DescriptionUnion Soldier's Archive of Letters of William M. McArthur, 8th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. An archive of 62 letters (53 ALS from McArthur to his father, Arthur McArthur), from various locations, dating from January 27, 1863 to December 13, 1865. The archive includes 6 manuscripts draft documents, possibly written by McArthur; 2 ALS to McArthur; and 1 ALS not sent to or from McArthur. In addition, there are 16 documents relating to McArthur's Civil War service.
William Miltmore McArthur (1832-1917) was one of six children of Arthur McArthur, Sr. (1790-1874) and Sarah Prince Miltmore (1805-1881). He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1853 and during the Civil War served with Company I (and F & S?) of the 8th Maine Regiment Infantry, enlisting on April 24, 1861, and rising to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General. McArthur studied law but never actively practiced. He later served as a member of the Maine House of Representatives (1867) and Senate (1869), as postmaster of Limington, Maine (1866-1907), and ran the family farm until his death in 1917.
The 8th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment was organized at Augusta, Maine, in 1861 and mustered in on September 7 of that year. The regiment participated in a number of engagements, including the siege of Fort Pulaski, North Carolina, the Battle of Drewry's Bluff, the Battle of Cold Harbor, the Second Battle of Petersburg, the siege of Petersburg, the Battle of Chaffin's Farm, the Battle of Fair Oaks & Darbytown Road, and the Appomattox Campaign. It was mustered out at Fort Monroe on January 18, 1866.
McArthur's letters cover the period of his service from 1863 through 1865. Several letters to his father relate serious problems he and his men had with their commanding officer Colonel John D. Rust (1825-1890). In McArthur's archive is a draft letter, dated April 15, 1863, from twenty-seven of the thirty-one officers of the 8th Maine addressed to Brigadier General Rufus Saxton (1824-1908) charging Rust with serious offenses and threatening resignations: "The undersigned officers of the 8th Reg. Maine Volunteers thinking themselves wronged by Col. John D. Rust...do make complaint of the same and state the following particulars: That his treatment of the officers of the regiment is generally ungentlemanly and tyrannical to an exceeding degree....He applies the epitaph of 'scoundrel' and 'fool' to officers of the line, and is in the habit of reprimanding them before their men, and accusing them of falsehood, and that he has frequently made the statement that he has no confidence whatever in any officer or man in the regiment...he frequently interferes with the Medical Department of the regiment, requiring men to go on duty who had been excused therefrom by the Surgeon. He has required the Surgeon to confine himself to prescribing for the sick, refusing to permit him to excuse them from duty...he has ordered officers to make false morning reports knowing them to be such. That he has always since he has been in the service had in employ as servant an enlisted man of the reg't. and all the while mustered the man as a soldier and present with his company. That he has assaulted men of the regiment. That he has been a partner with past Sutter of the dept., and has an interest in the business of the present one. That he has solicited from a Lieutenant of the regt. an offer of money as a consideration for obtaining for that officer the appt. of QM in the reg't....That in consequence of these things...neither officers or men have no confidence in him or respect for him whatever: and they are constrained to say that rather than serve under such a man (?) they would tender their resignations."
Three days later, in a draft letter-probably in the hand of McArthur-to Lieutenant Colonel Charles G. Halpine (1829-1868), Adjutant General, Department of the South, the twenty-seven officers had a change of heart and requested "to withdraw such part of the same as shall be deemed to be of that character by the Brig. Genl. commanding the Department-no one of them having intended said letter as a resignation. They would also add by way of explanation that the letter before mentioned was written, and sent in, before any knowledge whatever had come to them of the expedition on which they are now ordered, from participation in which they would on no account be debarred; and that said letter was written under advice of Gen. Saxton, which it is hoped will be considered as evidence that they intended no impropriety in writing the same."
