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Rumford's Notable Citizens in the Civil War

Text by Jane Peterson and Nghia Ha

Images from Greater Rumford Area Historical Society and David Kimball Family

The rural communities of Rumford Center, Rumford Point, and Rumford Corner with a combined population of 1,935, answered President Lincoln’s calls for volunteers by sending 236 men and one woman to the Civil War, according to Len Greaney’s veterans list. These men served in all of the Maine Volunteer regiments. Most were sent to the Army of the Potomac in the mid-Atlantic States.

A significant proportion of Rumford’s soldiers served with the 12th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. This regiment was sometimes called the "lawyers and Democrats" as many of its officers were lawyers or law students -- and a number were Democrats.

The 12th Maine was part of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler’s brigade in Louisiana. The 12th Maine was mustered in at Portland on November 16, 1861 and reached General Butler’s Expeditionary Corps, Department of the Gulf, and New Orleans on May 4, 1862, after spending several months at Ship Island, Mississippi.

William King Kimball of Rumford Point, who had enlisted as a lieutenant colonel, was promoted to colonel and commander of the 12th Maine in July 1862 when Col. George F. Shepley became military governor of Louisiana.

Kimball was born June 7, 1820, the son of Moses F. and Mary (Bean) Kimball of Rumford Point. He attended Bethel and Bridgton academies, graduated from Harvard Law School, and began a practice in Dixfield.

Kimball moved to Paris in 1844 where he was elected County Attorney, an office he held for four years. He then became Clerk of Courts for ten years, and served as a U.S. Marshal from 1857 to 1861.

He enlisted on November 15, 1861 and spent the next four years in the Department of the Gulf. After his promotion to colonel, Kimball was breveted a brigadier general in March 1865 and became colonel of the 2nd Maine Infantry on April 10, 1865.

Major Gen. Benjamin F. Butler commended King in June 1863 to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, writing, "the news of the brilliant achievement of Lieutenant-Colonel Kimball, of the Twelfth Maine Volunteers, and the brave men under his command, at Manchac Pass was very gratifying to the Department, and it entirely approves your action in allowing the regiment to retain the colors which they had so gallantly taken from the enemy." He also received a commendation in December 1864.

Following his mustering out on April 18, 1866, he returned to Paris Hill. He died by suicide September 2, 1875 and is buried in Rawson Knoll Cemetery in the Rawson family plot.

Elisha F. Goddard of Rumford Point served in Co. A of the 12th Regiment. He was born October 15, 1836 and at age 23, he enlisted on November 1, 1861 as a quarter master sergeant. He was commissioned as a full 1st lieutenant, and later promoted to full captain of Co. A.

Like Kimball, he was mustered out on April 18, 1866, and returned to his native Rumford Point farm. He was killed on December 3, 1872 in a lumbering accident, which was witnessed by William "Napoleon" Thomas, a 16-year-old former slave who came to Maine with Goddard. Goddard is buried in his wife’s family plot at Rumford Point.

"Napoleon," as Thomas was known in the Rumford area, arrived in Rumford with Goddard in November 1865. Rumford historian Stuart F. Martin wrote about Thomas, saying that, "the boy strayed into the quarters of Company A, of the 12th Maine Regiment while on duty in New Orleans ... and he became the Captain’s house boy."

Thomas married Angie Ellen (Washburn) Taylor, a widow with two children, on November 29, 1887 at Hanover. They had had three sons together.

Sylvester Thomas was born in 1888 and died Nov. 4, 1899 at age 11 from a "fractured skull as a result of accident" as reported on the death certificate. He had been playing at school in Rumford Center.

George Thomas was born about 1890 and Clarence in 1892. Within a year of Clarence’s birth, Angie Thomas left her husband and their young sons and never returned. Several years later, George ran away, reportedly to Magalloway Plantation, near Rangeley and the New Hampshire border, and also never returned.

Napoleon and Clarence Thomas ran a market garden, selling produce to neighbors and friends. They were able to support themselves as local handymen and running the farm. Clarence married Maude Jenkins Maxwell on November 4, 1931.

Napoleon Thomas died of cancer on October 19, 1923, at age 72. He is buried in East Ellis-Goddard Cemetery with his sons Sylvester (1888-1899) and Clarence (1892-1956), and Clarence’s wife, Maude (1894-1986). Buried in the same cemetery on the East Andover Road is Civil War veteran Dr. Hiram Abbott, who after the war was Thomas' friend and mentor.

Abbott was born June 2, 1835 in Rumford Point. At age 26, having been a teacher in local schools, he enlisted in the band of the Maine 2nd Infantry Regiment as a musician. Bands played for various events and helped promote morale.

On July 17, 1862 Congress abolished the volunteer regimental bands, and consequently Hiram F. Abbott was mustered out on August 15, 1862. Regiments still had buglers and drummers who signaled charges and retreats and other actions.

