War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 12]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 12]


Bethel News, Vol. 2, No. 43


March 24, 1897



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Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

By Col. Clark S. Edwards

number xii

Our last number left us in camp at New Baltimore. September 15, we broke camp and left for Warrenton, and at this time commenced the fall campaign of '63, under Mead. Our first move was to Culpepper; and here we remained until October 3, when we moved back to Warrenton, remaining there two or three days, thence back to the front again via Culpepper, Pony, Cedar, and Slaughter mountains to the Rapidan river where the 5th Maine went on picket, the rebels within a few rods on the opposite side. We left here on October 10 and moved back again by Culpepper and Brandy Station, to Rappahannock, arriving there Sunday afternoon. Monday, October 12, we were ordered back again toward the front. I presume some of the Bethel boys will remember that beautiful afternoon. Our lines of battle were formed fully one mile in length; our cavalry moved in front, then came the infantry in many lines, all keeping perfect time to the inspiring music of the bands; following the infantry were our batteries of more than one hundred and fifty cannon. Such a view of the Potomac army was never seen, as we were on a plain over five miles square and as level as a floor. A portion of the rebel army was stationed near John Miner Botts' plantation, a lovely home on the rising ground south of us. Their view of our lines, marching straight as an arrow, with muskets burnished so that they glistened like diamonds in the bright sun, made such an impression upon them that some of the prisoners taken later remarked, that they thought the whole North was coming upon them.

The rebels had been following us up from the Rapidan, and Mead, not favoring this kind of maneuvering, thought to have his turn in the play, so drove the Confederates back to Brandy, our cavalry pushing them on through Culpepper towards the Rapidan. I presume Mead had come to the conclusion that he would throw down the gauntlet and offer Lee battle, but the rebel chief did not "see it in that light," as he, at this time, was trying the game that "Stonewall" Jackson played on McLellan on the Peninsular in '62, which was, to throw a portion of his forces into the rear of the Union army, thus cutting off our supplies. Mead continued falling back until he reached Centreville and here he made a stand. During this time we had a fight in the cut near the station at Bristow. The 6th Corps was not engaged. The fight was by Gen. Warren and was a brilliant affair. He captured four hundred and fifty prisoners and one battery with but slight loss. I think the 19th and 20th Maine were in this fight. We remained at Centreville two days and followed the rebels back to the Rappahannock. We found the railroad torn up from Manassas Junction to the Rappahannock river, bridges and railroad ties burned, and rails so twisted that they could not be used.

Mead concluded that this kind of work would hardly pay, so he went into camp on the Warrenton branch road near the city, where he remained until November 7.

On November 6, we received orders to have four day's cooked rations in haversacks and be ready to move at five o'clock the next morning. Accordingly, our regiment was already in line at early daylight and at the sound of the bugle the 6th Corps, followed by the 5th, started for Rappahannock Station. The 3rd Corps, commanded by Gen. French, was to cross the river below, at Kelley's Ford. Twelve o'clock found us facing the redoubts and it was a proud day for the Bethel Company and the 5th Maine, notwithstanding our heavy losses. Seven o'clock in the evening found us making a charge on the enemy's rifle-pits, which was not fully completed until about 10 P.M. More than twelve hundred prisoners were captured, though not a single gun on our part was fired, yet the bayonet was freely used. The battle-flags of four Confederate regiments were captured by members of the 5th Maine. James A. Littlefield of Company I, captured the flag of the 7th North Carolina regiment.

As the flags were presented Gen. Mead, he bestowed high compliments upon the bravery of the command. The boys were joyous over the honorable and meritorious recognition given them by their noble commander.

Rappahannock Station will ever be remembered by the Bethel company as the place where a large portion of a Louisiana brigade was compelled to surrender to six or eight men, and two of that number were of the Bethel company; one still living, and the other mouldering into dust in that great National cemetery at Fredericksburg. I refer to that kind-hearted, brave and generous Jerry Martin, and in that fight I well remember that I placed in his arms seventeen swords, many of which had belts attached making nearly one hundred pounds weight. Jerry wrote to his father and mother; "The old Colonel placed in my arms as many sabres as I could carry." I think his letters are still kept sacred among his many friends at Rumford. At this time we had disarmed the whole of Hoke's Brigade of North Carolina troops one thousand in number, and as we sent back a hundred or more prisoners to the rear, we would send some thirty or forty of our own boys to guard them, and in this way we soon had but a few left in our regiment. When all were captured, we moved on up the river some twenty rods or more, and here found another body of troops in line of battle. We looked about us in the dark and found we had only seven or eight of our regiment with us. A few steps farther on, I discovered a group of four or five officers in low conversation. In my rough way I inquired, "What troops are these?" The one nearest replied, "The Louisiana Tigers." I asked, "Who is in command?" His reply was, "Colonel Godwin." "Tell him I would like to see him." "He is here," and one of the party stepped towards me. I introduced myself as Colonel E. of the 5th Maine and we shook hands there in the dark. I then demanded him to surrender his command. He hesitated for a moment and replied, "I must consult with my officers." I told him, "No, not a moment," and I will admit that I used a little deception, but I think the reader will justify me in so doing, under the circumstances. He then surrendered his sword which I immediately returned with my permission to retain it. Colonel Penn who commanded the Louisiana brigade, was not in favor of the surrender, therefore I returned his sword with the same remark which I made to Godwin, but the swords of Colonel Webb and Major Tate I kept, which were included in the seventeen mentioned above. I ordered General Godwin's Adjutant General to disarm his troops and march them past me, which he did at once, and at this time our regiment could not show more than ten men. I will add this item—not a flag was in that brigade; they had either burned them or thrown them into the river. Not more than a dozen swords were captured from this same brigade, they having followed the colors into the river. Now, if we had had forces enough and had rushed on to those fellows as we did on Hoke's brigade, our capture would have been eight flags instead of four, and our swords would have been seventy instead of fifty—and a national flag and an officer's sword are as dear to a good soldier as life itself. I am proud to say that the Fifth Maine never lost a flag, and captured six on line of battle in a hand to hand fight, which I think is more than any other regiment in the Potomac army can truly say. There may be other regiments which were in at the close, when Lee surrendered at Appomattox, that took as many, or more, than the Fifth, but that would not be while fighting. The flags captured by the Fifth Maine were taken when neither knew who would win the battle. The fine painting now on exhibition in the Bank window represents private James A. Littlefield in a tussle with the rebel color-bearer for the possession of the flag.

I quote from Com. Tyler's poem:

At Rappahannock Station too, I know you well remember,
How we turned the tables on them, that seventh of November,
When in battle-line we crossed the plain and rested on the ridge,
Till the Third Brigade they took the Fort, also their Pontoon Bridge.
Up rode our gallant Upton then. Said he, "My Onesters true,
The Third Brigade has got a prize, and there is one for you.
We're going now to charge those works; I know you'll win the fight,
For I shall be there with you, and the Fifth Maine's on the right!

"Remember, men, it's getting dark; when in their works yon get,
Reserve your fire, you'll shoot your own, give them the bayonet!"
Then "Forward, double-quick" was heard; our cheers they shook the ground,
And into the rebel works we went as with a single bound.
And what a host of prisoners, I most forget the figures,
But 'twas one brigade of "Tar-heels" and a whole brigade of "Tigers."
When those who fell were cared for, we laid down for the night
To dream of home and victory, with the Fifth Maine on the right.

Dennis Daley of the Bethel Company was killed at Rappahannock Station. Daley was a recruit, having joined the Company in June, 1868. Like all of his countrymen from Ireland, he was a good fighter, apparently not knowing such a thing as fear.