Things clearly got out of hand, for one day later, on April 19, another letter was drafted, this one addressed by some of the same officers of the 8th Maine, to Abner Coburn (1803-1885), governor of Maine, in which they notify the governor of the discharge of two of a lieutenant colonel and a surgeon under the following circumstances: "On the 15th inst. while at Beaufort certain officers of the regt. feeling themselves wronged by the Col. of the regt. proceeded in a body to the quarters of Genl. Saxton...laid our complaints before him and asked his advice. They were requested by him...[to]...put their complaints in writing and as they were made by so large a number of the officers, he would carry them before Genl. Hunter, and perhaps request Col. Rust to resign. Supposing there could be no impropriety in following the advice of so high a military authority, they at once prepared and forwarded...a paper...signed by twenty-seven officers of the regt. This was done on the 15th and before any knowledge had come to them of the expedition on which we are now ordered...the paper was withdrawn immediately after we embarked for Hilton Head....After reaching Hilton Head learning that we were assigned to Genl. Terry. Some of our officers laid the whole matter before him and in the course of the interview showed him the paper before mentioned and left it with him. Genl. Hunter being informed of the existence of such a paper sent for it and had it acted upon as a letter of resignation when the letter...was not intended for further use in any character. Two officers were selected as 'having' tendered their resignations and were discharged...and furthermore made to appear as having resigned in the face of the enemy....The undersigned would therefore ask, that the above named officers...among the most valuable in the service may have a reinstatement or reappointment to their several commissions believing that the same would be an act of simple justice." In an April 29 letter to his father, McArthur provides an explanation of the controversy, which had reached the newspapers. "We have lately had a row in the regt. We had charges against the Col. and addressing a letter to Genl. Saxton in regard to them, the letter was considered to be of the character of a letter of resignation and Gen. Hunter...accepted the resignation of the Lt. Col & Surgeon. We have petitioned the Govn. C. Colburn to have them reinstated. I headed the petition & it is signed by twenty nine officers of the regt. including the chaplain."
By the following June, McArthur was still stationed in Hilton Head, South Carolina, with his regiment. Troubles between the officers and Rust continued, as McArthur's June 14 letter to his father confirms. "There is another Court Martial convened here and our Col. Rust is under arrest awaiting his trial on grave charges that have been proffered against him by officers of the regt. In answer to your question whether I have been on arrest I will say I never have been on arrest a single moment, never have been placed on arrest since I have been in the service. I was one of the twenty seven officers who signed the paper addressed to Gen. Saxton. I wrote it myself, but they could not afford to lose so many Captains, so they only discharged those above the rank of Captain, being two, the Lt. Col. and Surgeon....I think Col. Rust will soon be dismissed from the service, then Hemingway would be promoted to Col. and I to Lieut. Col." In a November 19 letter to his father, McArthur expressed his disappointment in the outcome of Rust's court martial trial and attempted to resign from the service. "Col. Rust is in command. The President was persuaded to reverse the decision of the Court Martial approved though it was by Genl. Gillman....I handed in my resignation as soon as I heard of Col. Rust's reinstatement but it was not approved. It is extremely difficult for an officer to get out of the service now unless they deem him inefficient, etc." Rust was discharged for disability on August 19, 1864 and was awarded a brevet promotion to brigadier general on May 18, 1865 in recognition of his service to his country.
By early 1864, McArthur was becoming impatient for a promotion he felt he deserved. On February 15, he wrote his father from Beaufort, South Carolina that "Lt. Col. Hemingway has resigned on Surgeon's Certificate of disability. The Col. on account of his getting drunk etc. had preferred charges or prepared charges against him and withdrew them on condition that he would resign. He pretended to have hurt his side and so resigned for disability....Now I ought to have the appointment that will be made in consequence of this resignation, but shall probably fail....If I thought Kimball...had any influence I would retain him. I have learned that money paid to influential men to act as attorneys to military aspirants secures all appointments. I would be willing to pay very liberally, say several hundred dollars to Kimball if he could go to Augusta and engineer my case through." He did get his promotion without paying for it, however.
