16th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment
|16th Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry|
|Active||August 14, 1862 to May 31, 1865|
|Engagements||Battle of South Mountain
Battle of Antietam
Battle of Fredericksburg
Battle of Chancellorsville
Battle of Gettysburg
Battle of the Wilderness
Battle of Spotsylvania
Battle of Cold Harbor
Siege of Petersburg
Battle of the Weldon Railroad
Battle of New Market Heights
Battle of Hatcher's Run
Battle of Five Forks
The 16th Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. It was particularly noted for its service during the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg.
The 16th Maine was organized at Augusta, Maine, and mustered into Federal service for a three year enlistment on August 14, 1862.
The regiment was discharged from service on June 5, 1865.
The 16th Maine at Gettysburg
Around 11: 30 on the morning of July 1, 1863, two divisions of the 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac arrived to join a fight that had been raging all morning, as the Confederates advanced on Gettysburg from the west and from the north. Among them was the 16th Maine. The regiment, along with the rest of the army, had been marching since June 12 up from Virginia, through Maryland, and into southern Pennsylvania. They were headed toward an eventual clash with the Confederate Army that was fated to take place in and around the little market town of Gettysburg. The 16th Maine fought bitterly for approximately three hours in the fields north of the Chambersburg Pike; but by mid-afternoon, it was evident that, even with the addition of the rest of the 1st Corps and the entire 11th Corps, the position of the Union forces could not be held. They began to fall back toward the town of Gettysburg.
The 16th Maine was then ordered to withdraw to a new position to the east of where they had been fighting. "Take that position and hold it at any cost!" was the command. This meant that those of the 275 officers and men of the regiment who had not already become casualties had to sacrifice themselves to allow some 16,000 other men to retreat. This they valiantly did, but they were soon overwhelmed and forced to surrender to the Confederates. Historians say the 16th Maine fought valiantly, but its soldiers turned their attention to saving their beloved flags when they realized that defeat was inevitable. As the Southern troops bore down upon them, the men of the 16th Maine spontaneously began to tear up into little pieces their "colors."
Like other Union regiments, the 16th Maine carried an American flag and a regimental flag, known collectively as "the colors." "For a few last moments our little regiment defended angrily its hopeless challenge, but it was useless to fight longer," Abner Small of the 16th Maine wrote after the battle. "We looked at our colors, and our faces burned. We must not surrender those symbols of our pride and our faith." The regiment's color bearers "appealed to the colonel," Small wrote, "and with his consent they tore the flags from the staves and ripped the silk into shreds; and our officers and men that were near took each a shred." Each man hid his fragment of the flags inside his shirt or in a pocket. The Confederates were thus deprived of the chance to capture the flags as battle trophies. That was the 16th Maine's "greatest day," wrote Earl Hess, a history professor at Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, in an introduction to a collection of Small's Civil War letters published in 2000. Hess said that the 16th Maine's actions show that battle flags carried "very, very deep symbolism for Civil War soldiers, "representing the "esprit de corps" of a regiment and "a larger entity -- the country, the cause." Most of the 16th Maine survivors treasured these remnants for the rest of their lives and bequeathed them to their descendents, some of whom still possess them as family heirlooms to this day.
By sunset on July 1, 11 officers and men of the 16th Maine had been decimated, 62 had been wounded, and 159 had been taken prisoner. Only 38 men of the Regiment managed to evade being captured and report for duty at 1st Corps headquarters. But the 16th Maine had bought precious time for the Union Army. Those whose retreat they had covered were able to establish a very strong position just east and south of the center of the town of Gettysburg along Cemetery Ridge. During the night and into July 2 the 1st and 11th Corps were reinforced by the rest of the Army of the Potomac. For the next two days they would withstand successive assaults by the Confederates until the final repulse of Pickett's Charge, on July 3.
Total strength and casualties
1,907 men served in the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment at one point or another during its service. It lost 181 enlisted men killed in action or died of wounds. 578 members of the regiment were wounded in action, 259 died of disease, and 76 died in Confederate prisons for a total of 511 fatalities from all causes, a rate of 57%.
- State of Maine Civil War Website Page on the 16th Maine
- The Civil War Archive
- Small, Abner R. The Sixteenth Maine Regiment In The War Of The Rebellion
Small, Abner, "The Road to Richmond: The Civil War [Recollections] of Major Abner R Small of the 16th Maine Volunteers", Small, Harold ed. Fordham University Press, 2000.