FIRST SERGEANT CHARLES E. DEARING CO. B 16th MAINE DIARY AND NOTEBOOK

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Item Code: 766-1097

This is a detail-filled and very interesting notebook used by Charles E. Dearing, 16th Maine, both as diary and as a record book for his duties as First Sergeant of Company B, and as commander of a detachment of soldiers returning to their regiments at the front in May 1864.

The notebook measures about 3 by 5 inches and is inscribed in ink inside the front cover: “Sergt. C.E. Dearing / Co. B 16th Regt. Maine Vols” and “C.E. Dearing / Gardiner / Maine.” Dearing served with the regiment for its entire service, from August 1862 to its muster out in June 1865. At Gettysburg he was among those captured after the regiment, alone, fought a delaying action on Oak Ridge to permit the rest of Robinson’s Division (First Corps) to withdraw. He spent thirteen weeks in Confederate prison camps and then several months as Camp Parole in Annapolis awaiting exchange.

Dearing headed back to the front in mid-May 1864, after a leave of absence at home, where he acquired the notebook. The diary portion covers May 12 to September 30, 1864, filling 54 pages. There are also muster rolls, roll call lists, a list of absentees, sick, and detached men with their assignments to the Ambulance Corps, Division Guard, etc. There are many records of gear issued to his men, costs of such items, etc. The last part of the notebook includes lists of personal letters written and received, etc.

The rolls and rosters include the “1st Company 3rd Battalion,” an adhoc group of soldiers from different units he commanded on the journey from Camp Parole back to their units. Dearing was also placed in charge of several companies of the 16th when he reached the regiment on June 6, indicating they were understrength. Companies D, C and H are mentioned in addition to Co. B.

The administrative details are interesting in the light they shed on the day-to-day running of the regiment in the field: issues of different gear, notations of lost equipment by some of the men, cost of items issued so that they can be deducted from pay if overdrawn, etc. It is also interesting to see how these things corresponded to what the regiment was doing at the time. These entries are made in ink and in pencil, but all are fully legible.

The diary is written in two sections. He starts it midway through the book and numbers the pages to 44, and then had to continue his entries starting from a point earlier in the notebook, on a page he numbers 45. He then continues to the last entry on page 54, which is the page immediately preceding his first entry for May 12. The diary entries are in ink, fully legible and have good content, running two or three days to a page with more lengthy entries during periods of action. There is a minimum of weather reporting and good details of open field fighting siege warfare. He mentions attacks on June 13 as Grant moved toward the James River and Petersburg,  driving the Confederates back over the Norfolk and Petersburg railroad, repelling attacks, digging entrenchments and life under fire for extended periods with names of casualties in the regiment: “Stevens of Co. E was killed… still in entrenchments… Firing all day and night. Had one man killed… the most of the regt are on the skirmish line… Corp. Wadsworth of my Co was wounded in the knee… WL Wright was killed on the skirmish line…,” an exchange of artillery fire that manages to blow up a Confederate magazine, etc. There are also good details on the battle at Weldon Railroad, which resulted in further losses to the regiment, including Col. Tilden, who is captured but manages to escape and get back into federal lines. (And, we know from other sources that Dearing himself just managed to escape another trip south at the same time.)

There are also many details of siege life such as the trade between pickets, which included the capture of two Union pickets and the seizure of a Confederate officer in retaliation; a parade to witness the award of some medals to a Pennsylvania regiment; an artilleryman who gets drunk and heads for the Confederate lines, but is shot and mortally wounded, etc. The diary runs up through September 30 and ends with, “Cloudy most of the day. Fighting on the left with Skirmishing in our front. We had to fall in about 3 o’clock in the morning. Expected to be attacked.”

The condition of the notebook is excellent. All pages are in place. The inscription is identical to one he made in an Army and Navy Dictionary that we offer separately and was likely acquired at the same time in preparation for his return to duty as a company first sergeant. He served at that rank until mid-December, when he was promoted to quartermaster sergeant. This has lots of detail for those interested in Dearing and the 16th Maine, offers insights into the regular duties of a company first sergeant, daily soldier life in Grant’s last campaign, and good battle content.  [SR]

CHARLES EDWIN DEARING

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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