War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 16]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 16]


Bethel News, Vol. 2, No. 47


April 21, 1897



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Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

By Col. Clark S. Edwards

number xvi

Early on the morning of May 8th, we commenced that flank movement to the left which ended June 23, south of Petersburg near the Welden Railroad. In marching toward Spotsylvania we passed over the Chancellorsville battlefield where Hooker met Lee the year before, and along by the Chancellorsville house we saw many skeletons in our path by the wayside, and we were soon on the spot where Stonewall Jackson fell mortally wounded. Our route took us near Salem Church of which I have so often spoken, and now, as I look back thirty-four years, the sad feeling comes again, and my eyes moisten, as I turn over in my thoughts that fatal third of May. Never will a member of the Bethel Company, nor the 5th Maine forget that sad day as long as life lasts. We soon heard the booming of cannon in the distance, and we knew that battle was on once more, but as we advanced, we learned that it was our cavalry with some light batteries that were engaged.

Well do I remember that Sunday morning as we passed through a field in those woods, where the fire, set by the light batteries or cavalry, was still burning and the smell that arose from the burning of cooked meat. Soon we learned the cause; our cavalry had dismounted and was giving battle to the rebel infantry, behind the brush fences; many fell from both sides, and those of the wounded that could not get away were burned to death. Oh, how sad the sight was! On many a battlefield we had seen men torn to pieces by shell, but never did we witness anything as heartrending as this.

Soon we were in line of battle and moving toward the front. The rebels were posted on the hillside in a thick woods, while we were moving in a ravine. Doubtless some of the Bethel Company will remember that Sunday afternoon or evening as our brigade stood in line, when "Fighting Jo Bartlett" marched by with his division, he being some six or eight rods in advance of his line, and his big black dog some four rods in front him. His line was soon lost sight of in the woods and the rebels after little fighting fell back. It was here we had a few wounded as we were moving by the right flank, but the order to advance was countermanded; we then moved back a few rods and bivouacked for the night. Monday, May 9, we were ordered again to move to the left toward Spotsylvania Court House. Our movement was slow, as we halted to have the corps close up into line. Our route was over a by-way but little travelled at this time. Sedgwick was at the head of his corps, and the sharpshooters were picking off many of our men. Soon we came up to the general who was arranging in position a section of a battery which I think was Haxemer's. I halted, as my regiment passed, to observe this movement; as I was waiting and was within ten feet of him, a minie-ball passed near us and the Dutchman ducked his head. The general said, "Stop that, they can't hit an elephant that distance." At this time there might have been orderly and perhaps one or two of his staff with him, and, I think, only three or four from the battery. Why I speak of this is, that I have seen so many articles written about Sedgwick, the writers all claiming that they were present and heard him make the above remark.

I moved on to the head of the regiment and halted it; the troops in our front were blocked, as they were waiting for him to lead the way, and while here either General Hyde or Whittier or his staff rode up and told me the General was shot through the head, and he was afraid he was killed. He said it in a low voice, so those in the ranks could not hear it.

But the sad, sad news went through the army and many a we cheek was seen that day in the old Sixth Corps. He was loved and respected by everyone in his command; I can seem to see him now in the old slouch hat and the blue blouse; he seldom ever wore a collar. When in Washington soon after the war, I visited Brady's and purchased one of Sedgwick's photographs taken in his best military suit; a very fine picture, but it was some time before I could make it look as well to me as the one he gave me, taken when he wore the slouch hat and blouse in which he always seemed at home, while in the other he seemingly was on a visit.

The ground where he fell, we visited a few years ago; the officers of his corps have erected a fine monument on the sacred spot and the traveller as he passes that way may bow his head and say: "Yes, he has done his work well."

This ninth of May, there was but little fighting done by the Sixth Corps until late in the afternoon: that it was a day of mourning and sadness was pictured on every face we met.

Tuesday, May 10, at early dawn, we received orders to detail forty men and two line officers under command of Maj. A. S. Daggett of our regiment. The order was carried out at once, four were taken from each company which left our regiment very small, about two hundred being left in the ranks, and seventeen line officers. The fight commenced on our right in front of Warren's and Hancock's corps; Lee was once more trying to push back our right flank; the fight became terrible; the roar of artillery was far more deafening than at Malvern Hill or Gettysburg; the heavens were full of solid shot and screaming shell; seemingly the thunderbolts of heaven mingled their tones with the artillery; the small growth of sapling pine was cut of as smoothly as the reaper cuts his grain. In the Wilderness our artillery was but little used, as the timber and brush were so thick that one could see but a few rods; in front of Spotsylvania Court House it was different.

The land had once been tilled but at this time was going back to Nature's state, as the young pine and hickory were sprouting up; today there is a heavy growth of timber on the great battlefields of May 10 and 12.

