Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Facing the music: Maine officer explains Louisiana plundering

10th Maine officer John Mead Gould confiscated this music box from an abandoned  house in Louisiana.
                Listen in as 10th Maine collector Nicholas Picerno plays the music box.

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When 29th Maine Lieutenant John Mead Gould entered a house in Marksville, La., with two other men on May 15, 1864, he wasn't surprised to see it deserted and pillaged by the Union army. Men's and women's clothing, pots, kettles and chairs -- all were strewn about the place he described in his journal later that day as "not a rich man's house."

"The sight," Gould wrote, "was truly awful."

Amidst the ruins of the Red River Campaign, the 24-year-old officer found something of great interest to him: a beautiful music box.

"I was wicked enough to take [it] myself," Gould wrote, "knowing very well that if I didn't someone would, and the story I heard of the condition of the house an hour after my visit confirmed me in this idea."

Gould wrote when and where he obtained the war booty on a label affixed to the lid of the music box.
Five days later, Gould -- who was from Portland, Maine -- offered a weak defense of the great "but unavoidable" evil of pilfering by the Union army.
"There is one thing that he touched upon that I have said a good deal about and that is the plundering propensity of our army. I suppose that some things I have done in stealing sugar and music boxes and books would be questioned by the moral community of Portland and censured by the Christian community at large, but I will say this in defense that the whole property of an abandoned house when once the house is opened is sure to be destroyed by the passing army. It is better for negroes to jump onto pianos and break them to pieces than for a soldier to "confiscate" them for reimbursement to his lost property? I should not want to be engaged in such confiscation, should prefer to lose all I have, but I do not think less of a man who takes all the eatables he wants, all the raiment he needs and any memento he desires from an abandoned house that the army has commenced plundering. I have come to look upon this plundering as a great evil but an unavoidable one. When the war is ended this thing will stop and I hardly think it will before. There are thieves, scoundrels and rascals of every stamp in our expedition, and I do not think any General can prevent the scenes that we have witnessed without weakening his force very much."

Gould sent the music box back to Maine on April 5, 1865, four days before the war was effectively over.

In the video above, preeminent 10th and 29th Maine collector Nicolas Picerno briefly explains the history of the music box, which still is in remarkable working order. He acquired it from a Gould descendant.

The music box, shown next to a war-time image of John Mead Gould, still plays.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

-- Do you have 10th, 29th Maine photos, other artifacts? Contact Picerno.

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