Mark F. Wentworth
June 28, 1863
The 27th Maine Infantry Volunteers Regiment in June, 1863, was in Chantilly, Virginia, finishing up nine months of watchful duty on the perimeter of Washington, D.C.
The 920 men remaining in the regiment had not seen action, and they were well aware that their term of service was about to expire. Along with the 25th Maine regiment, the men of the 27th looked forward to returning home.
President Abraham Lincoln had a different idea.
Learning that the Confederate’s Army of Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, had ventured into Pennsylvania and was heading toward Washington, Lincoln did not want to leave the nation’s capital undermanned and under-protected.
He directed Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, to ask the men of the 25th Maine if they would extend their time. Their answer was, "no."
Stanton also approached the commanding officer of the 27th Maine, Colonel Mark Wentworth, of Kittery.
The request was accepted, but the response was underwhelming. Wentworth and more than 300 soldiers in the regiment said that they would stay. When the Colonel reported that news to Stanton, he was told that "Medals of Honor would be given to that portion of the regiment that volunteered to remain."
A week later, the battle of Gettysburg was over and the Confederate army was retreating from Pennsylvania.
On July 4, those of the 27th Maine who stayed in Washington headed for Portland, rejoined their regiment, and they were all mustered out on July 17.
Wentworth would re-enlist in the 32nd Maine Infantry Regiment in February, 1864, and be wounded at the Battle of the Crater, during the siege of Petersburg. He was discharged with a disability in October, 1864.
His work was not finished.
After the war, when the attempt was made to award Medals of Honor to the 27th Maine volunteers, confusion arose over just who had remained in Washington in 1863. Rather than 300 medals, the government produced 864 of them, and then made Wentworth responsible to distribute them to the soldiers whom he remembered as having stayed.
In 1917, however, Congress decided that the actions by the 27th Maine fell short of meeting the criteria for receiving the Medal of Honor, and purged the awards.
- Why would Congress decide in 1917 to purge the awards?
- Why might records have been imprecise regarding who volunteered to stay in Washington?