Friday, May 25, 2018

Forgotten Soldier, Forgotten Man

Photograph of a young, unidentified
Union Soldier from Maine.
Alonzo Patten was dealt a lousy hand. It isn’t that he didn’t try to do the right thing—at least once upon a time; it’s just that this is how life shuffled the deck and ultimately, how Alonzo played his cards. His was a life easily recognized, even in the 21st Century. Alonzo was born into a set of human circumstances that play on a continuous loop for a significant number of economically-challenged Americans of low social status. These circumstances ensure that there’s always going to be a measure of forgotten souls in every generation, regardless of their choices.

Childhood Years.
Alonzo Patten was born in Etna, Maine in 1842, the first child of Charles W. Patten and Hannah (Laurence or Lawrence).  Though the couple married in Bangor in February 1840, an extensive search of U.S. Federal Census records for 1840 and 1850 revealed no secrets about the lives or occupations of Charles or Hannah.  Charles’ name first appears in The Bangor Whig and Courier in 1858 for the theft of an oxen belonging to prominent Bangor citizen, Benjamin Reed.  As part of his act of larceny, Charles moved Hannah and their four children, including 16-year-old Alonzo, to Lowell, Massachusetts and assumed the last name, Warren.1  
The economic Panic of 1857 caused considerable unemployment in the American Northeast until 1859,2 so it is possible that Charles was unable or unwilling to find employment in Maine and relocation to Lowell by whatever means necessary, would have afforded Charles the opportunity to find work for himself—or at the very least—for three of his four children in textile mills or tanneries.3
Tracked to Lowell by Bangor police, Charles was arrested and returned to Maine.  Hannah and the children followed in his wake, moving to Old Town. In August 1859, at age 37, Charles was tried and sentenced to three years hard labor at Thomaston State Prison,4 leaving Alonzo and his eldest sister, Harriet to find work and prevent the broken household from sinking into abject poverty.  
At age 18, Alonzo was working “on lumber,” according to the 1860 U.S. Census of Old Town, Maine.5 His earnings combined with those of 16-year-old Harriet, who worked as a domestic servant, sustained their mother and younger siblings, who now included two-month-old Charles Jr., conceived just prior to Charles Sr.’s departure for prison.  To mask the shame of being married to a convicted cattle rustler, Hannah claimed widow status in the census.

A few able bodied men wanted to fill up Captain Cass' Company of Volunteers now in barracks and about to join the 7th Regiment.
Advertisement from the Bangor Whig
and Courier promoting an enhanced
bounty for volunteers enlisting with
the Seventh Maine Regiment.
Shouldering the financial responsibility of maintaining his family, Alonzo did not succumb to the first wave of patriotism that swept through central Maine at the start of the U.S. Civil War in April 1861.  By August of that year, however, as his father’s release date neared, Alonzo responded to the call for Bangor volunteers to the Seventh Maine Infantry which offered an increased bounty.6 Though criticized by Whig and Courier editors as a “disgraceful exhibition,”7 a Copperhead heckler at a rally for the Seventh Maine may not have been far from the mark when accusing new recruits of enrolling for the bounty money as a means of preventing their own starvation.  
Reporting to Augusta, Alonzo claimed rights to a bounty that paid $22 when he mustered and offered $13 per month plus rations, in addition to an extra $3 in rations per month “amounting in all to $16 per month.”8 This figure represented an increase over the $11 per month offered in July, as the flow of enthusiastic volunteers waned and communities struggled to meet the requisite quotas.  When he mustered out, Alonzo was due to receive an additional $100 for his service but it turned out there was no guarantee of payment. Ultimately, the Veteran was forced to sue the City of Bangor to recover $300 in bounty he was due “by virtue of his enlistment to fill her quota.”9
From Boy to Man
For the first seven months of his service in the Union Army, Private Alonzo Patten and 1,504 other members of the Seventh Maine served relatively light duty.  After training in Augusta, the Regiment departed by train for drills and duty with Dix’s Division in Baltimore, Maryland where, like so many northern regiments, sickness swept through the camp.  From October 25, 1861 until March 1862, members of the Seventh were assigned to Davidson's Brigade, W. F. Smith's Division, Army of the Potomac. The Regiment was moved to Washington, D.C. for duty at Georgetown Heights until the men were relocated to an encampment at Lewinsville, Virginia.
In March 1862, the Seventh Maine became part of the brigade’s advance toward Manassas attached to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 4th Army Corps, Army of the Potomac. The new assignment announced the end of innocence for the soldiers of the Seventh Maine and for 19-year-old Alonzo Patten.  As part of two divisions under General Erasmus D. Keyes, the Seventh Maine joined the Peninsula campaign and saw combat for the first time on April 4, 1862. 

