Ripped from Today’s Headlines

I offer the following without any intent to enter the present debates or political acrimony connected with the subject. Nor do I offer or solicit any opinions on the question. Rather, the topic of the first order cited below simply piqued my interest – how could it not – and I sought to look a little deeper.

“All officers, non-commissioned officers, musicians, farriers, saddlers, [waggoners], and privates will be examined by the Surgeon to ascertain if they have been vaccinated or need vaccinations.  All those will be immediately vaccinated who are found to have neglected to have it done or from any cause may need it. In order to [carry] out the above, captains in the order of their rank will send their companies to the hospital in detachments of twenty from the hours of 8 A.M. to 12 [noon and] from 1 P.M. to 4 P.M. daily until the requirements of Paragraph 1 of this order have been completed.”

Col. John Goddard, 1st Maine Cavalry, issued the order on December 3, 1861. The same day, the colonel’s adjutant sent the following to George Colby, the regimental surgeon:

“As the regiment is under orders to march from Augusta, Maine to Boston, Massachusetts, there to be shipped to the South, you will immediately report to these Head Quarters whatever is needed in your department for the march to Boston and the voyage thence to the extreme South of the rebel states.”

Several days later, Lt. Col. Thomas Hight, 1st Maine Cavalry, wrote to John Hodsdon, Maine’s Adjutant General:

“It is my painful but sworn duty to report through you to the commander in chief that Surgeon George W. Colby, 1st ME Cavalry, has by uniform neglect of the sick, and of the hospital arrangements, shown himself entirely unfit to be entrusted with the health of a regiment. Such conduct on the part of Dr. Colby has come to the notice of many officers of the Regiment, and as such has been reported to me. In addition to this, Dr. Colby pays no attention to orders issued from this office. The [proper] remedy I know to be a “General Court Martial,” but I should prefer to be spared this alternative if the Commander in Chief could in any way remove Dr. Colby from the position he now occupies. It is not only for the interest of the service that this should be done but the salvation of the regiment depends upon it. If it should be deemed advisable to act upon this report I beg leave to request that Major [Samuel] Allen and [Maj. David] Stowell of the 1st ME Cavalry, Dr. Hawkins, 4th ME Volunteers, and Major Dyer, Asst. Quartermaster, State of Maine may be called upon in evidence of the above facts.”

The 1st Maine Cavalry earned an enviable reputation during the war, and I have a fair knowledge of their service, especially through 1863. I was not familiar, however, with Col. John Goddard, Lt. Col Thomas Hight, or Surgeon George Colby.

Beyond the ‘Ripped from Today’s Headlines!’ nature of the first order, I wondered if I might find more of the story. With the National Archives still operating under rather restrictive regulations, I looked elsewhere.

Colonel Goddard’s order regarding the men being vaccinated almost certainly refers to the small pox vaccine. On April 5, 1861 (one week before the firing on Fort Sumter), the Republican Journal, of Belfast, Maine, published a report from the city physician. As cited in the paper, the doctor’s report deals mostly with an outbreak of small pox and his belief in the benefits of the small pox vaccine. Among his comments, the doctor noted:

“One evil generally attendant on the appearance of Small Pox in our city has been the greater or less interruption of our public Schools, from the alarm which it occasions, and it seems to me an important consideration whether some measures might not be taken by order of the City Council to prevent the recurrence of this interruption. Would it not be well to instruct the Supervisor to require as a condition of admission to the public Schools proper evidence of vaccination.”

In December, when Colonel Goddard issued his order pertaining to vaccines, the 1st Maine remained at Camp Penobscot, in Augusta. Stuck in camp during an especially cold winter, rumors circulated among the bored recruits that they might soon be ordered to South Carolina or even Texas. Goddard’s mention of the regiment being shipped “to the extreme South of the rebel states,” suggests the move may have been, at least for a time, more than rumor. As events transpired, the regiment served with the Army of the Potomac.

