War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 23]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 23]


Bethel News, Vol. 3, No. 10


August 4, 1897



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Full Text


Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

[By Col. Clark S. Edwards]

No. 23

Our last number left us with the dying Confederate colonel at Cold Harbor, in the early light of morning, June 2, 1864.

The Fifth Maine with the rest of the old brigade at once relieved the Second Connecticut with some loss from each of the five regiments. We had learned a lesson which we heeded for the next ten days, that is to relieve the front line of the works before it was too light in the morning. This day we were engaged in changing the front of the works we had captured the night before. The rebel lines were within one hundred and twenty-five feet of ours at this point, and nowhere more than five hundred in front of the Sixth Corps. The work had to be done on our knees as no one could live a minute if standing. The implements we used were for the most part tin dippers, though some took canteens from the necks of the dead, separated them where they were soldered and made two spoons or small shovels by using split sticks for handles. Night found us with the 121st New York still in this first line and as soon as it was fully dark the boys of the two regiments commenced a new pit. With muskets loaded, capped, and where they could put their hands on them by turning around, they had dug before light, twenty rods of good rifle pit with dippers and spoons alone. The ground was made up of loose sand such as composes the knoll on the Williamson farm at Middle Intervale or the Abbott farm at South Bethel.

This day and night had passed with no general attack. Just before light, Friday, June 3rd, I received orders to be in readiness to move at once. The boys at this time had fifty rounds of ammunition in their boxes and ten in their pockets. Our artillery was then belching forth its thunder and the heavens were once more filled with shot and shell, grape and canister. Soon the infantry was engaged and thousands fell in ten minutes of time. Perhaps in no place during the war did so many fall, killed and wounded, in so short a time. Lee’s lines were arranged in a quarter circle with the Union army forming the inner line. Wright was in the center, Hancock on the left, and Smith on the right. At this time Warren and Burnside with their two corps were some two miles from us, near Bethesda Church, holding the rebel left so that Hancock, Wright and Smith, could push back the rebel right, and so open the way to Richmond. The reader will perceive our situation. Grant had not studied Lee’s lines. His order to each of the three commands was to move in lines connected. We will try to explain the results of this movement. As the lines advanced, Hancock’s left flank was soon exposed to Lee’s right, and he could not swing his right around without breaking away from Wright’s left which would let Lee through our lines and it would have been the same with Smith if he had advanced. Someone will ask why Wright did not advance with the Sixth Corps. It was this. His order from Grant was to keep his lines connected with Hancock on the right and Smith on the left. They may say he should have deviated a little from his orders but that would not do. Grant was in command, and if he had broken away from the others and advanced his corps, both flanks would have been exposed to the enemy’s artillery. Not only this, but if Smith or Hancock had advanced later, in advancing, each of these corps would have been compelled to oblique and consequently would have lapped over or covered a portion of the Sixth Corps. With the enemy in front, and on each flank, with Hancock on the right, and Smith on the left, in our rear, in that brushwood and smoke of battle, in the fog from the poisonous stream and swamps of the Chickahominy about which we had heard so much two years before when “Mac” was in command, it would have brought our own troops in conflict with each other. Wright had seen that kind of fighting in the Wilderness thirty days before and he wished to avoid it. But his orders from Meade and Grant had to be obeyed; and the fight lasted till mid-day. This is known in history as the Battle of Cold Harbor. Our loss from the three corps engaged was very severe. Hancock captured a few hundred prisoners, and Smith as many more.

In the fight I think Lee’s army far outnumbered Grant’s. Warren and Burnside at the time the fight was going on, were near Bethesda Church to hold or keep the right wing of the enemy’s army out of the battle; but it was afterwards supposed that it slipped away during the night of the 2nd and that Lee’s whole army was in that outer circle with many thousands added from the works in and around Richmond. They even had in their ranks the lame, the blind, and the halt. One poor boy, not more than twelve years old, was brought to our quarters shot through both eyes. He told some of the men that all the boys of his class in school were in the fight with him.

The battle of Cold Harbor had been fought with but little glory gained by either army. Our loss was of course far greater than Lee’s as they were protected in the strongest of works by an army larger than Grant’s, as two corps of our army were not engaged in the battle. Our main army then took the position, which they had occupied and left some seven or eight hours before, and here they remained nine days, or till the 13th, when we again moved towards the James River. During our stay of nine days after the battle of the 3rd, there was no general engagement but that most damnable of all fighting, or murdering I would say, was kept up continually, day and night, by the pickets. It seemed that each army was determined to annihilate the other, in this first campaign of Grant’s.

