War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 21]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 21]


Bethel News, Vol. 3, No. 8


July 21, 1897



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Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

[By Col. Clark S. Edwards]

No. 21

On Monday, May 16, we were ordered back near Spotsylvania Court House, though we saw very little fighting, for the battle was about over when we reached the scene of action. We bivouacked near the “Bloody Angle,” and on the 17th moved back over the Ni River again, to the position we occupied the morning before. A part of the regiment went on the skirmish and picket line, while the rest were engaged in digging pits till late in the night. On the 18th there was skirmishing along the entire line of four miles. On the following day the battle was quite general. Near our left General Ewell attempted to make a flank movement for the purpose of ascertaining the extent of our lines. This information was dearly bought, for he lost nearly two thousand men.

It was here that the 18th Maine Heavy Artillery had their first fight in which they suffered severely. On the morning of the 20th the Fifth Maine moved back to the place where the artillery fight occurred. A detail of twenty men of our command went on the skirmish line, while the rest of our regiment remained on the field till morning expecting an attack at any time. The Union army strengthened its position along the line. On May 22nd we were under fir, but no severe fighting occurred. Late in the afternoon we were ordered to be ready to move as soon as it was dark, the Fifth Maine guarding the train till we reached the North Anna River.

Twenty days of Grant’s first campaign had now passed with a terrible loss to both armies, the Union loss being at least fifty thousand men.

May 23rd found the Sixth Corps on the south side of the North Anna assisting the Fifth Corps then commanded by Warren. In this fight they drove the enemy back over the Virginia Central Railroad, and there bivouacked for the night. On the morning of the 24th, Upton’s Brigade, to which we belonged, was ordered to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad up as far as Hewlett’s Station, almost five miles from that which we were then holding. This job the boys were pleased to perform as they had not passed through a country since leaving the Hazel where they could confiscate anything. There were no chickens, no pigs, no lambs—in fact, not anything worth stealing. I had charge of the working party while Upton took the turnpike, which ran parallel with the railroad, with two of the regiments to protect us while destroying the road.

A little incident which I will here mention, I presume some of the Bethel Company will remember. In tearing up the track, the men were placed on the right of the road in single line at equal distances, and the two regiments would reach or cover forty or fifty rods. In moving up the road we would give the order, “Halt, “Face to the left,” “Lift.” Then goes forty or fifty rods of track bottom side up. Parties were left to tear apart and throw up in piles the old ties, also to burn, twist, and double the rails. The five miles of road were destroyed in about three hours. On reaching the station we found some twelve hundred cords of wood to be used for running their engines and transporting the enemy’s supplies. This wood was soon in a blaze and went in smoke and the railroad station accidentally went the same way. In tearing up the track there were two accidents. At the end of the forty or fifty rods of track of which I have spoken the rails were connected and held in place by what is called a frog; of course there was a separation of the rails, and the outside man who was holding the last rail which was lifted up but not thrown over, if alone, had the end of a five hundred pound rail with ties attached bearing upon him. This is more than any man can stand up under, and in consequence there was one leg broken and an ankle crushed. These two were members of the Ninety-Sixth Pennsylvania of our brigade.

While the brigade was stopping here, Lieutenant Paradis with permission, taking one man with him, went outside our lines and captured two horses and a mule while the rebel videttes were eating dinner in a house not fifty feet from where the animals were hitched. The windows of the house were open and the riders in plain sight, but this was one of Paradis’ quick movements.

A few minutes later he rode one horse into camp leading the mule, while his companion rode the other. In looking over the captured property, we found a fine saddle bag on which was printed in large letters the name, James Grant, 10th Virginia Cavalry. We now have the bags in good condition and if we knew his address would be pleased to send them to the rightful owner, if alive.

The animals were turned into the Quartermaster’s department so I cannot return them, but will give the owner an order on Gen. Rosser, for the one he appropriated to his own use Sunday, May 29th, a few days later between Hanover Ferry and Hanover Court House, ridden then by O. S. Brown of whom we gave an account in one of the early numbers. The smoke from the 1200 cords of wood and the station, brought hundreds of colored people to the depot as a large portion of them was still at work on the plantation of their former masters not having learned of the good tidings of Lincoln’s proclamation. We returned to our division from where we started in the morning, and found them partially engaged with the enemy undergoing quite a severe loss. The Fifth bivouacked near the railroad.

On the morning of May 25th, the brigade was ordered out to find the enemy and ascertain their position, which was accomplished with slight loss. There was more or less skirmishing through the day and at night we re-crossed the river and started for the Pamunkey where the Corps crossed in the night of May 28th. Early the next morning the 6th Corps was ordered by Meade to move out towards Hanover Courthouse and if we found the enemy to give them battle. The move commenced as early as six o’clock that Sunday morning, the 29th of May.

