Charles M. Maxim papers  1864-1870
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Biography

Maxim, Charles M., b. 1842

Rank : Private, Corporal (1862 October 4), Sergeant 1863 December 2), 1st Lieutenant (1865 June 23; not mustered)

Regiment : 23rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Co. E (1861-1865)

Service : 1861 December 4-1865 June 25

Born in New Castle, Pa., on August 17, 1842, Charles Maxim was working as a farmer in South Middleboro, Mass., at the time of his enlistment in the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry. After mustering in to the service on December 4, 1861, Maxim's regiment served for almost two years in the invasion and occupation of North Carolina before being ordered to Virginia. As part of Heckman's famous Star Brigade (1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 18th Corps), the 23rd was thrown into the particularly bloody battles at Drewry's Bluff and Cold Harbor, before settling into the trenches before Petersburg for the long siege. They remained in the Petersburg-Richmond front until almost the end of the war, when they returned to North Carolina in pursuit of the remnants of the Confederate Army, participating in their last engagement at Wise's Fork.

It would be safe to view Maxim as an ideologically motivated soldier -- more so as time passed -- but he was motivated on his own, distinctive terms. An incisive critic of the antiwar faction at home, Maxim was not averse to criticizing the pro-war faction, particularly that part of the pro-war faction that viewed the war as a crusade to end slavery. After hearing the abolitionist George B. Cheever speak, he wrote to his family, "I don't think you will accuse me of copperhead proclivities, still I begin to think there are men at the north so fanatical and blood thirsty that they would not hesitate to sacrifice a great many good white men just to give freedom to one slave with a mind incapable of appreciating the advantages of a life of freedom" (1864 July 15). Obviously, Maxim was disinclined to view African-Americans as the intellectual, social, or moral equals, and he became harshly critical of the "Colored" regiments that he believed broke under fire during the Battle of the Crater at Petersburg. The failure he attributed both to what he believed was the innate inferiority of African American troops, but equally to self-serving generals trying advance themselves on the broken backs of their (white) troops. "It is much easier to stay at home and discuss the merits of the different Generals," he wrote bitterly, "than to make reputations for them in the field" (1864 July 31)

After mustering out of the service on June 25, 1865, Maxim moved to his uncle's in Chicago and in about 1868, to Kenosha, Wisc. In that year, now a staunch Republican, he had established himself again as a farmer, raising hops and potatoes.