War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 8]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 8]


Bethel News, Vol. 2, No. 39


February 24, 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 viii

Saturday evening, June 13th, we started on the Gettysburg campaign. We left the Rappahannock and moved on about eight miles to Potomac Creek, and remained there until Sunday evening, then marched on to Stratford Court House and thence to Dumfrieze. This was the hottest day the 5th Maine had ever experienced; some of the corps fell and expired before assistance could be rendered. In the Bethel company three or four fell by the wayside. Captain J. B. Walker, who commanded the company at the time, was one of that number, and it was this day that he completed his military life in the Potomac army; I will speak of him later. We left this last named place Tuesday morning, marched seventeen miles and went into camp near Fairfax Station, and at this time met the first colored troops that came into the army of the Potomac, enjoying the luxury of bell tents. We found them guarding the army supplies, and looking after the Sanitary and Christian Commission goods, and I have no doubt about their great interest in private boxes, packages, etc. the good ladies of Otisfield sent me, for the regiment, a box made up of little things used in camp, also such as are needed in everyday life; underweary, socks, towels, soap, handkerchiefs, needles and thread, buttons, pins, and a hundred and one little things too numerous to mention. The box arrived safely, but minus the contents. It is needles to say our regiment was not in the best of humor, and we had to use more than moral suasion to hold the boys in check. We remained here one night and then tramped on to Fairfax Court House and went into camp. It was here we met the 35th and 27th regiments of nine months men. To say that the boys enjoyed soldiering at this place would be superfluous. They were so mixed up that they could with difficulty find their own quarters when night came. We could not always visit, and in no case in the Bethel company did I know of one receiving a card and sending back his servant announcing "not at home." Now comes the hardship of war. At three o'clock A. M., June 26, orders came for the army to move, and now followed several days of hard tramping and forced marches, such as have never been excelled, if equaled by any American army.

Lee's army had invaded the north and was rapidly advancing into Pennsylvania. The Sixth Army Corps, of which the Bethel boys were members, pushed on night and day, making only brief halts here and there. Feet were blistered, bodies were chafed and bleeding under belts and straps, yet the famous march from Manchester to Gettysburg, a distance of nearly forty miles, was made between ten o'clock of the evening of July first and four the following afternoon. As we neared Gettysburg the roar of cannons could be distinctly heard, telling us that a terrible conflict was being waged. The Sixth Corps led by the Fifth Maine Regiment arrived on or near the battle field about four o'clock, July 2nd, after a continuous march of eighteen hours, and all this after forced marches for five or six days. As our lines came up, the news spread throughout the union ranks, and cheer after cheer rang along the line. The Fifth Maine Regiment, in which there were still a good number of Bethel boys, was once pressed forward into position, forming themselves into line of battle upon the side of Little Round Top, a point which was very prominent on this battle-field. Our work was chiefly to hold this position, and was the first regiment of the Sixth Corps under fire. Our position was not very much changed during the following day, July 3rd.

The breastwork of rocks and stones that was made at this time still remains, or at least, much of it has been preserved. At about one o'clock in the afternoon the world renowned artillery duel began. It has been pronounced the severest cannonading ever known in history. With no attempt to describe the battle of Gettysburg, I will say that shells burst in and around the ranks of the regiment, solid shot ploughed the ground both in front and rear, and the air seemed filled with the missiles of death, yet during the entire two hours' bombardment the regiment lost only four.

There was one man in particular in company "I" of whom many stories could be related. I refer to Rufus C. Penley, who was born in Norway, and was living at the time of his enlistment with his uncle Reuben at North Norway. His brother Ephraim was also a member of the Bethel Company. His father was Charles Penley, who was living in Portland. I well remember promising the father and mother before we left Portland, that I would inform them in case of the death of either son, that proper burial should be made, and the graves should be distinctly marked.

Rufus died in camp at White Oak Church, Virginia, Dec. 28th, 1862. My promise to the bereaved parents was kept; while the casket in which he was interred was not what we would have wished it, being made of hard-tack boxes, yet it was better than many of his fellow comrades had. His remains now lie in Evergreen cemetery at Deering.

Penley was a fair soldier, though possessed of some peculiar characteristics, as will be seen in the following stories:

While we were in camp at Bush Hill near Alexandria, I remember sitting in my tent one day, when a huckster drove in among the boys with a wagon loaded with melons, peaches, cheese, butter and eggs. When he reached Company "I" he stopped near my tent and began at once an active business. The boys crowded about the wagon and quick sales were made. While the owner was busy with a customer, I remember seeing Penley filling his pockets with eggs from a basket that was somewhat concealed from the huckster's view. After filling his pockets with stolen eggs, Penley went a short distance away and was soon boiling the eggs for his dinner. A few minutes later I saw him sitting at his table—a hard-tack box—enjoying some of the his eggs, but now and then he would open an egg and lay it down near his camp stool. Wondering what he would do next, I watched him. When he had finished his meal he picked up the eggs that were more aged, I presume, than fresh, and with a disgusted expression on his face, went to the huckster, showing him the rotten eggs and said in an earnest though stuttering manner, "d-d-d-dam you, selling rotten eggs to the soldiers." He demanded good eggs for the poor ones. The huckster readily consented, believing that Penley was a purchaser, and gave him a fresh supply. It has always seemed to me that this was a case of "cheek."

Penley was not the only soldier so effected. I remember him at Harrison's Landing on the James river, coming to me one day and saying, "Captain, I am hungry, will you let me go up to that house," pointing to a house not far away, "to buy something to eat?" I allowed him to go, though ordered him to report to me on his return. In two or three hours he came back loaded with chickens, eggs, butter and many other things for his table. Knowing that he had no money, I asked him how he obtained these things. He replied, "Captain, I had in my pocket a piece of paper that was an advertisement of some kind of hair-oil. On this paper a figure five had been stamped. The paper had the appearance of money, something like a five dollar bill of the old state money. I gave this to the old lady, who in her ignorance accepted it and gave me not only these things that you see, but considerable change in silver." I replied to him as follows: "Well Rufus, are you not ashamed of yourself?" He looked up with an expression of scorn on his features which would have done honor to comical Brown, and said in his stuttering way: "Y-y-yes, I am d-d-dam s-sorry that I gave her anything." I bit my lips and turned on my heel as he left. I thought the old lady would not add much to her bank account by this transaction. This was rather sharp practice without doubt, but Penley evidently believed in the saying, "all is fair in war," and his conscience, therefore, did not trouble him. In relating these incidents no reflection on the general worth and character of Penley is intended, for he was a man who did all that was asked of him, and sometimes more. Ephraim, his brother, was discharged for disability early in '63, and soon after went south, I think to Vicksburg, where he married and went into business. I received a letter from him some five or six years ago, in which he wrote me that he was trying for a pension. I have lately learned from a cousin of his that he died some three years ago in his southern home.

[to be continued.]