Carver at once commenced to raise companies,” Walker recalled.

By late April, four companies were enlisted from Rockland, two from Belfast, one from Brooks, one from Searsport, one from Wiscasset and one from Damariscotta.

Nearly 1,000 men strong, the regiment gathered at its camp in Rockland on May 8, 1861. The newly formed 4th Maine drilled for more than a month before being mustered into federal service on June 15, by Captain Thomas Height of the United States Dragoons.

At the organizational meeting in April the enlistees had been informed that their term was to be three months. By mid-May the term was changed to two years. A few days later, at morning roll, Colonel Berry announced to his men “that no troops would be mustered for two years, and for those that were not willing to be mustered for three years to step to the front and give up their guns and equipments.”

All but two men agreed to the three-year enlistment. The rest were sworn into service on June 15.

On Sunday, June 16, religious services were performed by the local Methodist minister. Following this event swords were presented to the Rockland Company’s officers. Elijah Walker was so moved as to give a speech in which he gratefully accepted the weapons which had been procured by the subscription of the citizens of Rockland.

He pledged that the weapons would “only be drawn in defense of our country and against rebels and traitors who have threatened our country and insulted our flag…,” all of which was done amidst wild cheering and applause.

On Monday morning, the 17th of June, reveille sounded early. It was exactly 4 a.m. The day had finally come for these Maine men to depart for war, and it was an event of major historical significance. The departure of these soldiers was, without doubt, one of the most significant events ever to take place in the history of the town of Rockland and the Midcoast region of Maine in general.

Even Governor Washburn could not resist the temptation to review the regiment, which he did on the Saturday prior to its departure. He made an address to the assembled troops, stating his pleasure over their appearance. The Gazette was led to believe that he had complimented the men as being “the best looking body of troops Maine has yet sent to the service.”

Sergeant Major Chapman stated: “We know much of the material of which our regiment is composed, and we candidly believe, we know, it is composed of excellent, honorable, high-minded, patient, brave material. There are nuisances, drunkards, drones and cowards among us, but such are immensely scarce. We have not a few who take a little too much now and then, but who, in other respects are perfect soldiers — worth, in this trying emergency, a hundred fold more than their ‘ram rod’ opposers at home — ready to fight to the last drop of blood, for their country, regiment and colonel.”

As “On to Richmond” became the cry throughout the North, the boys from Maine advanced by ship, by train and by foot to the seat of war.

By the time the 4th Maine arrived in Washington, some 35,000 troops had gathered in the area and General Irvin McDowell had been selected as their commander. One of the members of the 4th Maine wrote: “Regiments are arriving here daily, almost hourly, and one might as well try to count the lime kilns in Rockland as to count their encampments.”

For the next month the 4th Maine would spend its time learning to be soldiers. Upon their arrival in Washington the men from Maine’s Midcoast set up camp at Meridian Hill. They named their bivouac Camp Knox, in honor of Henry Knox — an early resident of Midcoast Maine, and a hero of the Revolutionary War. For the men, however, their time at Camp Knox would consist of drill, drill and then more drill.

On July 17, 1861, the Union Army under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, and the men of the 4th Maine, began its march to war. The journey of the soldiers was highlighted by a spectacular comet, with a trail, splashed across the Ursa Major Constellation, which covered 50 degrees of arc in the evening sky.

The troops, both North and South, saw it as an omen signifying a great victory in battle. Beneath its blazing glory, the men from Maine converged, as the rest of Heintzelman’s Division slowly gathered about them. As seen through the eyes of Sergeant Major Chapman, the journey of the 4th Maine Infantry had ended. The adventure, though, was about to begin.

It would not take long to realize that there would be a major confrontation, putting patriotism and idealism to the test. The Maine boys would have a chance to prove their mettle. The public cry of “On to Richmond” had imparted an irresistible momentum to the armies of the North and the South. This 90-day war was rapidly coming to a head, and these men from the Midcoast region of Maine were destined to play an important role in its outcome.

Wrote one member of the 4th: “Our men of the Fourth are ready for the encounter if need be. Of course we have some who will falter, whose courage will totter, possibly fail, in the trying hour. This is a serious, momentous, awful occasion. It is a lamentable state of affairs for our country, but a glorious cause to be engaged in. How can one better or more gloriously die than for his country? Before you see this, you will have heard of the result. Do not believe all you hear of the sick, or wounded, or killed. Hope for the best, believe nothing until you know it is true, and you will save yourselves much pain and anxiety. The most unreasonable stories are believed here as well as home. Men have little to do, mentally, than to indulge their imagination and credulity to the fullest extent.”

On Sunday, July 21, 1861, the time for battle had finally arrived. Colonel Oliver Otis Howard of Leeds — who was now in command of the 3rd Brigade, which included the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Maine Infantry, as well as the 2nd Vermont — began to form his men in the rear of Colonel Cadmus Wilcox’s command about 2:30 a.m. The sun had been up for more than an hour, however, when the brigade finally began to move.

General McDowell had pegged his success on a flank attack on the left of the Confederate army. As Howard turned to the right along the narrow road leading to Sudley Springs, McDowell halted them and gave them instructions to wait there until ordered forward. Howard’s men were now to act as the reserve on the chance that a suspected rebel attack might materialize on the Union left flank.

About 9 a.m., Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard realized that he had been outflanked. He ordered some of his commanders — Bee, Bartow, and Jackson — to take their brigades to reinforce another commander, Evans. In the meantime Evans had placed his troops along Matthew’s Hill. On the left he had situated the 4th South Carolina with one gun, and on the right he put the 1st Louisiana, also with one artillery piece.

