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XX. ANECDOTES OF THE HEROES OF MAINE.
THERE is another hero of the Civil War whose fame should not be allowed to perish utterly. Major joined the Tenth Maine at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the 6th of October, 1861, the regiment being then on its way to the seat of war. His previous career was not then known to his new comrades, but it was thought, from the aptitude that he showed for soldiering, that he had at least smelled gunpowder and had probably a war record. He followed Captain Emerson, of Company H, into the car, and was immediately adopted by that company, and they bestowed upon him his title "Major." He was a Newfoundland crossbreed dog, black, and weighing nearly one hundred and ten pounds.
From that October night when he joined Company H, he shared all its vicissitudes, sometimes showing more than human patience and endurance, and an intelligence that almost seemed to comprehend the motives and necessities of army movements, until the 8th of May, 1863, when the regiment was mustered out of service.
Major's earliest service as a soldier consisted of picket duty at the Relay House, where the regiment was first stationed. No matter where his company might be stationed, he was always among the most advanced of the pickets, and was fiercest when a Confederate dog attempted to cross the line.
He was the recipient of much attention from the whole regiment and from outsiders. When rations were scantiest, Major never lacked his full share with the rest; and when Thanksgiving delicacies from home reached the regiment he feasted upon the best. But no cajoling and no dainties would induce Major to recognize or be friendly to a person belonging to any other company than his own.
Unlimited was his devotion to Company H, but he bore himself with haughty reserve to the world outside. Only once did he unbend from his severe exclusiveness, and that was in a very sore strait. During General Banks's retreat from Winchester, Major was so crippled by the long march that he could hardly walk. Long marches had often fallen to the lot of the Tenth, but there were limits even to Major's powers of endurance. He lagged behind and came near being taken prisoner, the enemy making a cowardly and cruel attempt to "cut off his rear."
When he had been two days within the rebel lines, Major met a member of Company F, in his own regiment. He had never before condescended to acknowledge as acquaintances the members of Company F; but he recognized their superiority to Confederates, and followed the soldier of Company F, and succeeded in reaching the camp in safety. He then proceeded to seek out his own company, and declined the acquaintance of any other, as before.
Major was never found in the rear ranks, and at Antietam and Cedar Mountain he kept his place through all the charges in advance of the front ranks.
Major had one reckless habit which placed his life in unnecessary jeopardy and impaired his usefulness. When the regiment was stationed upon the railroads he would chase the trains. He would Dash madly after them, barking loud enough to drown the engine's shriek. He evidently regarded a railroad train as the worst of Confederate foes. At length he was struck by an engine and thrown several feet, and was so seriously injured that it was feared he could not recover. This finally convinced Major that it was no part of a soldier's duty to try to stop a train.
It was learned that, before he joined the Tenth, Major had served out a three months' enlistment with the First New Hampshire Regiment and been slightly wounded in the battle of Bull Run. He returned home, but evidently had a soldier's heart, and, soon tired of the monotony of private life, he seized the first opportunity that offered to return to the field. When Captain Emerson retired from the command of the company, he presented the dog to Lieutenant Granville Blake.
A fine collar was provided for Major, on which was engraved the leaf indicative of the dog's rank, and the names of the battles in which he had been engaged. Lieutenant Blake took Major home to Auburn with him, and he remained there until his master was commissioned captain of Company H, Twenty-ninth Maine, when he returned to the army, and identified himself with this company as he had done with the first.
At Mansfield, Louisiana, on the 8th of April, 1864, Major found his last battlefield. A Confederate musket ball missed a higher aim, and found its way to the dog hero's heart. He died a soldier's death, truly honored and lamented.
Perhaps it will not be disrespectful to Major's faithfully treasured memory to add to this brief chronicle of his career a few of the humorous happenings that cheered the toils and hardships of the "boys" he loved.
There were valiant sons of Erin from Maine among the boys, and one of them was asked by another Maine man to help him from the field after a battle. He had the proverbial warm heart of Erin's sons, and although the bullets came whizzing upon them, he helped him to mount and strapped him to his horse, afterwards mounting his own and riding on before. As they rode, the head of the injured man was shot off; but Pat rode on, all unaware of the fatality. When they arrived at the doctor's quarters, Pat explained that he had brought the man to have his leg dressed. "But his head is off!" cried the doctor. "The bloody liar!" exclaimed Pat, looking behind him for the first time; "he told me he was only shot in the leg!"
In the Tennessee mountains a company of soldiers came upon an old woman contentedly smoking on her cabin doorstep. "Secesh?" queried one of the soldiers, as they stopped for a drink of water. The old woman slowly and decidedly shook her head. "You must be Union, then," he persisted, in some surprise. The same slow and deliberate shake of the head was her response. "I'm a Baptist," she said, in a slow drawl. "I've always been a Baptist, and I 'low I'll stick to it."
There was a colonel of the First Maine Cavalry who was arbitrary and exacting, and not at all a favorite with either officers or men, whom he expected to rule as he had been accustomed to rule his backwoodsmen and river drivers.
When the regiment was ordered to the front, the officers came to the conclusion that war and the colonel together would be more than they could endure, and they waited upon the governor and told him that they should resign unless the colonel was removed. Of course the colonel was invited to hand in his resignation, and did so. Before this happened, he had one day placed the entire band in the guardhouse for some slight breach of military decorum. The band determined upon revenge.
The next Sunday the regiment was ordered out for church. On such occasions the colonel liked to make a great display. He had secured a hall in the city, and every Sunday services were held there. The men had fine overcoats and new uniforms, with top-boots and gloves. The colonel had given orders that the band should play while marching by the statehouse, and again as they approached the hall. On this occasion the first part of the order was carried out. Martial strains thrilled the hearts of all listeners, and drew eager throngs to gaze upon the splendor of the troops. But in dead silence they marched toward the hall. In great wrath the colonel sent an orderly forward to learn the cause of this disobedience of his order. The band was frozen up! That was the answer which the band orderly gave, and it was repeated to the colonel. He swore like a trooper, and when the hall was reached and the soldiers and the large congregation were seated, he ordered the band to go to the stove, thaw out their instruments, and "play that tune," which they did, while the chaplain and the congregation waited and looked on, the former struggling for a becoming seriousness, the latter with more or less open merriment.
Later, during the war, the colonel, showing a forgiving spirit, visited the regiment, and was tendered a serenade by the band, which played two tunes. When they had finished, the former colonel made them a speech, in which he said, among other pleasant things: "It is my opinion that the climate hereabouts is much better for your business than that of Augusta, as I observe you can here play two tunes without freezing up!" The boys gave three cheers, while the band responded with the then new and popular air, "Right You Are, Old Man."
While the Tenth Regiment was in Portland, in 1861, there was difficulty in keeping the men together, and a squad was kept constantly on the lookout for stragglers. One of these parties came upon a countryman who, for purposes of comfort or adornment, had put on a part of the uniform of the old First Regiment. He was immediately seized and dragged off, although he protested lustily that he was not a soldier. He begged to be allowed to sell his load of wood and take care of his cattle, but his inexorable captors dragged him off to camp, leaving an officer in charge of his team; and it was a long time before he succeeded in proving that he did not " belong to the show." While those who did not belong were sometimes seized in this way, there was, now and then, one who would escape across the lines and be heard from no more. One such who returned and demanded a pension was greeted by his captain with this very pertinent remark: " If I were such a coward as you, I should be ashamed to look a pine tree in the face!"