The Civil Dozen — Part One

“There they come.” The Colonel squinted. The line of men came slowly up the road. One hundred and twenty men from the old Second Maine which had been disbanded. Unfortunately, these men had signed three-year agreements while the rest of the regiment had signed two-year agreements. When the old Second Maine had been disbanded, the three-year men, who only wanted to fight with the two-year men, mutinied.

There were guards with fixed bayonets. The Colonel could see the utineers shuffling along, pathetic, dusty, with their heads down. It reminded the Colonel of a history-book picture of impressed seamen in the last war with England.

An aide said: “Colonel, there’s almost as many men there as we got in the whole regiment. How are we going to guard them?” The Colonel said nothing. He was thinking: “How do you force a man to fight – for freedom?” The idiocy of it jarred him. He realized that he had to think on that later. He had to do something now.

The Captain at the head of old Second Maine turned them in off the road and herded them into an open space in the field near the Regimental flag. The Captain had a loud voice and used obscene words to assemble the men in two long, ragged lines. He called them to attention but they ignored him. One mutineer slumped to the ground, more out of exhaustion then mutiny. A guard came forward. He yelled and probed with a bayonet but abruptly several more men sat down. Finally, all of the mutineers sat down.

The Captain began yelling but the guards stood grinning. The guards had gotten them here but unless the men posed some type of threat, there was nothing that could be done. The men were simply exhausted. The Colonel took it all in as he moved toward the Captain. The Captain pulled off his dirty gloves and shook his head with contempt, glowering at the Colonel.

“I am looking for the commanding officer.” “You’ve found him,” the Colonel said. The Captain stared at him insolently, showing what he thought of Maine men.

“Captain Brewer, sir. One-eighteenth Pennsylvania.” The Captain produced a sheaf of paper from his coat front. “If you are the commanding officer, sir, then I present you with these here (pause) prisoners.” The Colonel took the papers and handed them to his aide.

The Captain pulled on his dirty gloves. “You’re welcome to them. We had to use the bayonet to get’em moving. Your orders state you are authorized to use whatever force necessary, Colonel, to make them serve – including – the authority to shoot any man who refuses to do his duty.”

“You are relieved Captain.” The Colonel then looked at the guards. “You can leave now. We don’t need any guards.”

The Colonel stood for a moment looking down at the mutineers. Some of the faces turned up. There was hunger, exhaustion, and occasional hatred in their eyes. “My name is Chamberlain. I’m the Colonel of the Twentieth Maine.”

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