March 15, 1864
Colonel Elijah Walker of the 4th Maine Infantry Regiment had a number of things on his mind when he answered a letter from Colonel Ellis Spear of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment.
Walker, a 45 year-old coal and lumber merchant from Rockland, had a young Sergeant in his regiment named Otis Spear, a relative of Colonel Spear. Walker explains that Sgt. Spear, "a good and faithful soldier," has not been promoted for two reasons.
One is that "he has been a portion of the time detached on duty with the balloon."
Another is that the Sergeant’s unit was doing too well. "But few casualties have occurred in his Co. B amongst the officers – One resigned and one discharged," Walker explains.
The "balloon" was one of Professor Thaddeus Lowe’s hydrogen gas filled balloons, being used to observe Confederate positions and movements during the Peninsular Campaign, and most recently utilized at the battle of Antietam.
Officers were permitted to have wives visit and remain for periods of time when regiments were in winter camp. Dances were held, the men put on entertainments, and everyone enjoyed the presence of the ladies in their otherwise dreary lives.
"Women visitors have been ordered to & have with few exceptions left the army," writes Walker. The reason? Walker informs Spear, "Orders are expected."
Within a month General Ulysses S. Grant issued orders for the spring campaign of 1864.
The 4th Maine had fought in every battle of the Army of the Potomac since the outset of the War. Losses among the men had been heavy, and Col. Walker had trouble getting good replacements.
"I have a few boys of 16 and some old men 64 years old enlisted by Deputy Provost Marshals last January. ... They have caused me much trouble and ain’t worth a damn. The first hard march they will straggle and fall into the hands of the enemy with a full set of equipment and arms," Walker writes.
Walker is also suspicious of Abner Coburn , who as Maine Governor, the Colonel says, "got an order rescinded which assigned 250 drafted men to my Reg’t & had them sent to the 8th. This was probably because he had a private pique with me."
Governor Coburn was a self-made millionaire who owned the largest tract of timberland in Maine. He often voiced his frustrations directly. Another Regimental Officer used to refer to Coburn facetiously as "The Goobernator."
Col. Walker was a coal and lumber dealer. Coburn’s "private pique" may have had to do with Coburn’s timber and Walker’s supply of lumber.
Colonel Walker resigned in May, 1864 due to disability.
- Find out more about the adventures of Thaddeus Lowe and his hot-air balloons. Do you think Lowe was a true pioneer of aeronautics?
- How were visiting ladies accommodated when they visited the troops?
- Were children ever allowed to accompany their mothers?