GETTYSBURG CONTENT LETTER OF CHARLES E. DEARING, 1st SERGEANT, CO. B, 16th MAINE, CAPTURED AS GETTYSBURG AFTER DEFENDING OAK RIDGE

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This is a lengthy four-page letter in ink written by Charles E. Dearing to his mother on October 13, 1863, upon his exchange from Confederate captivity after Gettysburg. On July 1 the 16th Maine fought with Robinson’s Division of the First Corps along Oak Ridge against Confederate forces attacking from the west and north, and even from the northeast as the Eleventh Corps lines gave way. To cover the withdrawal of the rest of the division, Col. Tilden was ordered to lead his regiment to a small hill overlooking the Mummasburg Road and buy time. When they finally pulled back, their own retreat had been cut off and most of the survivors were taken prisoner near the railroad cut.

Charles Dearing had mustered into the regiment in August 1862 as a corporal in Company B, fought with regiment at Fredericksburg, and was promoted to first sergeant by Gettysburg. In this very legible and well-written four-page letter, Dearing recounts to his mother details of the battle and his captivity. He mentions being under fire and “we were engaged and fought 3 hours when we were surrounded…,” adding, “I think it would have been different but our Corps Gen. was killed in the morning and our Brigade Gen. in the after-noon...” referring to John Reynolds and to Brigadier Gabriel Paul, who actually survived the horrible head-wound that blinded him by thirty-three years, eventually succumbing to its effects in 1888.

Dearing goes on to recount listening to the battle for the next two days and then being hustled south on short rations and long marches before ending up in on “Bell Island” in Richmond. He details their attempts at cooking, being searched for valuables, etc. He keeps a remarkably cheerful tone throughout, remarking at that he “went to Richmond to make Jeff Davis a visit. I guess I will not go to see him again unless he will agree to use me better, and then I want to take my Gun with me so that I can take care of myself without his having the trouble of furnishing a guard…”

This is a well-written, descriptive letter that shows a soldier’s cheerfulness in the face of adversity, though he might not have been so cheerful while actually enduring what he recounts. Dearing returned to the regiment and served throughout the war. Transferred into the 5th Corps, the regiment saw heavy action in Grant’s 1864 campaign at Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and elsewhere, losing 9 officers and 172 enlisted men in killed and wounded during its service. Dearing narrowly escaped capture again at Weldon Railroad and was promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant in late 1864. He mustered out with the regiment in June 1865 and returned to Maine to continue work as a machinist. He died in 1930 at age 91.  [sr]

NOTE: LETTER'S CONDITION IS BETTER THAN APPEARS IN PHOTOGRAPHS.


Transcript of C.E. Dearing letter

College Green Barracks

Annapolis Oct 13th/63

Dear Mother

I received your letter last week was very glad to hear that you was well. I got those letters that you and Susan wrote just after I was taken Prisoner they were sent from the Regt. We expected to be retaken but was disappointed and so we went to Richmond to make Jeff Davis a visit. I guess I shall not go to see him again unless he will agree to use me better and then I want to take my Gun with me so that I can take care of my self without his having the trouble of furnishing a guard for me, and then I should like to look around the City and I should want it to defend myself with

I will try and give you some idea of how I spent the 13 weeks that I was a Prisoner. I suppose you know about the fight. We marched 8 miles that day I did not suppose we should see aney fighting that day at least, but about noon I found out my mistake for we came under fire and were there one hour when we were engaged and fought  3 hours when we were surrounded and the most of us taken Prisoners. I think it would have been different but our Corps  Gen. was killed in the morning and our Brigade Gen. in the after-noon. After we was taken they marched us to the rear out of the reach of Shot and shell. I did not object to being out of the reach of those things but I did object to having a guard over me. we could hear them fighting

the 2nd and 3rd day. on the morning of the 4th they marched us a number of miles it rained very hard all the time we had to cross a number of streams from two to three feet deep we were wet through a good deal of the time during the march it would not have been so bad if we could had enought to eat. I will tell you what we had for three days it was ½ pint flour and 2 ounces of Fresh Beef and marching all the time. There was a good maney days that we had nothing to eat. Perhaps you would like to know how we cooked the Flour some we would mix it up with water and bake it before the fire. it would not be very light sometimes we would take a dipper and heat some water and then stir

