Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Charles M. Maxim Papers, 1864-1870

James S. Schoff Civil War Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, October 1997

Summary Information
Title: Charles M. Maxim papers
Creator: Maxim, Charles M., b. 1842
Inclusive dates: 1864-1870
Extent: 19 items
Abstract:
As a soldier in the 23rd Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War, Charles Maxim wrote to his family about his and his fellow soldiers' political beliefs, the morale and motivations of soldiers, and opinions on the performance of African American troops.
Language: The material is in English.
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1974. M-1687.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Charles M. Maxim Papers, James S. Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


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.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Charles Maxim papers shed light on the attitudes of a Union soldier in the trenches during the last year of the war and the earliest period of Reconstruction in the South. An outstanding reporter of political views -- both his and his fellow soldiers' -- Maxim is at his best in discussing the morale and motivations of soldiers and the formal and informal politics during the election years of 1864 and 1868. Not inclined to extremes in his politics, he plied a middle road between the abolitionists and racial equality persons on one side and the much-despised copperheads on the other, yet never foregoing his strong Unionist principles. Even the postwar letters continue the thread of opposition to Democratic copperheadism.

Few letters in the Maxim papers contain discussions of military activities in the limited sense, though two letters include interesting discussions of the Battle of the Crater and what Maxim perceived as the failure of African-American soldiers under fire. More generally, several other letters, however, include discussions of generalship, morale, and soldiery, and the palpable increase in his resolve as the war winds down in the late spring, 1865, makes an interesting case study.

Finally, two letters from Maxim's friend and fellow veteran, J.C. Bolles, are worth special mention. In the first (July 17, 1869) Bolles describes his new homestead in Ottawa County, Kans., and the absurd fear on the parts of whites of Indian attack. The second letter (1870 June 1) includes an emotional reflection upon their service during the war, sparked by a Memorial Day celebration by members of the Grand Army of Republic.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 23rd (1861-1865)
    • Petersburg (Va.) --History --Siege, 1864-1865.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1868.
    • Reconstruction--North Carolina.
    Contributors:
    • Bolles, J.C.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   9, Schoff Civil War Collection  
    Charles M. Maxim,  1864 March 28-1870 June 1 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Bibliography

    Emmerton, James A. A Record of the Twenty-Third Regiment, Mass. Vol. Infantry (Boston, 1886). Maxim's biography appears on p. 303; that of James C. Bolles on p. 262; photograph of Maxim, p. 190.

    Partial Subject Index
    Abolitionists.
    • 1864 July 15
    African Americans.
    • 1864 July 15
    African Americans--North Carolina.
    • 1865 June 6
    Cheever, George Barrell, 1807-1890.
    • 1864 July 15
    Cholera.
    • 1866 October 22
    Copperhead (Nickname)
    • 1864 November 15
    • 1865 April 28
    • 1866 October 22
    • 1868 August 23
    Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.
    • 1865 May 21
    Dead.
    • 1864 March 22
    Democratic National Convention (1864 : Chicago)
    • 1864 November 15
    Deserters, Military.
    • 1864 April 12
    Emancipation Proclamation.
    • 1864 July 15
    Enemy--Relations.
    • 1864 July 31 (2nd letter)
    Executions and executioners.
    • 1864 April 12
    Farming--Wisconsin.
    • 1868 September 13
    • 1868 October 18
    Fremont, John Charles, 1813-1890.
    • 1864 July 15
    Grand Army of the Republic.
    • 1870 June 1
    Grant, Ulysses S., 1822-1885.
    • 1864 July 31 (2)
    • 1868 August 23
    Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872.
    • 1865 May 21
    Grenades.
    • 1864 July 31 (2nd letter)
    Indians of North America--Kansas.
    • 1869 July 17
    Irish-American soldiers.
    • 1864 November 11
    Johnson, Andrew, 1808-1875.
    • 1866 October 22
    Kansas--Description and travel.
    • 1869 July 17
    Knights of the Golden Circle.
    • 1864 November 15
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Assassination.
    • 1865 April 20
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Views on slavery.
    • 1864 July 15
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
    • 1864 November 11
    • 1864 November 15
    Memorial Day.
    • 1870 June 1
    Morale.
    • 1864 July 15
    • 1864 July 31 (2)
    Newspapers.
    • 1864 November 11
    Petersburg Campaign, 1864-1865.
    • 1864 July 15
    • 1864 July 31 (2)
    Petersburg Crater, Battle of, 1864.
    • 1864 July 31 (2)
    Picket duty--Virginia.
    • 1864 July 31 (2nd letter)
    Presidents--United States--Election--1864.
    • 1864 July 15
    • 1864 November 11
    • 1864 November 15
    Presidents--United States--Election--1868.
    • 1868 August 23
    • 1868 September 18
    • 1868 October 18
    • 1868 November 8
    Reconstruction.
    • 1865 May 21
    Reconstruction--North Carolina.
    • 1865 June 6
    Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891.
    • 1865 June 6
    Slavery.
    • 1864 July 15
    Treason.
    • 1865 May 21
    Unemployment--North Carolina.
    • 1865 June 6
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Participation, African American.
    • 1864 March 22
    • 1864 July 31 (2)
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Peace.
    • 1865 April 20
    • 1865 April 28
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives.
    • 1870 June 1
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Veterans.
    • 1865 June 6
    • 1868 September 13
    • 1870 June 1
    United States. Army--Military life.
    • 1864 July 31 (2nd letter)
    United States. Army--Officers.
    • 1864 April 12
    • 1864 July 31 (2)
    United States. Army--Reenlistment.
    • 1864 November 11
    United States. Army--Uniforms.
    • 1864 November 11
    War--Psychological aspects.
    • 1864 July 31 (2nd letter)
    Wisconsin--Politics and government.
    • 1868 September 18
    • 1868 October 18
    • 1868 November 8