McArthur's regiment left Beaufort, South Carolina, in mid-April 1864 for Virginia, where it was attached to the Department of Virginia and North Carolina and participated in operations against Petersburg and Richmond. The regiment engaged Confederate forces when it destroyed a railroad from Petersburg to Richmond. McArthur describes the action in a May 11 letter to his father. "We then proceeded on the turnpike (crossing the R.R.) toward Petersburg...as we advanced...we were ordered to the front and came under fire of shell and musketry. Our men formed line very promptly and behaved well. The enemy fired too high and only one man was shot....In the night the enemy made a charge on a regt. in our left but were repulsed with great slaughter. The next morning we buried about fifty killed. The number of wounded was of course a great deal larger. Having accomplished our object of ruining the road...we commenced the retrograde, just then the enemy offered a flag of truce which we would not receive as it would expose our backward movement. Our right flank was then attacked considerably back of the road...we were hurried up to support.... Arrived and formed in the rear of Bat 'D' 1st U.S. Artl. to support it a few moments before the enemy retired thoroughly whipped." In a June 5, 1864 letter to his father, McArthur provided an account of the actions of his regiment during the end of the Bermuda Hundred operation and the beginning of the Battle of Cold Harbor, indicating that he came through fire unharmed. "I could say a good deal about myself but it wouldn't be modest. I shall not disgrace myself rest assured. No officer has been exposed as I have, for it was necessary, and yet I have not got a scratch. Thank God for his many mercies. I trust it all with him and go anywhere without a particle of fear. I don't know what it is. Love of glory I hope it is no part the incentive. Nothing is so weak, foolish & wicked as to expose one's life from such a motive." McArthur's luck ran out, however, when he was severely wounded leading his regiment on an assault on Petersburg, Virginia, on June 18. While in the hospital, McArthur received a letter, dated June 29, from Colonel Rust inquiring about his health, which is in the archive. McArthur enclosed this letter in a July 7 letter to his father, claiming that Rust "writes me occasionally-pretends to be and, perhaps, is very friendly."
The archive also includes copies of reference material relating to McArthur and the 8th Maine Volunteer Infantry.
Condition: The letters and documents have the usual folds. Otherwise, the archive is in good condition.
In addition to the letters, the archive contains these documents:
1) McArthur's commission as captain in the 8th Maine, partially printed document, 14.25 x 9.75", dated September 9, 1861, signed by Israel Washburn, governor; John L. Hodson, adjutant general, State of Maine; and Joseph Hall, secretary of state. With seal of the State of Maine.
2) 2 copies of announcements concerning McArthur's role as officer of the day, partially printed documents, 4.75" x 7.75", Headquarters of U.S. Forces, Hilton Head, South Carolina; June 26, 1863 and June 30, 1863.
3) Date of enlistment taken from the paper. Original enlistment of my company. Manuscript (in McArthur's handwriting), one page, 7.5" x 9.5", n.d.
4) Report of men of the 8th Maine sick taking care of sick ran away or absent & those joined the regular Army as mad[e] out on way to Hilton Head or Beaufort, South Carolina. Manuscript. Four page bifolium, 5" x 7.75"; November 15, 1862.
5) General Orders No. 56. Partially printed document, one page, 7.5" x 9.75", Headquarters, U.S. Forces, Hilton Head, South Carolina; July 15, 1863. Order include McArthur's appointment as Provost Martial.by order of Brigadier General Alfred H. Terry in secretarial hand.
6) 2 manuscript draft copies (in secretarial hand) of Inventory Inspection Report Clothing & Camp & Garrison Equipment, 8th Maine Volunteers, one page, 7.75" x 9.75", Beaufort, South Carolina; July 21, 1862. Endorsed by not dated or signed by McArthur.
7) Extracts from an inspection report of troops at Beaufort, South Carolina, Commanded by Brigadier General Rufus Saxton.20th to 28th March 1864. Manuscript (in secretarial hand), eight-pages, 7.75" x 9.75", circa 28 March 1864.
8) 2 draft receipts for books for use by McArthur. Manuscript, one-page, 8" x 10", March 31, 1864.
9) Draft copy (in secretarial hand) of report by McArthur to John L. Hodson , Adjutant General of the State of Maine. Manuscript, six pages, 8" x 12.5", Spring Hill, Virginia; January 1, 1865. Report of operations of the 8th Maine Volunteer Infantry for the year 1864, which includes detailed report of engagements at Drewry's Bluff, Bermuda Hundred, Cold Harbor, Chaffin's Farm, and Fair Oaks.
10) Payroll of the 8th Maine Volunteer Infantry. Partially printed document, two pages, 20" x 17.5", circa 1861.
11) Printed extract of General Orders No. 309, Headquarters, Department of the South, Hilton Head, South Carolina, May 30, 1863. One page, 4.75" x 8." Naming officers to Court Martial Commission.
12) Printed draft of General Orders No. 48, Headquarters U.S. Forces, Hilton Head, South Carolina, June 15, 1863. Court Martial report.
13) Printed extract of General Orders No. 48. Headquarters, Department of the South, Hilton Head, South Carolina, April 3, 1864. Six pages, 4.75" x 8". Court Martial report.
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