A Civil War Biography

Mark Fernald Wentworth

Wentworth was born in Kittery, York County, Maine. He appears to have medical training as some sources refer to him with the title doctor. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1860.

When the war started he was made captain in the Kittery Artillery. He commanded a 50 man company, mostly old men and young boys, of the Kittery Artillery that were sent to Fort McClary, a small fort on the Piscataqua River named for Andrew McClary, the highest ranking American officer killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. Wentworth helped form the 27th Maine Volunteer Infantry which was organized in Portland, Maine on 30 September 1862 for a period of nine months. He was named lieutenant colonel. The 27th left Maine on 30 October and was assigned to the Washington defenses as part of the 1st brigade of Silas Casey's division of the XXII Corps. The 27th would remain part of the XXII Corps throughout its enlistment. Casey would be replaced by John J. Abercrombie as the division commander. The regiment did garrison duty at Arlington Heights, Hunting Creek, and Chantilly, Virginia.

Wentworth was promoted to colonel and given command of the 27th on 30 January 1863. Its enlistment due to expire on 30 June 1863, the 27th was ordered to the rear on 26 June. With the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia engaged in its second invasion of the North all available troops were dispatched to bolster the Union Army of the Potomac moving to counter the Confederate movement leaving Washington defenseless. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, on 26 June, sent an appeal to both the 25th and 27th Maine regiments to extend their enlistments until the current crisis passed. Every member of the 25th Maine refused and headed home. Wentworth convinced some 300 in his command to stay. Stanton, to show his gratitude, ordered that every man who had volunteered to stay would receive the Medal of Honor. On 4 July 1863, the battle of Gettysburg having concluded, those members of the 27th that had volunteered to defend the capital headed home. The 27th mustered out on 17 July 1863, having seen no combat at all during its enlistment. Wentworth joined the 32nd Maine Infantry on 6 May 1864. The 32nd was attached to the 2nd brigade, 2nd division, IX Corps, Army of the Potomac and saw action in all the major battles of Grant's overland campaign. The 32nd was consolidated with the 31st Maine on 12 December 1864. Wentworth was brevetted brigadier general of volunteers on 13 March 1865.

After the war Wentworth returned to Maine. In January 1865 he was given the task by Samuel Cony, Governor of Maine, to distribute the Medals of Honor that Stanton had authorized to the members of the 27th Maine for extending their enlistments two years earlier. Stanton's order authorizing the medals to those members of the 27th that volunteered to remain on active duty until the crisis in July 1863 had passed was poorly worded and wound up authorizing all 864 members, regardless of whether they had remained to defend the capital or not, the medal. Wentworth, having seen valor in combat, did not believe the men of the 27th deserved the medal they were being given. He did his best to give medals only to those that had in fact remained in Washington those four extra days. He gave out many of the medals but more than 500 he stored in his barn from which many were stolen and what ever was left disappeared when Wentworth died in 1897.

The discrepancies in how the Medal of honor was awarded was the focus of Section 122 of the National Defense Act passed 3 June 1916. A board of five retired Army generals was established to review each of the 2625 citations awarding the Medal of Honor to date. Retired Lieutenant General Nelson Miles, a Medal of Honor recipient himself presided over the board which met from 16 October 1916 until 17 January 1917. The board was to apply a standard set forth for the appropriate award of the Medal of Honor. The standard had been identified in an earlier bill that provided for a $10 stipend to medal recipients. The board announced its findings on 5 February 1917. A total of 911 names, including all 864 names of members of the 27th Maine, were permanently stricken from the Medal of Honor roll.

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