Fessenden and Hyde
In 1863, Senator William Pitt Fessenden wrote to one of
his sons, about to go to the front, "You may take this knowledge
with you, my dear boy-that your father feels that you deserve his love,
and that if you fall in the discharge of your duty, if he shall be able
to bear your loss it will be because you have been to him a comfort and
a pleasure from the hour of your birth. I trust, however, that God will
preserve you to cheer my remaining years and to close my eyes. I have
only to repeat-take all the care of yourself, for my sake, that you can
take consistently with your duty and your honor."
There was, however, more to this letter than a plea for
safety. Fessenden was nearing the end of his life, having graduated from
Bowdoin in 1823-compared to his youngest son who had graduated in the
class of 1861-and also he had very few people left in the world whom he
truly loved. His wife was long in her grave and a year earlier in the
Second Bull Run Campaign of 1862, his son Sam had been killed in the line
Sam Fessenden was a high-spirited youth who, before he was
even walking the grounds of Bowdoin, had gone out west to fight for freedom
in "Bleeding Kansas." When the Civil War began, the youth had
just graduated from Bowdoin and had volunteered along with another one
of his classmates, Thomas Worchester Hyde of Bath. Hyde became a major
in the Seventh Maine Volunteers while Sam Fessenden ended up as a lieutenant
in the Army of Virginia, commanded by General John Pope.
The military situation in the middle of 1862 in the eastern
theater was not good. General George McClellan's Union army was bottled
up on the York-James Peninsula. Thomas Hyde, camping with that army, wrote
that the site was "the hottest place we had yet discovered, and there
was a plague of flies
The heat, the monotony, and our ill success,
added to the malaria of the Chickahominy, produced a frightful amount
The Lincoln Administration attempted to rectify the situation
by sending the newly created Army of Virginia south. It was hoped that
Pope's army would destroy the rebel army-commanded by Robert E. Lee-and
finish the war in the east. One by one the regiments of McClellan's army
were transferred to Pope's. Thomas Hyde was certainly unhappy about this
turn of events, wrote, "Our time came to embark for Alexandria to
join General Pope's army, supposed to be fighting near Washington, and
while we were eager to do our duty, it was an unpleasing prospect to be
placed under command of a general who had insulted the Army of the Potomac
in his orders, and whom we already had sized up for a braggart."
The fight was near Washington instead of Richmond was because
Robert E. Lee did not like to be the one doing the guesswork. He had sent
a portion of his army to raid Pope's supplies and soon followed.
The climax of the campaign did not come until the 29th of
August when Pope's troops concentrated around the old Bull Run battlefield.
Thomas Hyde was in the middle of a forced march to get to the field, while
Sam Fessenden was serving on the staff of a general already at the front.
The task of piecing together the events of Sam Fessenden's
last few days went to his grieving father, William, who wrote of his son's
final adventures to a friend. On the battlefield of Bull Run as Pope hammered
away at Jackson's position behind an unfinished railroad cut, Sam Fessenden
was "cheerful" and "smiling," only once expressing
any fear, and that was for the enemy's escape.
Unbeknownst to young Fessenden, the rebels were not escaping.
They were in fact, coming to him-Lee was arriving with the rest of his
army. August 30 saw the advance of Longstreet's wing of the Army of Northern
Virginia. Trapping Pope in a classic V-shaped jaw, Lee swung the two halves
of his army together, causing the collapse of Federal resistance.
Sam Fessenden was placing a regiment in a field when the
fateful bullet found him. His father wrote that his clock had stopped
at around ten to five and, thus, assumed that this was when he was struck.
Friendly hands conducted the senator's son to Union-held Centreville.
Upon learning that his wound was mortal, the youngster said simply, "Very
well. It is all right."
Thomas Hyde was on the battlefield by that time. His regiment
was thrown out in front as skirmishers to prevent the rebels from cutting
off Pope's retreat. Hyde remembered that "my gloomy forebodings did
not tell me that in the house so near he [Sam Fessenden] lay mortally
wounded, brave and resigned to the last."
A few days after his wounding, Sam Fessenden's time came.
It was a Monday morning when the surgeon came and offered him some brandy.
A small amount of liquid was pressed to the boy's lips but he quickly
pushed the offering away and said his last words, "I won't, I won't."
William Pitt Fessenden, who had done so much to fund the
war effort, was at home in Maine at the time. His son's body was sent
north to Portland and was laid to rest.
To his friend, after recounting his son's final days, William
Pitt Fessenden wrote, "For the loss of a beloved child, there is
no such thing as consolation. There is however a melancholy satisfaction
in reflecting that he died in a just and holy cause to which he devoted
himself from a sense of duty to God and his country."
The Fessendens, like thousands of other families nationwide,
had come to know the price of war. But the price had not yet been paid
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