By William Morgan
Union, Maine, is only a dozen miles from Camden, one of the state’s classic seaside destinations. Camden has schooners for hire, spectacular views of Penobscot Bay, celebrity summer residents, fancy shops and upscale restaurants, and an endless stream of tourists. Union, in contrast, has orchards, farmland, a village green, and a whole lot of quiet.
Back in the 19th century, Union was an active mill town, making carriages, shoes, furniture, and coffins. Today Union is known for the State of Maine Wild Blueberry Festival, which began as the Union Fair in 1869. It is also the birthplace of Dr. Augustin Thompson, creator of the “tonic” Moxie. It is one of those places that does not share the glamour of coastal Maine. Resorts strung along the U.S. Route 1 corridor — from Kittery to Mount Desert Island — form a veneer of picturesque wealth and L.L. Bean outdoorsy-ness, but not far away is the vast rest of Maine — farms, mills, forests, and often isolation and poverty.
Living up to its name, the town provided a disproportionate number of troops to defend the Union in the Civil War. Maine sent 73,000 soldiers and sailors, more than 10 percent of its population, and the highest number in proportion to population of any northern state, to battle the Confederacy. Union’s Civil War memorial lists 28 men of the town who lost their lives on Southern battlefields; four more died in prison camps.
These farm-boy solders served in the legendary 20th Maine Infantry, and some of these Knox County men were among the more than 12,000 Northern casualties at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Their commander was Joshua Chamberlain, hero of Gettysburg and later president of Bowdoin College and governor of Maine.
Dedicated in 1888, the town’s war memorial to its lost sons is made of concrete, which was cheaper than bronze or marble (the base, however, is local granite). The bewhiskered soldier that stands atop it no doubt came from a catalogue as there are countless others just like it in small towns across the Pine Tree State.
The names carved on the monument speak of the Anglo-Saxon makeup of 19th-century Maine: Dexter Morse, Alden Lothrop, Marcellus Woodworth. Elijah Lothrop, Alden’s brother, was killed at age 19. Jacob Sidelinger was 18 when he died a prisoner in April 1865, the last month of hostilities.
The carnage, and its effect on small towns that sent their soldiers off in hometown units, is also highlighted by the death of H.F. Sidelinger in 1863 at the age of 25. Sidelinger is one of only two officers on the Union memorial. His rank, Brevet Major, was one often bestowed in the heat of battle, when most of the officers had been killed or wounded.
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