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Prisoners of War

This Exhibit Contains 20 Items
1
Silhouette of Peleg Wadsworth

Silhouette of Peleg Wadsworth

Item 136 info
Maine Historical Society

The American Revolution touched Maine in many ways. One of the most infamous encounters was the Penobscot Expedition of 1779, a failed Patriot attempt to stop the British, who had a fort at Castine and intended to set up a Loyalist colony in the area.

Peleg Wadsworth (1748-1829), a graduate of Harvard College and businessman, had joined the Patriot Army shortly after the start of the Revolution.

In 1777, he was named brigadier-general of militia and adjutant general of Massachusetts in 1778.

In 1779, he was second in command to Gen. Solomon Lovell during the Penobscot Expedition. Lovell was in charge of ground troops.

The Patriot attempt failed and has been called the worst American naval disaster until Pearl Harbor in 1941.


2
Letter from Peleg Wadsworth to his wife, Betsey, Feb. 20, 1781

Letter from Peleg Wadsworth to his wife, Betsey, Feb. 20, 1781

Item 10802 info
Maine Historical Society

Wadsworth, however, was one of the few effective commanders during the operation. In March 1780, he was named commander of all the troops defending the Province of Maine.

About a year later, British troops captured Wadsworth from his headquarters in Thomaston and held him prisoner at Fort George, the fort troops attempted to take in 1779.


3
Peleg Wadsworth's Pistol

Peleg Wadsworth's Pistol

Item 11144 info
Maine Historical Society

Wadsworth wrote to his wife, Betsey, on February 20, 1781 about his capture.

"My wound is as fair .. possible, being with a Muskett Ball, pass ... thro my left arm just avoe the elbow, just touching the Bone without Fracturing it."

He also told her that, since his arrival at the fort, he had "receiv'd the greatest Civility & am treated according to my Rank."

In a letter on March 15, he tells his wife that he can finally get his coat on over his wounded arm, and adds, "My situation as a prisoner is very agreable, & Burthen of Confinement rendered very tolerable by the Civlity & Complasence of the Gentlemen of the Garrison."


4
John Campbell letter on Peleg Wadsworth's escape, 1781

John Campbell letter on Peleg Wadsworth's escape, 1781

Item 7480 info
Maine Historical Society

The confinement was not pleasant enough, to keep Wadsworth there.

He and fellow prisoner Major Benjamin Burton escaped from the prison in June 1781 after cutting a hole in the ceiling and crawling out.

After the war, Wadsworth and his family relocated from Plymouth, Massachusetts, to Portland, where he became a surveyor and opened a shop.


5
George Dennison letter, war prisoner, 1814

George Dennison letter, war prisoner, 1814

Item 7482 info
Maine Historical Society

The War of 1812, pitted the United States and Great Britain against one another for control of territory along the Great Lakes, impressment of American sailors, and other grievances.

But the war affected Maine, especially its coastal towns that relied on shipping that was interrupted. The British captured the coast east of Penobscot Bay.

Seaman George Dennison of Freeport was taken prisoner by the British January 13, 1814, but was unable to write to his father until Oct. 4, 1814. He was held at Dartmoor Prison in England.

He told his parents that 4,000 Americans were prisoners in England.

"As for peace:," he wrote, "I have no hopes. I expect I shall be detained here during the war."

He asked for money to be sent through a Portland merchant to one in England so he could obtain needed items.


6
Sketch of Dartmoor Prison, 1815

Sketch of Dartmoor Prison, 1815

Item 20923 info
Maine Historical Society

Another prisoner of war at Dartmoor, Perez Drinkwater Jr. of Portland, drew a sketch of the prison while held there.

He wrote, on Feb. 6, 1815, "On the following page you will find a rough scetch of Dartmoore Prison where I have been Confined for about 13 months but I am in hopes of geting Clear soon as we expect the ratification of the peace between the two Country's every day it cannot Come two soon for I am tired of stying heir in this Lothsom Prison for Lothsom it is and a retched place it is to put people in you may depend."


