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Daughter of Civil War Vet Honored

September 8, 1999

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ Few people can say, My daddy fought at Gettysburg. Or Manassas. Or Antietam.

That’s why Florence Caston received so much attention at a gathering of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which recently held its annual convention in Portland.

At 95, Caston is one of only a handful of surviving women whose fathers fought in the Civil War.

The organization counts only 18 members in this elite group, but there are others like Caston who aren’t members. And the numbers continue to drop with the passing of time, said Joyce Johnson of Escondido, Calif.

``You have some who used to go (to the annual meeting) regularly, faithfully, but not too many are able any more,″ said Johnson, who is responsible for keeping track of the dwindling ranks of ``real daughters.″

The United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., reports 178 ``real daughters″ among its 21,500 members, according to figures from 1998, the most current available.

Caston’s father, Samuel Hoffman, was a sailmaker from Damariscotta who joined the 21st Maine Volunteer Regiment in 1862. State archives indicate he was a sergeant in the unit that saw action in Hudson, La.

Then he joined the 2nd Maine Calvary Regiment, which saw action in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana, before leaving the Union Army to join the Navy, according to reports by the Maine adjutant general.

There is no record of him being wounded, but enemy bullets were not to be feared as much as disease. Only 37 died from wounds but 479 died from disease in his Army units, according to state archives.

Caston, who will turn 96 on Oct. 9, doesn’t know much about her father’s service in the Union Army because she was only 2 when he died on Oct. 23, 1905. Hoffman apparently didn’t talk much about his wartime exploits.

``It was a senseless war,″ she said, hastening to add that she was proud that her father fought for the cause that ended of slavery. ``I’m proud of him. I’m proud he helped free the slaves.″

For Caston, her father’s biggest mark on history came after the war, when he joined a club only to discover later that its members hated Roman Catholics and planned to burn down a church in Damariscotta.

Hoffman tipped off others about the plan, and the mob was stopped, Caston said. Her father then quit the group.

Thanks to his actions, St. Patrick’s Church, described as the oldest surviving Catholic church in New England, still stands.

After the war, Hoffman married his third wife, Ida Grover, when he was 65 and she was about 20. Caston was the youngest of nine children, and her father was in his 80s when she was conceived.

``People have asked how a man his age could be so virile,″ Caston mused. ``The one thing I heard was that he ate six soft-boiled eggs and three boiled potatoes every day.″

Having an older father is typical for the surviving ``real daughters,″ said Johnson. In the 1800s, women often died during childbirth, so the men remarried and continued fathering children.

For Caston, life became hard after the death of her father, whose Civil War pension amounted to $9.29 a month. And a few years later, when Caston was 6, her mother died from tuberculosis.

Caston lived in a Bath orphanage for the children of Civil War veterans before being taken in by a sister and her husband. Caston later married, but her husband died in 1945. They had no children.

She said she has thought about joining the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, whose ranks of about 3,200 women includes granddaughters and great-granddaughters and whose youngest member is 8 years old.

Some members met her at St. Joseph’s Manor, a nursing home in Portland, and took her to the Doubletree Hotel, where she told her story.

In all, about 125 members registered for the convention, which included a visit to the Brunswick home of Gen. Joshua Chamberlain, whose 20th Maine Regiment led a heroic bayonet charge at Gettysburg’s Little Round Top.

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