War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 24]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 24]


Bethel News, Vol. 3, No. 11


August 11, 1897



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Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

[By Col. Clark S. Edwards]

No. 24

June the 4th, we were still in the works. Grant sent a flag of truce to Lee asking cessation of hostilities for forty minutes to bury the dead and care for the wounded. Those that were wounded on the morning of the third had been cared for as they fell inside of our lines, but there were thousands to bury along the line of the Third Corps and the Sixth Corps had a much harder task as it had the dead of the two battles, those that were killed the night of the first and on the morning of the third. Four days had now passed and all of the dead of the Sixth Corps killed in the first and second battles still remained above ground. At this time the weather was fearfully hot and as we took our place in the trenches at dark, the stench from thousands of the decayed dead was almost unbearable. The Board of Health at the present day are looking after the little sink-spouts that but a few quarts or gallons of rinsings pass through in a week to see that no poisonous gases bring fever and diphtheria; now we know some that are on that Board that are examining physicians and incase an old broken down soldier like myself appears before them, we hope they will do him full justice.

The burying squad had a greater job than they could well perform in the given time and some were not buried until four days later. Their work was slightly done—I remember as I was passing along the line that night seeing that all was safe, I hit my foot against something that gave away and nearly threw me prostrate. I felt around in the dark and found a man’s foot one half above ground which caused my fall. In this burying party was a man from one of the regular batteries and he was caught robbing the pockets of one of the Connecticut boys who was wounded four days before. General Upton saw the act and also knew the man as he once commanded the battery. After it became dark he had him tied up to a tree facing the enemy sharpshooters and in this position he remained that night and all the following day and not a shot was fired at him. Doubtless the rebel sharpshooters thought him to be one of their own and that he was tied up there for them to shoot. This put a stop to robbing the wounded.

I find in a letter I wrote home July 5th, that “Our headquarters team has come up near the old tavern and I have just received my valise which we had not seen for more than five weeks.” I was at this time in about the same condition as one of the tramps tried by Judge Grover yesterday, that is my wearing apparel, for I presume his underclothes were in much better shape than ours as we had been compelled to wear ours through all of the rains for thirty-six days of Grant’s first campaign.

I find in a letter we wrote home dated June 10th, ’64 the following:

You see by this we are still upon the battlefield and at the same place we last wrote from and today upon the second line. We were relieved from the first last night. I have not lost but one man since I wrote you yesterday. My total loss to this date is 153. Fifty of that number are already dead and more will probably die. We now have two weeks longer to serve and I think by appearances they will hold us to the last hour. I will have about 150 to go home if we do not get into any more fights. Our loss is the most severe of any regiment in the Corps in proportion to its numbers. We are now lying within fifteen rods of the enemy’s first line of battle, and the sharpshooters are firing all the time. Since I commenced this letter a dozen bullets have whistled by my place. It is not safe to have the horses within a mile of the enemy’s front line.

A great many are killed every day, General Upton has had two killed in this way. I have lost seventeen men by this kind of fighting, that is sharpshooting. All regiments lose more or less in the same way. I hope we may get out of this place soon, as the stench of the unburied is awful. Last evening at dark we were on the skirmish line and saw some of those who were killed the first of the month, lying on the ground, still unburied, within a few feet of our outer line, where our boys lay; many of the dead are barely covered with earth a few inches in depth. Major Albert M. Edwards was to see me yesterday but my situation was not a pleasant place to visit, so he did not stop long; his regiment is now at Dispatch Station, near the Chickahominy. Captain Dell Twitchell is near us; tell his folks he is well. Dr. Lapham, I think has gone to the hospital, sick. Lieut. Bartlett and Kimball are all right. I do not know expect to get away until the last day and hour. They use old soldiers as they do old wounded horses, get all the work they can out of them and turn them loose to die.

