November 1, 1864
Maine’s coast communities worried about their safety, and the safety of the ships in their harbors, The threat of attacks by Confederate raiders or even foreign navies worried Maine local and state politicians, and their concerns were voiced all the way to the U.S. Secretary of War and President Abraham Lincoln. (See October 19, and December 28, 1861 stories.)
A November 1861 report by Brigadier General Joseph Totten, of the U.S. Army Engineers, had laid out the plans then for arming many of Maine’s coastal forts. Totten had stressed that smaller batteries should be placed in other areas, among them Eastport, Machias, Castine and Wiscasset, to be worked by the local militia.
Three years later, the major work for the forts remained unfinished, but some of the batteries were in place, including in Castine harbor.
Ithiel Ramsdell, a school teacher from Belfast, was the commanding officer of a 12-man detachment from Company C of the Maine Coast Guards militia assigned to the defense of Castine.
Around midnight on November 1, 1864, a number of armed men approached Ramsdell’s battery. The sentry on duty challenged the men to identify themselves.
"They immediately fired upon the Sentinel who returned the fire," Castine selectman Frederick Hook reported in a telegram to Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon.
"Sergeant Ramsdell in command was fired upon as he came out of his quarters four balls lodging within two feet of him," Hook reports.
Although the identity of the attackers was not known and they managed to escape, the incident caused alarm.
November 1864 had coastal Maine up in arms over an armed attack by Confederate raiders on the battery in Castine.
Belfast closed all shops after 10 o’clock in the evening and had the streets patroled. Portland also out patrols on the streets, but declined to call in the State Guards.
Hodsdon sent weapons and equipment to several towns, from Southport to Robbinston, and asked the towns to have volunteers stand by for 100 days.
Orders were even sent inland to Foxcroft, Dexter, and Garland for their Companies "to be ready for duty at any moment."
The Castine incident was the only attack that winter.
- How many coastal forts did Maine have during the Civil War?
- In what other wars were Maine forts important?
- Do any remain in use today?