A Docent’s Journey

Guest blog post, by Rich Bicknell, 5th Maine Museum volunteer

I have always been curious about stuff. As a docent at the 5th Maine Museum, I am now more so (especially regarding 5th Maine history). I have spent many hours in the Memorial Hall talking with people, which often led me to tell them about the windows and all the names in them.

The 10 Companies in the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry were from Portland and surrounding towns.

  • A – Gorham
  • B – Biddeford
  • C – Saco
  • D – Brunswick
  • E – Lewiston
  • F, G, H – Portland
  • I – Bethel
  • K- Minot

Stained glass window in the Memorial Hall of the Fifth Maine Museum

It didn’t make sense that 1,200 men came from only eight towns in Maine. I decided to dive into George W. Bicknell’s regimental history, the History of the Fifth Regiment Maine Volunteers, and explore the regiments’ roster. After spending a few hours (ok, dozens of hours), I had a searchable spreadsheet with the names of all the regiment members and any information about them on the roster (including their town of residency).

The reasons why the men chose to join the 5th Maine are unknown, lost to time, or at least undiscovered by me. But, I have discovered that the men of the 5th hailed from 194 different towns, from all over New England and a few places farther away.

They represent most of Maine, from the far west in Kittery, Fryeburg, and Wilson’s Mills to opposite ends of the state in Lubec, Calais, and Littleton. They came from every state in New England except Rhode Island and from four Provinces in Canada (New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Quebec). Their individual stories are fascinating.

Sample of the list of towns where Fifth Maine Regiment soldiers resided
when they enlisted in the regiment, created by Rich Bicknell, 2022

Henry Goddard Thomas didn’t need to travel very far; he was familiar with Peaks Island (his sister spent summers at the Valley View House) and was the only Peaks-affiliated resident that we know of to serve in the 5th Maine. He rose through the ranks to Captain in Company G. In 1863; he was promoted to Colonel in the 2nd US Colored Infantry, then the 19th US Colored Infantry.  He retired from the Regular Army in 1891 as a Brigadier General.

Memorial window for Henry Goddard Thomas

Joseph C. Paradis joined the 5th from Quebec City, Canada. Although he did not live to see the end of the war, he helped secure a Union victory, personally capturing 13 prisoners at the Battle of Rappahannock Station and a Confederate flag at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Unfortunately, he was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864, and died about three weeks later. His obituary notes his journey from Private to Captain: “Without influential friends, he speedily earned promotion by his superior attainments and bravery.”

Joseph C. Paradis, 2nd Lieutenant in Fifth Maine Regiment
CDV courtesy of Maine State Archives via Digital Maine Repository

At just over 1100 miles, John Brady of St. John, Newfoundland, Canada has the unique distinction of having traveled the farthest to join the 5th Maine. He served from October 1861 until the unit mustered out in July 1864, then transferred to the 1st Maine Veterans (formed August 21, 1864, by combining the 5th, 6th, and 7th Maine Infantries). The 1st Maine Veterans were present at Appomattox Courthouse for the surrender of General Lee.

If you’re ever on Peaks Island, I encourage you to visit the 5th Maine Museum to visit the boys.