After some two or three hours of artillery dueling, there came a lull for a few minutes, and then came that awful clash of the infantry. Each army supposed the other had been weakened by their artillery. The breastworks of the two armies were seventy-five rods apart, and a swell or slight ridge of land between the lines, covered with fern and small brush, hid one from the other; many charges were made that afternoon by each army, and the roar of musketry was like the distant thunder as it creeps back and forth from you.

The ground between the lines was covered equally by the blue and gray; thousands fell on both sides; another lull came about 4 P.M., and oh! how still it seemed; not a cannon or musket could be heard; at this time, Grant with the general officers of the Sixth Corps were in consultation. Grant asked Wright if it was impossible to break their lines. The gallant and plucky Upton answered with Wright, "No, give me my way and I will go through." Grant replied. "Go ahead." At this time the larger part of the Sixth Corps lay in the second line in the rear of Hancock's Corps. Upton was soon looking over that portion of the army, and selected twelve regiments afterwards known as the "twelve picked regiments."

Orders were at once sent to the colonels of the following regiments: for the first line, Fifth Maine, One Hundred and Twenty-first New York, Ninety-sixth and One Hundred and Nineteenth Pennsylvania; the second line, the Sixth Main, Fifth Wisconsin, Forty-ninth and Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania; the third line the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Vermont, and Forty-third New York.

It was now known what was to take place; we were all ordered to be at a certain point on the by-way leading to the Court House, at six o'clock sharp, where our lines were to be formed.

General Wright said to me, "Colonel, I give you the place of honor in this charge; I give you one of the best regiments in the service for your support, and if you get into their lines, serve them as you did at Rappahannock Station;" the regiment referred to was the fighting Sixth Maine.

I must say we were not much pleased with the words, if you get into their lines; we then knew there was something ahead. Our lines were formed on a right angle with the narrow road and the order from Upton was, to "move forward on hands and knees;" and soon after, a sharp-shooter discovered the redheaded George Cook of the Bethel Company and gave him a shot that passed over his head and back and struck him in the rear; he at once faced about without rising and went back on all fours minus hat or gun; I think some of the Bethel boys will remember this incident, as there was much lip-biting to prevent laughter.

Soon we were within fifteen rods of the rebel works and the order came from Upton, "Up, charge!" and the last cheers went up from many a lip in those lines. Two minutes later we were in the rebel works, or what was left of us. In crossing the fourteen rods of open ground our loss was fearful, and from the regiment rank and file, was more than half; of the seventeen line officers, eleven were killed or wounded.

Down through the bloody Wilderness with Grant we cut our way,
And the Sixth Corps mourned brave Sedgwick, dead, that fatal ninth of May.
In the fearful charge on the morrow, when Upton led again,
Among his twelve picked regiments, where were the "Onesters" then?
We see them forming for the fray, how bright their bayonets shine!
The "Onesters" and their Brothers are in the foremost line.
We see them cross the open field, then hand to hand the fight.
Hurrah! They're in the Rebel works, with the Fifth Maine on the right.


On May 10, 1864, Cyrus T. Thurlow and R. M. Lapham, of Company I, were killed, or mortally wounded, near Spotsylvania Court House. Thurlow was a native of Woodstock, and was of giant size and strength. He was fearless when in action and was daring in the extreme. In camp he was quiet and still, while in battle nothing could restrain him. His physical strength was something wonderful. He fell in a hand-to-hand fight on the second line of rifle-pits, pierced through by a rebel bayonet, though a moment before his death he had thrust his bayonet through the bodies of two confederates who had refused to surrender. Thurlow carried our flag through the battles in the Wilderness, but at Spotsylvania he asked permission to turn it over to another color-bearer, saying that he wished to use his musket in this engagement.

A part of our regiment was on skirmish line under command of Major Daggett. His loss was slight. The position charged and carried by the twelve picked regiments is known in history as Grant's first break of Lee's line. Of course in the Wilderness his short line of regiments and divisions were pressed back.

I well remember Thurlow coming into my tent a day or two before we broke camp at Hazel River, and telling me his plans. As only a few weeks remained before his term of service would end, he was happy in the thought that he would soon join his wife and little ones at home. Little did he know what grief and sorrow a few days would bring to his stricken family in the North. Alas! How soon were his earthly hopes cut off! On the day following his death, several members of the Bethel Company went to the place where Lee's line was broken in search of Thurlow's remains, but they could not be found. Only two or three of the many killed of the Fifth Maine were recognized, a few hours being sufficient to render features unrecognizable.


It was announced when Col. Edwards began his war reminiscences that they would be continued about three months; they have run nearly four months, and the people are still interested in them and anxious to have them continued. Through these articles, those whose lot it was to pass through the late war, are vividly reminded of the trying scenes through which they passed, and the fact that they were written by their honored leader adds greatly to their interest.

Owing to increasing demand for their continuance, Col. Edwards has consented to take them up again after a two weeks vacation and continue them for several weeks. –Ed.