7
Abner Small letter to mother and sister, 1865

Abner Small letter to mother and sister, 1865

Item 5714 info
Maine Historical Society

The prisoner of war experience reached a new level during the American Civil War.

Many thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers were captured by the other side and held in prisoner of war camps.

Some of the camps operated by each side were disease-ridden and lacked adequate food, space, and sanitary facilities. Many soldiers died in prison camps during the long war.


8
Major Abner R. Small of the 16th Maine Infantry

Major Abner R. Small of the 16th Maine Infantry

Item 4305 info
Maine Historical Society

Abner Small of the 16th Maine Infantry was captured at Petersburg, Virginia, Aug. 18, 1864 and held at various prisons until Feb. 22, 1865, when he was exchanged with a Confederate prisoner.

Small kept a diary while he was in prison.

On Nov. 17, he wrote, "Our condition is humiliating, degrading & almost unbearable. Many are the bitter curses which hourly arise for the Confederacy."

He and others left Danville Prison in Virginia on Feb. 17 and went to Libby Prison in Richmond as the first step to being released. On Feb. 19, he wrote, "Libby. Enjoyed luxury of hot coffee milked and sugared! the 1st for 6 months...Signed parole."

On Feb. 22, Small wrote, "Left the southern hell at 8 A.M. placed our feed on God's soil ... got sight of stars & stripes."


9
 John M. Dillingham letter to mother, 1863

John M. Dillingham letter to mother, 1863

Item 19239 info
Freeport Historical Society

John Dillingham of Freeport had been eager to enlist in the Navy to fight the secessionists.

He volunteered for an assault on Fort Sumter on Sept. 8, 1863. The assault failed and Dillingham was taken prisoner, held eventually at Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Georgia.

On Oct. 8, he wrote to his mother, "Angier [his friend from Freeport] and myself are both well. both of us having shared the same fate. The Captain in charge here does evrything in his power to make us contented so do not trouble your self about us. if you answer this please send five dollars do not risk more."

His last letter home on Jan. 13, 1864 offers no report on his condition but asks for a box of food, especially things that will keep for several weeks, and gives directions for sending the box.

Dillingham died in prison in 1864 at age 20.


10
William Henry Fogg Civil War Reminiscences, Bath, 1888

William Henry Fogg Civil War Reminiscences, Bath, 1888

Item 28471 info
Patten Free Library

William Fogg of Bath, also in the Navy, was taken prisoner at the mouth of the Rappahannock River. He was held in Libby, then Danville, then moved several more times.

He recalls Union efforts to free prisoners and Confederates taking prisoners with them, hoping it would prevent the Union forces from firing on them.

He also recalled, in 1888, "Have seen the time if I could have got to the old swill pail and got the potato pealings and refuse stuff to Eat, it would indeed have been a treat. Tongue cannot tell neither can imagination picture what we suffered bodily and mentally."


11
Stockade, Fort Long, Kittery Navy Yard, 1898

Stockade, Fort Long, Kittery Navy Yard, 1898

Item 11579 info
Maine Historical Society

The Spanish-American War of 1898 brought prisoners of war to Maine's shores.

In July 1898, more than 1,600 Spanish prisoners arrived at the Navy Yard in Kittery, where they remained until Sept. 12.

Many had been injured in fighting in Cuba or suffered from the flu and 31. Their bodies were returned to Spain.


12
Prisoners of war, Kittery Navy Yard, 1898

Prisoners of war, Kittery Navy Yard, 1898

Item 11576 info
Maine Historical Society

Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete was the highest-ranking person among the prisoners.

He commanded a Spanish squadron in Santiago Bay, Cuba, and lost all of his ships in the fighting there before being taken prisoner.

Also among the prisoners were several surgeons and priests.