I cannot speak to the military’s use of vaccines during the war, but sickness among the several regiments gathered at Camp Penobscot had become a concern by January. As 1st Maine regimental historian Edward Tobie relates, surgeons from the four regiments at Camp Penobscot carried 702 sick men on their rolls as of January 28, 1862. According to Tobie, the 1st Maine may have lost “more than two hundred men, by death and disability” that winter, “on account of the cold weather and the insufficient means of protection.”

The suffering led politicians to introduce a bill, whereas each man would receive, at state expense, an extra blanket. The bill finally passed, but only after being amended to limit the number of blankets distributed. As the nascent cavalrymen had horse blankets, as well as blankets sent from home, no one from the 1st Maine received the extra blankets promised by the state. As Tobie concluded, “That the men suffered severely, and needlessly, too, that winter, is simply a matter of fact.”

Bored and cold, the soldiers grumbled, and tempers flared. When the smoke cleared, several officers, including Colonel Goddard and Lt. Colonel Hight had resigned. True to his commitment to not air the regiment’s ‘dirty laundry’ in his regimental history, Edward Tobie attributed Goddard’s resignation to his need to attend to his business affairs. In the moment, however, others in the regiment addressed the underlying issues.

In a long letter of February 7, 1862, a trooper, who signed himself ‘Hard Bread,’ may have spoken for many of his comrades. He mentioned the divide between officers and enlisted men, and he noted the difficulties the young volunteers had in the early months of the war accepting the privileges of rank. He bristled at the “comparatively light” duties of the officers, many of whom had been well off prior to the war. Conversely, many of the hard-scrabble enlisted men had had few options to enlistment, and had to accept the “food, clothes, and fare, generally offered them by the servants of the Government,” regardless of quality. The soldier correspondent also spoke of the perceived differences between “regular army” soldiers and volunteers. As the regiments two senior officers soon resigned, his remarks bear quoting at length.

“The soldiers of the ‘regular army’ and our volunteer troops are vastly different in their character. The former have heretofore been composed of a class of citizens who could best serve their country while under the restraints of the army and its officers. While the latter is composed of a very large proportion of our most intelligent citizens, well known for their integrity and uprightness. It is evident to everyone that this latter class furnish better material for good and successful soldiers than the former class do. It is no longer thought to be true that, to be a good soldier a man must have a bad character. It is only because the present Federal army has the grit and brains of the nation to back it that we have reason to believe that the American Union was never so strong as it is at this moment. Does Uncle Sam need any more experiences and lessons to teach him the priceless value and inestimable importance of appointing worthy commanding officers to lead these brave and patriotic troops on to battle and to victory?”

One might ask if ‘Hard Bread’s’ disdain for regular army soldiers reflects comments regarding the quality of the men in the British army earlier in the century and attributed to the Duke of Wellington, rather than his own interaction with regulars of the U.S. Army. I suspect the unnamed soldier had had little interaction with regulars from the U.S. Army, but he had some, as Lt. Colonel Hight had been an officer in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry prior to accepting a commission in the 1st Maine. Is the soldier making his distinctions based upon his interactions with Hight?

Returning to ‘Hard Bread’s’ letter:

“The Government pays enough to have the very best material from which to make the best of officers. It also pays dearly enough to have these patriotic soldiers clothed, fed, treated, and cared for in the best manner. Both these ends are as yet attained in a very imperfect manner… The man who aspires to the ambition of a Commission – let it be that of a 2nd Lieutenant or of a Colonel – should have capacity and tact sufficient to learn and practice, in a reasonable time… Cooke’s Cavalry Tactics…No man is fit for a commanding officer who cannot and does not habitually control his own feelings and passions, who has not intellect enough to guide correctly and control and lead efficiently the men under his command.

“Not unfrequently it is necessary for a military commander to decide, and decide rightly, in a moment, what action shall or shall not be taken by his command. This decision may have an important bearing upon, may affect very materially, the fate and reputation, not only of his men, but also of the nation, to no small extent. How can a man who is accustomed to fly into violent bursts of passion, or who is habitually carried into uncontrollable excitement at the occurrence of a trifling event – how can such a man be called a suitable person to have control of our brave, sober, intelligent, and patriotic volunteers? They could not respect and confide in his ability and character. A military commander to be successful now, must have some feeling and sympathy for his men, must consider them intelligent beings, and not senseless brutes.”

