Col. Edwards’ Letter
COL. EDWARDS’ LETTER.
Bethel, Jan. 25th, 1896
My dear friend Stevens:—
Your kind letter came to hand in due time; many thanks for the same. You say I may have forgotten you; my answer is, No, I well remember you and other sergeants of that old Co. E. Lieut. J. S. French, I remember as Serg. back in ’62; what a fine fellow he was! I can now seem to see him as he lay dying in front, and but a few feet from the rifle pits at Rappahannock Station, and his last words will always be remembered. He said, “Boys, on, on, don’t wait for me.” I have no doubt he is now waiting to welcome us when we pass to the other side. There is Sargt. W. S. Robinson, who was promoted Lieut. In the Veteran regiment, what a brave and gallant soldier! I think he was promoted Lieut. at the same time you were. Also the jolly Tom Ward, who was always in his place. If space permitted I might mention many more. You speak of remembering me as senior officer at Charles City, Cross Roads; yes, those days seem but yesterday. No time in the history of the old Fifth, did she pass through a more exciting scene. Forty-two guns, and eighteen were twelve pound brass pieces, belching forth their thunder over our heads; only once in the history of the regiment did she experience such cannonading, and that at Gettysburg, in ’63. Yes, I remember when the eighteenth Corps, commanded by Wm. F. Smith from the army of the James, joined us at Cold Harbor, which added to our strength eighteen or twenty thousand; it also added courage to our boys. But after that fearful charge on the morning of the third the battle of Cold Harbor had been fought, and I might as well say lost. You also ask if I remember when the flag fell to the ground on the twelfth of May, ’64, near the “Bloody Angle,” indeed I do! And I also remember when it twice fell in that fearful charge two days before, on the tenth. In speaking of the fight on May twelfth, carries me back to thirty-two years ago; I will relate as I remember it. Early on the morning of May twelfth 1864, as you lay on your loaded muskets, orders came to the head quarters of the Regt. To be ready to move at once, as the enemy was forcing back Hancock’s front line. The Regt. moved immediately by the left flank led by the 95th and 96th, Penn., and 121st, N. Y. Then within some two hundred yards one came into line by the right flank, and moved on in line to battle; when within seventy-five or one hundred yards, Gen. Upton gave me the order to charge up the hill and a little to the right of the “Bloody Angle” which orders we obeyed, and broke from the line slightly obliquing to the right, and when within twenty yards of their front was to charge, the yell was given and the next instant the rifles in the rebel pits appeared with bits of paper, white rags, dirty handkerchiefs attached; the command was halted at once and it was found that they wanted to come into our lines and give themselves up as prisoners of war. I think it was at this place that the color guard was shot and the flag fell to the ground. We took about one hundred prisoners from this pit. In the second pit in the rear of the one we had captured, they asked me to charge upon them, and they would surrender, but we did not “see it in that light,” as we would have been obliged to move in open ground about fifteen rods in order to reach that pit and by that time there would not have been any of the Fifth Maine to surrender to. I earnestly entreated them to come in, but their answer was this, “If we do without your charging on us, those in our rear will report us deserters, and we will be shot if exchanged.” As we fell back they gave us a few parting shots, and one or two of our men were wounded. Then we moved those two guns up to the pit we had just cleaned out, and it was there that the muzzles of the guns rested on the rebel works, and we burned what ammunition there was in the caissons and limber belonging to the same. White, who I think was Lieut. of your Coo, at that time, put his shoulder to the off wheel of the first gun run up, and the old man the near wheel. White has received a pension for injuries in shoulder for thirty years, but not a pension for the old man. The other gun was run up by our boys, and nearly all of the ammunition was carried up by the boys of our Regt. Two of the gunners of the battery came up at that time and we asked them to take charge of the guns, they asked me “for what time the fuse to be cut?” My reply was: “half a second, if it would be safe;” they said, “it would do for a short time, but as the gun warms up, it would not be safe.” Why we asked for the half second fuse was this, that the shells might explode over the heads of these rascals who wounded our men as we moved back. This section was of the Fifth U. S. Artillery Battery C., belonging to Hancock’s Corps.
The twelfth of May, ’64, was one of the hardest days the Fifth Maine ever experienced, it went into the fight at 7:00 A. M. and was relieved at 7:30 P. M. Many of our boys burned four hundred rounds. One young boy, a recruit in your Co. who came into the Regt. in March, then only eight weeks in the service, was dealt three hundred and sixty rounds.
