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“All the Island Boys are gone”: The Charge of the First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment

Tim Garrity, Executive Director, Mount Desert Island Historical Society

When they finally received the order to attack, the men of the First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment scrambled up from the sunken dirt road and quickly formed up in ranks at the edge of the cornfield. An officer cried, “Forward men!” and they began to advance toward the fortifications 500 yards away. As if facing a headwind, they tilted their cap brims down and pushed forward. Canister shot and Minié balls tore through their lines. They heard the crash of artillery and chatter of musket fire ahead of them, the nearby sound of lead smacking into the bodies of their closest friends, and screams. An observer reported, “The Maine boys fell fast…. Half the distance is traversed, canister is let loose by the Rebels and dirt is flying, yet the Maine men who crept up the bank do not flinch, but sullenly close up ranks, now decimated."

A survivor of the assault recalled, “The enemy’s firing along their whole line was now centered into this field. The earth was literally torn up with iron and lead. The field became a burning, seething, crashing, hissing hell. . . . So in ten minutes those who were not slaughtered had returned to the road or were lying prostrate upon that awful field of carnage.” Of the 900 men who left the road, 632 fell in the field before Petersburg. On June 18, 1864, the First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment suffered the greatest proportional loss in a single day’s combat of any regiment in the Civil War.

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