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Precarious Position at Brooks’ Ford

On April 27, 1863, the Clark brothers of Sangerville, Maine, strode into Brady’s studio and posed for this portrait. The timing of the impromptu family reunion is noteworthy. A week later and 60 miles south in Virginia, a member of this trio performed an act of gallantry that resulted in the Medal of Honor.

The Clark brothers, from left: James, Whiting and Charles. Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C. Ronald S. Coddington Collection.
The Clark brothers, from left: James, Whiting and Charles. Carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady of New York City and Washington, D.C. Ronald S. Coddington Collection.

Charles Amory Clark, right, started his service in the 6th Maine Infantry as a corporal and had advanced to first lieutenant and regimental adjutant. A few days later near Chancellorsville, Clark and his comrades, along with four other regiments designated the Light Division, numbered among the first U.S. troops to cross the Rappahannock River. The Light Division fought hard and lost heavily during the unfolding battle. It’s success, however, was not enough to turn the larger tide of battle.

Late in the evening of May 4, as U.S. forces retreated across the Rappahannock River, the 6th found itself in a precarious position guarding a pontoon crossing at Brooks’ Ford. Facing imminent attack by rebel forces, the quickest escape route involved a steep descent of 50-60 feet down a bluff to the pontoons. The senior captain balked. Clark, astride his trusty horse Jim, managed to lead the regiment in silence beneath a moonlit sky to the river’s edge and safety.

The commander of the Light Division and colonel of the 6th, Hiram Burnham, paid tribute to Clark in his after action report: “His coolness, gallantry, and presence of mind in the engagement at Brooks’ Ford contributed in a great measure to saving his regiment from annihilation and capture.” Burnham added, “He is deserving of a brevet, medal, or mention in general orders” for his courage along the Rappahannock.

Six months later along the same river, Clark suffered a wound in the leg during the Battle of Rappahannock Station. The injury ended his service. He resigned in October 1864 after a stint in the Adjutant General’s Office, leaving the army with the rank of captain and two brevets. In 1896, he received the Medal of Honor. Clark lived until age 72, dying in 1913. He had outlived his two brothers.

Colby University student Whiting Stevens Clark, center, organized Company E of the 18th Maine Infantry after his 1862 graduation and became its captain. Before the year’s end, the War Department changed the regiment’s designation to the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. Like many of the Heavies, the Mainers left the Defenses of Washington and joined the Army of the Potomac on the 1864 Overland Campaign. Whiting survived it all. He mustered out in 1865 with a colonel’s brevet and died in 1891 at age 53.

James William Clark, left, served as first lieutenant in brother Whiting’s company and advanced to regimental adjutant. He suffered a wound to his right arm in the Second Battle of Petersburg on June 18, 1864. Surgeons amputated the limb, and he succumbed to its effects a month later at age 25.

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