13
Prisoner departure, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, 1898

Prisoner departure, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, 1898

Item 7854 info
Maine Historical Society

After the prisoners were settled into the camp at the Navy Yard and the injured and ill were being treated, prisoners were allowed a "parole."

Many of the man went to Seavey’s Island, other parts of the Navy Yard, and the town of Portsmouth during their 15 days of parole.

The war was fought to end Spanish colonial rule in Cuba -- as well as in the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico, replaced by U.S. control of those territories.

The battleship Maine, blown up in Havana harbor, was one factor that precipitated the war.


14
Walter Hustus at Stalag 17-B, 1943

Walter Hustus at Stalag 17-B, 1943

Item 4313 info
Maine Historical Society

By World War II, many nations had signed the Third Geneva Convention of 1929 that protected prisoners of war and set standards for their treatment.

Walter Hustus of South Portland went into the U.S. Air Force in the fall of 1942. He wrote letters home from basic training in Atlantic City, New Jersey; then from various training locations, including Rattlesnake Bomber Base in Pyote, Texas.

By November 1943, he was "somewhere in England" with the 303rd Bomb Group (Hell's Angels).


15
Postcard concerning capture by Germans, 1944

Postcard concerning capture by Germans, 1944

Item 17030 info
Maine Historical Society

Hustus flew 29 1/2 successful bombing missions over Germany before his plane was shot down April 18, 1944.

He was captured and sent to the German prison camp Stalag 17-B in Krems, Austria, where he remained for 13 months.

In a postcard to his mother on May 2, 1944, Hustus wrote, "Sorry about not writting. I arived all O.K. & in good health. Don’t worrey about me They are treating us O.K. Don’t expect much mail."

In another letter, he told his mother, "I’ll leave it up to you to write to everybody & let them know I’m all O.K. & not to worry. No news is good news."

He also asked for packages and suggested his mother go to the Red Cross to find out what she would be allowed to send him.


16
Walter Hustus, ca. 1943

Walter Hustus, ca. 1943

Item 4161 info
Maine Historical Society

On June 11, 1945, Hustus sent a "15-word free sender composition priority message" that read: "Dearest folks I’m all O.K. In U.S. hands so don’t worry Homeward bound Darling Son."

For Walter Hustus and his family, his POW saga ended happily.


17
U.S. Army Airfield Main Gate, Houlton

U.S. Army Airfield Main Gate, Houlton

Item 11123 info
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

While many men and women from Maine were overseas during World War II, German prisoners of war came to Maine.

The headquarters for the Maine-based prisoners, who were assigned to locations around the state, was the Houlton Army Airfield, which had been built in 1939 to tow aircraft across the border to Canada -- getting around a prohibition of sales of aircraft while the U.S. was officially neutral.


18
Prisoner of war picking potatoes, Houlton, 1945

Prisoner of war picking potatoes, Houlton, 1945

Item 13563 info
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

Once the U.S. entered the war, the base became available for other purposes.

About 3,000 German POWs were sent to the camp. They ranged in age from 15 to mid 30s.

With most of the able-bodied American men off to the war, the farms and other businesses of Aroostook County suffered labor shortages.


19
POWs at Camp Houlton, 1945

POWs at Camp Houlton, 1945

Item 13569 info
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

Prisoners could not be required to work, but were given the opportunity to do so -- and earn small salaries.

Many volunteered to pick potatoes, apples, peas and beans; cut pulpwood, or work at the Snyder food packing plant.

In Houlton, POWs picked 2,503,660 barrels of potatoes and cut 158,629 cords of wood.


20
German barber, Camp Houlton, 1945

German barber, Camp Houlton, 1945

Item 13528 info
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

For their part, most German prisoners reported they were treated better in the U.S. camps than they had been in the German Army.

They were clothed and could earn money comparable to what a private in the German Army was paid.

They were safe and often made friends in the community.


This Exhibit Contains 20 Items
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