You speak of Capt. Lamont who fell on the ridge, yes, pierced by more than twenty bullets; he was a brave, noble man. It was here that the noble Martin of Rumford fell, also Andrews of Andover, but I will not enumerate all who gave their lives on that day, from the fifth Maine Regt. At last we were relieved and moved back some five hundred yards and bivouacked for the night in a soaking rain without a shelter, and soon those tired soldiers were sleeping soundly. At early dawn the command was under arms and I, with the chaplain, went forward on a reconnoisance. The firing had then ceased, although was kept up until 2:00 A. M. of the morning of the thirteenth of the thirteenth. It had also stopped raining. We rode up to the position we had left a few hours before, and some of the Regt. that had relieved us were still in line. I well remember the awful scene that lay before us. A detail from the Hospital and Ambulance train were taking out the dead and wounded from the pits, some places they laid three to five deep! In one or two instances the dead were upon the living, as the under one, with perhaps a leg broken or shoulder crushed, fell, and the next minute some one fell upon him, shot dead. No time during our service did we see anything like this. The oak tree that was cut off by bullets was but a few feet from us. We made the remark that if Barnum had the trunk of that tree in his museum he might make a fortune out of it. Now many people, and even soldiers may not understand how this tree could be cut off by bullets. The tree was sixteen inches in diameter at the ground and perhaps twenty-five feet in height to the first limbs, it stood about thirty-five feet from the top of the ridge. The rebel rifle pit was between the tree and where we held. Now the night of May twelfth was very dark and rainy, thousands of muskets, in the hands of our men being fired as fast as possible, cut off the top of that tree some twelve feet from the ground. These soldiers mistook the body of the tree for a man no doubt, as the body of the tree could be discerned in the dark, as the heavens frame the back ground.—This trunk is now in the Nat. museum at Washington, on the Smithsonian grounds, sent there by the landlord of the hotel at Spottsylvania Court House, about three years after the war; to be preserved from the depredations of relic hunters it is now encased in glass. Then you speak of my enjoying a hearty old age; yes, I can truly say that I do, but I can fell old age creeping on; did I say creeping? I should say galloping. Within the last year you say you have heard from Capt. Robinson and Lieut. Summersides. Robinson is in the furniture business at Phillips, Summersides is in trade at Gorham. Col. Millet is P. M. at Gorham, he is also member of the house at Augusta; I saw by the Portland papers that he is now sick, but hope he is better before this. Capt. Buckman is still at Mechanic Falls, as genial and hearty as ever. Major Daggett is still in the regular army. Lieut. White is in New Mexico, and I hope is still drawing a pension for that lame shoulder. Capt. R. M. Stevens, always, brave, and always true, is now “over the river;” he died about three years ago; his widow, son and daughter, live in Portland. I think Capt. Nathan Walker was mustered out, the twenty-fourth of June 1891, just thirty years from the day he was mustered into the U. S. service; his widow I met at Peak’s Island, at our last reunion; she is now living at Empire Road. Lieut. Patterson, the last I heard of him, was doing a prosperous real estate business in Denver. Adjt. Bicknall is settled at Cambridge, Mass., and is one of our most gifted orators. Col. Jackson died two years ago in Mass. I will now speak of a few of the officers which you have not mentioned, Capt. A. P. Harris is in trade in Chicago, he has just applied for a pension after these many years; he was wounded in three of the great battles, and Spottsylvania, severely. I hope “red tape” will not be used in his case. Lieut. John McClellan is a packer of sweet corn at Windham; he was one of those who re-enlisted and was promoted to Capt. in the Vet. Regt., was a brave and gallant officer. Capt. Small is living at Topsham, Surgeon Warren still lives at Biddeford, Capt. Deering, who lost his leg at the battle at Salem Church, was discharged in ’63 and is now preaching in Connecticut.
Capt. Pillsbury is employed in the Kittery Navy Yard. I could give you the addresses of many more if you wished me to do so. I must close this long letter. You say you have often thought of visiting me, when coming to Maine. I hope you will not give it up, as I would be most happy to greet you at my old home. The latch string will always be out and our bill of fare shall not be wholly of “hard tack” and “side bacon.” I had almost forgotten to tell you that one of your old company, Jones, lives in this place. He often speaks of you. I presume you will remember him, as he was the drummer boy of Co. E. I will ask him to write to you.
Very truly yours,
C. S. Edwards.
To C. P. Stevens, Attorney at Law,