OF THE BETHEL COMPANY,
Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.
[By Col. Clark S. Edwards]
Having been often asked by many of my fellow citizens to give personal reminiscences of the different members of the Bethel Company, I have consented to write a brief sketch of the stirring events in which Bethel people were particularly interested during the war, as well as to give more or less of individual history that has never been told in print.
To mention all the incidents of interest connected with the company would be impossible, though I hope something may be said, even in my poor manner, that will refresh not only the memory of the survivors of the company, but the memory of those of our people who remember the trying days of 1861, though no attempt will be made to present a full and complete history of the noble labors performed by the boys of Company I.
On the 22nd of April, 1861, Gov. Israel Washburn issued orders directing the Major Generals of the State Militia to raise ten regiments of volunteers. At this time our legislature was in session, and the Bethel district was represented by Tapley J. Kimball, Esq., of Middle Intervale.
I at once applied to Mr. Kimball for recruiting papers, which were received April 26th, though before the papers were taken from the post office seven or eight of Bethel’s bravest young men signified their intention of enrolling their names as members of the company at the earliest possible moment. Within five days of the receipt of the recruiting papers, the number of names required by the state in the formation of a company were secured.
The Governor was notified that the company was full. The next mail brought the good news that our present able and popular United States Senator, Wm. P. Frye, then a member of Major General Wm. Wirt Virgin’s staff, would be in Bethel on the following morning, May 4th, 1861, for the purpose of organizing the company.
Senator Frye, though a young man, gave us an admirable address. His patriotic words, spoken with his characteristic earnestness and enthusiasm, strengthened us all for the trials that awaited us, though we little knew of the hardships and dangers that we were to pass through before returning to the homes we loved so well.
The company was duly organized, and all preparation was made for an immediate departure for Washington or wherever the government demanded. The scenes and emotions which marked the departure of Bethel soldiers in the war for the Union on that sad and memorable May morning in 1861, I can but feebly describe. The platform at the, railroad station was crowded with men, women and children. Great excitement and enthusiasm prevailed. Never was our little town more thoroughly aroused than it was on this morning. I can never forget the varied partings of kindred, lovers and friends with those never so well loved as then; partings in which pride and joy were mingled with grief and sad forebodings. The last good bye was said at this time by several brave fellows whose remains now lie buried in southern soil. Tears flowed freely from the eyes of wives, mothers, sisters and loved ones, as parting words were said .The scene evidently brought before us a clearer realization of the sadness of the conflict upon which we were entering.
I can now seem to see among the many patriotic Bethel women on the station platform, one particularly dear to me, with her five little children about her, bidding me good-bye, a sad parting, indeed for husband, wife and children, for no one could foretell what war had in store for us. What sacrifices were made by our noblewomen and what sufferings were endured by them while husband and sons were fighting the battles of their country!
The company arrived in Portland about noon, and at once marched to an old school building on Congress St., a short distance from City Hall. Excellent rations were given out at Mechanic’s Hall. On the last of May or first of June, the company moved to Camp Preble, now South Portland, being the first company on the ground. While here the Fifth Maine Regiment was organized, with Mark H. Dunnells as colonel. The Bethel Company was known as “I” in the list of companies. We had been in Camp Preble a short time when orders came from the War Department at Washington that no more three months men or one or two years men would be accepted, but that the term of enlistment must be three years, if not sooner discharged. As the company had enlisted for one year only, I at once called the men together and had the order read regarding the term of service now required. It was optional with the men to reenlist for three years or not. I am proud to say that the larger part of the company re-enlisted. A few men, not liking camp life as they had seen it during three or four weeks of state service, returned to Bethel. The company now numbered only fifty-five or sixty men, while the law required one hundred members rank and file. In a short time the company had eighty men, the addition coming largely from the following towns in Oxford Co.: Greenwood, Albany, Stoneham, Sweden, Buckfield, Rumford, Canton, Mexico, Paris, Woodstock, Andover, Mason, Upton, Newry, Grafton, Sumner, Riley Plantation, Brownfield, Hamlin’s Grant and Norway.
