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Lt. Charles Bridges, 80th Colored Troops

This Exhibit Contains 28 Items
1
Charles Bridges promotion, Castine, 1861

Charles Bridges promotion, Castine, 1861

Item 66910 info
Maine Historical Society

Bridges was 22 when the Castine Light Infantry militia unit to which he belonged became part of the new 2nd Maine Infantry.

At the outbreak of war, President Abraham Lincoln had asked the states for 75,000 men to serve for ninety days – at the time, few expected a long war – and Maine was asked for one regiment, or 1,000 men.

In a declaration of patriotism, the legislature approved raising 10 two-year regiments, combining existing militiamen with new volunteers.

Five militia companies from Bangor and Penobscot Bay, more ceremonial than martial, anchored the 2nd Maine. The Castine Light Infantry became Company B.


2
2nd Maine regiment at Christmas, 1861

2nd Maine regiment at Christmas, 1861

Item 5202 info
Maine Historical Society

Bridges officially enlisted in the 2nd Maine on May 28, 1861, as a corporal. The 2nd Maine was the first regiment to leave the state, and did so with the kind of patriotic fanfare that typified the high spirit of the war's early days.

Crowds gathered to watch as the regiment marched through Bangor to the railway station. The Bangor Ladies presented the regiment with a new American flag and Vice President Hannibal Hamlin spoke in celebration of the patriotism of the "Bangor Regiment," as it came to be called – men from the counties of Penobscot, Hancock, and Waldo counties made up the vast majority of its members.

The 2nd Maine gained a reputation for toughness in two years of brutal battles: First Bull Run, Yorktown, Hanover Court House, Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill, Second Bull Run, Antietam (in reserve), Shepherdstown Ford, Fredericksburg (where Bridges was wounded), and Chancellorsville.

The 2nd Maine was mustered out in May 1863 when the regiment’s two-years' contract expired, but the war was not over for Bridges and the Mudgetts, who would look south to find new opportunities in a changing conflict.


3
4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Fort Lincoln, Washington, D.C., ca. 1864

4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Fort Lincoln, Washington, D.C., ca. 1864

Item 67505 info
Maine Historical Society

The outbreak of war had led many northern blacks to volunteer for the military, and Union advances had been met by a constant flow of fugitive slaves, but the United States consistently resisted arming blacks, with Abraham Lincoln as staunch of an opponent as any.

By the summer of 1862, however, the failure of the Peninsula Campaign and the opening of the Mississippi Valley theater had made clear to both commanders and potential volunteers that this would not be a short war.

With enlistment flagging, the Army began to look to blacks, especially former slaves, as a new source of manpower.

The Militia Act of July 1862 authorized the president to receive blacks for "any military or naval service," but it was one of his generals, Benjamin F. Butler, who took the lead.

Holding onto New Orleans with a force of only 14,000 and fearing a Confederate counterattack, Butler mobilized several free black militia companies organized but never used by the Confederates.

Between August and December, he assembled three regiments with a total strength of more than 3,000 men, designated as the Louisiana Native Guards.

While Butler retained their black officers, his successor, Nathaniel T. Banks, who took over in December 1862, began systematically replacing them with whites.


4
Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, 1863

Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, 1863

Item 67506 info
Maine Historical Society

Bridges and the Mudgetts left the 2nd Maine on February 25, 1863, to join "Ullmann's Brigade," a brigade of four new colored regiments to be raised in Louisiana by Brigadier General Daniel Ullman. The officers were to be selected with input from the governors of Maine, Massachusetts, and New York. Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, a Maine native, gave his backing to the brigade from early on.

Command of the 3rd Regiment of Ullmann's Brigade went to his son, Cyrus Hamlin, under whom Bridges and the Mudgett brothers would serve, although Lewis eventually transferred to the 86th Colored Infantry.

A transfer to a black regiment presented soldiers like the 2nd Mainers with an opportunity for career advancement. In one sample of 1,773 men who became officers in black regiments, only 9 percent had previously been officers, so the Mudgetts were in the minority.

The largest proportion, 41.5 percent, had been non-commissioned officers like Bridges, while privates and civilians represented 25 percent each.

Initially those officer positions were acquired through patronage, as seems to have been the case for Bridges, but the War Department soon established a system of examination boards that lent far greater rigor to the selection process.

The capture of Vicksburg and the subsequent surrender of Confederate troops at Port Hudson cemented Union control of the Mississippi river in July of 1863. Port Hudson became the headquarters of the Corps d'Afrique, a new command under Brigadier General George L. Andrews that encompassed both the Louisiana Native Guards and Ullmann's Brigade.