Map of Penninsula campaign
Map of the Peninsula Campaign showing the location of Lee's Mill where
Alonzo Patten and his company faced 54 straight hours of heavy Confederate
artillery fire and numerous skirmishes. Click on the map to enlarge view.
Poor weather and rough terrain lead Union leaders to overestimate the strength of Confederate forces at Fredericksburg. Politics, reluctant officers, and the unveiling of the C.S.S. Virginia—converted from the U.S.S. Merrimack scuttled by Union forces in Norfolk in 186110—combined to cast long, dubious shadows over the campaign by the Army of the Potomac. Still, on April 4, General George McClellan ordered the army to move. The Seventh Maine marched toward Young’s Mill and when April 5 dawned with cold, heavy rain, the ground was churned into a quagmire, slowing the Union’s advance.
The scene was described in a May 7th letter from Maine Captain Charles D. Gilmore to The Bangor Whig and Courier:
Our regiment were in the advance, as skirmishers to the left wing of the army, April 5. From Young's Mills to the line of the enemy's fortifications, this side of Yorktown, we drove the rebel pickets before us, without any loss to ourselves. We arrived at their works at half past twelve, when brisk firing commenced and was continued until dark. A continual picket fire was kept up until the 7th, when our regiment was relieved, having been under fire for 54 hours. Our casualties in that time were two killed, two taken prisoners (Lieut. [Timothy] Swan and a bugler named Brown) and several wounded.
From that time forward our regiment remained within range of the enemy shells, and were in some skirmish or exciting picket duty until we got well acquainted with the whistle of rifle balls, the whiz and explosion of shells and the rattle of grape canister [sic].  Seeing the great amount of lead and iron it took to destroy one man served to make our men courageous and bold, and fitted them well for the charge or nearer approach to the rascals.11
Historic photograph of soldiers standing beside mortar guns
Federal Siege Guns Yorktown,
Virginia.1863. 13-inch mortars.
Gilmore's letter glosses over the series of violent skirmishes that took place when Rebel forces of 150 to 500 men repeatedly attacked Union troops. Nor does he mention the cold, heavy rains that plagued the battle which required Union soldiers to lay in cold mud with orders that no campfires be lit to provide warmth or light for fear of drawing Rebel fire during the 54 hours of bombardment endured.12 
Captain Gilmore was wounded about 5 p.m., April 15 at Garrow Ridge, while in command of the advance picket guard. His May 7th letter recounts witnessing Commander William Farrar Smith attempting to advance a small force of Vermonters across Dam No. 1, against McClellen's orders. As Gilmore cleared a fence on his horse, he was injured as a shell exploded beneath him. Six days later, Alonzo Patten received a near fatal shot in the side.13
“Alonzo Patten, Co. C,” Gilmore reported, “supposed to be mortally wounded, but hopes are now entertained of his recovery.”

File card with handwritten record of Alonzo Patten reenlistment
Alonzo Patten's record of service with 1st Maine Cavalry. His physical description
indicates he is 5-feet, 9-inches tall with a dark complexion, sandy hair, and
blue eyes. Click on the image to enlarge the view.

