War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 11]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 11]


Bethel News, Vol. 2, No. 42


March 17, 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 xi

July 18th found the Bethel Company in its place, with the 5th Maine Regiment crossing the Potomac at Berlin, the first ferry below Harper's. We then moved up the Lowden Valley to White Plain, thence by New Baltimore to Warrenton, where we went into camp. We remained here until July 30th, then moved back to New Baltimore, where we were encamped until Sept. 15th, our brigade being on out-post duty. While stopping at White Plain for rest and dinner, Capt. Pillsbury and Lieut. Chandler of our Regiment were captured by Moseby's guerillas in sight of the brigade, and were held as prisoners till the close of the war. The forty-eight days in camp at New Baltimore were pleasantly spent by the Bethel Company; however, there was one or two sad days. I will give a few extracts from letters written home at this time.

Camp at New Baltimore.
Aug. 2nd, 1863.

Once more I date my letters from this place. It is evening and the pale moon is shedding her silver light equally upon us. While you, with the little ones around you, are guarding our home, I am surrounded by the brave boys of my regiment. The village is small, consisting of forty or fifty families, I should judge. The people are very kind and generous; have had invitations out to dine every day since our return.

I also find near the close of this letter:

Say to the parents of the boys, they are all well, not a sick man in the whole regiment, and none of the wounded from the battlefields below Fredericksburg, Salem Church, and Gettysburg of the Bethel Company have yet returned. Young Littlehale is now driving an ambulance team. He is a very fine fellow, one of the best. Say to uncle Luther, I wish he had a dozen more like him to send to this regiment.

I find in a letter written Aug. 10, '63, that Jewett, who deserted from the Salem Church battlefield, and was captured while trying to cross our lines, was to be shot the next Friday. The sentence was approved by Brigade Division and Corps commanders, also by Mead, who commands the Potomac Army, also by the great and good Lincoln.

From a letter written on Aug. 14, following, I quote: "To-day has been a sad, sad day for the 'Old 5th'. Jewett, the deserter, was shot by order of the highest authority of the nation. I was present at the execution, but could not see him shot." I have often been asked how a military sentence of death is carried out, therefore I give it here as written at the time.

The 1st Division of the 6th Corps were all present, which was comprised of three brigades. A hollow square was formed, each brigade making a side, one of which was not filled, thus: Π The prisoner was brought in on an army wagon with the chaplain. They rode around the square, the doomed man sitting on his coffin, and when reaching the vacant side of the square he was taken from the wagon, and his coffin placed upon the ground. Then the Adj't Gen. read the sentence and order, after which the chaplain offered prayer. The Provost Marshall brought up the shooting party of ten, with muskets loaded nine with ball cartridges and one, only with powder. The reason of this, was that none of the party would know that he shot his brother soldier.

The cap was then pulled over his eyes and the marshall gave the order, "Ready! Fire!" The poor man fell instantly from his coffin, and the surgeon at once made an examination and pronounced him dead. The whole division marched past his remains, the band playing. I never wish to see another execution of the kind. We then returned to our camps wiser, and I hope, better men.

I will here add that the evidence before the court was this; that this was the third time this man had deserted from our army, each time taking boys from the regiment with him. After his execution, upon examining him, it was found that "D" was branded upon his body in two places, showing him to have been a deserter from the English army.

I find in another letter written Aug. 17:

You say in your, 'Our home is looking lovely, as the trees are beginning to turn a little; I have no doubt everything in nature is lovely, as no time in the year is so pleasant as late August and September, unless it is June, but still I could not be contented long at home, with this war raging. I feel that I owe my life, if need be, to my country. I can never give up until this cursed rebellion is crushed out." In my next letter I find this: "The 'boys' are living well; they trade their rations with the farmers, for green corn, cucumbers, peaches, plums, apples, pears, new potatoes, etc., and not a sick man in the regiment.

In a letter dated Aug. 28th is this account:

I was at Warrenton at the presentation of horse, equipments, sword and belt, sash and spurs, from his old division to Gen. Sedgwick. It was a great time, everybody got beastly drunk on the occasion, and in going to court yesterday morning, I found two colonels who were members of the court, on their cots with their boots and spurs on.

The presents were fine, and cost not less than two thousand dollars. The party was made up of all the field and staff of the 6th Co. and our brigade being some miles from Sedgwick's headquarters, we were in a bad fix. I obtained all the ambulances in the Corps, loaded them in and hitched the saddle horse behind the ambulances, and we started back to New Baltimore, the old chaplain and myself bringing up the rear. Why, the people living on the route thought it was a funeral procession, and if the band had been in a suitable condition I would have had them play a dirge.

Just before reaching the village, I suggested to the chaplain that we must create a little enthusiasm before disposing of our loads at the different headquarters in the brigade, so I reined out my horse and galloped past the 'procession' to the front, but I found the band in worse condition than they were a half hour before.

We were quite willing to 'Let the band play,' but it was 'no go.' I halted my horse until the 'mourners' passed, and the chaplain came up. I told him it was a 'Lost Cause,' and the country was 'going to the dogs.' The next day we adjourned the court, soon after it was assembled, feeling that it was not safe to try a case, even for stealing a chicken, as the jury were not fully through with their celebration. Such is army life. I have just been to dinner, at which was served potatoes, chicken, pickles, coffee, bread and butter, and for dessert cantaloupe, watermelon, pears, and peaches.

In speaking of chicken, I am reminded of some cases which we had in court a few days ago. Some half dozen of the New York boys were fined one dollar each for stealing chickens. We had great sport out of it.

I will here add a verse from Comrade Tyler's poem.

There is a another side of soldiering I'd really like to mention,
But 'twould make you feel so sheepish if brought to your attention—
Of the many raids and rackets, of foraging and theft,
How the 'Onesters' got the chicken while the old Fifth Maine got—left.

In a letter written Aug. 31, I find the following:

I feel discouraged about the replenishing of our army. The government commenced early in the spring to raise troops or be ready to draft, and now it is the last day of summer, and we have not received one half as many as we have sent North to enforce the draft.

The 6th Corps has not yet received a man, but has sent one whole brigade to New York to quell the riot and enforce the law. This is very discouraging to us poor fellows I the field.

On the evening of Sept. 5th, a party of Moseby's guerillas, led by Dick Lewis, made a raid into our camp, shooting two of the picket and wounding one of the band boys. They made a dash on Gen. Bartlett's headquarters, but as the candle was dimly burning, they mistook the band tent, where they stored their instruments, for the general's headquarters, and fired a half dozen shots through the bass drum.

The racket awoke the general, and he not relishing that kind of business, jumped from his cot, seized his revolvers, one in each hand, went forth to battle, not even stopping to brush his hair or arrange his collar, and his Adj't told me, he did not even have on his night robe. For this I cannot vouch, but at all events it would have furnished a picture for an artist, if Kodaks had then been invented. I think some of the Bethel boys will remember that night. Our regimental lines were formed in less than two minutes from the time the first shot was fired.

[to be continued.]