War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 5]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 5]


Bethel News, Vol. 2, No. 36


February 3, 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 v

Bethel also lost at Salem Church one of her noblest sons and finest soldiers, so far as my knowledge enables me to speak, Washington Frye Brown, who was born in Bethel, Nov. 11th 1829, son of the late Simeon and Sophia Holt Brown, who at one time lived in the house now owned by Seth Walker, known as the John Garland house, and later lived for twelve years or more at Middle Intervale, in he house below the Carter brick house, then known as the Carter Mansion. Here Brown was living when he enlisted in the Bethel Company. I do not feel competent to do him justice in these brief sketches. We were the best of friends before the war. We had worked together, camped in the same tent, eaten at the same table, drank from the same canteen, in fact, we had enjoyed each others' confidence and esteem for years. He was appointed Orderly Sergeant of the Bethel Company before I turned the command over to Capt. J. B. Walker. Later we recommended him for 2nd Lieut. in the Company, but for some reason unknown to me, even to this day, his commission never reached the regiment.

Whether or not the fact that he was an admirer of "Little Mac" had anything to do with the withholding of the commission, I cannot say, though I know that no man of the Fifth Maine deserved promotion more than he did. He died a plain Sergeant, falling fatally wounded in the abdomen on that last line of battle near Salem Church, May 3, 1863. I requested his brother, Orrin, to look after his remains, as I supposed he was dying at the time.

As we lay there in camp, everything being quiet after the terrible day through which we had passed, I could hear the moaning and the sighing of the wounded. A sad night for us all. A third of our number gone. Just as I had fallen asleep, I was aroused by a touch on my shoulder. Awakening, I found O. S. Brown at my side, who had come at the request of his brother, Washington, for myself and Chaplain Adams, whom he wished to see, knowing that he could not long survive. I quietly moved among the boys till I found the chaplain; informing him of Brown's request, we at once started in search of the dying comrade, whom we found in an old dilapidated house on our picket line.

The night was hot and the air was sulphurous, the smoke of battle having settled down upon the field. We quietly entered the house, the rebel picket being near. Total darkness prevailed, for it would not do to have a light when the enemy was only a few rods distant. The groans of the suffering and dying man made known his whereabouts. He lay upon the floor upon his blanket. I gave him some water, and he rallied a little, when he asked the good old chaplain to pray. There in the still hours of the night at the side of our dear friend and noble soldier, whose life was fast ebbing away, the chaplain offered prayer in a low tone of voice, asking the God of battles to soothe the pain and suffering and to give him strength that would enable him to be moved.

After words of consolation and cheer by the chaplain, Brown asked me to take him to the hospital tent. We at once undertook to carry out his wishes, the chaplain, Orrin Brown, a picket guard and myself taking hold of the blanket by its four corners, but poor Brown could not endure the pain caused by this manner of removal. We then tore a door from its hinges and placed him upon this. Some noise was necessarily made when the door was taken down. The rebel picket, undoubtedly hearing this, fired at the old building, for shot came crashing through the house. We carried Brown on the door from the place where we found him, back into our lines, near the hospital tent, where we met some stretcher-bearers who were coming for him, when we gave him into their care.

It was then that I clasped his hand for the last time, bidding him good bye till we meet again where wars will not be known. Orrin remained with his brother till morning, when he was taken to Washington with the rest of the wounded of the 6th Corps, where he died the following day. The chaplain and myself wended our way back to what was left of the regiment. Not a word was spoken by either of us; our hearts were too full for utterance.

If ever Bethel's history in the war should be again written, Washington F. Brown's record should have a prominent place, for no braver man or better soldier ever left the town we love so well. His life and character should be sacredly cherished, for his friends, comrades, and townsmen can point with pride and admiration to his record as a soldier who gave his life for the Union.

You all remember Salem Heights, that dreadful Sunday night
When we changed into the jaws of death with the Fifth Maine on the right,
Where hundreds of our boys went down before the leaden rain,
And side by side in heaps they lay, the "Onesters"* and Fifth Maine.

How we grieved and wept that night, as we lay on that field so red,
Thinking of the dreadful carnage and our many comrades dead!
They were our best and bravest—in the front we see them yet!
We will all their names remember and their deeds will ne'er forget.

Stephen Estes, Jr., was born in East Bethel, June 23, 1821, was mustered into the Bethel Company Aug. 30, 1862, and was discharged for disability, Oct. 23 following. He was in the charge at Crampton Pass, but was not in the Antietam fight. I think that he died some years ago in one of the new western states.

Washington B. Robertson, private in Company I, was born in Bethel, Sept. 20, 1826. He was a son of Samuel Robertson and lived on what is now called Robertson Hill. He was taken prisoner at Bull Run, July 21, 1861, and sent to Libby Prison, Richmond, Va., where he remained till the following December, when he returned to the company, remaining with us a short time, but poor health, occasioned by five months of prison life, compelled him to take a leave of absence.

He returned to his old home on the Hill, where under his mother's care he partly regained his strength, though never became the strong and rugged man that he was before enlistment.

In June, 1862, he again joined the company and participated in the Peninsular Campaign, which included Gaines Hill, Charles City, Cross Roads and Malvern Hill. Robertson did his last work on the field during the Maryland Campaign, which was conducted by that noble leader, McClellan.

On account of failing health, he was discharged from the service and returned to his boyhood home, where he remained a year or two. I next heard of him at Manchester, N.H., where he was at work whenever his strength would allow. Meeting him one day on the street, I asked him why he did not apply for a pension, saying that if any man deserved assistance from the government, he was the man. I volunteered to do what I could for him, but he replied that he would never ask the government for a cent, so long as he could earn it.

A few years later, completely broken down in health, he made application for a pension. I made as strong affidavit in his behalf as was possible, also secured the best evidence from his comrades and townsmen, but the red tape of the pension department at Washington delayed action on his papers, when no clearer case, in my belief, was ever presented.

Poor Robertson died without ever receiving a pension. In his last sickness, he was kindly cared for by the Grand Army in Portland. Everything was done by his comrades to administer relief, but death soon followed. He was buried on the hillside near his old home. No stone or slab marks his resting place, though his old comrades remember him with flowers and flags as regularly as Memorial Day comes.

[to be continued.]


* "Onesters" was a nickname given to the 121st New York by Capt. George E. Brown, of Portland, a member of the 5th Maine, when they first joined the Brigade near Antietam. The regiment was largely raised in Herkimer Co., Mohawk Valley, northern New York. Col. Edwards will probably refer to this regiment again in a later chapter. He will also have Sergeant Brown's picture in a later number if he can secure a photograph. Any one having a photograph of Mr. Brown taken in 1862 or 1863 will confer a favor by sending same to Col. Edwards.