Thirty-seven years ago this day, was fought the great battle of Chancellorsville, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, who at that time was commander of the Potomac Army. We think at the time “Little Mac” organized the Potomac Army, Hooker was given a brigade and later, a division; he, with fighting Phil Kearny, was in the corps commanded by Heintzelman. Hooker succeeded Burnside about three months before, and came to us from some place in the West, and was soon known as “Fighting Joe” and sometimes called “Dandy, or Handsome Joe.” The Chancellorsville fight was his first and last while commanding this army.
The battle of Chancellorsville was well planned but poorly executed. Perhaps the “Dandy or Handsome Joe” took charge of the battle at the time the column of the piazza was carried away by a rebel shot. Two months later he was relieved, and assigned to Grant’s army in the West. The next we hear of him, he was fighting the “Battle in the Clouds” on Lookout Mountain. What a rise, and in the right direction, too!
Gen. Cuvier Grover, formerly of this town, was Hooker’s chief-of-staff, and we often saw him on the line giving orders. His childhood home was near the foot of Robertson Hill, in the house which for the past sixty years has been owned and occupied by Dr. Robert G. Wiley.
Also, this day was fought the second battle of Fredericksburg, and, in the evening of the same day, the battle at Salem Church, both of which were fought by the Sixth Corps, commanded by that grand old hero, John Sedgwick, better known as “Uncle John.”
Gen. Sedgwick fell the 9th of May, 1864, near Spottsylvania Court House. I was within two hundred feet of him at the time. We visited the spot a few years ago and found a fine monument erected to his memory by the old Sixth Corps. The tall pines were bending over that marble column, whispering through their needles a sad, sad dirge which seemed to say, “Rest on, noble dead. Angels still guard that sacred spot.
Who of that old Corps does not still reverence the name of John Sedgwick, and why not? A Sedgwick Post is organized in almost every northern State. The Post at Bath was named by the gallant and brave Tom Hyde, one who bore scores of dispatches to the different commands on many battle fields. I seem to see him now, as he leaned from the saddle to whisper to me, “I fear the General is killed.” As he straightened up on his horse, I noticed his eyes were full, and an hour later, there were a thousand wet cheeks along the line of battle.
But I have gone ahead of my story and will go back and take up that which I had almost omitted. I find in the report I made to Gen. Hodgden, thirty-seven years ago, that we drove the enemy back and formed in line of battle, reaching from the Barnard House to Deep Run, a distance of three-fourths of a mile or more. This movement was consummated in thirty minutes from the time the first boat touched the blue waters of the Rappahannock.
A few years ago, I received a letter from a friend in Topeka, Kansas, saying he was the officer who commanded the little squad on the upper bank of the river. In another letter, the same writer says that I requested the guard to hold him prisoner until the battle (meaning the battle of Rappahannock) was fully over, after which I offered to serve to him hot coffee—and right here let me say that in my humble opinion, if coffee had taken the place of whiskey in that great army, the results of the battle of the third day of Ma, 1863, would have been different.
I will now speak of some of those belonging to the Bethel company, who were either killed or wounded. Our little company, known as Company I, numbering twenty-four bearing arms, stood shoulder to shoulder in that long line of battle. It was one o’clock a.m., and oh! how still! It could be truly said, “All quiet on the Rappahannock,” for not a man was allowed to speak above a whisper. Canteens and dippers were strapped to prevent any noise from them. At three a.m., the line moved to the front and soon “the ball opened.” Shot and shell from the line of battle, placed on the heights of Fredericksburg, were soon thinning our ranks. Our line replied and moved forward. We soon were ordered up the ravine, where we presently were engaged with a battery and forces in the earthworks.
In this engagement Adjt. Bicknell fell, severely wounded in the head, while urging his men on to battle. Adjt. Bicknell is now one of the most popular preachers in Cambridge, Mass.
J. C. Sawyer fell a few minutes later. This young man was one of the first to enlist, and at the time, or just before he enlisted, was clerking for his brother in a store at Bear River Corner, Newry.
Soon we learned that Charles Dunham was wounded and carried to the rear.
After falling back and supporting the First Massachusetts Battery, E. M. Stearns got in the way of a rebel sharpshooter, who put a bullet through his hand and into his side where he carried it until it was removed by a surgeon, four or five years later.
Enoch Whittemore was another unfortunate who was wounded in this engagement. Sergt. Whittemore was wounded four times during his term of service and it began to be rather monotonous to him. He is a blacksmith now, at Andover, Me.
We will speak now, of the evening fight at Salem Church. Washington Frye Brown of Middle Intervale, on that early morning, as he passed me on the line, spoke low to me, and said, “Clark, this is going to be my last battle.” Oh? how sad and yet how true! Twenty-four hours later, we removed him to the hospital, and during the night, he, with many others, was transported to Washington. We learned afterward that he did not live to reach that place. Years after, with a party of old comrades, we spent hours at Arlington, seeking his grave, but were unsuccessful. Finally, through the assistance of a friend, we found it in a soldiers’ cemetery in Washington, and covered it with flowers wet with the tears of love; he will ever be held in tender memory.
E. G. Sturgis of South Bethel, was shot when the regiment fell back from the church.
In my report to Hodgdon, Brown and Sturgis were reported wounded, but it was learned afterwards, that Brown died before reaching Washington and Sturgis was instantly killed, while making his way over a fence near the church. As he was about to jump, a bullet pierced him and as he fell his belt caught and the body was suspended until removed by a comrade.
James Miller and Samuel Y. Shaw of the Bethel company, fell side by side, near Salem Church.
Lieut. Smith G. Bailey, who, on this day had been assigned to the Bethel company, also fell, mortally wounded.
Alanson M. Whitman for whom Bryant’s Pond Post was named, was wounded near the church, and if that wound had proved fatal, how much pain and suffering he would have escaped! Death by the bullet is usually calm and peaceful and far more to be desired than starvation in that hell of prisons, Andersonville. Milo C. Walker was taken prisoner while removing the body of Sturgis from the fence. He was exchanged in a short time, but again taken prisoner Dec. 14, following, and in the prison with Whitman and Thos. S. Peabody, who was taken prisoner later, starved and died. Thus three of the company died in the stockade at Andersonville. The thought causes me to shudder even now at this late day in life.
In closing this sketch, allow me to say that this was the saddest day in Bethel’s history even to the present time; not only was Bethel’s company fearfully cut up, but other organizations lost some of the best soldiers of this town.
Capt. Adelbert B. Twitchell, then Lieut. of Capt. Leppein’s 5th Me. Battery, was knocked down and his hand shattered by a shell. He is living in Newark, N. J.
Lieut. Jas. C. Bartlett, whose boyhood days were spent in Mayville, was wounded also. He died in Texas some ten years ago.
James P. Holt of Holt’s Hill, a member of the 5th Me. Battery fell mortally wounded. He was son of the late Samuel Holt.
Doubtless many more of the brave Bethel boys fell in one of the three great battles. Probably the loss of Maine men by the bullet was greater on the third of May than any other day of the war, unless it might have been the second day at Gettysburg.