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.

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