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Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

Civil War

James Parker, Artificer, First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment, ca. 1863
James Parker, Artificer, First Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment, ca. 1863

Item Contributed by
Mount Desert Island Historical Society

Soon something much worse happened which affected the island greatly -- the Civil War. It lasted from 1861 to 1865, and because of it, much changed. Some island men went into the infantry or Navy. Others, John Gilley of Beech Hill among them, joined the First Maine Cavalry. John did not survive. He died of his wounds in 1864, at age 45. Many islanders joined the First Maine Heavy Artillery. In one battle alone, 210 men died, the largest loss in a single day of any Union Army regiment. At home, women were left to tend the farms, manage family business, care for the sick and elderly, raise children, and bear the awful news that too often came in the form of long casualty lists in the newspaper.

The situation could be just as bad for disabled soldiers who made it back. In March of 1869, veteran Jacob Lunt wrote to the Overseers of the Poor, “Mr Hamor, sir, I want you to send me a little bread if possible, or I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go to any other town, nor I don’t want to suffer too much… It is the hardest times that ever I see.”

The population of Mount Desert Island fell by more than six percent during the war years, the result of military and civilian deaths, the flight of men avoiding the draft, and the emigration of young people in search of new opportunities in the west.