George W. Bartlett
August 16, 1862
George Bartlett’s first brush with combat left him excited and impressed.
Chaplain to the 14th Maine Infantry Regiment, Bartlett, from Augusta, accompanied the regiment to Baton Rouge in the summer of 1862, and endured with them the boredom of military camp life, waiting for action.
"One who has not experienced it can hardly conceive of the tedium and weariness of being with an army and nothing to do, -- the difficulty of keeping up the spirits and discipline of the men," Bartlett writes to Governor Israel Washburn after the August 5 battle of Baton Rouge.
The 14th Maine was in the middle of the battle and suffered the greatest number of casualties – a tenth of the regiment was either killed, wounded, captured, or missing by the end of the day. Nevertheless, Bartlett writes enthusiastically of the regiment’s first brush with combat.
"The fact is, Governor, there never have been many neater little battles than that of the 14th, Baton Rouge, and the fun of it was, not a man of us had any idea at the time that it was anything at all!" Bartlett exclaims.
The battle began in pre-dawn fog with a charge by Confederate troops under the command of former Vice President John Breckenridge. The 14th Maine, led by Colonel Frank Nickerson, withstood the attack.
"We had a nice fight – and splendidly did the boys conduct themselves. We rec’d the first fire and gave the last. The attack was made upon us, first on the left then front, right thro’ our camp, and we repelled them both," Bartlett writes.
The Chaplain credits Nickerson for his leadership under fire, and wastes no time before pushing the Colonel for a promotion.
"I believe that Maine has not had an abler military commander nor one more worthy of a Brigade than Col. Nickerson," Bartlett informs Gov. Washburn, asking, "Are we so rich in men that we can afford any longer to leave him away down here, toting one Reg’t about hither and thither in obedience to the commands of men that are not half his equal?"
Bartlett was hardly alone his high regard for Nickerson. Within weeks, the Colonel receives his promotion to Brigadier General.
- How should Gov. Washburn react to such high praise after one battle?
- What would make the Chaplain a reliable critic of leadership?