One suspects “Hard Bread” is speaking of Colonel Goddard here. When announcing his appointment as Colonel of the 1st Maine, one editor described Goddard as having “carved a fortune out of the forests of northern Maine.” He may also have had some prior military experience, as a pre-war paper refers to him as “Col. Goddard,” though the Army Register does not mention him.

In the days immediately preceding the soldier’s letter, Colonel Goddard had been arrested for assaulting a civilian who was “hauling hay to the encampment of the regiment.” He had also just placed Regimental Quartermaster Edward Patten under arrest. Goddard himself had appointed Patten to his position the previous October. Within days of Patten’s appointment, fifteen citizens of Portland had presented him with an “elegant sword…as a token of their esteem.” Interestingly, however, one news editor placed the item announcing Patten’s arrest immediately under another item deploring the lack of hospital tents at Camp Penobscot, and then linked the lack of tents to the sickness prevailing in the camp. Had Goddard deemed Patten responsible for the lack of blankets and warm clothing in his regiment? Another editor noted, “There are so many versions of the charges preferred by Col. [Goddard], that it is difficult to ascertain the truth.” Then, after mentioning Goddard’s own arrest for assault, the editor opined, “Complaints against the Colonel are long and loud, whether justly or not we cannot say. The prevailing opinion is that Lt. Col. Hight will sooner or later succeed Col. Goddard in command of the Regiment, the latter’s temper being too often inclined to run away with him.” A lack of access to Patten’s military files leaves the circumstances of his arrest, to include a disposition, uncertain.

As a counter to ‘Hard Bread’s” allegations, a Goddard supporter said of him, “His experience in military matters is limited, like the majority of officers in the whole army, and he acknowledges the same, and is doing all that is possible for a man, by diligent study, to fit himself for his position… His experience must come from active service.” Indeed, all the men needed the crucible of combat to learn their jobs. The unnamed advocate deemed Goddard as “untiring in his efforts to seek out the wants of the soldiers and see that they are supplied night and day.” The soldier spoke of the colonel traveling “through the camp at midnight in the coldest weather, to know himself if the men were comfortable,” and he knew Goddard to be “a daily visitor at the hospitals.”

‘Hard Bread’ disagreed. “It is the imperative and unquestionable duty of the commanding officer to spare no labor” regarding the welfare of his men. “How can he do this, unless he eats, sleeps, and lives with the men… If a commissioned officer boards at the Augusta House, the Stanley House, the ‘Astor House,’…and takes no particular pains to look after the food which his men are obliged to eat, in nine cases out of ten, they will have poor ‘salt horse…’ An experience of four months in camp at Augusta, leads me to these reflections; ‘Brass buttons and shoulder straps may indicate rank in military life, but they afford no indication of manhood, brains or character.”

Colonel Goddard resigned the first of March 1862. He may have dropped his charges against Quartermaster Patten, as, according to one press account, the War Department would not accept his resignation until he settled the case against Patten. The quartermaster remained with the regiment until he resigned in May 1862.

And what of Lt. Colonel Hight’s request to have surgeon George Colby dismissed or court-martialed? The timing and tone of Hight’s letter suggests he, and possibly Goddard, held Colby responsible for the rampant sickness within the regiment. Like Goddard, Hight may have dropped his complaint against Colby when he resigned two weeks after Goddard. Colby remained in the service to the close of the war.

Finally, what of Goddard’s order requiring vaccinations for the men in the regiment? I found no other mention and have no idea if the men received the vaccines or not.


Documents from the National Archives

Bangor Daily Union

Belfast Republican Journal

Lewiston Evening Journal

Maine Farmer

Portland Daily Advertiser

Edward Tobie, History of the First Maine Cavalry

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