Born in Bangor, Maine, John Francis Appleton was the oldest son of Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice John Appleton. A graduate of Bowdoin College in 1860, upon the outbreak of the Civil War the young lawyer quickly set about raising a company of recruits of the 12th Maine Volunteer Infantry and was commissioned as Captain on November 15, 1861 in command of Co. H of the 12th Maine. Written by a fellow officer in a published account of action at the Battle of Port Hudson, it was said that Capt. Appleton alone, among ten thousand men who fought that day, mounted the Rebel parapet and stood there facing the whole Rebel Army, a mark for a thousand rifles. A Confederate officer told me, after the surrender, that as he saw that young man standing there so calm and brave, he could not bear to see him die, and he told his men not to fire upon him. For this and other notable acts Capt. Appleton was commended by Gen. Butler. He would be promoted to the Colonelcy of the 9th Regiment of Infantry, Corps d’Afrique in June of 1863 and assigned command of a brigade of free Blacks. The 9th was reorganized to become the 81st United States Colored Troops in 1864. Col. Appleton was brevetted Brigadier General, US Volunteers on March 13, 1865, joining the ranks of another Union general from Bangor serving in Louisiana, Cyrus Hamlin, the son of Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.
Members of the JOHN F. APPLETON G.A.R. POST No. 25 relax in front of their headquarters at the 1929, 63rd G.A.R. National Encampment in Portland, Maine.