 Surviving his wounds, Alonzo was discharged for disability on August 4, 1862 but after returning to Old Town to recuperate, he reenlisted on August 17, 1863, joining Co. B. of the 1st Maine Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. He was soon transferred to Company D, 1st Regiment D.C. Cavalry where he started out as the camp baker but quickly received a promotion to Quartermaster Sergeant on January 1, 1864.14  As Quartermaster Sergeant, Alonzo was responsible for all the Company’s property, wagons, horses, ordnance, and provisions. The promotion meant he was no longer required to fight on the front line but remain in camp, protecting the wagons.
Unfortunately, the responsibility appears to have been too much for Alonzo and by May 1, 1864, he voluntarily resigned his post and returned to the rank of Private. Records of the D.C. Cavalry provide evidence that Alonzo’s condition was in decline as he was repeatedly hospitalized with no discussion as to his symptoms. He was back on the field of battle at the Siege of Petersburg, however, when he was reported missing in action on June 29, 1864. He returned to his Company on July 3, apparently having returned to the hospital at some point during or after the battle.15 Following Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Alonzo completed his period of enlistment, discharging for a final time, August 1, 1865. 16
Life as a Veteran
While men like Captain Gilmore and thousands of others who served in the Union or Confederate Armies were able to endure the physical and psychological trauma of battle and return to civilian life, others faced an existence permanently altered by physical disability or post-traumatic stress. Just as with U. S. Veterans in the 21st Century, the latter group of men often used alcohol to self-medicate against horrific nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and all-consuming self-doubt.
According to Matthew J. Friedman, MD, PhD, Senior Advisor and former Executive Director of the National Center for PTSD, “Accounts of psychological symptoms following military trauma date back to ancient times,” but it wasn’t until 1952 that “gross stress reaction” was identified as a real, psychological impact for individuals and not simply a “moral failing.”17
For Alonzo Patten, this recognition came a century too late.
Despite any potential intentions to support or preserve his family, following Alonzo’s return from service in 1862 and Charles Sr.’s release from prison, the Patten sisters began to scatter to find work or marry. Family discord may have even contributed to Alonzo’s decision to reenlist in 1863.
As Alonzo served his country, his immediate family disintegrated. By 1864, Harriet was dead. In January 1865, Charles Sr. won a petition for divorce from Hannah.18 Following his return to Maine, Alonzo’s youngest sister Delania married for the first time in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1866.19 She subsequently divorced and remarried. Alonzo’s middle sister, Emma married in Hallowell in March 1868, only to succumb to death in late July of the same year. The fates of Hannah, Charles W. Sr., and Charles W. Jr. are unknown as of this writing.
Alonzo remained in Old Town, working as a lumberman and fighting to recover the bounty never received from the City of Bangor for his enlistment. The matter was likely contested due to Alonzo’s subsequent service with the 1st Maine and D.C. Cavalries but “after the testimony was out a verdict pro forma was rendered for the plaintiff.”20 Flush with this windfall, Alonzo married Mary Etta Danforth, the daughter of William Danforth, an Old Town peddler. By January 1870, the couple welcomed their first child, Mary Etta who eventually went by the name Etta May. In 1872, the couple’s son Albert Alonzo was born, followed by their final child, Mellie R. H. Patten in 1875.
As his family grew in size, Alonzo witnessed an economic downturn in the Maine lumber industry resulting from the Depression of 1873–79. At the end of the 1870s, significant numbers of men, including Veterans, began to face long stretches of unemployment in Old Town. According to the Old Town Annual Report, Alonzo began seeking support from the town in 1877.21 The public record indicates that leading up to this time, Alonzo began drinking heavily, increasing the social and economic stress on his family until the evening of Thursday, August 16, 1877, when he was arrested for beating his wife.22 Unlike many women of the time, Mary Etta stood her ground and pressed charges. Alonzo was found guilty, fined $15, and sentenced to six months in Penobscot County Jail.
Black and white photograph of a 19th Century washer woman
Unidentified washer woman
standing at a wooden wash tub.
         To provide for her children, Mary Etta began taking in laundry and boarders, and cooking for widowers in the community. Nonetheless, the incident marked the family’s descent into the wretched poverty Alonzo staved off by joining the army when his own father was imprisoned.

