History of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Co. A
During the American Civil War the State of Maine produced 32 regiments of infantry, cavalry and artillery. According to the state Adjutant General some 3,000 Maine soldiers gave their lives in service to the Union cause. The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry has become one of the best known of those regiments. In 1989 members of the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry decided that we would portray Company A of the 20th Maine at our battle reenactments. The following is a brief synopsis of that group.
The soldiers of Company A came from nearly a dozen little towns that are scattered in the lower central portion of the state. Unincorporated townships such as Clinton, Sidney, Freedom, Winslow, Alton, Solon, Rome, Alfred, Pittsfield, Concord, Anson, and Belgrade are shown on the regimental roster for 1862. However, of the 98 soldiers that made up the original company, the largest number (23) came from the town of Waterville on the Kennebec River some forty miles from Portland, (Maine) and twenty miles each way from Brunswick and Augusta. The initial Captain of Company A (Isaac S. Bangs Jr.) and 1st Lieutenant Addison W. Lewis, both came from Waterville. Two Sergeants, George C. Getchell and Reward A Sturtevant plus three Corporals, William H. Low, Charles R. Shorey and David J. Lewis also came from this city of approximately 500 souls in 1862.
Of the total soldiers in Company A (98) Captain Bangs reported in November of 1862 that only 59 were fit for duty. John Pullen in his book “The Twentieth Maine” writes that the reason for these reduced numbers was disease contracted after the Battle of Antietam and unusually cold weather in Maryland during October of 1862. Like the rest of the inexperienced regiment, Company A was spared participation in the great battle of Antietam only to be devastated from exposure (they were without even shelter halves) and microbes made worse by camp life, poor diet and unsanitary conditions.
Captain Isaac Bangs Jr. enlisted as a private on August 9, 1862 but was appointed commander of Company A by Colonel Adelbert Ames on August 29, 1862 when the regiment was mustered into Federal service. He was a 31 year old married cashier at the time. Captain Bangs served until January of 1863 when he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and later served as Colonel of the 7th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery on garrison duty in defense of New Orleans, Louisiana until his honorable discharge in July of 1864. In March of 1865 he was given the title of Brevet Brig. General of U.S. Volunteers.
The best known engagement for the 20th Maine was the Battle of Gettysburg. Company A took up position just to the right of where the battle line bent to the left. Casualties were approximately 30% for both the company and the regiment. The report of the state Adjutant General for December, 1863 shows the effects of the hard fighting. There were no commissioned officers for the company at that time. The report was filed by 1st Lieutenant William W. Morrell who was then commander of Company H. Of a total 83 soldiers only 31 were fit for duty. Howard L. Prince, a 22 year old school teacher from Cumberland, Maine, was initially the Regimental Quartermaster but was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in February of 1864 then Captain of Company A in December of that year.
That final year of the war was very hard on the 20th Maine and Company A. Very few of the “Boys of 62″ survived until the end in 1865. In his Spring campaign of 1864 General Grant called for the conversion of garrisoned forces of heavy artillery into infantry because of the terrible casualties at such places as Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor and Petersburg. States such as Maine were called upon to convert units of coastal artillery to help depleted infantry regiments. In October of 1864 the records indicate that Company A received approximately 40 transfers from the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery which had been in state service until this time. The final numbers indicate only one commissioned officer (Captain Prince), two Sergeants, two Corporals and approximately 50-60 total enlisted soldiers who stood along that road at Appomattox Court House with General Joshua L. Chamberlain to accept the surrender of General Robert E. Lee’s ragged Army of Northern Virginia in April of 1865.