War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 22]


War Reminiscences of the Bethel Company, Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment [Number 22]


Bethel News, Vol. 3, No. 9


July 28, 1897



The transcribed text below may include some minor changes in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling to improve readability.



Full Text


Company I, Fifth Maine Regiment.

[By Col. Clark S. Edwards]

No. 22

June 1st, 1864, the regiment was partially engaged in the first part of the day near old Cold Harbor and the brigade was fully in the fight at sunset. Our position at this time was in the second line. The 2nd Conn., under the command of Col. Elisha S. Kellogg, led the charge. This regiment was fresh from the works around Washington, and its number was full eighteen hundred strong. They had joined our brigade only two days before and were as fine soldiers as ever entered the service. Well do I remember the night they were wedded to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the 6th Army Corps. We then wished them much joy and long lives. They knew little of war, having spent nearly three years in and around Washington, but they had done all that had been required of them.

As they formed in line of battle that night, their lines extended far beyond those of the other regiments of the brigade. Doubtless some of the Bethel Co. will recollect as they were filling their canteens from the log pump near the old tavern, the 6th Corps battery opened on the pine knoll above or west of the house; the many shot and shell that passed over our heads, gave us warning of coming battle. Yes, as we stood there we could see the pine tops, cut off by the solid shot, fall in all directions. The cannonading lasted some twenty-five or thirty minutes and then the charge was made.

The Fifth Maine regiment then moved forward in the second line for the first and only time in its history. Oh! How sad we felt as we looked over that little band of heroes and knew the reason why we were in that second line of battle. The place of honor and trust we had held from the first, but the many battles and the hard campaign accounted for our position in the second line; our numbers then being less than one twelfth that of the noble regiment, which led that fatal charge. A few minutes later the 2nd Conn. received their last baptism of blood.

Many went down that night to rise no more. Kellogg, its noble commander, fell with his head toward the enemy, his arms outstretched, and his hand clasping in death that hilt which pointed the way he was leading. He had led his regiment over their first line of works and fell within fifty feet of their second line. They could go no farther and were obliged to form their lines in the rebel pit they had so gloriously captured, but it cost them many a noble life. It was here that the old brigade formed its 2nd line to support the Connecticut boys in case of a late night or early morning attack.

Now the reader will have to pardon some few lines concerning myself, an incident which is worth going into history. In the early gray of the morning light after the first battle was over as I lay on the ground with my back resting against a small sapling pine, I heard someone near my feet breathing heavily and groan occasionally as if in the agonies of death. Thinking he might be one of my own command, arousing myself, I crawled or crept towards him; and in that dim morning light while the boys of our regiment lay with muskets loaded and capped and in many cases, like myself, resting against trees dreaming of home and loved ones, I lifted this poor head tenderly upon my knee and wet his parched lips and washed the blood from his face with the water with which we had filled our canteens at the old pump a few hours before. In a minute or two he opened his eyes and whispered, “I am dying.” We took his large, soft hands in ours and gently rubbed them and then placed the canteen to his lips. He swallowed a few drops of the water and soon revived so as to talk a little. Jimmy, our trusty servant, fixed up some soft food and procured for him a little stimulant which he could always find if it was in the Potomac army. Soon after taking it he began to converse about himself and said he was satisfied that he had his death wound. I encouraged him as best I knew. I was then satisfied that he was a confederate officer as his broken sword lay beside him attached to a torn belt, buckled about his waist, which he loosened and gave to me. He then told his name, which was John R. Murchison, and said he commanded the 8th North Carolina Infantry. I asked him if he had relatives in the army and he replied: “Yes, one brother; but he is a prisoner at this time and is in one of your northern prisons.” I then asked him where he was taken and he replied that he was captured at Rappahannock Station; I had already anticipated his answer and informed him that he fell into our hands. He looked up and replied with a smile: “I think you are likely to capture the whole family.” I understood him to say he had other brothers in the confederate service.

It was now getting quite light and the minnies began to zip around us so we thought it best to change the poor man’s quarters for the hospital so I selected four of our strongest boys to carry him there. I took him by the hand as he was being borne away and bade him goodbye. His eyes were full and when a rod or two away he waved me a farewell with his hand, which his lips could not utter. Some four months later I received the following letter:

Fayetteville, N. C.
Sept. 24, 1864.

Col. C. S. Edwards, Fifth Maine
Volunteers, Army of the Potomac:

Dear Sir—My sister, Mrs. Jane E. Murchison, widow of the late Lieutenant Colonel John R. Murchison of the Eighth North Carolina Troops, who was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor on the 1st of June and died at White House on the 7th of the same month, will thank you for any information which you may have in reference to his condition when you saw him. Was he conscious at all? Did he speak of himself, or make any request concerning his family? Dr. McDonald of the Sixth Corps, has written to my sister that after the 4th of June, when received at the White House, he was not conscious at all. Be pleased to address me at this place.

Respectfully yours,
I. G. Shepherd.

I answered the letter through our lines, but not knowing the rules of war, I wrote too much and Shepherd did not receive it. I had written a line or two more than the good of the service allowed to pass through the lines. A year and a half later, on the 26th of March, 1866, not having heard from Shepherd, I wrote again and received the following letters:

New York
April 6, 1866

Col. C. S. Edwards
Bethel, Me.