By the time 1879 rolled around, the once responsible teenager, respected soldier, and wounded Veteran was no longer a hero in the eyes of his community. Through habitual, excess public consumption of alcohol in temperance-minded times, Alonzo Patten became Old Town, Maine’s most prominent and notorious town drunk—a disruptive, pugnacious, wife-beating derelict whose actions caused callous tongues to cluck and wag. Gossip and his own alcohol-fueled, anti-social behavior eventually made Alonzo a prime suspect in the vicious axe murder of Augustus Gowen in March 1879.23 It was a crime of which he was innocent but, human nature and prejudice being what it is, Alonzo, his wife, and children were marked with more shame than any of them truly deserved.
Descent Toward Death
False accusations of promiscuity against Mary Etta and Alonzo’s characterization as a mean-tempered drunk were published in the Whig and Courier following the Gowen murder, decimating the family’s already tattered reputation and making both members of the couple unemployable. The family was thrown into deeper poverty, forcing Mary Etta to leave her 8-year-old son at the Old Town Poor Farm24 in 1880, as a way to feed and clothe the child while she continued the struggle to support her daughters using Alonzo’s Civil War pension.
In 1881, Alonzo and his children, Albert and Etta May, lived on the Poor Farm25 together until April, when Alonzo abandoned his family outright by moving to the National Home For Disabled Soldiers at Togus.26 There he signed his pension over to the institution in exchange for food, clothing, and housing.27 This action deprived his wife of even this small income and in 1883, 6-year-old Mellie joined her siblings on the Poor Farm.

