The recent controversies over the preservation or removal of Confederate monuments across the country demonstrate the power of history to shape perceptions of ourselves and our past.

Gov. Paul LePage recently offered a perfect example of the power of history and the potential for its misuse.

In a radio interview, the governor essentially claimed that 7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy to preserve property rights. In his opinion, the cause of the Confederacy was noble enough that thousands of men from the farthest reaches of the North would abandon their homes to fight against their friends and neighbors.

Alas for the governor, his attempts to align these Maine farmers with the Confederacy betrays the legacy of the state he claims to cherish.

Even if over 7,000 Mainers had fought in the Confederacy, they would have been dwarfed by the over 70,000 Mainers who fought for the Union, many of whom enlisted to abolish slavery as well as preserve the Union.

Trying to focus on relatively few men who fought as traitors to their own state at the expense of so many more who fought to preserve their Union diminishes the legacy of Maine in the Civil War.


In addition, Gov. LePage tried to make his argument without even answering the simplest questions. First of all, he did not say where these Maine farmers supposedly fought, what battles they took part in, when they joined the Confederacy, etc. I would also think if thousands of Mainers did join the Confederacy, they would have joined in the same companies and/or regiments, since that actually happened on several occasions.

For example, 100 volunteers from California traveled to Massachusetts to form a company of the Second Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. Also, the Fifteenth Tennessee Regiment had a company of men who lived in southern Indiana and Illinois at the start of the war.

What bothers me most of all, however, is the idea that 7,600 Mainers were living in Maine at the start of the war and then decided to leave to join the Confederacy.

Had the governor been so inclined, he could have read my book “To Live and Die in Dixie,” about native northerners who did indeed fight for the Confederacy, 16 of whom came from Maine.

They all moved to the South before the war, usually in the 1840s and ’50s when they were in their late teens or twenties. At least five of them became slaveowners, one of whom, Zebulon York, owned 1,700 slaves across Louisiana and Mississippi before the war. During the war, 14 of them fought for the Confederacy while two supported the Union. Danville Leadbetter and Zebulon York even became Confederate generals.

Even these men, however, did not fight for the reasons Gov. LePage imagined. In their diaries and letters, they constantly referred to their allegiance to their adopted states and their desire to fight for a just cause.


Maine native Henry Richardson, who fought in a Louisiana regiment, told his parents, “I was born in Maine; but … am I bound to turn against the country of my adoption – the country of which I have in good faith become a citizen? No! No!”

Similarly, Maine native Edward Drummond, who fought in a Georgia regiment and was released from a northern prison in 1862, wrote in his diary, “Ho for Dixie. We shall soon be among our People.”

These two soldiers showed they fought in the Confederacy not as Mainers but as adoptive Southerners protecting their new nation, families, friends and homes.

When the war ended, most of the Mainers in the Confederate armies remained in the South rather than return to their birthplaces in Maine.

Yes, some native Mainers fought for the Confederacy but they did so as adoptive Southerners who had lived in the South for years and considered it their home rather than believing they were fighting for property rights on behalf of their native region.

If we are to take away anything from this debate about Confederate monuments, it is that participants on both sides of the war fought for complex reasons beyond the simplistic ones so many try to foist on them.

In the case of Maine, most Mainers fought on behalf of the Union while a select few fought against the Union partly because they had severed their attachments to Maine.

Trying to manipulate the past to make a political point does a disservice to those who fought and those who remember. History is power and must be handled with utmost care.


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