What had been the 3rd United States (Colored) Volunteers had been re-designated the 8th Corps d'Afrique by the time it officially entered service on September 1, 1863.


5
Black troops in camp, ca. 1863

Black troops in camp, ca. 1863

Item 67667 info
Maine Historical Society

While ostensibly raised for combat, the Corps d'Afrique, like most black troops across the country, spent a disproportionate amount of time as garrison troops or on fatigue duty – digging trenches, felling trees, building fortifications and roads.

In many commands, including the Department of the Gulf, this was the result of a stated policy to use black troops for these needs and free up white regiments for combat. Bridges' regiment served out the war on guard duty, detailed once to a patrol but never taking part in significant combat.

Black regiments burdened by fatigue duty might go weeks or months with no chance to drill, and the unequal treatment galled both the men and their officers.

Only in June 1864 did the adjutant general order an equal distribution of these duties between black and white troops, but even then the new order was not always enforced.

Even more angering, in June 1863 the War Department cut pay to black troops from the white infantryman's standard monthly rate of $13 plus $3.50 for clothing, down to $10, with $3 deducted from that for clothing.

The department furthermore eliminated higher pay grades for black non-commissioned officers. The adjutant general reversed the decision after a year of bitter protest.


6
Charles Bridges resignation, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Charles Bridges resignation, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Item 66913 info
Maine Historical Society

During the summer of 1863, as the Corps d'Afrique gradually recruited men, Bridges was suffering a hardship common to many Civil War men: sickness.

Laid low for weeks on end, Bridges wrote to Major General Nathaniel T. Banks on July 25 to tender his resignation, blaming "continued ill health and the rigor of this climate."

Anxious to preserve his reputation, he continued, "I have served faithfully in the trenches during the memoriable siege of Port Hudson… hence no motive can be attributed to me but the above in taking this step."


7
Charles Bridges resignation, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Charles Bridges resignation, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Item 66917 info
Maine Historical Society

A fortnight later Bridges penned a second letter of resignation, this time to Richard B. Irwin, assistant adjutant general in the Department of the Gulf, and included a certificate from George G. Percival, assistant surgeon of the regiment.

Bridges, Percival found, was "suffering from chronic Diarrhea which has rendered him unfit for service for the last seven weeks."

Bridges wrote, "I desire that this be immediate as I am confident owing to ill health I can be of no further benefit to the service."

Bridges' resignation progressed up through the chain of command, and returned to Bridges on August 26: "Disapproved" by the medical director of the Department of the Gulf.


8
Transfer of quartermaster stores, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Transfer of quartermaster stores, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Item 66929 info
Maine Historical Society

While the Department of the Gulf was reluctant to let Bridges depart, they were not insensitive to his suffering. Bridges was ordered to report to the Medical Director for an examination and was given transportation to New Orleans. Two weeks later, he turned over his command of Company H to 1st Lt. Calvin L. Haskell and took over the position of regimental quartermaster, a "desk job" that would have been gentler on a man weakened by sickness.

It was by no means an easy job, however, requiring a truly overwhelming amount of paperwork and careful accounting. It was essential work without which the Union Army could not have operated.


9
Aquia Creek Landing, Virginia, ca. 1863

Aquia Creek Landing, Virginia, ca. 1863

Item 67668 info
Maine Historical Society

When Bridges became quartermaster, he became responsible for a variety of tasks, primarily the distribution of supplies, but also various of the Army's administrative needs. The official description of the department shows the breadth of the duties the job entailed:

"This department provides the quarters and transportation of the army; storage and transportation of all army supplies; army clothing; camp and garrison equipage; cavalry and artillery horses; fuel; forage; straw; material for bedding, and stationery.

"The incidental expenses of the army paid through the Quartermaster's Department include per diem to extra-duty men; postage of public service; the expenses of courts-martial, of the pursuit and apprehension of deserters, of the burials of officers and soldiers, of hired escorts, of expresses, interpreters, spies, and guides, of veterinary surgeons and medicines for horses, and of supplying posts with water; and generally the proper and authorized expenses for the movements and operations of an army not expressly assigned to any other department."


10
Lt. Bridges equipment transfer, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Lt. Bridges equipment transfer, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Item 66930 info
Maine Historical Society

The quartermaster filled clothing orders from company officers, for everything from trousers to rank insignia. An infantryman had a certain allowance of funds allotted for clothing, $3.50 a month, or $42 per year.

If a man wore out his clothing too quickly he was charged for exceeding the allowance, whereas a man who was gentle on his kit received the surplus allotment at the end of the year.