Civil War Veterans, residents of Togus Veterans' Home passing in review
while returning from cemetery, Memorial Day. Click on image to enlarge view.
Photo from: Eastern Branch, National Home for D. V. S., Maine. ca. 1910
 Though he sought shelter, and possibly escape, among his comrades at the bucolic setting of Togus where he could be fortified by medicinal whiskey and beer, Alonzo’s record points to continued erratic behavior between 1881 and 1885 as he applied for a furlough he failed to exercise, then sought discharge only to return, and finally be dropped from the rolls altogether on May 20, 1885 following his divorce in Bangor.28 Aside from filing for divorce, alleging three years of abandonment by Mary Etta,29 and the records from Togus, Alonzo’s activities during this period are largely undocumented.  The location of his death was recorded in a ledger at Augusta Mental Health Institute on October 8, 1885, though this information was unknown until The Maine Cemetery Project was granted access to selected hospital records in the 2000s.30 Mary Etta, who likely lived with family members after 1883, also died in 1885 and is buried in the Danforth family lot at Forest Hill Cemetery, Old Town.
The Forgotten Man
    Extensive research has yet to reveal the location of Alonzo Patten’s grave. Federal records show that a gravestone was contracted for Alonzo in 1889, to be delivered to “Old Town Cemetery.”31 A search of available online records for all cemeteries in Old Town failed to reveal a location for Alonzo’s burial. Neither do records for pauper burials in Augusta hint at a possible location for the Civil War Veteran’s grave. Togus, itself, even lost track of Alonzo’s whereabouts, indicating in records that Albert Patten notified the Soldier’s Home of his father’s death by letter dated May 24, 1898. Credit for Alonzo’s unclaimed pension was paid out to his youngest daughter, Mellie, who lived in West Dresden at the time.
    While it is impossible to diagnose Alonzo in retrospect, the historical record makes it clear that he endured adverse childhood experiences including the incarceration of his father in 1859. By age 19, he suffered through the trauma of a prolonged battle under heavy fire and experienced a near fatal gunshot wound. Though he survived to return home, Alonzo reenlisted with the Cavalry, spending much of this period of service in and out of the hospital until returning to Old Town again in 1865. Court news reported in the local newspaper, points to Alonzo’s decline into alcoholism, unemployablility, and poverty until his death at the mental health institute in 1885.
    By 2018 American social standards, Alonzo earned Hero Status for having served in the Army to defend and preserve the nation. Among his contemporaries, he was a reprobate. A drunken wife-beater who abandoned his children to the support of the Old Town community. Today, Alonzo, like so many with whom he served, lays forgotten in an equally forgotten grave, a man who spent his life fumbling with the cards he was dealt and trying to survive.
End Notes
1Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Monday, November 15, 1858; Issue 117, p. 2.
2”Panic of 1858.” Retrieved from Wikipedia
3United States Bureau of Labor, Charles Patrick Neill. (1913). Report on Condition of Women and Child Wage-Earners in the United States. Vol. XVIII: Employment of Women and Children in Selected Industries. Washington: Government Printing Office.
4Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Wednesday, August 3, 1859; Issue 26, p. 2
51860 U.S. Census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.
6Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Saturday, August 10, 1861; Issue 35, p. 2.
7Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Monday, August 19, 1861; Issue 42, p. 2.
8Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Saturday, August 10, 1861; Issue 35, p. 2.
9Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Friday, October 22, 1869; Issue 252, p. 2.
10The Civil War Trust. (n.d.). "The Peninsula Campaign: From Hampton Roads to Seven Pines." Retrieved from
11Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Friday, May 16, 1862; Issue 270, p. 2.
12Fred C. Ainsworth and Joseph W. Kirkley. (1902). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Additions and Corrections to Series I--Volume II. Washington, D.C.
13Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1749, 282 rolls); Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
14Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the District of Columbia. pg 6.  National Archives, Washington, D.C.
15Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the District of Columbia. pg 13.  National Archives, Washington, D.C.
16Maine, State Archive Collections, 1718-1957. Database with images. FamilySearch. : 14 June 2016. State Archives, Augusta.
17Matthew J. Friedman. (31 May 2017). “History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5.” Retrieved from
18Maine, Divorce Records, 1798–1891. Augusta, Maine: Maine State Archives.
19Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
20Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Friday, October 22, 1869; Issue 252, p. 2.
21Old Town (Me.), Annual Report of the Town of Old Town for the Year 1877.
22Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Saturday, August 18, 1877; Issue 195, p. 3.
23Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, Wednesday, March 12, 1879; Issue 61, p. 3.
24Old Town (Me.), Annual Report of the Town of Old Town for the Year 1880-81.
25Old Town (Me.), Annual Report of the Town of Old Town for the Year 1880-81.
26Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1749, 282 rolls); Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
27Hartwell, John. (16 Dec. 2016). “National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Togus, Maine.” Discussion in Medical Care of the Civil War. Retrieved from
28Historical Register of National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1749, 282 rolls); Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
29Maine, Divorce Records, 1798–1891. Augusta, Maine: Maine State Archives.
30Remembrance List. Compiled by The Maine Cemetery Project from Augusta Mental Health Institute ledgers, Maine State Archives. Amistad, Portland, ME
31Card Records of Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, ca. 1879-ca. 1903; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1845, 22 rolls); Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, Record Group 92; National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Funeral for a Bluestocking

Portrait of Rebecca “Robina” Napier
McRuer, 1833-1866
Rebecca “Robina” Napier McRuer was a Bangor bluestocking and socialite.  Intellectually active and politically aware, Robina recognized the social inequity affecting the lives of poor Irish immigrants in her home town. An abolitionist and Union patriot, she was equally aware of her own socially-defined place as a woman in Bangor’s upper class and mastered her role as a doctor’s daughter and potential wife. She did not marry until nearly 30 years of age and then to a man 18-years her senior.  Only three years later, in July 1866, Robina died from complications following childbirth. 

The daughter of Scottish immigrant Dr. Daniel McRuer and Mary Ann Wright, Robina was one of nine children. She graduated Bangor Girl’s High School around June 1851 and with her best friends Marion (May) Lunt, Celia Frances (Fanny) Dwinel, and Ada Josephine Hortense Pierce, according to the recollections of John Edwards Godfrey, Esq., passed a week as the guests of he and his wife, Elizabeth Angela Stackpole Godfrey at Cliff Cottage in Bangor. The week, described by Godfrey in his journal as “one of unqualified pleasure” made such an impression on the man that he recalled it 20 years later following the death of Ada [Pierce] Williamson in March 1872.

