One of several fates may befall a soldier in combat. They can come out unscathed, become wounded and taken to their own corps’ field hospital, or they can die on the battlefield. One more fate, perhaps even more terrifying than these, is to be wounded and then captured by the enemy. This was the fate of Laforest H. Hinton of the 3rd Maine Infantry, Company B.
Before the war, Hinton was one of five children to Sabrina and James Hinton of Heartland Maine. In 1857, his father passed away, leaving his widow to care for her children (Laforest was the eldest at about 16) and a farm. According to the pension affidavits of Obediah Williams and Aaron Starbird, “her eldest son, Laforest H. Hinton worked on the farm regularly from the time his father died until he enlisted into the U.S. Service and by his labors, he did wholly support his mother and family.” He would neither marry, nor bear children. Another testimony by John Ham and Hiriam Starbird, Hinton sent home portions of his soldier pay. When he enlisted in August of 1863 as a substitute, he gave $99 of his bounty to his mother. That’s the equivalent of over $2,000 in today’s money. Others in Heartland also enlisted as substitutes, like Almond C. Starbird (relation to above mentioned) and Dudley Annis, Jr. The Starbirds were possibly kin to the Hinton family, as Sabrina’s maiden name is also Starbird.
The 3rd Maine would take part in the battle at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and the Overland Campaign. Hinton engaged in the intense fighting around the Orange Plank Road on May 6th, 1864, first driving A.P. Hill from his earthworks with the rest of General Winfield Hancock’s II Corps, then enduring the pushback from James Longstreet’s First Corps sweeping in from the other side of the Widow Tapp Field. Hinton was caught up in the surprise flank attack upon the corps’ left along with many more in David Birney’s division.
One soldier of the 17th Maine, private Luther Tripp, was part of Alexander Hays’ brigade of the same division and was also captured in the same flank attack. In 1868, he testified that he “did not see Hinton when he was taken but I was taken prisoner at the same charge and not far from him May 6th, ’64. I saw him the next day May 7th. He was wounded in the rear when the enemy flanked us or got in our rear and captured Hinton with two or three thousand others. I was wounded and with my regiment and when they retreated, the enemy being in the rear, were unable to follow and was captured.”
Hinton and Tripp were then taken behind enemy lines and transported to Andersonville, which had begun to earn a reputation as a notorious Confederate prison. Located in the southwest region of Georgia, the camp was originally dubbed “Camp Sumter”, but would take on the name of the nearby community of Andersonville – present day Americus. While historians continue to debate whether Andersonville was the deadliest prisoner of war camp on either side of the conflict, its notoriety and inhumane conditions have cemented its place in history.
Hinton and Tripp would have been ushered through the gate into the stockade, where thousands of other prisoners lived in squalor with little to no shelter, poor food, and unsanitary water. The infamous “dead line” erected along the stockade’s interior perimeter warned prisoners to not attempt escape, lest they be shot dead by the guards posted at the towers. (I will be doing a series on Civil War prison camps in the future).
Thankfully – or maybe not – Hinton wouldn’t be in Andersonville for too long. Tripp recounts, “There we remained about three months. Said Hinton’s health failed soon after we went into prison. We were subsequently removed to Florence, S.C.” The prison camp at Florence was not much better than Andersonville and when the two of them arrived, much was still in transition. The camp had only been established for about a month. Within the stockade, barracks had yet to be built, so prisoners constructed pine shelters. About 20 inmates died every day.
Tripp goes on to explain, “He, continually feeble and growing worse, was removed to the hospital where I understood and was informed that he died in a very few days.” The day is recorded as October 14th, 1864, just a little over five months after he was first captured. According to the NPS website for Florence, “Prisoners who died while at the stockade were buried in trenches on the nearby plantation of Dr. James Jarrott, a wealthy landowner and slaveholder said to have been a Union supporter. Each morning, a mule-drawn cart laden with bodies would exit the stockade and travel to two burial sites on Jarrott’s property. One burial site contained more than 400 remains, and a larger site of 16 trenches contained 2,300 remains.” The national cemetery wasn’t established until 1865, well after Hinton passed, so it’s likely that he was buried in one of these two locations on the plantation, then reinterred within the new cemetery perimeter.
Tripp doesn’t go into detail what his illness was, but if he fell ill while in Andersonville, it’s possible that any variety of disease would have plagued him. Tripp would remain at Florence for six months and “never afterward heard of said Hinton and I have no doubt that he died then and there as above indicated.”
Sabrina Hinton sought a pension for her son’s death in September of 1868, but clerical errors made it incredibly difficult for the grieving mother. One problem lay in the fact that Hinton’s regiment was absorbed into the Company D of the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Volunteers later in 1864 while he was in Andersonville, creating an
inconsistency in the paperwork. Muster rolls also listed Hinton as “absent, sick” during the time that he was in prison, so there was no corroboration between Tripp’s testimony and the army records. In almost all the replies from the government to Sabrina’s applications, they indicate that they have no record of death for Laforest Hinton. Of course they wouldn’t, because it was left up to the Confederates to report it and much of that responsibility slipped through the cracks. Thanks to the efforts of Dorence Atwater, an inmate of Andersonville and clerk in the hospital there, historians know the names of some of the dead. Hinton is not on this list because he would have been buried at Florence in an unmarked grave, now likely under an “Unknown Soldier” headstone.
His mother would eventually get her pension and last earned $12 before her death in 1888.
Below is a letter that Laforest wrote to his little sister, Elvira J. Hinton. The brother mentioned is Frederick A. Hinton, who enlisted with Company D of the 9th Maine Infantry.
July 7th 1864
I seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am alive and where I am and that I am well, &c. I wrote a letter to Mother soon after I was taken prisoner but have not received any answer from it yet and perhaps she did not get it. I was taken prisoner on the 5th of May. I received a slight wound between the shoulders but that is well now. Almond [C. Starbird] and Dudley Annis are missing. I don’t know what become of them.
I heard from [brother] Frederick the 12th of June. He was all right then. Well, have nothing more to write now. Tell Mother not to worry for I will be at home again all right yet.
If you get this, please write as soon as you can and write all the news. Well, I can’t write any more now so goodbye. This is from your brother, — L. H. Hinton
Direct your letter to Co. B, 3rd Maine Regiment, Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia
“Hinton, H. Laforest – Case #149,904 – Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Veterans of the Army and Navy Who Served Mainly in the Civil War and the War With Spain, compiled 1861 – 1934” (accessed from fold3.com, roll #WC118702-WC118731)