AUGUSTA — The remaining 254 soldiers of the 16th Maine Regiment’s 900 men — ravaged by disease, days marching and nights spent on the frozen ground with no blankets — stood their ground on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

As thousands of Confederate solders approached from two directions, it was obvious they had no chance at victory nor survival.

“They know what’s going to happen,” state Archivist David Cheever said of the Civil War soldiers, many of whom were from central Maine. “You can image what it felt like, knowing the end was near.

“When the Confederates are less than 100 yards away, seeing their fate, they decide their regimental colors cannot fall into Confederate hands. They tear their regimental colors into pieces the size of paper clips. Each man gets one, stuffs it into his shoe or clothing, and resolves their flag will not go into Confederate hands.

“They’re overrun. The 16th Maine disappears. Barely a dozen make it back to headquarters.”

The few who did survive, Cheever said, passed those snippets of the 16th Maine Regiment’s flag on to their sons and grandsons in their wills. It was that important to them.

The Maine State Museum has four of the remnants in its collection, as well as letters from their commander, Col. Charles Tilden, to his superiors, pleading for supplies such as blankets and clothing for his men.

The story of the 16th Maine Regiment’s actions, which slowed the Confederate advance enough for the rest of the Union Army to escape, is but one example of the significant service of Mainers in the Civil War.

“Saving the Union: The Call for Volunteers, ” 1 p.m. Friday at the Augusta Civic Center, is meant to honor Maine’s significant role in the Civil War and mark the conflict’s 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial.

On April 15, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln asked states such as Maine to raise 75,000 volunteer soldiers to defend the Union against Southern states that were seceding, primarily over the issue of slavery.

Maine answered Lincoln’s call with vigor, said Cheever, an Augusta resident.

Gov. Paul LePage, multiple Civil War re-enactors, color guards from the Maine National Guard, Secretary of State Charles Summers Jr., Maine Adjutant General John “Bill” Libby and state legislators are all expected to appear.

The event is also scheduled to include readings of Civil War-era letters from Maine citizens, music by the 195th Maine National Guard Band and choral music by a combined Bowdoin and Colby College chorus.

Cheever said Maine has the most comprehensive collection of Civil War records of any state, as well as more than 3,000 photographs of Civil War soldiers from Maine.

The April 15 event is part of the state Archives’ Civil War Sesquicentennial project, which will also feature stories of Civil War soldiers posted online, at weekly for the same duration as the Civil War, which took place 1860 through 1865.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]