War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 25]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 25]


Bethel News, Vol. 3, No. 12


August 18, 1897



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Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

[By Col. Clark S. Edwards]

[No. 25]

We left Cold Harbor Sunday evening, June 12, for the James River. To say that the order to move was a pleasant one, faintly expresses the feelings experienced by all, for we had had twelve days of terrible warfare. Reverses had been met, thousands of brave men slaughtered, and little or no advance had been made.

Nearly everyone felt that something was wrong somewhere or somehow. There was an entire absence of that good cheer and hopefulness that usually prevailed. A smile was rarely seen, while complaints were heard frequently.

It seemed as if the volunteer officers and the men in the ranks were not expected to do any thinking, but were to submit without a murmur to whatever orders were issued by those who had been educated at West Point. Jealousy had not wholly disappeared, event at this late day. It had worked much harm in the Potomac army in many ways—but not to enlarge upon this unfortunate feature of the history of the army in Virginia, we were delighted to move from the terrible scenes we had been witnessing. We had been anticipating, with much pleasure, the joyful time we would have at the rebel capital in releasing the prisoners at Libby prison and at Belle Isle, for we thought that Richmond would be ours whenever the army moved, but disappointment awaited us, for instead of facing Richmond we left it in our rear as we had done two years before while under McClellan, though at that time we reached Mechanicsville and the little bridge across the Chickahominy, only three or four miles from the much coveted position. At this time the nearest point to Richmond that we reached, I think, was eight or nine miles.

In 1862, we passed Cold Harbor and partook of the water from that well remembered pump of which mention was made in a previous article. Doubtless some members of the Bethel Company will remember with what eagerness they filled their canteens at this place a short time before the battle of Gaines’ Hill. The “old oaken bucket” of poetic fame never drew better water than was furnished by this pump—or, at least, the boys pronounced it the best they had tasted since leaving the hills of Maine.

In our movement from Cold Harbor we passed the White House on the Pamunkey River, thence crossed the Chickahominy, passing the plantation once owned by President John Tyler, and reached James River near Charles City Court House where we boarded a steamer for Bermuda Hundreds. Here we disembarked and moved on some five or six miles toward Petersburg. We rested for the day, as the men were completely tired out, having had but very little rest and sleep since the beginning of the battle of Cold Harbor on June 1. It was now June 17 and only six days of our term of enlistment remained.

On the morning of the 18th at about two o’clock we were ordered to make a charge on the enemy who were putting in works to protect the railroad running from Petersburg to Richmond.

That the rebels might not know of our advance, great precaution was taken that no noise should be made. Canteens and dippers were carefully packed and everything was done as quickly and quietly as possible. The Fifth Maine had its customary place in the front line. We made the move, but finding the number of the enemy too strong, and too well entrenched, we returned to the place we left an hour before. We were now six or seven miles from Petersburg.

Crossing the Appomattox River, we moved around to the left of Petersburg where we occupied a position near the railroad. The enemy attempted to drive us back but were unable to do so, for our boys, while fewer in number, were well protected by the pits that had been made. We suffered little loss, though we held the position June 19th and 20th; on the 21st we moved across the Weldon Railroad and on the 22nd we advanced still farther to the left, expecting battle at any moment.

Every man was supplied with his full share of ammunition, ready to meet the foe, though only one day more remained before we had served our time. On the 23rd we expected a parting salute from the enemy with whom we had so often contended during three long years now drawing to a close. We entered the service with the intention of doing faithfully whatever was commanded of us—shirking no responsibility and fleeing from no danger. How well or how poorly we did, other writers may tell. The last hour of our active army life found us on the frontline, facing the enemy with muskets loaded and bayonets fixed ready for whatever awaits us. At about two o’clock in the afternoon, I received orders from headquarters of the army, directing me to withdraw from the front line and move to City Point where the steamer, John Brooks, was then waiting to take us to Washington where we were to be paid off. From Washington we were to go to Maine to be mustered out. Before leaving the army, we received an order from Meade directing the Secretary of War to allow us to carry to Maine the battle flags we had captured.

At this time there were many glad hearts in the old regiment as they thought of home and dear ones whom they would soon meet, yet there was gloom and sadness mingled with it all. No words of mine can picture the feelings that prompted many a man to tears. To bid our commander—the boys of the 121st New York—goodbye, and to shake the hands of those with whom we had “touched elbows” for so long a time, caused the tears to flow freely.

This was not only true of the 121st New York, but of other regiments in the brigade. The parting with those of our regiment who had time to serve and those who had re-enlisted, was something that will never be forgotten. Time will never efface the memory of those scenes that were enacted before Petersburg on the afternoon of June 23. Father bade his boy goodbye, brother embraced brother, and tent-mate clasped the hand of companion. Gen. Upton, the noble hearted man that he was, seeing the evidence of attachment of one for another rode up to me and said, “Colonel, take the whole regiment with you to City Point, I can trust such men. No one will desert.” Soon after we had started for the boat landing, he again came to me and requested that I should hold the regiment till he could prepare a letter to be read to the men before embarking for Washington. We halted and the boys built their fires and boiled their coffee together for the last time. At this place we received the following letter from the gallant Upton which was read to the regiment before parting.

Headquarters Second Brigade
June 23, 1864

Colonel Edwards, Officers and Men of the Fifth Maine Regiment:

At the expiration of your term of service, I feel it a great pleasure to signify to you my appreciation of the services you have rendered your country.

Your gallantry, your constancy, your devotion to the flag of your country, your patient endurance of fatigue during the campaigns of three long years, entitle you to the lasting gratitude and esteem of your countrymen.

Springing to arms at the first sound of danger, you have given proof of your valor and patriotism on every field, from the first Bull Run to the present time. Leaving your native state with over one thousand and forty men, and receiving a large number of recruits, you now return with but two hundred and sixteen.

The long list of battles in which you have participated, including Bull Run, West Point, Gaines’ Mill, Charles City Crossroad, Crampton Gap, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Salem Heights, Gettysburg, Rappahannock Station, eight days’ battle in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania Court House, and Cold Harbor, will account for your losses.

Repeatedly have the colors of the Fifth Maine been floated over the enemy’s works. From behind their entrenchments, you have captured the battle flags of five of the proudest regiments in the confederate service; and while inflicting a loss equal to your own, you have, in addition, captured more prisoners than you have borne names on your rolls.

But while your former services have won for you the admiration and confidence of your commanding officers, your example and conduct during the present campaign, forms the brightest page of your history.

After three years’ hard fighting, well knowing the risks of battle, not even the ardent desire or the immediate prospect of being restored to your friends could dampen your ardor or enthusiasm; but like brave and patriotic men, you have fought nobly to the end of your term, adding, with each day, increased luster to your arms.

With this brilliant record and the proud consciousness that you have stood by your country in the darkest hour of her peril, you now return to your homes where you will receive the homage due the services you have rendered.

Bidding each and every one of you, in behalf of your old comrades in arms, a hearty God-speed, I have the honor to be your obedient servant,

E. Upton
Brigadier-general Commanding