October 23, 1861
While Maine was sending 10,000 soldiers South to fight in the Civil War, Governor Israel Washburn and many others worried about the South sending sailors to the coast of Maine.
But that was not the only worry.
While they were looking south, they were also looking east, toward Europe and the countries there with powerful navies.
In Washburn’s view, Maine was in a pivotal strategic position, but vulnerable.
He writes to President Abraham Lincoln about protecting the state and the nation.
"Should war again occur with any leading European power, Maine must fall at once into the hands of the enemy, unless means of defense are provided," the Governor writes.
The Confederate Navy was worrisome to Washburn and others, but so was the ocean traffic in maritime Canada.
"Halifax harbor, the great British naval depot on the American continent, now occupied by the combined fleets of England and France, closes the outlet of the great gulf lying between Cape Cod and Cape Sable, and unless Portland is defended the whole peninsula east of Lake Champlain is easily subjected to foreign control," Washburn warns the President.
Additionally, controlling coastal Maine and Portland would provide another advantage, the Governor cites.
"An enemy in possession of Portland would find it to be the terminus of the longest line of railroad in the world. The Grand Trunk railway of Canada embraces a line of 1,131 miles, of which 1,096 miles are in actual operation…This line has the capacity to move 10,000 troops between Portland and Quebec or Toronto and Detroit in a single day," Washburn writes.
His letter grabs the attention of President Lincoln and the federal government, and an unprecedented effort to provide the Maine coast with the shore defense Washburn sought. (See Dec. 28, 1861 story of John Poor and Maine’s coastal defense.)
- Is Gov. Washburn interested only in defending Maine in seeking federal help?
- Why would the railroad connection be vulnerable from the sea?