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From GRF Newsletter June 1999:
William J. M. Gowen Narrowly Survived Civil War in Maine Cavalry Regiment
Pvt. William J. M. Gowen of Company H, Second Maine Cav-alry Regiment, fought in nine battles during the Civil War, and though uninjured, was lucky to survive. During the Battle of Marianna, Florida, 10 of his comrades were killed, but fol-lowing the engagement, 334 of the cavalrymen were swept away by disease. The mosquitos and something in the Florida water was able to accomplish what the Confederates had failed to do in 23 months of fighting.
Pvt. Gowen was mustered in January 12, 1864, at age 18, and three months later found himself and his company steaming down the Mississippi enroute to Louisiana. During the second week in May, his regiment under Gen. Edward Canby was en-gaged in the Battles of Cheneyville, Marksville, Avoyelles Prairie, Yellow Bayou and Pine Barren Creek.
In August of 1864, they were transferred to Ft. Barancus. On September 23, his regiment made the ill-fated attack on Mari-anna. On December 13, 1864, his decimated regiment fought in the Battle of Pollard, Alabama. On February 23, 1865 they fought in the Battle of Milton, Florida in their advance toward Pensacola. His regiment fought from March 17, 1865 until the end of the war in the Battle of Mobile where they were mus-tered out December 6, 1865.
William J. M. Gowen, son of William M. Gowen and Rebecca Ricker Merrifield Gowen, was born June 1, 1845 in Spring-vale. His father died in the year he was born. His widowed mother had a difficult time of supporting her son and her aged father, Jacob Merrifield. At the age of three, he was handed over to an uncle, James Jackson of Rochester, New Hampshire, according to “Biographical Review–Leading Citizens of York County, Maine.”
At the age of eight, he returned to Springvale to go to school. He was enumerated there in the 1860 census of York County in his mother’s household as a 14-year-old.
Following school, William J. M. Gowen served an apprenticeship in the machinist trade. He was glad to trade the grit and the grime of the machine shop for the army when the Second Maine Cavalry Regiment was organized.
On February 9, 1867, he was married to Ellen C. Morrison, daughter of Abram & Isabelle Morrison, of Sanford, Maine, according to Sanford town records. He settled there and took up the shoemaking trade, the profession of his father and his grandfather, James Gowen before him. He died in 1919. Children born to William J. M. Gowen and Ellen C. Morrison Gowen are unknown.
PVT. WILLIAM J. M. GOWEN OF SECOND MAINE CAVALRY SURVIVED 21 BATTLES DURING THE CIVIL WAR
William J. M. Gowen was one of the lucky ones. He and his Second
Maine Cavalry Regiment fought all the way across the South. Thir-
ty percent of the men in his regiment were killed in action–along
with their horses–as they fought from New Orleans to Pensacola–
and he didn’t get a scratch!
William J. M. Gowen enlisted as a private in Company H, Second
Maine Cavalry Regiment in January 1864 at Augusta, Maine. They
were transported from Augusta to Portland for the purpose of em-
barking on transports for New Orleans, Louisana. There the Regi-
ment got acquainted with Texas Mustangs and spent more than a few
days “breaking” the horses. The wild horses had been captured in
Central Texas and driven into Louisiana for cavalry service. Thus,
in the final year of the War, the Regiment was dispatched to to
provide replacements for Maj-Gen. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby’s
Third Cavalry Brigade.
The General was a fighting man’s commander who cared more for re-
sults than appearances. Like Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, his superior,
he had little use for military protocol. When he was graduated
from West Point in 1839, he stood 30th in his class of 31 and had
accumulated enough demerits to jeopardize his military career.
As soon as they could ride, the cavalrymen were ordered to proceed
to Alexandria, Louisiana where they arrived on April 21, 1964. The
Regiment was immediately thrown into battle. The Second Regiment
participated in the engagements at Cherryville, Cross Roads, Marks-
ville, Avoyelles Prarie and Yellow Bayou. On August 9, 1864, the
regiment returned to New Orleans and embarked for Pensacola, Flor-
ida, arriving on the 11th, and encamped near Barrancas.
