War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 2]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 2]


Bethel News, Vol. 2, No. 33


January 13, 1897



The transcribed text below may include some minor changes in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling to improve readability.



Full Text


Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

By Col. Clark S. Edwards

number ii

The Fifth Maine Regiment left Portland for Washington, June 25, 1861. Forty rounds of ammunition were distributed to each soldier before boarding the train.

The boys of Company "I" were particularly busy on the morning of the 25th, for at daybreak the tents were struck, baggage secured and loaded, and everything was in readiness for the start of the front. We arrived in Boston about twelve o'clock, noon, and at once proceeded to New York by the Fall River Line of Steamers. Arriving in New York on the forenoon of the 26th, a short parade was made through the city. It was at this time that a beautiful silk banner was presented to the regiment by the Sons of Maine. From New York we proceeded to Washington by way of Philadelphia and Baltimore. In Philadelphia a well provided breakfast awaited the regiment, served by the generous ladies of the Quaker City, whose hospitality some of us, who were fortunate enough to return in 1864, again enjoyed. Upon arriving at Baltimore, it was deemed prudent that every precaution should be taken against all danger, for there were rumors of intended attack upon northern soldiers as they passed through the city. Muskets were loaded and every one was ready for action in case an attack should be made. The regiment, however, marched through the city without any disturbance, and at once embarked by rail for Washington, reaching the city on the evening of June 27th, about eight o'clock P. M. We were quartered in a hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue near where the St. James Hotel now stands. Nothing was too good for the soldiers in those early days of the war, as they went to the front, though this feeling of hospitality and regard was not fully sustained in later years. Perhaps the frequent sight of soldiers had a tendency to lessen the interest that was so prominently manifested at the beginning of the war.

In June 28th the regiment went into camp on Meridian Hill, about two miles from Washington. Here our first Fourth of July in service was passed. As no soldier was allowed outside the line there was more grumbling than celebrating, in camp, the sound of bells and booming of cannon being distinctly heard. On the morning of July 9th orders came for us to embark on the steamer at the foot of 7th Street for Alexandria. Here we went into camp about a mile from the city. Remaining here a day or two, we then moved a mile or more to the front, where we found the 3rd and 4th Maine Regiments in camp. It was here that our soldier life really began, for we at once began picket duty, slashing timber, building forts and digging trenches. On the 16th of July the regiment advanced toward Manassas, thence to Centreville and the Bull Run battlefield. A portion of the way we had marched was over the old Braddock road, that was built more than 150 years ago, if it can now be called a road; it was over this same way that Braddock with his British troops and young Col. Washington with a few colonial soldiers pressed on to meet the French and Indians, and if history is correct I think our retreat from Bull Run was in quite as good order as theirs.

The march from Centreville to Bull Run was by the way of Sudbury Church, a long and circuitous route. Soon after leaving Centreville, it being reported that an engagement was in progress, the order "double quick" was given. The brigade hastened forward, but was too late to render much assistance.

July 21st, 1861, was one of the hottest days of the year. Think of men clothed in thick woolen garments, carrying sixty pounds of accouterments in the form of blankets, gun, ammunition, etc., making "double quick" time for six or seven miles, while the intense heat of the sun was unendurable. Hundreds of poor men fell by the wayside overcome with heat or hopelessly exhausted. Canteens were emptied, and there was no water to be had until we nearly reached Sudbury Church, when we crossed a small stream through which thousands had passed. Though the water was thick with dirt, it was eagerly drank by the thirsty men and horses, side by side. In many cases the soldiers used their shoes for dippers, having thrown away their haversacks while on the march. The scenes here witnessed made an impression upon those who participated that will endure as long as life itself.

Rushing forward, we were soon on the Bull Run battlefield. Our brigade was composed of the 3rd and 4th Maine Regiments and 2nd Vermont, commanded by Gen. O. O. Howard. We advanced in line of battle to the foot of the hill near the Henry House. At this time many troops were falling back, including the famous Ellsworth Zouaves.[1] The 5th Maine did as other regiments were doing, though it soon halted and again moved forward into the woods near the Henry House, and here maintained its position for some time. After several rounds of ammunition had been burned the order to cease firing and to retreat was given. It was promptly obeyed, as history relates, and confusion and disorder reigned.

In this battle Company "I" shed its first blood; John Shackley, one of the men from Bryant's Pond squad, was wounded severely in his foot. He was taken back to Alexandria, where he remained in the hospital for some time and was finally discharged from the service, on account of disabilities.

Levi W. Towle of Company "I" was killed at Bull Run, it is presumed, for he was never seen or heard from after the battle.[2]

Washington B. Robinson[3] and Charley Freeman were taken prisoner, though they returned to the company in December, 1861. The next battle in which the Bethel Company met with losses, killed in battle, was fought Sept. 14, 1862 at Crampton Pass, Maryland, this pass being the center one of several passes through the Blue Ridge Mountains. This battle resulted in a brilliant and decisive victory for the Union forces. Many instances of personal bravery of members of Company "I" could here be related, but it is not my purpose to go into the details very much in these running sketches of war reminiscences. At Crampton Pass, three men of Company "I" were killed, John F. Bryant of West Bethel, Samuel E. Lufkin of Bryant's Pond and Oliver Fletcher of Saco. In only one other battle were there as many men of the Bethel Company killed as in this one. Of this other battle, which was fought on May 3, 1863, I will speak later.

Bryant, at the time of his enlistment, was living at West Bethel with his family, and was employed by the late Henry Ward in the manufacture of shook. He was a fine soldier. He died while nobly doing his duty, and his loss was keenly felt by surviving comrades.

Lufkin was a native of Rumford, being a member of the well-known Lufkin family, men of large stature and excellent qualities. No better soldier, I believe, ever left Oxford County. He was bold, fearless, and ever ready to do or die, a man of great bravery and much esteemed.

Fletcher joined the company in Portland. I therefore do not remember him as well as I do some other members, yet I remember him as taking part in he McClellan Campaign across the Peninsular, also charging the enemy up the mountain side at Crampton Pass, where he was killed facing the foe.

While visiting the battle-fields in 1886, I felt it my duty to the relatives and friends of those patriots to find their resting places on this side, and soon after entering the cemetery at Antietam, as we passed up the walk on the right of the National Monument, almost the first graves we came to were those of Bryant, Lufkin and Shaw. If this sketch meets the eye of anyone interested, they may know that the remains are now resting in one of the finest cemeteries in the land.[4]

Passing over several battles in which the company was engaged, the next loss sustained in killed was on that fatal third of May 1863, a day never to be forgotten while a member of the old 5th Maine Regiment lives.

[to be continued.]

[1] The 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, known alternately as the Ellsworth Zouaves, First Fire Zouaves, First Regiment New York Zouaves, and U.S. National Guards.

[2] The 1863 Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Maine lists Levi W. Towle of Jackson, N.H. as “Bull Run pris. at Richmond.”

[3] Washington B. Robertson. Edwards makes a common mistake by confusing the surname "Robertson" with "Robinson."

[4] For unknown reasons, there is a cenotaph for Lufkin in Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery. A National Parks Service website about Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery includes an image of Lufkin’s headstone and those of two other soldiers (also named Lufkin), and notes, “Strangely the Confederate Cemetery contains three headstones for Union soldiers. None of the three are buried here and none died in the area. None of the headstones indicate that they are simply memorial stones, not graves.”