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Summer 2000  
 
From Colby to Colonel
Francis Hesseltine ’1863 led his student troops to victory; Bill and Linda Cotter take their show on the road.
   
 

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A Horse of a Different Color

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Off-Track Banking

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A Whale of a Career

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From Colby to Colonel

by Osborne Ellis

Francis S. Hesseltine
Francis S. Hesseltine, second from right, shown with officers of the 13th Maine

on April 14, 1861, two days after the initial bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, President Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers to protect the Union. The first Waterville man to answer was a student at Waterville College (now Colby), Francis S. Hesseltine of Bangor, Class of 1863.

Hesseltine's Civil War story is one of several from that era preserved in the archives of Special Collections in Miller Library. The late Colby historian Ernest Marriner '13, in a letter marking the donation, described Hesseltine's military documents, writings and medals as "items we will cherish."

They tell of Hesseltine's enlistment in Company G of the Third Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, where he was elected captain. Company G was made up almost entirely of Maine college students.

Captain Hesseltine became a major in the 13th Maine regiment, which was formed in December 1861 and had its early training on the grounds of the U.S. Arsenal in Augusta. The winter was cold and hard for the men of the 13th, who lived in tents on the arsenal grounds. In mid-February 1862, the 13th departed from Augusta by train, boarded ships in Boston and sailed south to Ship Island, Miss., a scrub-pine-covered sandbar off the coast of Mississippi City, today's Gulfport. Hesseltine was promoted to lieutenant colonel and served as commanding officer of Fort Jackson and Fort Saint Phillips on the Mississippi River about 70 miles south of New Orleans.

In October 1863, because of possible conflict with Mexico, the 13th Army Corps was assigned to show the U.S. flag near the border in Texas. The 13th Maine was put ashore November 3 near the mouth of the Rio Grande. After marching several miles to Brownsville, the regiment, with Hesseltine as its acting commanding officer, marched, waded and sailed its way northeasterly to a point near Corpus Christi on the Matagorda Peninsula. One hundred men under Hesseltine's command went ashore through heavy surf with orders to make a "reconnaissance in force" near Fort Esperanza, where more than 1,000 Confederates guarded the main entrance through the coastal islands to Corpus Christi Bay. For two days the Maine men skirmished and fought with help from two Federal gunboats. Finally the Confederates were driven back, and Hesseltine's men were removed from the peninsula by the gunboat U.S.S. Scotia.

For the action on Matagorda Peninsula, Colonel Hesseltine was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor with the following citation: "In command of a detachment of 100 men, [Hesseltine] conducted a reconnaissance for two days, baffling, and beating back an attacking force of more than a thousand Confederate cavalry and regaining his transport without loss."

After the war Hesseltine studied law in Portland, then went south to practice law in Savannah, Ga. In 1870 he returned to New England to open a law office in Boston with his son. His account of his Civil War experiences is recorded in the journal of the Military Order of the Loyal Legions of the United States, Massachusetts Command, and his personal copy of that book is in Miller Library.

Osborne Ellis is a retired engineer who has done considerable research on the Civil War. He lives in China, Maine, with his wife, Virginia Young Ellis '49.

 

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