Aside from the occasional, brief mention of Miss R. McRuer entering floral arrangements in the Bangor Horticultural Society show, the woman’s name only once appeared prominently in the pages of the Bangor Whig & Courier when she was selected by her peers to present the men of Maine’s Second Civil War Regiment with a silk American flag sewn “by the ladies of Bangor.” In the company of Mayor Charles Stetson and Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, the formal presentation took place on Broadway as citizens of the region waved their sons off to war on Tuesday, May 14, 1861.

Maine’s Second Regiment including officers, soldiers, and military band
standing on a snow-covered field at Camp Jameson on the grounds of
Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Above the assembly waves the American flag—
very possibly, the same flag made by the ladies of Bangor and presented to
the Regiment prior to their departure from Bangor. Library of Congress Prints
and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
LCCN 2009632246 LC-DIG-ppmsc-03307
From the porch of James Crosby’s home on Broadway, the Mayor introduced Robina to the men of Maine’s Second Regiment and the crowd. The speech she authored and spoke, was recorded in the Whig & Courier:

Soldiers of the Second Regiment—Colonel Jameson: On behalf of the ladies of Bangor, I present this flag: the pride of our nation, the guardian of its institutions, the symbol of its liberty. You are called upon to vindicate its insulted honor and re-establish its supremacy over the fortunes of a now divided people. From a distant part of our land, from those who should have been our friends and brothers, the sharp cry of disunion has risen; but the sole response echoed back by millions in an undivided and enthusiastic North has been—“Union.”

This flag has been consecrated by the women’s prayers to the defense of the Union, and to your honor and bravery it is now entrusted. It were easier to bear it against a foreign foe, alien in language and ignorant of the blessing of freedom; it were better that its sacred folds should be stained by a stranger’s than a brother’s blood, but let not this thought dishearten you.
Remember that you have that which alone can ennoble war—a noble cause—and go forward to battle for the right, secure of victory. Our hopes, our prayers are with you in your sacred work

               “Yes, let all good things away.
                Him who cares not to be great
                But as he saves or serves the State.”

Take then this ensign of the Free! Under its folds let no coward or traitor to his country lurk! Eager eyes will watch its progress amid the vicissitudes of war, and joyous hearts will exult when it leads you to glory and victory. —And when you return to the peace of your Northern homes, (God grant it may be soon,) bring back this flag and we will cherish it as a priceless memento of the bravery of the soldiers of Maine.

On August 1, 1861, following the shock of the Union’s loss at the First Battle of Bull Run and reports about the catastrophic number of casualties occurring on both sides, Robina penned the abolitionist poem, “Let Us Hear No More of Sending Back the Slave” published in both the New York Independent and The Liberator out of Boston. Though published anonymously, John Godfrey, with a father’s pride, attributes the work to Robina, transcribing the poem in his journal along with the comment that she was “too modest” to allow the work to be published locally. The poem, both eloquent and terse, takes politicians to task for the cretinously continued enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act as Northern volunteers died in a war to preserve the Union. Even as she penned these words, Robina could not predict that little more than a week later, her own father would be called to serve as surgeon to Maine’s Second.

Let Us Hear No More of Sending Back the Slave

Stand up in the Capitol and proclaim
To wondering nations the fearful game
Which the soldiers play for us, North and South,
At the bayonet’s point and the cannon’s mouth—
Count up the stakes and reckon the chances;
Say, as each bristling column advances, —
                “So we contend against slavery,
                Lying and cheating and knavery” —
                                And then send back the slave.

North, East and West have poured out their treasures,
Doubled their tithes, and heaped up their measures—
Called to strong men, “Now arm for the fight,
Crush the proud traitor, and strike for the Right!”
Into the ranks slip young men and bold men—
Into the ranks step wise men and old men—
And the mothers kiss and caress them,
And the maidens cheer them and bless them,
                And you send back the slave.

 “Forward!” they march at the President’s call
Through Baltimore’s streets to the Capital.
“Forward!” where foes are entrenched in their might,
(Now God be with them, and favor the Right!)
And they see the hard battle before them,
And they think of the mothers who bore them,
                And the maidens’ cheers and flatteries—
                March up to the murderous batteries—
                                While you send back the slave.

