May 3, 1862
Frederick Speed, Regimental Adjutant of the 13th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, informs Maine Adjutant General John Hodsdon that nearly all of the regiments that have been languishing on Ship Island, Mississippi, since early March are at last leaving for New Orleans.
But, Speed writes, "As Col. Dow does not stand as a lamb of Butler and the 15th are upside down, you may guess who stays."
Neal Dow, head of the 13th Maine, and Major General Benjamin Butler, who commands all troops in the department of the Gulf, detest each other. (See Dow’s letter of April 5 "Dow on Ship Island-Drunks & Ben Butler Part 2").
The 15th Maine – "upside down" as Speed puts it – is demoralized due to the behavior of their Colonel, John McClusky, of Houlton.(See John Wilsons’s letter of May 5th, "Ship Island Woes.")
"Maine gets nothing from Butler – the glory of the “secret expedition” will not fall to her lot," Speed writes.
Many Maine officers, including the 22 year-old Speed, believe that Butler is prejudiced against Maine troops, preferring officers and men from his home state of Massachusetts.
Butler’s command contains four Maine regiments; the12th, commanded by Col. George Shepley, of Portland, Neal Dow’s 13th; the 14th, led by Frank Nickerson, of Searsport, and the 15th, under McClusky.
A former U.S. Attorney whom Butler recruited into the military, Shepley is able to succeed with Butler where others do not. (See Shepley story 1861-11-7)
"Through the exertions of Col. Shepley we have at last succeeded in getting the prospect of some new clothing for our almost naked Rgt. – a third of our men have no pants and not one tenth have whole ones," Speed writes.
After Dow is promoted to Brigadier General in August, Speed joins his staff as Acting Adjutant General.
In April 1865, Speed is charged with processing thousands of Union prisoners of war who have been newly released from Confederative captivity. Eager to return the soldiers to their home states, he has 1,800 of them board the Sultana, a steamship that is heading up the Mississippi River, but which has a capacity of fewer than 1,000 passengers.
On April 25, the Sultana’s boilers explode. Most of the passengers are drowned or killed in the explosion. Speed is blamed for the tragedy and found guilty by Court Martial.
U.S. Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt later overturns that verdict.
After the war, Speed does not return to Maine. He stays in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and eventually becomes a judge. He dies there in 1911.
- What were Maine Regiments in the Army of the Potomac doing while other Maine units endured military life in the Gulf States?