I will now speak of some of the sad scenes and incidents which took place at Cold Harbor the first thirteen days of June 1864. In the charge that Kellogg led many fell not mortally wounded, but unable to crawl back to the works he had captured; and as soon as it was light, the sharpshooters commenced their hellish brutality. The Conn. boys were dressed in our light army blue with bright red trimmings which was the uniform of the artillery. Those poor wounded men were targets for the rebels, as they could easily tell them from their own; I will not say that our own side later did not do the same thing. One poor fellow, who lay some eight or ten rods from our line, directly in our front, we heard cry for water constantly for twenty-four hours, and after the battle of the 3rd, returning to our works we listened for that mournful cry, but his lips were silent in death. Two days later Grant asked for a cessation of hostilities or what was known as “a flag of truce” for thirty or forty minutes. The boys of our regiment buried the dead in our front and found this poor man in a grave he had dug himself unknowingly; that is, he fell in the loose sand and as the shooting commenced that early morning he dug under himself until he sank below the range of the sharpshooters’ rifles, and here they found him dead, with an empty canteen resting upon his lips.

This is one of the many sad incidents which we could write in connection with this worst of all battles, which the Potomac army had been engaged in. This night of June 3rd, between the hours of ten and eleven, we had a little fight of our own, Upton being away in some other part of the army. I was in command of the brigade and word was passed back to me by one of our boys, who had crept near their lines, that the enemy were in line ready to move on us at once. I passed word over the line of the 5th to fire while lying low in the front pit, and the 121st New York to fire above their heads and at once the battle commenced and was kept up for twenty minutes. We sent an orderly back to Lieut. Bartlett, who was in command of a section of the 5th Maine Battery, to help us and as he opened on them with his two guns it made the little fight more interesting and soon the enemy was compelled to fall back into their works and cease firing. We then sauced each other for a few minutes; they asked me how much I had gained, and I replied: “We have driven you back into your holes and we have not lost a man, killed.” Lieut. Bartlett was one of our best officers, and was the son of the late Curatier T. Bartlett of the north side of the river in Bethel. He was educated at Gould Academy under the late Dr. True, who was principal at that time. After the war, he married and settled in Texas, where he died a few years ago honored and respected by all his acquaintances.


Early in May, ’61 down from the hills of Coos County in New Hampshire, came a young man by the name of Horn. He was the son of the late William Horn and was born at Milan, in 1842. He enlisted in the Bethel Company, and with us left the station that May morning thirty-six years ago. He was with his company continually till we left the Peninsula in August 1862. We well remember him in the battle of Gaines Hill, June 27, 1862. At this time the regiment was engaged late in the afternoon, in its first great battle where it achieved much glory. In this engagement Col. Jackson was wounded and compelled to leave the field. Lieut. Col. Heath, was killed in making the charge near the Magee house; Major Scammon was sick in the hospital. It was here I found myself in command of the regiment for the first time.

As our lines advanced, the regiment was divided by the house, seven companies on the right, and three on the left; and this position we held till quite late, not knowing that Jackson had left the grounds till dark. At this time the seven companies on the right of the building, had fallen back with a portion of the 16th New York, and had recrossed the Chickahominy at Woodbury’s bridge. The other three companies left about half an hour later.

The Bethel Company was one of this number, and as Col. Cake of the 96th Penn. fell back he ordered me to join him with the three companies. At this time, Horn asked me to allow him to remain and burn the balance of his ammunition, and as we moved back I turned around to see what he was doing. I can now seem to see him as he stood there by the corner of the house, sighting his rifle at the blaze of the rebel musketry, some thirty rods away. Why I mention this incident is this: We had been engaged in the Bull Run and West Point battles but in neither had I seen a soldier from any regiment who was not ready to fall back as soon as the order was given and many did so without an order.

About the time we left the Peninsular he was detailed as cattle guard and butcher and remained in that position until his term of enlistment expired July 27, 1864; he was one of the number who partook of the banquet with our friend Lovejoy, at the old Bethel House. He returned to his home in the Granite State, where he still resides.

Charles Wesley Horn was a good soldier, always in place in camp and battle, and I can here say to his comrades that he is receiving a pension which he earned in the service.