George W. West
December 3, 1863
George West, a 30 year-old merchant from Fort Kent, was first a Captain in the 29th Maine Infantry Regiment. He resigned that commission to accept a promotion as Major of the 17th Maine Infantry Regiment.
Now the Colonel of the17th Maine, West found himself at a place called Orange Grove, in the Wilderness of Virginia, near where the battle of Chancellorsville had been fought the previous May.
The battle at Orange Grove on November 27, 1863, was part of General George Meade’s "Mine Run Campaign." As part of the confusion that existed in the Wilderness battle, Orange Grove was also identified as the "Battle of Locust Grove," "Payne’s Tavern," or "Payne’s Farm."
Moving the Union Army through the Wilderness, Meade had hoped to strike at Confederate’s Army of Northern Virginia’s right flank by the Rapidan River. Meade’s plan was stopped abruptly by Confederate Major General Jubal Early’s troops.
West, in a letter to Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon, describes the 17th Maine’s encounter with Early’s forces.
"The Regiment was really under fire not more than one hour in which time the entire loss was sustained. The chief loss was confined to the three right companies as the enemy attempted to outflank us, and even did succeed in bringing our line under an enfilading fire," West writes.
The scene was typical of the Wilderness, but West thought it was an advantage: "The action occurred in a thick growth of pine and hard wood which was a considerable protection to both sides."
The 17th Maine nearly ran out of ammunition, but was saved "by the arrival of fresh troops."
West writes that "Our conscripts did themselves great credit and can now claim high rank as fighting men."
The "conscripts" were the same distrusted, drafted men who had been confined on Mackie’s Island in Casco Bay, in August, where they were guarded by Captain Charles Mattocks. (See Mattock’s letter of August 31, 1862)
Fighting continued sporadically for several days with neither side able to gain any significant advantage. Both Armies then went into winter camp.
- What is an "enfilading fire"?
- What do you think of the loss of 54 men in an hour?
- What does it signify that Colonel West says that the losses occurred mostly with in the ranks of three Companies?