Just a few days ago a documentary on MPBN shed light on what has been one of the more crucial regiments at Gettysburg, just 150 years ago at this time: the 16th Maine. One of the first units to arrive at Gettysburg, the vastly outnumbered regiment held off the advancing Confederates long enough so that other Union forces could retreat to a pivotal position on Cemetery Ridge. As the MPBN documentary points out, however, the achievements of the 16th Maine have been largely neglected, overshadowed as they were by those of Joshua Chamberlain’s more famous 20th Maine.

One place in Maine, however, where the 16th has both been observed but also overlooked is Farmington’s Meetinghouse Park. For more than a century one of the signature landmarks in this west central Maine town is the community’s Civil War Memorial. Rising in simplistic grandeur to the casual observer, it resembles a smaller scale version of the Washington Monument. However, its actual design adopted that of the monument to the 16h Maine at Gettysburg. Nevertheless, even though the monument contains a recitation of the number of soldiers from the area who served and includes various tributes to them, there is no specific reference to the 16th Maine.

A reason why the monument’s design was based on that of a Gettysburg monument to the 16th Maine may be because of the ties the town has to one of its more famous symbolic achievements. For this arose from an order given by a Farmington captain at the battle, S. Clifford Belcher. This was the command Belcher gave to cut up the battle flag in pieces and distribute it among its men so as to deprive it from the Confederates. This order, given while Belcher was commander of the left wing of the regiment, was just as Belcher and over half the surviving members of the 270-member unit were taken prisoners of war. (The regiment was under strict orders not to retreat.)

Like Belcher, most other members of the unit were also from the central Maine area. Also from Farmington, for example, was William Yeaton, who was among the 11 members of the regiment killed in action at Gettysburg. The regiment’s physician, Charles Alexander, who was among the 59 men of the regiment wounded there, was another Farmington citizen in the 16th Maine.

For Belcher, even though he was among those captured, Gettysburg would by no means mark the end of his Civil War heroism. While being marched to Libby Prison, Belcher made his escape and rejoined Union forces. Less than a year later, in the “Wilderness” campaign, Belcher’s skull was pierced by a bullet. For 17-days the musket ball rested on his brain. After removing it, surgeons implanted a metal plate.

After returning to Maine, Belcher, who before the War had earned an undergraduate degree as one of Joshua Chamberlain’s students at Bowdoin, put out his shingle as an attorney in Farmington. His public achievements included service as inspector-general on the staff of Gov. Alozno Garcelon in 1879. He was also twice-nominated by Democrats to run for Congress.

Belcher was one those who in 1904 witnessed the dedication of Farmington’s Civil War Monument, believed to be the most prominent even if reticent memorial in Maine to the gallantry of the 16th Maine.

The metal plate? It successfully protected Belcher’s skull for some 45 years, until his death in 1909.

The governor’s proposed sojourn to Washington and the footsteps LePage would follow:

News that Gov. Paiul LePage late last month was for several days considering a run for Congress made headlines across Maine. The governor has more recently announced that he will not in fact make such a run. Nevertheless, the prospect that he would provoked considerable interest. Along with LePage’s observation that “Everything is on the table,” there’s a temptation to visit the precedents for what seems like an unusual move, going from being governor of the entire state to becoming a “back bencher” in the 435- member U.S. House.

Frustration with the limits of a governor’s ability to steer the ship of Maine state government appears to have been one occasion for the governor’s consideration. An occasion for LePage’s reconsideration to run after all, however, may be such studies as those of noted political scientist Thad Beyle. According to Beyle, only 15 governors have more institutional power than that given to Maine’s while eight have the same. (Beyle rates Massachusetts the strongest while Vermont’s has the least authority.)

The last Maine governor to attempt LePage’s briefly-proposed move was Democrat Joseph Brennan, who won election to the First District seat in 1986. This occurred, however, as Brennan was blockaded by a constitutional limit on running for a third consecutive term as governor.

Besides Brennan, six other Maine governors had post-gubernatorial careers in the U.S. House. The last one before Brennan, Republican Owen Brewster, served three terms in the 1930s. Though unsuccessful in his efforts to make the Mt. Katahdin region a national rather than a state park, Brewster would eventually win election to two terms in the U.S. Senate. He has been immortalized in recent years as the senator played by Alan Alda in the “Aviator” movie about Howard Hughes. In it, Brewster is portrayed as the suspiciously motivated adversary of Howard Hughes in 1947 hearings over Hughes’s “spruce goose” airplane.

The Maine gubernatorial alumnus who achieved the greatest legacy in the Congress’s lower house was Nelson Dingley, Jr. An early co-owner and editor of the Lewiston Evening Journal in the 1850’s and 1860’s, Dingley’s two years as governor in the 1870’s were overshadowed by the 18years he spent in Congress in the 1880s and l890s. There, he rose to one of the most powerful positions in Washington, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. A capstone of his career was his successful sponsorship of the Dingley Tariff. From 1897 until 1909 it was the basis for the country’s trade relations with other nations.

Paul H. Mills is a Farmington attorney well known for his analyses and historical understanding of public affairs in Maine. He can be reached by e-mail: [email protected] 


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