in some flour. it would make what you would call past [paste] I suppose. I was glad when we reached Stanton which we did July 18th the next day which was Sunday a lot of us Started about noon for Richmond in some Cars we could not lie down nor sit we were so crowded so you can judge if we were tiered the next morning when we arived at R. we were then taken to a Tobacco Ware House opposite Castle Thunder kept there a few hours and Searched we had been searched at Stanton and by the time we reached Bell Island we did not have anything of value except what we hid I did not have much for them to take for I had traded what I had for Bread we were searched once while on the Island for money but they could not get all. For rations while there we had about 9 A.M. ¼ pound bread and 2 ounces of fresh beef. in the afternoon at 3 ½ we had the same amount of bread and some bean or rice soup. to make the soup they would take the water that the beef is boiled in and skim off all the grease if there was aney and then fill up with water and put in about one gill of beans or rice to a man. I should rather had dish water that I have washed dishes in I [k]now it would have been as clean. I wish you could have seen it when we cannot in when we got on board of the boat and got rations they said they never had such a lot [?] before

[finished at top of first page, upper left]

Those pictures I expect are safe I left them with a man in the Ambulance Corps a short time before we were taken prisoners Please excuse this and write soon from your son Charles love to all


GENEALOGICAL NOTES

Charles Edwin Dearing was born 30 October 1838 in Webster, Maine, one of eight children born to John (b. ca. 1798) and Caroline Perry Dearing 9 (b. 1806.) John was a stage driver. The union produced 8 children: Joseph H. (born ca. 1832, ) George G. 1834,) Albert Lincoln (ca. 1836,) Charles E. (1838,) John F. (ca. 1840,) Susan E. (ca. 1842,) Laura S. (ca. 1845,) and Bradford P. (ca. 1848.)

John Dearing (Sr.) died 27 September 1847 and the family thereafter is found listed in household of son Joseph H. Dearing in Webster, listed as a farmer. George is not listed in the household in 1850 and presumably is on his own by then. The farm may have been the family homestead, inherited by Joseph as eldest son. George shows up in 1863 in Thanksgiving letter to Charles, a reference in Albert’s (Lincoln’s) letter to Charles, and in reports of Caroline’s 1863 remarriage at “the home of her son George.”

At age ten (about 1848) Charles was sent to Gardiner, ME, to live with his maternal uncle Joseph Perry, a machinist, and train in that profession. In the 1850 census he is listed both in Webster (in the Perry household) and in Gardiner. “After attaining his majority,” presumably ca. 1856, Charles moved to Boston, but returned to Gardiner to manage his uncle’s machine shop and is there by the time of the 1860 census. He is listed in Webster in Joseph’s household, but also seems to have had lodging in Gardiner, where appears as machinist, age 22, in the household of Henry Foy.

By 1860 Joseph had married (Susan V. Dearing) and had one son (John L. Dearing.) Albert L. had served briefly in the U.S. Army, but had been discharged and was again at home. George is on his own. John F. is not listed. Some secondary sources indicate he died 5 October 1858. An 1863 Thanksgiving letter to Charles from the family indicates two family members were absent: Charles and another male member of the family who had died (John L., son of Joseph H., was still alive in 1870.)

Caroline Perry Dearing remarried in April 1863. Her second husband was Willis Sprague, a deacon, one-time state senator, and resident of Topsham. The family’s 1863 letter to Charles referring to “Father” must mean Sprague. The letter is being written from the “old homestead” in Gardiner and Caroline is referred to as “a visitor.” Willis Sprague dies in 1867 or 1869 and by the 1870 census Caroline is once again in the household of Joseph H. in Gardiner. She dies in 1882 at age 76.

