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Road trip: Portland, Maine Civil War monuments

Portland, Maine, was a prominent coastal port city during the Civil War years, and a significant amount of war materiel shipped from the town. Thousands of Union troops assembled for the war in Portland, as many as 4,000 recruited in the general area. And, a small naval engagement actually took place in Portland Harbor between Union and Confederate forces, one of the few documented cases of a Rebel incursion so close to a Northern port.
I was in Portland for a wargaming convention in the spring of 2010 and took several photographs, some of which appear on this blog entry. Downtown Portland still has hundreds of buildings that were present during the Civil War, and the town still retains much of its historic New England charm.
Maine is a popular destination in the summer for tourists, and Portland’s Civil War monuments should be included in your itinerary.

There are several memorials and monuments recalling the Civil War in Portland and nearby towns and villages. This impressive setting is on the drive from downtown Portland out to the coast.

The largest memorial is this one in downtown Portland at 1 Monument Square, which commemorates the service of 4,000 men from the city and Cumberland County. It was dedicated in 1929. The city’s website includes this description of the monument:
“On the monument, one can see a heroic-sized female standing upon a granite base. On the north and south of the base, two other smaller sculpture groups are erected. The larger figure stands for union and victory as she stands while dressed in a classical grab. On her right hand, she is holding a sword that is wrapped in a flag. On the other, a branch of maple leaves and a shield are firmly held. Bronze figures are also situated on top of the granite blocks. Among them are three sailors standing in front of 6 flags, and three army figures on the other side also standing in front of the flags.”

Portland’s harbor is beautiful to behold. On June 26, 1863 (the same day that Major General Jubal Early occupied Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, en route to York and eventually the Susquehanna River), events were transpiring in Portland which culminated in a small naval battle. Confederate Lt. C.W. Read had been active off the coast intercepting and burning Union-allied trading vessels. He launched a daring raid into Portland Harbor and seized a poorly defended revenue cutter, the Caleb Cushing.
During the night Read and his crew made off with the captured prize, but with little wind, the sailing ship made little progress. Read set it on fire, and the ensuing explosion at 2:15 on the 27th rocked the Portland area. Read and his men surrendered and were imprisoned at Fort Preble. For more information on this little known action, click here.

Lighthouses in the 19th century played a critical role in coastal America helping delineate entries to ports, as well as shorelines and points. Many a good ship and its crew owed their survival to these picturesque lighthouses such as this one near Portland. It is nicely restored and open to the public in a park setting.

The view from the lighthouse toward Portland Harbor is peaceful and serene.

The Wadsworth-Longfellow House is a major historical attraction in downtown Portland. Famed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a leading abolitionist. Shortly after the start of the Civil War, his beloved wife died from burns when her dress accidentally caught on fire. Longfellow was badly burned trying to extinguish the fire, but it was too late. She died July 10, 1861.

This statue honors the memory of Longfellow, whose major works included The Song of Hiawatha, Paul Revere’s Ride, and Evangeline. Perhaps his most poignant Civil War-related work is the classic Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, which he wrote in 1864 at the height of the conflict.
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll’d along th’unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bow’d my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

York Daily Record Civil War blogger and author Scott L. Mingus, Sr.