Within 15 minutes of their arrival the first shots were fired. The battle surged back and forth along Matthew’s Hill for two hours. Forty-five hundred rebels held off half the Union Army until about 11:30 a.m. when they were finally forced to withdraw up the north slope of Henry House Hill.

Here, Thomas (soon to be nicknamed “Stonewall”) Jackson’s 3,000 men awaited them. Fortunately for the southern troops, the Federal attack was totally disjointed. Had it been otherwise the course of the war might have been much different. It would certainly have been much shorter.

The order to join the battle finally came. Captain Elijah Walker, of company B, later recalled that Colonel Howard yelled: “Forward, double quick.” The 4th was on the right with Walker’s own company in the lead. Walker recalled, “Next was the brigade commander and staff; then Colonel Berry leading the Fourth Maine and the other three regiments following. Our general was wild with excitement, crying out, ‘Double quick!'” William Crockett remembered the order, “Double quick, forward march, on, on, up hill, and down in the swamp, through the bush and brush, over farms.”

Walker recalled that “while miles yet separated us from the foe, he ordered me to deploy a skirmish line 150 yards on both sides of the road. The heat was intense. Forty of my men divested themselves of everything except gun and ammunition and complied with the order, running through brush, bushes and over uneven ground until nearly exhausted. My First Lieutenant fell prostrate. I left the oldest man to care for him and moved on as fast as I could walk. Again the commander came forward crying out, ‘Double-quick!’ To this last order I objected, using qualifying words that could be found in the Bible. I hurried forward as fast as was possible and at the same time saved the lives of myself and my men.”

Instead of cutting across the stone bridge at Bull Run, the 4th Maine and its brigade took the same circuitous path the army had taken in its flanking move that morning. For those who did not fall from sunstroke or heat exhaustion, Howard formed the remainder of them into line to the right of the Union position along Dogan House Ridge.

The 4th Maine was situated on the right and the 2nd Vermont on the left. The order was then given to advance through the woods to the top of the hill. Before moving, Colonel Berry asked Colonel Howard what was expected of them when they reached their objective. Howard responded, “Support the battery.” Berry and Walker obeyed orders, knowing full well that their mission would be nearly impossible to accomplish. “‘Attention, left face, forward!’ Up the hill we went, through the woods, out to the brow of the hill, for the purpose of supporting a battery.”

Howard later remembered watching as his men passed: “I closely observed them. Most were pale and thoughtful. Many looked up into my face and smiled. As soon as it was ready the first line swept up the slope, through a sprinkling of trees, out into an open space on high ground.” Here “we had no battery to support but were thrust into an engagement against Confederate infantry and artillery.”

By the time the regiment was ordered to retire, the men of the 4th Maine had fired about 20 to 30 rounds. A private from Damariscotta later recalled that “according to my cartridge box calculation, I fired sixteen rounds at the enemy and escaped without a scratch.” Most of the men discharged their weapons into the woods at the base of the ridge at an enemy they never saw.

Years later, a member of the 5th Maine recalled…”we were ordered to fire. Fire at what? About five hundred yards in our front was a belt of woods, though not a Johnny in sight. Into this wood we poured our volleys, though wholly ignorant whether our efforts were of any use or not; but still we worked with a will. Everyone was desirous of doing his whole duty, a special illustration of which was seen in the action of a Captain firing his revolver at a battery at least three-quarters of a mile distant.”

The regiment had paid dearly for its moment in history. At Bull Run the 4th lost two commissioned officers, Lieutenant William Clark of Wiscasset and Lieutenant Charles Burd of Company F. Twenty-four enlisted men were killed while twenty-four were wounded. Forty-two of the Maine boys were taken prisoner, nearly all of whom were injured and had to be left behind. In all the regiment suffered 64 casualties in but two hours of fighting and maneuvering.

Various members of the regiment characterized the retreat in different ways. Sergeant Crockett called it “a mob of men and horses, fleeing in all directions and a howling enemy in full chase.” A member of the regimental band called it “one general stampede, and they did not stop at the old campground, but passed by, which fact led us to believe we were not safe, and had better join the crowd, so each seizing one blanket, our canteens and the instruments, and run for our lives in the direction of this place. We left everything else behind, and joined the rest on the railroad track, arriving here Monday morning. We ran about two miles — did not run all the way, but as Dr. Rouse once said, ‘It was pretty d—–d tall walking.’”

Sometime after the battle, General Beauregard wrote of the attack of Howard’s men. In his remarks he states; “It is truly a magnificent, though redoubtable, spectacle as they threw forward in fine style on the broad, general slopes of the ridge occupied by their main line a cloud of skirmishers, preparatory for another attack.”

When Beauregard ordered his counterattack; “Brigades all along the crest drove against the northerners, down the slope of the plateau, across the valley of Young’s Branch, northward and eastward, in a fan shaped phalanx…”

Heintzelman was also a witness to the retreat and later wrote: “such a rout I have never witnessed before, and this soon degenerated still further into a panic. Much excuse can be made for those who fled, as few of the enemy could at any time be seen. Raw troops cannot be expected to stand long against an unseen enemy.”

The men of the Lime-Rock Valley had seen the elephant. First blood had been drawn. Naturally, it was not to be the last. The engagement had been particularly costly, both to the regiment and to the folks back home. Almost everybody in the tri-county area knew someone who had been killed, wounded or captured in the fray.

The War Between the States had struck home, very personally, and left an indelible scar. As Berry had said, “The glamor and romance of a soldiers life disappeared after Bull Run. The deadly business of war was now at hand.”

Peter Dalton is a resident of Northport.