Weary and thirsty, they strike for the Right—
New men, but true men, they gallantly fight;
Bravely resisting, they stand by their flags
Till their gay colors are torn into rags.
They are falling, the young men and bold men,
They are falling, the wise men and old men—
                And the cannon-ball leaps and whistles,
                And cuts down the shamrocks and thistles—
                                And you send back the slave.

Ay, weep for the soldiers who lie there dead,
And weep for the soldiers who turned and fled!
Send to the Northland, and gather a host,
Fill up the places of those you have lost.
Cry to the nations, “Come now and aid us
Crush out the wrong for which you upbraid us.”
                Then call upon God for assistance,
                For strength in your holy resistance
                                And then you send back the slave.

My countrymen, can you not understand
‘Tis a “holy war,” which the Lord hath planned;
That Justice and Vengeance shall make you strong
When you throw in the scales the pond’rous wrong?
They have hated you, scorned you, scouted you,
And now from the field they have routed you,
                While you with clinging humility
                Kiss their soft hands in servility—
                                And you send back the slave.

Through reading Robina’s own words, one is able to gain a better perspective on Godfrey’s ardent pride in Robina as “no ordinary woman.” A year after her December 1863 marriage to New York merchant Gilbert Howell, Godfrey compared Robina favorably with his own wife, Angela, stating, “They both, when young, were of the independent rompish kind, such as most girls are who amount to anything.” 
Mary C. (McRuer) Clark (1828-1904),
Sarah “Sally” Russ (McRuer) Field (1824-1900), and
Rebecca “Robina” Napier (McRuer) Howell (1833-1866). 
From the collection of Richard R. Shaw.

Upon learning of Robina's death in July 1866, a clearly heart-broken Godfrey wrote, “Though of beautiful person, she possessed a superior mind. She had great versatility of talent, excellent judgement, great wit, a vast fund of humor, a big heart, a forgiving disposition, and exquisite taste. Take her all in all, I never saw her superior—in some points never her equal. She possessed remarkable conversational powers. She was passionately fond of the fine arts. Kept up her reading and her studies. A year ago, when I left her house in Brooklyn, she was talking French with a Frenchwoman, and it seemed to me that she was quite at home...Probably never has there been a happier wife than she. Her husband is a wealthy merchant, and toward her his conduct has been that of a lover, during her whole connection with him. No wish of hers was left ungratified ... Like a devoted wife she did all in her power to return his kindness.”

“It is with great grief to us all, her death. [Mrs. Godfrey] has done nothing but mourn since she heard of it. Dr. McRuer will be inconsolable. He thought there was no one to compare with her—and her husband will never get over it,” Godfrey wrote.

Grave marker of Robina McRuer Howell, Mount
Hope Cemetery, Bangor, Maine.
Author photo, 2016.
While Godfrey noted multiple local deaths in the first volume of his published journals, it is his report of Robina’s funeral, as well as that of his wife, Angela in May 1868 that gives a glimpse into the community’s mid-19th Century funerary practices. Robina’s body was returned to Maine from New York and laid out for the viewing at her father’s home on State Street on August 5, sixteen days following her death. Godfrey stated he would “not have known the person, had I seen the body elsewhere. It looked 10 years older than Robina,” though his wife assessed the face as natural in appearance.

As was fashionable during the Victorian-age, and likely due to Robina’s involvement in the Bangor Horticultural Society, the McRuer house “was filled with flowers,” Godfrey reported. “The attendance at the funeral was very large. Mr. [Rev. George W.] Field’s prayer at the house was eloquent.” As with Angela Godfrey two years later, Robina was likely dressed in a white silk or satin burial robe. Her hair would have been fashionably styled and her cheeks lightly rouged to relieve the pallor of death. Those assembled would have said prayers and heard the Reverend read from the scriptures.