Gen. Canby wrote a report from New Orleans December 9, 1864;
“On the 25th Ultimo I reported that movements co-operative with
General Sherman’s operations would be made from Vicksburg and
Baton Rouge for the purpose of cutting Hood’s communications
with Mobile. The expedition sent from Vicksburg consisted of
about 2,000 cavalry and 8 pieces of artillery, met with a comp-
After an admirably executed feint movement on Jackson on the
24th, the expedition started for the Big Black River Bridge on
the Mississippi Central Railroad, which was reached on the 27th
and after a stubborn resistance captured and destroyed. This
cut Hood’s army off from the large quantities of supplies and
stores accumulated at Jackson, Mississippi and makes that rail-
road, which was his main reliance, unavailable to him for months
to come. Besides this important bridge and trestle-work, the
following property was completely destroyed: 30 miles of track,
wagon bridge over the Big Black, Vaughn, Pickett, and Goodman
stations, 2,600 bales of Confederate States cotton, 2 locomo-
tives, 4 cars, 4 stage coaches, 20 barrels salt, and $166,000
worth of stores at Vaughn Station.
The command and its regiments distinguished themselves greatly
by the gallantry with which the force guarding the Big Black
Bridge were driven off from behind their strong stockade on the
opposite side of the river. Our men had to charge across the
bridge dismounted with nothing but railroad ties for a path,
and in the face of a sharp fire.
Gen. Davidson’s expedition, which left Baton Rouge on the 27th,
has not yet been heard from directly, but to judge from the mea-
ger accounts received through rebel sources, I have reason to
believe that he has been successful. He had caused quite a panic
in Mobile and reportedly devastated the country generally. After
accomplishing the purpose for which he was sent, he will proba-
bly come out at Pascagoula or some other point on the gulf.”
The regiment was employed in the Battle of Marianna, Georgia in
September and the Battle of Pollard, Alabama in December. During
the year, the regiment lost by deaths one officer and 278 enlisted
On Februaty 23, 1865, Lt. Col. Spurling, with 300 men, attacked
the enemy in considerable force at Milton, Florida, and after a
sharp encounter, completely routed them.
On March 19, 1865, the regiment joined Gen. Steele’s command, con-
centrated at Pensacola, preparatory to the movement which resulted
in the capture of Mobile, Alabama and the opening of the State of
Alabama to the advance of Federal Troops.
After the fall of Mobile, a detachment of the regiment was assign-
ed to the 16th Army Corps, being the only Cavalry with that body
of 30,000 men. The detachment served during the long march of
nearly 200 miles to the city of Montgomery, Alabama. In August
1865, the detachment was ordered to return to Florida, and rejoined
the regiment at Barrancas.
While campaigning in the South, William J. S. Gowen saw first hand
the collapse of the Confederacy–long after the surrender of Robert
E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9 and the assassination of Pres. Lin-
coln on April 14.
On April 12, the Confederates evacuated Mobile, Alabama and the
Second Maine and Gen. Canby entered the surrendered city. On the
following day, the Union cavalry occupied Montgomery, AL.
The Battle of Tuskegee, Alabama was fought on April 14, the day
Lincoln was shot.
On April 6, the cavalry skirmished in the Battle of Columbus, Geor-
gia. The Battle of Crawford, Alabama occurred on April 17.
The Battle of Macon, Georgia was fought on April 18, and the for-
ces of Gen. Canby entered the city at its conclusion.
On April 26, Gen Joe Johnston surrendered his Confederate army of
30,000 men. On that date, an overcrowded steamship, the “Sultana,”
carrying hundreds of paroled Federal soldiers home, exploded just
north of Memphis on the Mississippi, drowning about 1,900 men. A
defective boiler was suspected, but reports circulated that a Con-
federate spy had placed a bomb in a pile of coal, and it was sho-
veled into the firebox.
On May 4, Gen. Richard Taylor surrendered his Confederate Missis-
sippi-Louisiana-Alabama force, including Nathan Bedford Forrest’s
cavalry to Gen. Canby’s cavalrymen.
The final land battle fought in the Civil War happened May 12,
1865 at Palmito Ranch on the bank of the Rio Grande River. Feder-
al troops commanded by Col. Theodore Barrett, marched toward Browns-
ville and attacked. The Confederate troops commanded by Col. John
Ford, won the battle, only to learn that they had lost the war.