We find in a letter I wrote June 12th, ’64:

Our lines are so near the enemy that the boys are talking with one another, and some hard words are said quite often. The bullets are now flying in all directions, and no one is safe above ground; everyone who is not in the works, has his hole in which he can find shelter. Cold Harbor is honeycombed with the graves of the dead and the holes of the living. Occasionally a shell drops in the hole, and the occupant is seen rushing out, not relishing such company. A twelve-pound shell just hit my shelter tent; it did no harm. I shall take this fellow home with me (the shell I mean), that is if I can keep it with me or do not get hurt myself. It now lies on my blanket beside me, hot from the mortar that sent it. Within the last half hour two have dropped in our brigade camp without doing any harm. They are not so destructive as the shell from the cannon. The boys of the regiment have got so they do not care for anything in shape of shot or shell. The one which struck my tent has nineteen iron grape in it; a pretty thing to be throwing around here on a Sunday morning among their neighbors. We have but one Sunday more to stop here in the army. A month ago today poor Martin fell; he died a hero. His last words to me were, “I will do my duty,”

—and surely he did; none could have done better. In a letter I received from home a short time before was this: “Someone from Bethel or Rumford has asked why you did not take care of his remains at the time he fell?” My answer home is this written in the same letter from which I have been quoting:

I will here say this to his friends at Rumford, “at the time he fell, hundreds of the wounded lay around us that could not be cared for, much less the dead. It was the time that every man who could carry a musket was expected to do his duty; and from this place I wrote you that I saw the dad and wounded three or four deep in the ditches. I did the hardest day’s I ever did in my life. I not only gave orders but helped to put in position fieldpieces, carried grape and canister after nearly all of the battery boys were shot down, dealt out many thousand rounds of ammunition to our infantry and helped to get back some of the wounded.

Yes, you may say to the friends of Martin, that all was done for him that could be at such a critical time. He was buried by the boys of the Company I, the second day after he was killed. The Bethel boys are the same as when I last wrote you. The wounded with us are doing well.

I will give an incident which occurred in our regiment Sunday morning, June 5th:

Jordan of the Bethel Co., was doing the barbering for the boys, and as he stood shaving a comrade a bullet from a sharpshooter’s rifle passed through his arm and the arms of two others standing in range, and struck another in the side, knocking him over. This minie no doubt was fired from a rifle a half a mile away, and disabled four men for the rest of the campaign. This sharpshooter is entitled to a medal or seat in Congress, if it is honorable to shoot men without warning.


I will now speak of one whom all the Bethel boys well remember, in fact, one who was known favorably by the entire regiment. I refer to Gen. Marshall C. Wentworth of Jackson, N. H., the “Prince of landlords” in the mountain hotels.

I remember seeing him for the first time, as he stepped from the train at our station, on the morning of April 27, 1861. He was a mere boy only sixteen years of age, yet he was filled with that patriotism that led so many of our boys to the front when the life of the Union was threatened. He at once enlisted as a private in Company I, and was one of the members that left Bethel on that ever to be remembered morning when we bade our friends and dear ones goodbye as we started for Washington. I remember him as he boarded the train in Portland, and later, I remember him as he lay in the hospital just before the battle of Bull Run when he was determined to go forward with his comrades but was detained by the surgeon in spite of all entreaties. I remember him at Crampton Pass, as he bravely charged the rebels up the mountainside. Again I see him at Gettysburg on that still, quiet morning of July 3rd, a few hours before the memorable Pickett’s charge, when we crept out from our lines on the side of Little Round Top and shot down some horses belonging to the 9th Mass. Battery, in order that the rebels might not use them in drawing the guns into their lines. I remember him at Rappahannock Station, where our forces won a notable victory. I can see him after the battle, feeding the hungry, binding the wounds of the suffering, and giving assistance wherever a helping hand was needed. I remember him at the “Bloody Angle” when he and Corporal Shedd brought ammunition from the caissons, the air about them being full of shot and shell. I can see him helping the gunners hitch their horses to the gun carriages though before the traces could be fastened every horse fell dead, pierced with rebel bullets. Again I remember him at Cold Harbor, when he volunteered to take the sharpshooters’ stand and there remained in the hot sun for sixteen hours, exposed to the greatest danger.

Throughout the war, Gen. Wentworth did active service, participating in all the battles fought by the Potomac Army. His record is a brilliant one, and deserves all the recognition he has received and much more.

At the expiration of his term of enlistment, in June, 1864, he re-enlisted in the First New Jersey Cavalry and served until June 1865, the close of the war. The Sons of Veterans of Conway, N. H., have named their camp “General Wentworth Camp.”

Knowing the kindness of heart, the courtliness and grace of manner that characterize our comrade, it is not surprising that great success has been achieved and that he numbers his friends by the thousands.