In April 2004, the Damariscotta Historical Society published a column in the Lincoln County News containing a reprint of an old newspaper article found in one of their scrapbooks. They called the article "Two Right Arms" and could not or did not not cite a date or newspaper origin. Most probably the original newspaper in question was also the same Lincoln County News, published for almost 150 years in Waldoboro and now Damariscotta, Maine. The paper was a veritable gold mine of stories and letters from Civil War veterans at the end of the 19th century, largely due to Samuel Miller, its owner and a veteran of the 20th Maine, Company E who served as the historian of the 20th Maine Regimental Association.
The article in question recounts interviews with two local citizens, both veterans who gave their right arms for their country while serving in different Maine volunteer regiments, and at the time of the original article, "living next door neighbors to each other" (LCN) in the Round Top area of Damariscotta.
This is one of my favorite Maine Stories and is a good opportunity to explain what attracts me to a story and my methodology.
First of all, this newspaper article provides a glimpse into the lives of two perfectly ordinary Mainers whom I highly doubt anybody has ever heard about outside of this article. They did nothing “famous” and left little imprint on this earth. Yet the article shows that they were participants in at least two horrific Civil War battles and their brief stories tell us about their lives as a result of their service. At the same time their accounts enrich and personalize what we know about the Civil War by providing us with simple first hand accounts of events.
Secondly, I fell in love with these two old coots who were just about as opposite as they could be but who had a shared experience nonetheless. I love the idea that they were neighbors in life in Round Top and remain so in death in Bethlehem Cemetery, but their right arms are somewhere else. So, they are at the center of our little Venn diagram.
The newspaper account is, of course, full of holes and leads to many questions. I could not find much more than a mention here and there about the two old soldiers. Town histories, usually a good source, were no help. However, I did find that I could piece together some answers and generalities to flesh out the story.
Branching out, the best sources I checked were the regimental histories of the 20th, 21st and 32nd Maine Volunteers. Many Maine regiments have histories written at the turn of the 20th century by aging veterans. Some of these are really wonderful and complete accounts; others are less forthcoming with the really meaty information. Regimental histories gave me a lot of info about what happened to the two men’s peer groups and by association what happened to them.
Next in line, I read or reread John Pullen’s more modern accounts The 20th Maine and A Shower of Stars: The Medal of Honor and the 27th Maine. Why the 21st and the 27th? Tom Arnold served his first enlistment in the 21st Maine and then re-enlisted in the 32nd as did a number of other Bremen soldiers. Hiscock served in the 20th Maine so I added Thomas Desjardin’s Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine to the mix. Neither man served in the 27th, but the story of its leadership and many of the enlisted men is also about their re-enlistment in the 32nd Maine. Therefore, Pullen gives a great account of the 32nd Maine in his book on the 27th.
From there I worked my way through some more general Maine and Civil War histories. In particular, I was interested in adding another piece to the men’s story and needed a wider overall viewpoint on the battles were the two men lost their arms: Gettysburg and The Crater at Petersburg. Gettysburg is well documented everywhere. In Maine we become obsessed with Gettysburg and the 20th Maine and often overlook other equally fascinating battle stories.
The Crater is a story not to be missed. Every account of this battle is full of fantastic and horrific imagery that was astoundingly memorable to all who were there. Pullen calls it the “Hiroshima of the Civil War”. Thomas Arnold, wit that he was, said it was “Hell as depicted by old fashioned standards”. Fire and brimstone!
The Arnold and Hiscock stones in Bethlehem Cemetery in Damariscotta, Maine. Under crossed canons, Arnold's membership in Co I, 32nd Me. Vols. is inscribed, no mention of the 21st. Hiscock’s stone doesn’t say a word about the 20th Maine, only a veterans flag gives a hint of service. David Higgins Photos
The real hell turned out to be the last thing I investigated: Civil War medicine and, in particular, amputation. Jenny Goellnitz provides some very complete research on surgeons and amputation as does the Civil War Society. I found that surgeons sadly lacked almost any experience in dealing with the kind of wounds with which they were presented; experience was quickly gained by the staggering numbers of surgeries required. Although time and facilities were definitely a problem, it is a misconception that anesthetics were not available. By far the biggest problem of all was bacteria. Knowledge of antiseptic methods, germs and infection were not general knowledge until after the war ended. This very important subject is what Hiscock and Arnold had to live through and deal with for the rest of their lives.
So basically, I stumble across an interesting story (Arnold and Hiscock) that has something fascinating or amusing to it. As I investigate it, I progress from resources that have directly related information to references that provide the bigger picture and backfill the surrounding information (town, regimental or general war sources). Along the way. hopefully, some very good side stories will show up like the Crater or Civil War surgery. It helps if there is humor and drama. In writing the story up, I worked my way back and forth between all the sources in a way that hopefully tells the story with all its attending parts and information. In this case, I tried to interweave the newspaper article, the regimental accounts and the general histories together in a way that gave a more complete account for the modern reader and a better understanding of what happened to Hiscock and Arnold and why. I try not to leave out any of the good stuff.
If you are interested in the complete story of Tommy Arnold and Abner Hiscock, please read my MaineStory in
The Hidden History of Midcoast Maine
by Pat Higgins with photos by Dave Higgins.