Henry W. Cunningham
January 5, 1863
Henry Cunningham was a 45 year old engineer from Belfast, who served as a Captain in the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment. In 1862 he resigned from the 4th Maine and re-enlisted in the 19th Maine Infantry Regiment, and subsequently was promoted as Major and eventually, Lieutenant Colonel.
"I have not been sick one minute since I entered the army," he writes to Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon, adding, "I have not been so well so well for ten years & think that I that I retain much of the vigor of younger years."
Cunningham may have been one of the few men whose health improved by being in the army. Five days later, January 10, he writes in another letter, "The weak and the sickly have nearly all died. Many of the Officers that came out with the Regiment have died or resigned or are now sick in hospitals."
Fredericksburg was the first battle the 19th Maine experienced. The Regiment was up against what historian Bruce Catton called "The Big Three" – Lee, Longstreet and Stonewall Jackson, who had occupied and fortified the heights above the town.
Hodsdon states in his 1862 Annual Report that on December 13, "at 2 P.M the regiment… went into the engagement and took position on the extreme right, but fortunately were sheltered from the enfilading fire of the enemy's battery by a steep bank; and lying flat on the ground, within one hundred yards of the rebel infantry, held the position until 10 o’clock on the morning of the 14th, when they were relieved."
Major Cunningham has "a full view of the fight" from his vantage point in support of a six-gun artillery battery. He assures Hodsdon, "If you could have seen how snug they could get their heads to the ground when the shells were passing over us it would have pleased you, but we all got out of the fight without being injured."
The battery that Cunningham and his two companies are supporting is able to exact a little revenge: "When all six of those guns was brot to bare on any one object the effect was terable. The Rebs run a gun up from behind a hill and fired three shots at us when the whole battery directed fire on it and in two minutes the gun and carriage was stove to splinters & never was seen by us again"
Cunningham's letter proposes the promotions of a number of officers, including Lieutenant E. R. Cunningham, Henry's 19 year old son, Edward. Most of the promotions Henry thought ought to be made were granted, including his to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Father and son resigned from the service and were honorably discharged in June, 1864.
- What do you think of the Civil War practice of recruiting whole companies of men from the same town, including close relatives, neighbors and friends?
- What were the advantages of doing this?
- What disadvantages might there be?