We soon met the rebel pickets and skirmished with them for five miles, until we reached the Courthouse. It was now 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and we had been without food since our late supper the night before. I waited for Brown of East Bethel, of whom I have spoken in one of the first numbers, but no Brown or supper appeared, so I called on Lieutenant Kimball of the Fourth Battery and received that “corn-dodger.”

Monday, May 30th, the Corps left the Courthouse for Cold Harbor and soon met the enemy and drove them across a large open field into the dense woods in the Totopotomoy. It was here that Russell, our division commander, ordered the old Jersey Brigade to move in line across the borders of this open meadow into the woods and find the enemy’s lines. The brigade had seen much hard fighting under “Fighting Phil Kearney” while crossing the Peninsular, and also in the McClellan campaign through Maryland in ’62. Later there were heavy losses along the Rappahannock under Torbet so their numbers were few. This command had but three or four days more to serve, and it did seem hard to put them into such a place. They protested and were relieved.

Then the order came for me to make the move with my little regiment of less than one hundred and fifty muskets. Our regiment was at once in line moving across the open field, and when within one hundred rods of the woods, deployed as skirmishers, taking long intervals covering a mile in front; we moved into the woods in as regular order as this command ever performed on dress parade. We advanced some forty rods but found none of the enemy in force.

We then fell back to our starting point where we were complimented by such generals as Meade, Wright, Russell, and Upton. This was one of the proudest acts of our command. It was at this place that my horse was wounded, the one I called Fanny Gray. She was killed by the train a year later, some two miles below our station at Blake’s bridge on the Grand Trunk.

In this last movement we found the enemy was not in force in our immediate front and the corps was at once in motion. This night we bivouacked near the Totopotomy. Tuesday, my 31st, the Corsp moved on a short distance towards Cold Harbor. The day was fearfully hot and the air was sultry and oppressive. We were now out of the sloughs of Spotsylvania and in the sands near Cold Harbor, where everything was dry except some of our general officers.

The Sixth Corps was then at the front on the left and leading the army, and the Fifth Corps was fighting in and across the Totopotomy at this time, near Bethsaida Church. The Sixth Corps was waiting for reinforcements from the James by the order of Grant. Smith, who commanded the Eighteenth Corps, with his own command and other troops, had taken the steamers at Bermuda Hundreds and Newport News, came around by Fortress Munroe and up the York River and the Pamunkey to the White House, and there disembarked and was to connect with the Sixth Corps before reaching Cold Harbor. Through mistakes in taking wrong roads, and conflicting orders, the attack was delayed till late in the evening of June 1st. Then came the battle of Cold Harbor which never should have been fought.


We will now speak of one whom I know the Bethel boys will remember. Almost the first to enlist was Sergt. C. C. Barker, born in Wakefield, N. H., in the late thirties, settled in Bethel in 1859 or 60, office in Chapman Block opposite “Honest Corner” in our village. When the war broke out, he was practicing dentistry. Patriotism and enthusiasm combined, caused him to exchange the forceps for the musket, and he was with us continually until the company was mustered in June 23rd, 1861, when he was rejected by the examining surgeon, a disappointment to him as he had planned his business to leave all behind to fight for home and country.

Doubtless the surviving members of the old company will remember him in our morning services at Pattee’s Hall, where he led in singing before the prayer; the company had prayers every morning after its organization until we left for Portland, the exercises being conducted by one of the three resident clergymen, Wheelright, Gaines, or Lapham. He was the life of the company, always pleasant, full of story and song; who of us cannot remember the morning we left home when he and Sergt. Scribner sang the following, while tears were flowing freely.

farewell of the bethel rifle guards

Near the white hills of New Hampshire,
By the pleasant Androscoggin,
Lies the goodly land of Bethel,
With our happy, happy homes.

We’re a band of soldiers,
We’re a band of soldiers,
We’re a band of soldiers,
And we’re marching to the foe.

We have left our far hill country,
To fulfill a heartfelt duty,
For to us it is a duty,
To strike the traitors down.


On the sacred side forever,
We’ll sustain oppression never,
But we’ll fight for freedom ever,
We’re for freedom and reform.


May no evil e’er betide us,
To sever or divide us,
But the God of Mercy guide us,
When we’re marching to the foe.

-Sergeant Barker.

The father of Sergt. Barker, the Rev. Nathaniel Barker was born January 6, 1796, came to Bethel in 1803 with his father who settled near Barker’s Ferry. The senior Barker was a soldier of the Revolutionary War, and was Deacon of the first Congregational church of Bethel.

Therefore it is not strange that Sergt. Barker who inherited the blood of his ancestor should feel sad at being rejected on account of ill health. During the war he moved from Bethel and is now living in Meriden, Ct. He married Eliza, daughter of the late Eli Grover, and sister of Capt. R. B. Grover of Brockton, Mass.