To the relief of the soldiers on both sides, hostilities were fi-
nally coming to an end. On June 6, Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and
Gen. John Magruder by his side, officially surrendered to Gen. Ed-
ward Canby aboard the Union Steamer Ft. Jackson anchored in Galves-
On June 23, the last Confederate general to surrender was the Cher-
okee Gen. Stan Watie, who asked his Native American soldiers to lay
down their arms at Ft. Towson, Indian Territory.
It was the Confederate Navy that fired the last shot of the Civil
War on June 22, 1865. The CSS Shenandoah, Confederate cruiser
which had recorded a successful naval campaign, not knowing that
the war was over, fired across the bow of a Union naval vessel in
the Pacific. The Shenandoah had captured 38 Union ships, burned
30 more and had taken more than a thousand prisoners.
When James Waddell, commander of the Shenandoah, learned from a
British captain that the Confederacy had surrendered, he resolved
not to join the capitulation. He sailed his vessel across the
Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, around the tip of Africa and up
the Atlantic coast to England. There he handed over his ship to
British naval authorities. Thus the Civil War finally ended–six
months after the surrender at Appamattox Courthouse.
After the surrender, the regiment was then broken up and small
detachments were stationed at various points throughout Western
Florida to preserve harmony, and to suppress any insurrectionary
movements that might take place. Generally they made friends
among the citizens, particularly the female population. By the
first of December, the entire regiment was concentrated at Barran-
cas, and mustered out of the U. S. service on December 6.
Remembering the terrible weather of a winter in Maine, 25 commis-
sioned officers and 116 enlisted men of the Second Maine Regiment
elected not to return home. They chose to remain in the balmy
Southland. Pvt. William J. M. Gowen with the remainder of the
regiment, then composed of only 14 officers and 500 enlisted men,
embarked on December 8, 1865 for Augusta where they were paid and
finally discharged on December 21. Upon return, he went back to
his job and married Ellen G. “Nellie” Morrison, his childhood
He was mentioned in “Leading Citizens of York County, Maine”
published in 1896 in Boston by Biographical Review Publishing
“William J. M. Gowen, one of Springvale’s best known residents
and a veteran of the Civil War, was born in Springvale [a part
of Sanford] June 1, 1845, son of William M. Gowen and Rebecca
His grandparents and great-grandparents were residents of Shap-
leigh. His grandfather, James Gowen, was occupied in shoemaking
and farming in Shapleigh for the greater part of his life. Wil-
liam J. M. Gowen, son of James Gowen who was born in Shapleigh,
made shoes there for many years before he finally moved to Spring-
vale where he conducted a custom boot and shoe business during the
last years of his life, dying in 1845. His widow, Rebecca who was
a native of Sanford, married John Carroll. She died in 1892. Mr.
Carroll is also deceased.
William J. M. Gowen, at the age of three years, was taken charge
by his uncle, James Jackson of Rochester, New Hampshire. He re-
mained there until he was eight years old, then returned to Spring-
vale where he attended school for the greater part of the ensuing
nine years. After completing his studies, he served an apprentice-
ship at the machinist trade in Biddeford.
In 1864 he enlisted as a private in Company H, Second Maine Caval-
ry Regiment. The regiment, which was assigned to the Department
of the Gulf under Gen. Canby, was stationed at New Orleans and at
Pensacola until the fall of 1865 when William was mustered out.
Returning to Biddeford, he worked for some time at the machinist
trade, then afterward removed to Biddeford where he has since
been engaged in shoemaking and is now employed by the firm of
William Usher & Sons.
He has been prominent in all movements designed to promote the
industrial development of the town. In politics he acts with
the Peoples Party and has always supported the candidates whom
he considered most capable of guarding and forwarding the best
interests of the public in both State and National issues.
In 1867, William J. M. Gowen wedded Nellie Morrison, daughter of
Abram Morrison and Isabella Morrison, late of Sanford. He is a
Free Will Baptist; a member of Springvale Lodge No. 190, A.F. &
A.M. and of Ruth Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star. He is al-
so a popular comrade of Franklin Willard Post No. 70, Grand Army
of the Republic, having been one of the founders and served it as
Post Commander and in other capacities.”
William J. M. Gowen was married February 9, 1867 to Ellen G. “Nel-
lie” Morrison of Sanford. William J. M. Gowen died December 14,
1919 at Kennebunk and was buried in Riverside Cemetery. Children
born to them are unknown.