Noting that Robina, “had a great many friends among the lowly,” Godfrey reported that a large number of people he believed to be the city’s poor Irish immigrants assembled along the perimeter of Dr. McRuer’s property. This group followed the funeral procession to Mount Hope Cemetery, where they continued to pay their respects while keeping at a distance from the Protestant funeral party.

Once the procession reached the cemetery, a second lengthier service was held graveside with an assembled choir. The casket would have been opened to accept offerings of flowers—both wreathes and bouquets—and religious items, such as Christian crosses—from friends and family.  “At the grave the services were very interesting,” Godfrey wrote. “The grave was lined with evergreens, as is the custom here, and all through these evergreens, the friends had woven white flowers and her last resting place was literally a bed of roses, and death in one sense had lost its victory.”

“The choir sang, “Unveil thy bosom faithful tomb,” and Rev. George W. Field made one of the most eloquent affecting and still consoling prayers I ever heard. People were standing and sitting about in all directions and many were the mourners for Mrs. Gilbert Howell.”

Sic transit, the beauty, the glory, the excellence of the world. With good reason may her husband be inconsolable.”
Monument memorializing five of the nine children
born to Dr. Daniel McRuer and Mary Ann
Wright McRuer. Author photo, 2016.

Following her burial, Gilbert Howell employed the company of S. P. Bradbury to mark Robina’s grave with a white marble Victorian-pedestal monument topped with an urn and shroud and draped with carved garlands of ribbons and cabbage roses. The pedestal is edged with acanthus leaves. The stone is simply inscribed: “My dear wife. Robina N. McR. Howell.”  

Nearby, in the center of the double-lot, stands a large white marble monument featuring a fluted column that was erected by Dr. and Mrs. McRuer to memorialize five of their nine children: infants Walter and James and six-year-old Ellen as well as Robina and her sister Lucretia, who experienced brain damage in adulthood as the result of epileptic seizures. Godfrey described her as “a beautiful child, but her mind at the age of 26 was almost gone by reason of fits.”

Unlike so many of Bangor’s fashionable young women, Robina McRuer Howell’s public identity has been preserved in the published journals of John Edward Godfrey. Godfrey’s insight, supplemented by two examples of Robina’s own writing, gives the modern researcher a view to the person whose identity and relationships are also represented in the marble monument that marks her grave.

The urn and shroud topping the monument are traditional symbols of death. These are accompanied by the high-relief carving of cabbage rose garlands, representing Robina’s own love of flowers as well as her husband’s deep, passionate love for his youthful wife. Acanthus leaves surrounding the pedestal base represent the heavenly garden and eternal Christian afterlife. Knowing the woman’s life, reputation, and own words, provides the viewer a deeper understanding of the monument’s meaning to the survivors who accompanied her memory to her grave over 150 years ago.

Departure of the Second Regiment. (15 May 1861) Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, p. 3.
Died. (28 July 1866). Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, p. 3.
Died. (31 July 1866). Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, p. 3.
Godfrey, John Edwards. (1979). The Journals of John Edwards Godfrey: Bangor, Maine 1863-1869, Vol. 1. James B. Vickery, ed. Courier-Gazette, Inc.: Rockland, ME.
Kelly, Howard Atwood, & Walter Lincoln Burrage. (1920). American Medical Biographies. The Norman, Remington Company: Baltimore, MD.
McRuer, Robina. (13 September 1861). Let Us Hear No More of Sending Back the Slave. The Liberator, p. 148.
Peters, Hayden. (12 May 2010). “Symbolism Sunday: The Acanthus,” from Art of Mourning. Retrieved from
Pierce, Frederick Clifton (1901). Field Genealogy: Being the Record of All the Field Family in America, Whose Ancestors Were in this Country Prior to 1700. Emigrant Ancestors Located in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Virginia. All Descendants of the Fields of England, Whose Ancestor, Hurbutus de la Field, was from Alsace-Lorraine, Vol. 2. Hammond Press: Chicago, IL.
Porter, Joseph W., ed. (1888). Bangor Historical Magazine Jul, 1887-June 1888, Vol. III. Benjamin A. Burr: Bangor, ME.
Shaw, Richard R. (1994). Images of America: Bangor. Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, S.C.