11
Lt. Charles Bridges on contrabands, Bonnet Carre, LA, 1864

Lt. Charles Bridges on contrabands, Bonnet Carre, LA, 1864

Item 66944 info
Maine Historical Society

Bridges, like other quartermasters, was authorized to hire civilian laborers to work at the camp. The men on this list were former slaves, as indicated on a later document in which Bridges referred to them as "contrabands."

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, many fugitive slaves who had fled to Union camps found work as laborers, particularly if, like some of these men, they knew a trade.

The origin of the term "contrabands" traces to the First Confiscation Act of 1861, which allowed slaves to be confiscated along with other material used to support the rebel cause. Not freed, exactly, they technically became seized "contraband," and thus federal property.


12
Charles Bridges mule team request, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Charles Bridges mule team request, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Item 66928 info
Maine Historical Society

In a request dated Dec. 21, 1863, Colonel Cyrus Hamlin commanded Bridges to "furnish one four mule team," drawn from the 8 animals that Bridges had on hand at the time.

The maintenance of even such a relatively small number of animals would have required a constant supply of forage, principally hay and oats.

The army mule was an ironic folk hero amongst Civil War soldiers. Skittish under fire, mules acted as beasts of burden in the rear of the army, while horses served in the cavalry and pulled artillery pieces. Mules were hardier and less injury-prone than horses, equally undaunted by hard treatment, poor food, and difficult terrain.

Mules also had a reputation for obstinacy and general mischief-making, from curious intrusions into tent to the eating of coats.

"He cannot be trusted even when appearing honest and affectionate," wrote soldier John D. Billings.


13
Lt. Charles Bridges request for coffins, Port Hudson, 1864

Lt. Charles Bridges request for coffins, Port Hudson, 1864

Item 66932 info
Maine Historical Society

Another duty of the quartermaster was to arrange burials of officers and soldiers. This could be challenging.

For instance, on one occasion, Bridges wrote to C.H. Rockwell, Assistant Quartermaster at Port Hudson, requesting three coffins for the regiment. He received a reply that none were on hand at the time, and no men at work.

"Boards and nails will be furnished to you on calling for them," Rockwell wrote.


14
E.G. Manning to Charles Bridges, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

E.G. Manning to Charles Bridges, Port Hudson, LA, 1863

Item 66931 info
Maine Historical Society

Bridges seems to have occasionally filled in as commissary of subsistence, the officer who procured food for the troops, perhaps at times when the dedicated officer was on leave. Certainly, their work naturally overlapped at times.

The "soft bread" and "fresh beef" mentioned in the letter were two staples of army sustenance, what John D. Billings described as "stern, unpoetical government rations."

For soldiers in camp, at least there was some variety. According to Billings, a typical daily ration might include "twelve ounces of pork or bacon, or one pound four ounces of salt or fresh beef; one pound six ounces of soft bread or flour, or one pound of hard bread, or one pound four ounces of corn meal."

The above was supplemented by peas or beans, rice or hominy, sometimes fresh potatoes, and occasionally by dried or pickled fruits and vegetables.

Most importantly, each man received his daily allotment of coffee, roughly an ounce and a quarter of grounds.


15
Hardtack, ca. 1865

Hardtack, ca. 1865

Item 34449 info
Bangor Museum and Center for History

For men on the march, records Billings, the rations were more spare: "one pound hard bread; three-fourths of a pound of salt pork, or one and one-fourth pounds of fresh meat; sugar, coffee, and salt."

Soldiers had many (often derisive) nicknames for the foods they ate. Salt beef became "salt horse," while the brick-like hard bread was known widely as "hardtack."

Campfires were a site of constant culinary innovation as soldiers looked for ways to make the rations more palatable. Soldiers experimented with hardtack, toasting it over the flames, frying it in pork fat, or – reputedly a popular method – crumbling it into hot coffee.


16
Lt.  Charles Bridges Board of Survey report, New Orleans, 1865

Lt. Charles Bridges Board of Survey report, New Orleans, 1865

Item 66948 info
Maine Historical Society

In one instance, Bridges was shorted 69 shirts and 60 pairs of stockings in a shipment from New Orleans. Lt. Col. Mudgett ordered a board of survey to convene; it found that Bridges bore no responsibility for the missing items, and that John H. Rodgers, a supply officer in New Orleans, was the responsible party.

Because the troops relied on the quartermaster for almost all of their supplies, he was liable to draw their ire if supply chain problems left any men without necessary items.

Furthermore, quartermasters subject to the aggressive oversight of the War Department and quartermaster general were wary of any discrepancies that might provoke suspicion of corruption.


