By Wesley Cline
During the Fall of 2019, a handful of first-year Gettysburg College students traveled down to the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. to conduct primary source research into a group of Civil War soldiers whose “dog tags” now reside in the collections of the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. This post is the third in a short series highlighting the stories of the men who wore these unique identification tags into battle. For a short history of military identification tags, or “dog tags,” check out Savannah Labbe’s (’18) 2016 article on the evolution of the dog tag.
Many thanks to Ray Richie, President of the Texas Civil War Museum, for his generosity in sharing these fascinating items from the museum’s collection with our students!
On October 13, 1862, William Halloway enlisted for a nine-month term in the 21st Maine Infantry regiment at age 34. After mustering at Augusta, the regiment marched to New Jersey and would eventually arrive by transport ship in New Orleans on January 31st, 1863. The Confederate city had fallen into Union hands the previous May. Shortly after they had disembarked, the 21st Maine proceeded to march in the direction of Baton Rouge, arriving on February 3rd, 1863. No doubt feeling warmer than he was used to in Maine, William Halloway spent the remainder of the month of February in Louisiana, peacefully serving in Company E as a private.
On March 7th, the regiment would “see the elephant,” conducting actions against Port Hudson along the Mississippi River. On March 20th, the regiment returned to Baton Rouge where it remained in the coming months, awaiting the likely order to begin assaults against Port Hudson.
That order would come on May 20th, with General Nathaniel P. Banks directing his army, including the 21st Maine, to advance towards the heavily fortified port to prepare for an attack concurrent with General Ulysses S. Grant’s assault on Vicksburg, just up the river. This action was intended to be the final Union offensive on the Mississippi River. However, not all went according to plan. Just one day after beginning its march, the 21st and the rest of the 19th Corps would encounter Confederate forces in what became known as the Battle of Plains Store, which ultimately forced the Confederates back into their defenses and cut off the 19th Corps’ retreat route. The Maine men would proceed to join over 30,000 other Federal troops, including former slaves fighting in multiple United States Colored Troops (USCT) units, in laying siege to Vicksburg and its surrounding ports and defenses.
The 21st would take part in an ill-fated assault of May 27th against the Confederate positions spanning their entire defensive line that would result in almost 2,000 Union dead, many of whom lost their lives in the ironically named “Slaughter’s Field.” Despite this setback, the Union 19th Corps remained in position, ready to again advance against the port’s earthworks. That opportunity came on June 14th, but would end in absolute disaster: The Confederate defenders inflicted over 1,800 casualties on the Union forces while themselves sustaining less than two hundred deaths. Port Hudson would hold out until Vicksburg fell on July 4th, 1863; without the major Confederate stronghold upriver in Vicksburg, Port Hudson served no practical purpose. The regiment lost 1 officer and 26 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, and 1 officer and 144 enlisted men from disease. The 21st was sent home on July 24th, and officially mustered out on August 25th.
It is unknown if William Halloway participated in any of this fighting, as he is reported to have been diagnosed with rheumatism on May 20th, the very day the 21st began to advance towards Port Hudson. If Halloway was indeed absent from the ranks, his rheumatism ultimately may have spared his life during the spring of 1863.
Despite the war continuing for another two years, William Halloway did not reenlist after the expiration of his 9-month term that July. On April 25th, 1880, he died at 52 years old. It is possible that the rheumatism from his service had permanently damaged his body, leading to his untimely death. He left behind his wife, Larehta and his four daughters. At the time of his death, his youngest daughter was just under ten years old.
National Park Service- Battle Details of the 21st Maine
The American Civil War- The Battle of Port Hudson
American Battlefield Trust- Port Hudson