War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 7]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 7]


Bethel News, Vol. 2, No. 38


February 17, 1897



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Full Text


Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

By Col. Clark S. Edwards

number vii

May 5th the 6th Corps moved to the grounds which we had left seven days before. I found my tent floor as we left it in the early morning of Friday, April 29. The regiment pitched tents on the same bottoms which they left. After the regiment had put their tents in order, we took a stroll through the camp; I cannot forget the sad feelings which came over me, as I passed the tent floor of the first Sergeant of the Bethel Company. A few days before this Serg't Brown and Corporal Sawyer occupied this one. Sawyer then lay dead among the tangle underbrush at the head of Deep Run, and Brown was dying in Washington.

We remained here in camp about five weeks. As I write this, it reminds me of an incident which took place between the picket lines. One day while being engaged on a court martial at the Corps headquarters, our regiment was sent out on picket. I knew that our lines were near the enemy's and as soon as the court adjourned, I obtained permission from Gen. Brooks to go to the regiment, also to exchange papers with the rebels. I found the regiment all right, and from our line I could see three of the enemy sitting under the trees on the side of the hill four or five hundred yards away. I rode toward them a short distance and waved a paper over my head; they answered by doing the same. I was then sure that everything was right, and rode up within about fifteen rods, halted, and asked them to send down one of the party and I would exchange papers; I also requested one of my own rank meet me. One replied, "There is no colonel here, but I am a captain," and placing his hand on the shoulder of another, said, "here is a lieutenant." I jumped from my horse and throwing the reins over the pommel of the saddle, we met there in the sight of thousands of both armies. I then introduced myself as a down-east Yankee Colonel and pointed back to my regiment. Although nearly a third of a century ago, I well remember the conversation. They told me they belonged to the 46th Va. Infantry, and the regiment was raised down on the neck, as they expressed it, between the York and Rappahannock Rivers.

I then made an agreement to stop shooting on the picket line, as it was only murder as we looked at it, and that I would report the same to Gen. Brooks, and as long as the 6th Corps held the line from Hazel or Deep Run down the river a mile below the Barned House [?], not a shot was fired on either side.

We then exchanged papers, they giving me two for one, one being the Richmond Whig, published that day. We shook hands and parted. I took the papers to the general, receiving thanks instead of a reprimand. I have written this to show that there was not always that bitter feeling between the troops that many imagine.

We were now encamped on the plantation where Washington passed his boyhood days. We did not spend much time looking for the stump of the immortal cherry tree the youngster has heard so much of.

Mary Washington, the mother of our first president, is buried in the outskirts of the city near Mary's Heights. Six or seven thousand of the Confederate dead, killed in battle, are buried in the same ground. Our national cemetery near the foot of the Heights, I think, is the largest in this country and contains the remains of more dead than any on this continent; more than sixteen thousand lie waiting for the last roll call. I spent hours there a few years ago, looking for the last resting place of some of those I once led in battle, but only found four or five of the regiment, and none from the Bethel Company, although I was quite sure that the remains of Martin, Thurlow, Sawyer, Shaw, Sturgess, Miller, and Lapham were here sleeping that sleep that knows no earthly waking. The little stones marked "Unknown" told the tale, and of the sixteen thousand stones, nearly one half have that lettering.

The old monument erected in memory of Mary Washington has been replaced by a fine granite one erected by the ladies of this land. Mrs. Abbie Goold Woolson, one of Windham's brightest stars, presented the subject in a public lecture in Boston a few years ago, and now no one need blush as he passes the spire that points heavenward over the remains of the mother of our great and noble Washington.

While in Chicago during the World's Fair, I had the pleasure of meeting Gen. McLaws, the Republican National Commissioner from Georgia. He commanded all the forces that we encountered on that fatal third of May. He was commander of the First Corps of the Northern Virginia Army, and Thomas J. Jackson, better known as "Stonewall" Jackson, was commander of the First Corps, Longstreet being away in the southern part of the state to obtain forage for the army. Gen. McLaws gave me more particulars concerning "Stonewall" Jackson's death than I had ever heard before. Jackson had ordered one division to relieve another, and then rode out towards the Chancellorsville House; while away the order had been carried out, and when he returned, this division, not knowing that he was in the front, and it being very dark, mistook him for an enemy and three shots were fired, wounding him in the arms, one of which was afterward amputated. His wounds were not considered dangerous at the time.

The second day after, he was taken back to a house near Guinea station on the Richmond and Fredericksburg R. R., where he died five days after. The 5th Maine passed this house during Grant's campaign in '64, and crape was still hanging on the knob of the door. Gen. McLaws told me, they could not believe that Hooker had abandoned the fight, but was massing his forces below or near Bank's Ford, and they were not aware that he had fallen back over the river, until Monday, May 4th.

They at once commenced moving their main army back towards Fredericksburg, and night came on too soon for them to make a general attack on the 6th Corps, but did make an attack on the left of our line below Bank's ford which was held by Howe's 2nd Division, of which I have already spoken in the last number. Gen. A. P. Howe was with the 6th Corps nearly two years and was considered one of its best officers. He was a graduate of West Point, a native of Standish, Cumberland Co. He died only a few weeks ago.

I have sometimes been asked why we did not give battle to the enemy on the evening of May 4th. My answer is this: We had lost fully one third of our numbers in the battles of May 3rd, and at this time General McLaw's force, on our front, was much larger than ours. If we had remained there over night and given battle on the 5th it would have been called murder in the first degree, as Lee's main army would have fronted us with more than sixty thousand men. While visiting these battlefields in '89, I found the rebel works not fully blotted out.

The house of God (Salem Church) is still there, and I presume will be another one hundred and fifty years. It is built of brick and in good repair. Of course the outside shows the effect of that awful battle in the marks left by the minie ball, grape and canister, shot and shell. We commence the Gettysburg Campaign in the next number.

[to be continued.]