17
Lt. Charles Bridges leave orders, New Orleans, 1864

Lt. Charles Bridges leave orders, New Orleans, 1864

Item 66935 info
Maine Historical Society

During the fall of 1863, Bridges settled into his new position at Port Hudson, filing paperwork and distributing supplies to the officers, soldiers, surgeons, and chaplain. Yet, it seems that his health had either failed to improve, or had taken a new turn for the worse.

In early 1864, he requested and was granted a lengthy leave of 20 days, and later a 20 day extension, supported by a new surgeon's certificate.

Bridges headed home to Penobscot Bay, passing through New Orleans, Key West, and New York en route.


18
H. Hamlin telegraph to Lt. Charles Bridges, Washington, 1864

H. Hamlin telegraph to Lt. Charles Bridges, Washington, 1864

Item 66936 info
Maine Historical Society

While he was back in Maine, Bridges received a telegraph from Washington from "H. Hamlin" – likely Hannibal Hamlin, the vice president and a Maine native whose son Cyrus was the colonel commanding Bridges' regiment.

The message read: "Cannot" get "it."

The subject of the message is not clear. The most likely possibility is that Bridges sought Hamlin's intervention to help him secure a discharge from military service. Perhaps he had looked to the vice president, suffering from a new bout of illness and remembering how his earlier resignation had been rejected.

Whatever it was he had sought, it seems that Hamlin was unable to assist him.


19
 Frances Sarah Frye newspaper subscription, Stockton, 1864

Frances Sarah Frye newspaper subscription, Stockton, 1864

Item 66937 info
Maine Historical Society

Bridges reported to the quartermaster's department in New York on April 4, 1864, for transport back to the Gulf, but before he left he carried out one final errand on behalf of a young woman he likely called on during his leave.

At the offices of Cauldwell & Whitney between Fulton and Ann Streets, Bridges paid $2 for a one-year subscription to the New York Mercury for Miss Fannie S. Frye of Stockton.

Bridges and Frye married a little more than a year later, in June 1865.


20
François Savoie petition to Union army, Bonnet Carre, LA, 1864

François Savoie petition to Union army, Bonnet Carre, LA, 1864

Item 66933 info
Maine Historical Society

One intriguing document in Bridges' possession is the petition of François Savoie, whose properties in the Parish of St. John the Baptist had been seized for military use by the Union army.

Savoie did not ask for his properties to be returned, but pressed for the the payment of rent from the United States government. "Your petitioner, François Savoie," he declared, "is, and has ever been a loyal citizen of the United States; is one of the first who took the oath of allegiance in Louisiana, and one of the few who voted at the first regular election held in this state after its occupation by Union forces under Gen. Benj. F. Butler."

His properties were now a part of Bonnet Carre camp, where Bridges' regiment transferred in April.


21
François Savoie power of attorney, New Orleans, 1864

François Savoie power of attorney, New Orleans, 1864

Item 66942 info
Maine Historical Society

It is not clear if Savoie ever received the payment he sought, but also in Bridges' possession was a later notarized letter from Savoie granting his attorney Leo Elfer the power to receive payment from the United States government related to his previous claim.

The letter was prepared Joseph Cohn, a notary public in New Orleans. It includes Cohn's embossed stamp, featuring the seal of Louisiana, and a five-cent stamp bearing the face of George Washington.


22
John C. Phinney on desire for transfer, Greenville, LA

John C. Phinney on desire for transfer, Greenville, LA

Item 66915 info
Maine Historical Society

John C. Phinney of Stockton was a friend of both Charles Bridges and William S. Mudgett. A private in the 2nd Maine Cavalry, he hoped to follow his friends to the colored infantry to serve as a non-commissioned officer, and petitioned for a transfer with their support.

The white men who served in the black regiments were as likely to be lauded as derided, although no evidence exists to suggest what Bridges and the Mudgetts experienced.

Abolitionists celebrated the military service of blacks as a way to "uplift" the race, and many, including civilians, applied to become officers.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of the 1st South Carolina Colored Volunteers, aimed to supplant "plantation obedience" among his new soldiers with military discipline, which he saw as being rooted in pride and self-respect.

Other whites, however, saw service in the black regiments as a disgraceful command, and hurled slurs against the "nigger officers."

Additionally, the Confederate government, incensed at the arming of blacks, threatened death for any white officer captured at the head of black troops.