Albert Lincoln Dearing served in the 5th Maine, reaching the rank of Captain. He was seriously wounded at Second Fredericksburg (Sedgwick’s attack during the Chancellorsville campaign,) and discharged in 9/8/1863.

CHARLES E. DEARING SERVICE NOTES

Charles E. Dearing was a machinist when he enlisted 26 July 1862 at age 24 and mustered into Co. B 16th Maine on 14 August 1862 as a corporal. The regiment moved to Washington and in October was assigned to the First Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

Dearing is recorded as promoted from corporal to fifth sergeant as of 1 January 1863, likely in the wake of the regiment’s losses at Fredericksburg. They had been heavily engaged on the Union left, where Federal attacks had some initial success, and Dearing himself was struck by a spent ball that pierced his cap box and belt, but lodged in his clothing.  He was promoted again, to company first sergeant to date March 15, 1863.

On July 1, as part of Robinson’s Division of the First Corps, the 16th Maine was deployed with the rest of Paul’s brigade to reinforce Baxter’s brigade along Oak Ridge (the two brigades constituting Robinson’s division.) After three hours of fighting against Confederate attacks from the west and north, the collapse of the Eleventh Corps opened them up to attacks from the northeast as well. The regiment had found itself at the apex of Robinson’s line as regiments to its right bent back to face north, and they were now ordered to advance to a hill commanding the Mummasburg Road and buy the division time to withdraw. By the time they themselves pulled back their retreat had been cut off and the survivors were compelled to surrender near the railroad cut. The battlefield monument records that of 275 engaged 11 were killed, 63 wounded, and 159 were captured. Their proportional loss may have been higher: their official report says only 248 entered the fight. As Confederates pressed in to gather prisoners, the men tore apart the regiment’s colors rather than surrender them. Shreds and fragments were concealed on their persons and later sent home as mementos. One of these exists in Dearing’s effects, along with an undated letter sending it to his mother. He seems to have sent two to family members: a reference by a sister-in-law in the family’s Thanksgiving 1863 letter to Charles indicates she had received a piece, so he likely sent both pieces to the family before November 26 and after September 29, 1863.

Dearing chronicled his battle experience and thirteen weeks in captivity in a letter home to his mother. He was marched south to Staunton, VA, from July 4 to July 18, and sent from there to Richmond by train. He reached Richmond on July 20, spent some time in Tobacco Warehouse (“opposite Castle Thunder,”) and was then transferred to Belle Isle. He was released on parole at City Point on September 29 and was sent to Camp Parole at Annapolis to await exchange. He received a 30-day furlough home from April 15 to May 15, 1864. His diary chronicles his trip from Maine starting May 12 and mentons receiving news he had been exchanged. At Camp Parole he was placed in charge of a company formed of men heading back to their regiments. This was designated “1st Company 3rd Battalion.”  Reaching Washington and crossing into Virginia, Dearing (and presumably the rest of the company) received arms and equipment at a point of “Distribution” and then marched to rejoin the army at the front. Dearing rejoined the 16th Maine on June 6.

During his absence the First Corps had been dissolved and the regiment transferred to the Fifth Corps, which was heavily involved the fighting of Grant’s Overland Campaign against Richmond. They had fought and taken losses at Wilderness and Spottsylvania. He was there in time for Cold Harbor in June, and the first fighting at Petersburg. In August he was with them in the fighting at the Weldon Railroad and was reportedly briefly captured before escaping back to the regiment. He was promoted to regimental Quartermaster Sergeant 12/14/64. The regiment saw further action during the siege of Petersburg, Hatcher’s Run, the Weldon Railroad again and at Five Forks.

Dearing was discharged with the regiment at Arlington Heights June 5, 1865, and returned home to manage his uncle’s machine shop again. They were eventually partners in the operation, but in 1887 Dearing turned to agriculture for health reasons and moved to Farmingdale. He served in several civic posts in Gardiner and Farmingdale, and was a charter member of Heath Post G.A.R. In 1869 he married Emily White (1844-1920.) They had three children, two of whom survived to adulthood. Emily died in 1920. Charles died in 1930 at age 91.

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