Dear Sir—Your letter of the 26th ult. To Hon. J. G. Shepherd at Fayetteville, N. C., has been forwarded to me. He has doubtless informed you that your letter written about a year ago has never reached him. He or I will gratefully appreciate any information you may furnish relative to my brother, the late Lieutenant Colonel of the Eighth North Carolina Regiment, who fell mortally wounded at the battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864.

You will perceive that I am a resident of this city, where any communication will reach me. I am indebted to yourself and other officers for kindness rendered at the time of being captured at Rappahannock Station. Being only released from prison on July 25th last my captivity extended through many, many months.

Very respectfully yours,
K. M. Murchison

New York
May 14, 1866

Col. C. S. Edwards
Bethel, Me.

Dear Sir—An absence of a month from the city has prevented an earlier acknowledgement of your favor of the 23rd ult. Please accept my sincere thanks for the information furnished relatives of my lamented brother. My military life ended for all time to come with the surrender of my sword; this you can retain as you desire it. I was not present at the moment of the surrender of Col. A. C. Godwin (now dead). My impression is that his sword was returned to him when released from prison, and also to Col. D. B. Penn. I am not, however, sure about this. The P. O. address of the field officers surrendered at Rappahannock Station are as follows: Col. D. B. Penn, New Orleans; Col. A. F. Webb, Flat River, N. C.; Lt. Col. A. Ellis, Holtsburg, N. C. These are all except Col. Godwin and myself. Col. Monnegan, Lieut. Col. Tait, Lieut. Col. Peck, and Major York were not captured, although they were present at the engagement. I am unable to give you the names of other officers of a lower rank captured—only know the name of those of my own regiment.

It would give me great pleasure to accept your very kind invitation to pay you a visit, but my engagements here will not admit of it. Should you at any time visit this city, I should be glad to see you.

Yours very respectfully,
K. M. Murchison

This letter was received in answer to one I had written him thirty days before. The officers mentioned by Col. Murchison in the letter as taking part in the engagement, but not captured, were taken prisoners but escaped from the guard while being taken to the rear; it is not to be wondered at that they made their escape, as it was dark and a hundred more prisoners were moved back by a guard numbering less than a dozen.

This letter was very gratifying to me at the time, feeling I had done a kind act to one who had passed on to a higher life.

July 5th or 6th, I received the following letter which now lies before me. I prize it as highly as did our forefathers the original document of the Declaration of Independence.

Manchester, N. C.
July 3, 1866

Col. C. S. Edwards
Bethel, Me.

You will doubtless be surprised, Colonel, to receive a communication from a stranger in the far South, but a sense of duty prompted me to write and express my gratitude to you for your kind and magnanimous treatment to my lamented husband, Lieutenant Colonel John R. Murchison, who fell into your hands at Cold Harbor, and for your kindness in writing of his welfare on a margin of a newspaper which fell into the hands of his friends and was sent to me; and for your kind letter to my brother, Judge Shepherd, which was the only satisfactory account I have ever had of his condition after he was wounded.

May that kind Providence which led you to bestow such kindness and comfort on my husband reward you an hundred fold is the prayer of his sorrow-stricken widow.

Mrs. J. R. Murchison

The paper Mrs. Murchison speaks of in her letter, is that best of all family newspapers—The Portland Transcript, (The News was not printed at that time,) then edited by Elwell and Pickard who thought enough of the boys in blue to send every week fifteen numbers—one to each company, and five to the field and staff. Yes, they were men whose patriotism and generosity held out to the end of the war. I will explain how I came to write on the margin of the paper. After leaving Hanover Court House, the mail did not reach us until the fifth or sixth, and having but one small sheet of paper in my portfolio at the time, was compelled to use the margin of the Transcript to write items of interest to dear ones at home. After writing this incident of the dying Colonel, and not having torn it from the main sheet, one of the boys, seeing my impoverished condition, gave me a half sheet which I used and this paper was left upon the ground.

When we broke camp a few days later, the friends of the Colonel found and forwarded it to his wife. My next number will take up the 2nd battle of Cold Harbor, fought early in the morning of June 3rd, 1864.


James L. Parker joined the Bethel Co. the first of May 1861, and was with us at the time we went into camp in the old schoolhouse in Portland. He remained with us till the time the regiment was organized and Dunnells was made its commander, when he was appointed sutler for the regiment. He remained as such until after the command went to the Peninsular early in April 1962. He then was sutler of the 95th Penn., a regiment largely made up of Philadelphians. He remained with this command till near the close of the war and then came back to Maine to his old home in East Stoneham. Here he fitted up the old home place and for a time, I think, kept hotel. Later he was deputy sheriff for that section of the county. He held the office for some years and then was elected high sheriff of Oxford Co. He held the office for four years and it was while living at Stoneham that he lost his good and beautiful wife. This broke up his home at that place and he moved to Norway, where he now resides and is one of the deputies of Oxford Co. He is one of whom we cannot say too much. He is honored and respected by all who know him.