Bangor Waterfront Home To Relics From A Brutal Revolutionary War Battle
Evidence of one of the U.S. Navy's greatest losses is right here in Bangor, and Brewer. You've probably walked right by them a few times.
If you've walked along the Bangor Waterfront, you've probably strolled right by relics of one of the most brutal battles the U.S. Navy has ever fought. The cannons, now historic decretive piece, on the waterfront once fired upon British ships during a Revolutionary War battle off the coast of Maine. The fight would be the greatest naval disaster in U.S. history until the attack on Pear Harbor over 160 years later, in 1941.
What is known as the Penobscot Expedition was a U.S. Navy mission to dislodge the British from the Penobscot Bay area in 1779. The armada of American warships included 19 armed battleships, 24 transport ships, with over 1,000 militiamen. According to detailed battle history from the Castine Historical Society, Commodore Dudley Saltonstall lead the naval forces, Brig. Gen. Solomon Lovell commanded the land forces, and Lt. Col. Paul Revere, yup that Paul Revere, was in command of the ordnance train.
On July 25, the expedition arrived and began an uncoordinated assault on the British forces. American forces underutilized their firepower, giving the Brits time to send for reinforcements. As Sir George Collier’s seven British warships sailed into battle, Saltonstall's ships did not fight for long. The naval battle ended in absolute disaster on August 14, as Saltonstall sailed his surviving ships up the Penobscot River in retreat. His remaining 9 or 10 ships were scuttled near the mouth of the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor. During the haphazard battle and retreat, it's believed that American forces totaled a loss in excess of 470 men. Saltonstall was later court-martialed for cowardice.
According to a brief historical write-up by the City of Brewer, evidence of these burned vessels sat on the bottom of the river until Bangor harbor was dredged in August 1876. Found during the work were cannons, cannonballs, and other projectiles. Five more cannons were found in 1953 when construction began on the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge. One of the cannons fell back into the river.
The very cannons from these warships are the ones on display throughout the Bangor and Brewer waterfronts. Two sit along the Bangor waterfront, inscribed with 1979. Another is displayed in Brewer, at the mouth of the Penobscot Bridge. One cannon is displayed in the Kenduskeag Mall in Downtown Bangor. A salvaged Howitzer canon is at the Thomas A. Hill Historic House. Two other canons were given away; one to the Dravo Corporation, which conducted the bridge dredging, and another was given to the Robert Verrier Construction Company of Portland, which built the Chamberlain Bridge.
Now that you know this pretty neat bit of Bangor history, don't think you can don a scuba suit and go looking for treasure in the river. All U.S. military wrecks are government property. It's a federal crime to disturb these shipwrecks in any way without prior permission. Any persons caught in possession of, or in the process of collecting, historic artifacts from the Penobscot River associated with the Penobscot Expedition will be prosecuted.