Betsey’s five patriotic grandsons and the Civil War

Headstone of Thomas H. Stanwood

Headstone of Thomas H. Stanwood, civil war veteran

Last Sunday was quite momentous.  I actually went to the movie theater.  This was only the third time in the last eight years I was willing to give up 3 hours of my time and fork over $15 to see a film, but Lincoln was sooooo worth it!  The civil war era is absolutely my favorite period in history, so that was an added bonus.

Leaving the theater, instead of thinking about the war as a historical event, I began to ponder how it affected my ancestors, their towns and communities, and their daily lives.  Mostly, how did it affect their families?

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, both the Union and Confederate sides began mobilizing troops.  Congress authorized recruitment of 500,000 men to form the Union’s volunteer army.  Initially patriotic Northerners and Abolitionists filled this need.   Later, though, bounties and forced conscription were implemented to bolster the troops.  Of the 2.5 million men who served in the Union army, approximately 2% were draftees and another 6% were substitutes paid by the draftees.  However, the overwhelming majority of men serving the Union’s efforts voluntarily enlisted.


Houlton, Maine, poster offering bounties for men joining Union forces. Posters such as this were posted in communities all over Maine and elsewhere.

The war was never expected to be long, drawn-out affair.  Thus it was not until the Union had been fighting nearly a year that the young men in my Stanwood and Wasgatt families joined in the war’s efforts.

Benjamin and Betsey (Wasgatt) Stanwood moved to what is now known as Woodville, Maine about 1840, where they lived at the time of the civil war.  Several of their adult children also left Eden (now known as Bar Harbor), Maine to join them in Penobscot county, including sons Calvin, David and their families.

Thomas H. Stanwood and his brother George F. Stanwood, sons of Calvin and Betsey (McDermott) Stanwood, both enlisted as volunteer soldiers in the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery unit in July 1862.  Amid reports of the war’s casualties, one can only imagine how agonizing it must have been for Calvin and Betsey to have both sons join the army.

The next month, Benjamin Stanwood Campbell, the son of John Campbell and Calvin’s sister Margaret Stanwood (who was still residing in Eden), enlisted in Maine’s 18th Infantry, a unit which four months later was transfered to the ill-fated 1st Maine Heavy Artillery.  Twenty-three year old Ben was thus serving side-by-side with his cousins, Thomas and George Stanwood.

The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery unit suffered more fatalities than any others during the entire course of the war!  How their families must have worried!  How devastated they must have been when they received the news that George was not coming home; he was wounded by gunfire on May 19, 1864, and died on June 25, 1864, having served nearly two years towards the Union’s efforts.  We learn a bit of George’s life through the pension claims of his parents, images of which may be viewed here.  George was obviously a kind and caring young man who had supported his parents financially before his enlistment.

Despite his cousin’s death, my great-great grandfather, Albert J. Stanwood, enlisted in the 20th Maine Regiment, Company D, just three weeks after his 16th birthday.   How did his grandmother, Betsey (Wasgatt) Stanwood, feel about yet another grandson on the battlefield?  What type of news reports did they receive from the papers?  How did this affect their life on the farm, with the most able-bodied men away at war, leaving farm chores to their elder family members?  One has to wonder if the results of the war didn’t somehow influence their decision to make a major move – in 1870 Betsey Stanwood, matriarch of the family, traveled with several of her adult children to Monticello, Wright county, Minnesota.

While we will never have answers to these questions, there is certainly no doubt that the civil war had a major impact on those living in the mid-19th century.

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