Abbott returned to Rumford Point, and then enrolled at Bowdoin College’s Maine School of Medicine, graduating in 1864. He returned to Rumford Point and married Mary J. Mansur. After her death, he married Mary J. Gammon. He was known as "Dr. Hiram." He died on Oct. 15, 1921, at age 86, and is buried in the East Ellis-Goddard Cemetery.

The nearby village of Rumford Center sent the only woman from the region to the Civil War. She was Amanda Cordelia Kimball, born November 20, 1820, the third of 12 children born to David and Lucy W. Wheeler Kimball. An elder sibling, William W. Kimball, founded the Kimball Piano Company. Brig. Gen. William King Kimball of the 12th Maine was a very distant relative.

Kimball lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, with other siblings when the war broke out. What influenced her to decide at age 41 to join the ranks of the many other middle-aged women recruited by Dorothea Dix to serve as nurses is not known, but her role as a nurse is documented in Lynda L. Sudlow’s A Vast Army of Women. Kimball worked at St. Johns’ College Hospital, General Hospital #2, in Annapolis, Maryland.

Amanda Kimball died from typhus on February 14, 1865. An obituary clipped from the local paper read: "To her friends in this city, and to many a soldier languishing in hospitals — or at the front — or in winter quarters — this announcement will bring heartfelt sorrow."

Another nurse there, Mary Fitch, of Erie, Pennsylvania, wrote on April 3, 1889, "…Miss Amanda Kimball whose remains it was my sad duty to convey in a soldier’s coffin to her waiting kindred in Worcester Massachusetts from whence they were taken to her home in Maine." Amanda C. Kimball is buried in the Moses Kimball family plot in Rumford Center Cemetery.

A Rumford area lawyer, George Dana Bisbee, who was born July 8, 1841 in Hartford, served in Co. C of the 16th Maine Infantry. At age 20 he lived in Peru, across the Androscoggin River from Dixfield, where he was a fledging lawyer.

In his personal diary, Bisbee wrote that he enthusiastically signed up when the recruiters arrived in town, on June 17, 1862, and was mustered in as a private in Augusta. He was promoted to full 1st sergeant on August 17, 1862. The enlistment was for a three-year term.

The regiment was immediately sent to Washington, D.C. and had no time to pack necessary clothing and equipment. The items were reportedly not sent in a timely manner and the men were shoeless, hatless, and without overcoats. They were reportedly jeered as "the Blanket Regiment."

George Bisbee distinguished himself and was promoted to full 2nd lieutenant on April 28, 1863. He was wounded at Fredericksburg.

Bisbee was taken prisoner at Gettysburg and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. He was paroled from the prison in December 1864 and was mustered out on June 5, 1865 at Arlington Heights, Virginia.

Bisbee returned to the Androscoggin River area, living in Buckfield, Dixfield, and later Rumford, where he was a partner in the Bisbee & Parker law firm, president of the Rumford Falls Trust Company and a board member of the Mechanics Institute.

George D. Bisbee died on May 16, 1918. He is buried in the Buckfield Village Cemetery.

These few soldiers and one nurse are a small representation of the 237 Rumford area people who volunteered to serve the Union. About 46 died from wounds and disease. The cemeteries in the area have tombstones of ordinary citizens who gave their lives during and after the Civil War, some of whose stories may be lost.

After the war, Rumford and Maine in general lost population. Some farms were left untended, with wives having to move to the villages. Such was the case of Betsy Eaton whose husband, Osgood Eaton Jr. died of disease at Brashear City, Louisiana, and son, Henry, who died of his wounds at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia.

The economy remained, as it had been prior to the war, an agrarian one. Not until Hugh J. Chisholm arrived at the Rumford Falls area in 1882, started paper mills and recruited immigrants did the region recover economically.

Sources:

A History of Rumford, Maine, 1774-2000 by John J. Leane (1958), Rumford Historical Society, and Elliot E. “Bud” Burns (1972)

A Vast Army of Women, Maine’s Uncounted Forces in the American Civil War, By Lynda L. Sudlow, Thomas Publication, Gettysburg, PA, 2000

Down Memory Lane, by Stuart F. Martin, Rumford Falls Times, 1984

History of Maine, by William B. Jordan

History of Rumford, Oxford County, Maine From Its First Settlement in 1779 to the Present Time, by William B. Lapham, Press of the Maine Farmer, Boston, MA. 1890.

History of Paris, Maine from Its Settlement to 1880 with A History of the Grants of 1736 and 1771, Together with Personal Sketches, A Copious Genealogical Register and An Appendix, by William B. Lapham and Silas P. Maxim, Printed for the Authors, Paris, ME., 1884.

New Pennacook Folks, Early Rumford with Genealogy of First Families, by Stuart F. Martin, 1980

Three Years A Volunteer Soldier in The Civil War, Antietam to Appomattox, by George D. Bisbee

Civil War Casualty List and Civil War Veterans List, by Leonard Greaney, 2002

Civil War High Commands, by John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 2001

Twelfth Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865, by Harry W. Clements Jr., 1999