This is the third in a short series of posts that I’m writing this week as I explore Down East Maine. While I’m here I’m keeping an eye out for historical connections between coastal Maine and coastal North Carolina.
While exploring coastal Maine’s archives and museums this week, I’ve also found quite a few letters from Maine soldiers that served in the Union army or navy on the North Carolina coast during the Civil War. Those letters highlight a different kind of historic connection that ties coastal Maine and coastal North Carolina together.
Many of those letters are chatty missives from young men stationed in the Union-occupied parts of the North Carolina coast and writing home to their mothers and fathers and their sweethearts.
Others are from Maine soldiers encountering Confederate soldiers from North Carolina on the front lines.
I also saw at least two ambrotypes of Maine soldiers who died at the Confederate prison in Salisbury, N.C.– and I read one letter from a Maine soldier that had escaped from the prison and was passing through New Bern, N.C., on his way back home.
Among the letters from Maine soldiers, my favorite is one that I found at the Maine Historical Society in Portland.
A Union sergeant named Horace White wrote the letter to “Anna” on Feb. 24, 1863. (I’m not sure if Anna was his sister or his girlfriend.) He was serving in Co. E of the Maine 1st Calvary.
Sgt. White wasn’t actually in North Carolina when he wrote the letter, but he frequently met Confederate soldiers from North Carolina while encamped in Belle Reade, Virginia.
I guess I like this passage so much because it seems to describe a moment of decency and humanity in the midst of a war that was marked by so much indecency and inhumanity:
“Our boys had quite a sociable time with the rebs the last time we were out – They could easily talk across the river and some of them came over in a boat – one of them brought a letter which he wanted our boys to mail for him to his sister in Mass. – he claimed to be a Massachusetts man said he was in North Carolina when the war broke out and volunteered to avoid being drafted. The N. C. boys were very candid and courteous in their conversation with our boys – they are vastly different from Virginians in this respect; a Virginian can’t talk five minutes without throwing out some sarcastic insinuations of Bull Run, Cedar Mountain or something of the sort. The North Carolinians are heartily sick of the war but think we can never beat them by fighting but may starve them out.”
The letter is in the Maine Historical Society’s Horace M. White Correspondence and you can find an image of the original and a transcript here.