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  • Outstanding Civil War Letter Describing Watching his BRother in the Battle of Fredericksburg

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    Outstanding Civil War Letter Describing Watching his Brother in the Battle of Fredericksburg - Inventory Number: DOC 219

    Capt. William Henry Owen – 3rd Maine Infantry

    “Fred was posted on the roof of a house in Fredericksburg during the late battle, to signalize & was much exposed. I watched his waving flag through my glass, from this side, with great anxiety, as you may suppose. Though for several hours the target of innumerable shells, he escaped almost by a miracle, without a scratch.”

    Contents reveal that is was written overlooking Fredericksburg, Va., and from the contents can be dated early 1863, after the battle of Fredericksburg in Dec., 1862, and before Gen. Howard's disastrous surprise at the Battle of Chancellorsville.

    The author of this letter was Capt. William Henry Owen, of Brooklin, Maine, who was a classmate of General Oliver Otis Howard at Bowdoin College (Howard graduated in 1850, and Owen graduated in 1851), and was commissioned on Aug. 19, 1861 as a 1st Lt. in Co. “K” 3rd Maine Infantry Regt., which at that time was commanded by Col. Oliver O. Howard. On Oct. 31, 1861, he was discharged for promotion into the U.S. Volunteers, Quartermaster's Dept., and served on the staff of Gen. 0.0. Howard. Promoted to Capt. & Asst. QM, Oct. 31, 1861; Lt. Col. & Quartermaster on May 22, 1863, and Colonel & Quartermaster on Aug. 2, 1864. Mustered out on June 19, 1865.

    Great content, in which Capt. Owen writes of the Battle of Fredericksburg, of General Howard losing his arm and being "as brave as a lion". Excerpts include:

    "l am writing in Mother's tent, a dwelling nine feet square, logged up about two feed with an ordinary 'Wall Tent' on top. Imagine Mother in such a domicile, on a high hill overlooking Fredericksburg & within range of the rebel batteries!

    I am Quartermaster on Genl. Howard's Staff. He was a college mate of mine & afterwards went to West Point. He is about my age, is a noble man, very pious, very kind, very just & as brave as a lion. He lost his right arm at Fair Oaks, but was at his post again in less than three months. All his staff are pleasant gentlemen. They are very polite & kind to Mother & she enjoys herself exceedingly.

    My situation is a pleasant one, though important & responsible. I have much less to do than when in a Brigade. My duties are chiefly administrative - to approve Requisitions of the Brigade Quartermaster, & to look out for the Division Train, consisting of Eighty wagons & four hundred & eighty mules. My duty does not call me into battle. On all such occasions, Quartermasters are under the strictest orders to remain with their trains. Nonetheless, I sometimes slip away to take a closer view & know what the whistling of bullets & shells means. Fred was posted on the roof of a house in Fredericksburg during the late battle, to signalize & was much exposed. I watched his waving flag through my glass, from this side, with great anxiety, as you may suppose. Though for several hours the target of innumerable shells, he escaped almost by a miracle, without a scratch. I hope soon to be able to tell you that he has got a higher position & one less dangerous. When I see you, which I hope will be in a few months, I have lots to tell you. I haven't space to say anything on the political aspect of the war - besides, I don't suppose what I might say would be palatable to you, who are probably a McClellan man, voted for Seymour & an altogether a 'pigeon democrat'. God help our poor country!

    Much love to all the family & enquiring friends,

    Ever your affectionate Cousin,

    W.H. Owen

    Pray write. Direct 'Capt. W.H. Owen, A.Q.M., Head Quarters Howard's Division, 2d Army Corps, Army of the Potomac.

    Please send me word If Albert & Eddy are still in the Army, & if so, in what Regt., Brigade

    & Division."

    William Henry Owen:

    Residence Brooklin ME;

    Enlisted on 8/19/1861 as a 1st Lieutenant.

    On 8/19/1861 he was commissioned into "K" Co. ME 3rd Infantry

    He was discharged for promotion on 10/31/1861

    On 10/31/1861 he was commissioned into

    US Volunteers Quartermaster's Dept

    He was Mustered Out on 6/19/1865


    * Capt 10/31/1861 (Captain & Asst Quartermaster)

    * Lt Colonel 5/22/1863 (Lieut Colonel & Quartermaster)

    * Colonel 8/2/1864 (Colonel & Quartermaster)

    Other Information:

    born in New York


         Third Infantry--Col., Oliver O. Howard; Lieut.-Col., Isaac N. Tucker; Maj., Henry G. Staples.  This regiment responded to the first call for troops with promptness and alacrity.  It was rendezvoused on the state house grounds at Augusta and was composed mainly of Kennebec lumbermen.  The regiment was most fortunate in having for its colonel Oliver O. Howard, who rose rapidly to the rank of major-general and gained for himself a name distinguished among the nation's heroes.  During the long three years' service the regiment was successively commanded by Maj. Staples and Capt. Moses B. Lakeman of Co. I, Lieut.-Col. Tucker having resigned to become brigade quartermaster.  On the resignation of Lieut.-Col. Tucker, Capt. Sampson of Co. D, Capt. Lakeman and Adjt. Burt served as lieutenant-colonel in the order named.  Succeeding Henry G. Staples as major were Adjt. Burt and Capt. William C. Morgan.  Of the original companies of the regiment Co. A (Bath City Greys) had existed under former militia laws and the others were new organizations.  The regiment was mustered into the United States service on June 4, 1861, and left the state for the front the next day.  Perhaps no regiment from the state saw more fighting or rendered more distinguished service.  From the first battle of Bull Run, until the battle of Cold Harbor, June 3, 1864, the regiment participated in most of the important battles and movements of the Army of the Potomac.  The operations of the so-called "Stove-Pipe Artillery" commenced with this regiment.  While encamped at Flag Hill, Va., they employed the ruse of mounting a stove-pipe on wheels, and drew 12 shots from the enemy at their cannon.  The loss of the 3d in killed and wounded at the battle of Fair Oaks was nearly one-third of the men engaged.  It was in this engagement that Sergt.-Maj. F. W. Haskell of Waterville so greatly distinguished himself as to win the commendation of his colonel and of the entire regiment.  The 3d gave an excellent account of itself in the battle of Gettysburg.  At the close of the second day's fighting Gen. Sickles declared that, "The little 3d Me. saved the army today."  Its loss at Gettysburg was 113 killed, wounded and missing.  On the return of the regiment to Augusta, June 11, 1864, only 17 officers and 176 enlisted men were left to be mustered out.  Sixty-four of these men reenlisted, and together with the recruits were transferred to the 17th Me.  Not one of the original field and staff officers returned with the regiment and only one of the original captains--the veteran Moses B. Lakeman--who returned in command of the regiment.

    Inventory Number: DOC 219