Tom Huntington’s book, Maine Roads To Gettysburg, puts you right into the worst battles of the Civil War. I thought I knew a lot about the Civil War until I read Tom’s book.
Tom profiles many Maine soldiers and even includes quotes from them, and his detailed descriptions of the bloody battles are amazing. He must have done a huge amount of research.
And while the book does cover the battles at Gettysburg in great detail, Tom also tells us about many other battles from the start to the end of the Civil War, focusing on the experiences of our Maine soldiers.
It is truly amazing that so many Mainers signed up to save our nation. Seldon Connor wrote in 1889 that “in proportion to the number of her troops in the action, no one of the 18 states whose regiments flew the stars and stripes on this hard-fought field contributed more than Maine to the victory. At whatever point the battle raged, the sons of the Pinetree state were in the melee.”
He was writing about Gettysburg but that description could be applied to many Civil War battles.
The description of the battle at Antietam would be a good example. “It had been a terrible and bloodied day – one that remains the bloodiest single day of combat for American soldiers. Nearly 5000 men lay dead, more than 18,000 were wounded, and some 3000 were reported missing. The battlefield after the fighting it ended was a scene straight out of hell. “Hundreds of poor fellows were lying there suffering from wounds, while the dead were scattered all over the field, lying in the same position they had fallen.” The description gets even more morbid but I will not share it here.
And it wasn’t just the battles brought the men down. The medical director for the 16th Maine said he found the men suffering from diarrhea, dysentery, bronchitis, rheumatic diseases, and fevers. He blamed the lack of sufficient clothing. “The men are without overcoats; fuel have more than one blanket, and the clothing is unclean and almost useless. How these men suffered!” He reported that 34 men had no underclothes. The soldiers would have to boil their clothes to kill the lice that infested them. Yuck!
Tom reports that some of the soldiers in the 19th Maine wanted out so badly they began “accidentally” wounding themselves – shooting themselves in the hand, or chopping off a finger or toe – just to get sick leave.
But the vast majority of our soldiers were incredibly brave and strong. Dexter Boydon, for example, nearly died of typhoid fever early in the war, recovered in time to be wounded and left for dead on the Peninsula. He was badly wounded again at Antietam, and was shot through the body at Fredericksburg and left on the battlefield for four days. “He had read his own obituary, in this I call a hard case,” said Joshua Chamberlain.
You may know quite a bit about the battle of Gettysburg. Linda and I visited Gettysburg once and stood on Little Round Top, looking down over the side where the Maine soldiers charged and drove back the Confederate soldiers. Tom gives us all the details of Gettysburg which was a very complicated fight.
And even after we won that fight, the war continued for another two years. It’s all here in this exceptional book.
Tom Huntington is the former editor of American History and Historic Traveler magazines, and has written for many publications. He’s also written a number of books about the Civil War and that time period in our history.
I guarantee you will be enthralled by this amazing story.