23
Lt. Charles Bridges to Richard B. Irwin, Bonnet Carre, LA, 1864

Lt. Charles Bridges to Richard B. Irwin, Bonnet Carre, LA, 1864

Item 66939 info
Maine Historical Society

In May 1864, Bridges wrote to the assistant adjutant general asking that Phinney be transferred from the 2nd Maine Cavalry to his regiment to fill the vacant non-commissioned position of commissary sergeant.

William S. Mudgett forwarded the letter, adding his endorsement: "This regiment is very much in need of an efficient non-commission staff- have made several applications but have not been able to get the within named vacancies filled since the organization of the regiment. I am personally acquainted with Private J C Phinney and would earnestly recommend an immediate transfer."


24
Col. C.W. Woodman letter on transfer, near Thibodaux, LA, 1864

Col. C.W. Woodman letter on transfer, near Thibodaux, LA, 1864

Item 66941 info
Maine Historical Society

In the end, Phinney's transfer was blocked by his commanding officer, Colonel Ephraim W. Woodman, who asked that Phinney be allowed to remain with the 2nd Cavalry in order to fill a non-commissioned position there.


25
John C. Phinney to Lt. Charles Bridges, Louisiana 1864

John C. Phinney to Lt. Charles Bridges, Louisiana 1864

Item 66940 info
Maine Historical Society

After learning of the denial of his transfer, Phinney wrote to Bridges with evident disappointment and frustration. He seemed to feel that Woodman had blocked him unfairly, noting that though Woodman's letter emphasized how much the regiment needed him, this was the first he had heard of his upcoming promotion.

Phinney included a message to his friend William S. Mudgett: "Tell Col Mudgett that I am well and dam the commission if I could only spend one more night at the Bangor House with him." The Bangor House was a popular downtown hotel.

Phinney served out the war in the 2nd Maine Cavalry, leaving the service as a sergeant.


26
Charles Bridges promotion, New Orleans, 1865

Charles Bridges promotion, New Orleans, 1865

Item 66950 info
Maine Historical Society

Bridges' regiment, by now redesignated as the 80th United States Colored Troops, served out the duration of the war on guard duty in Bonnet Carre and New Orleans.

Bridges was promoted to Captain and Assistant Quartermaster in the spring of 1865, with the war drawing to a close. William S. Mudgett had commanded the regiment since Cyrus Hamlin's promotion to Brigadier General in December 1864, and was promoted to colonel in March 1865. He remained with the 80th until 1867.


27
Charles Bridges gravestone, Stockton Springs

Charles Bridges gravestone, Stockton Springs

Item 67726 info
Maine Historical Society

Charles Bridges married Frances Sarah Frye on June 27, 1865, and left the army for good in August. They lived in Stockton.

The 1870 census lists him as a "U.S. Messenger;" in 1880, as a "Hardware Dealer." His enlistment papers, however, had given his occupation as blacksmith, and a Historical Sketch of Stockton Springs published in 1908 included Bridges in a list of "ship's blacksmiths" who worked in the several shipyards in and around the town.

Fannie's younger brother, Charles W. Frye, lived with the couple in 1870, working as a store clerk, but there is no evidence that the Bridges ever had a child.

In 1883, Bridges' pension record lists him as an invalid. He died on August 16, 1886, and was buried in Mt. Prospect Cemetery in Stockton. Fannie was buried with him upon her death in 1922.


28
Charles Bridges, Castine, ca. 1864

Charles Bridges, Castine, ca. 1864

Item 67295 info
Maine State Archives

All told, 180,000 blacks from both the North and the South served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. Charles Bridges was one of some 7,000 whites who served as their officers.

Bridges' career spans the whole length of the Civil War, and provides snapshots as it gradually changed. Bridges was there as enlistments of 90 days gave way to those of two and three years, as a war that was meant to end in the summer of 1861 dragged on for four years, and as the United States government took increasingly determined steps towards ending slavery.

Bridges transferred soon after the beginning of black enlistment – a moment that did not herald true equality, as evidenced by discriminatory allocation of duty and unequal pay.

Bridges served for more than four years, roughly splitting his time between Virginia and Louisiana. Yet, particularly in the 2nd Maine but even to some extent in the 80th USCT, his home community was reconstituted in the men with whom he served.

The men of Company B, 2nd Maine, the "Castine Light Infantry," mostly lived within 25 miles of the namesake town. After he transferred to the USCT, Bridges served with his friend William S. Mudgett, and it was probably through Maine connections that they received their appointments.

If not for the intervention of Colonel Woodman, their friend John C. Phinney would likely have joined them as well.

With little remaining that attests to Bridges' personal experience, it is the persistence of these personal and community ties, even at great distance from Penobscot Bay, that is most prominent.


This Exhibit Contains 28 Items