The company now lacking about twenty of the required numbers, Lieut. C. M. Wormell, now of this place, went to Bryant’s Pond and selected twenty men from a company that was recruited by the late Doctor Lapham and Moses Houghton. The Bryant’s Pond Company was disbanded, there being more volunteers in those early days of the war, than were wanted by the government, though this was not the case later, when volunteers in some sections were rare. Company “I” now had its requisite. While at Camp Preble, the Company was most pleasantly patriotically remembered by the good ladies of Bethel, who in large numbers came to bid us goodbye before starting South. They drove over from Portland in carriages, bringing with them a beautiful silk flag which was presented to the company by Mrs. A. G. Gaines, wife of the beloved pastor of the Universalist church. Mrs. Gaines address was given with much feeling and more than one man was moved to tears as her eloquent words were spoken. The address was published in the Portland Courier, also in the Bethel Courier, June 21, 1861. The following is a copy of the address as printed in the Bethel paper.
This morning at ten o’clock a very pleasant incident occurred at Camp Preble. The ladies of Bethel, some forty in number, were on the ground with a beautiful company flag, designed for presentation to the Union Guards, Capt. Edwards, of that town. After prayer by Rev. J. W. Hanson of Haverhill, Mass., the following eloquent address was delivered in a most appropriate manner by Rev. Mrs. A. G. Gaines of Bethel: —
Soldiers of our beloved Union:
We come to you to-day, a band of patriotic women, feebly endeavoring to represent the faithful and patriotic hearts that beat among the hills of Bethel, and on the banks of the Androscoggin, where lie your homes and live your dear ones, how dear some of us here to-day, know full well.
But dearly as we love, you, our friends, our husbands and our sons, we love the cause of freedom and our country more; for what were love without a home, and what were home with-out the protection of our glorious Government, and free institutions. Our home must be under the banner of Freedom.
We thank God that we have husbands, and brothers, and fathers, and sons to send forth in their defence.
Yes, and we send you freely, as did our Revolutionary mothers before us; for be assured that the noble and undying spirit of those patriotic women, has not wholly departed from their daughters.
Go forth and sustain our Government and her ballot-box, that foundation stone whereon is built the glorious fabric of the free Government. Let it not become a stupendous failure of self-government, and a by-word and scorn among the nations of Europe and of the world, but maintain it as the hope of the down-trodden nations of the earth, and of liberty and christianity forever.
It has been said that this government must fail—that it should fail; and ruthless hands have endeavored to fulfill the prophecy. But it shall not fail. Thank God, that there are hundreds of thousands of strong arms, and brave hearts ready to defend and maintain our national Union and Constitution.
For this cause you have quitted your homes, and grasped the sword in your country's defence. Lay it not down till our country is again free from the menace of traitors,—her glorious flag restored to those wonted places which now know it not, and peace and Union once more abide under its Star Spangled folds.
And now we ask you to accept from the patriotic ladies of Bethel, the glorious Stars and Stripes of our beloved Union. Take it to your hearts, each one of you, as a symbol of the love that burns in your homes for liberty and country, and as a token of the honor we would do our brave defenders. Go forth under its inspiration to do battle for the right, for freedom, and humanity, forgetting not to put on the armor of valor and virtue, and under God’s blessings you will be invincible.
Rev. Zenas Thompson responded on the part of the company to Mrs. Gaines address in words that produced the deepest emotion. Mr. Thompson was the first settled Universalist minister in Bethel, coming here in 1853 or early in 1854, at which time the present Universalist church was built. He built and lived in the house now owned and occupied by Mrs. O. H. Mason and son. He was for some time chaplain of the 6th Maine Regiment. It was mustered into the United States service on the evening of June 23rd, 1861, and was now ready to start for Dixie.
Col. C. S. Edwards.
[to be continued.]
 Emma Clara Gaines (1830-1887).