The Boys of ’61.
Bethel, May 4, 1901
This day, forty years ago, our lovely village was excited as never before in its history.
In the early morn, carriages were seen coming in from every direction, in some cases, wives to bring their husbands, in others, mothers brought their only sons to offer them on the altar of liberty. At this time Fort Sumter had been fired upon, Fort Moultrie nearly demolished, and eleven of the slave states had seceded by acts of their State Legislatures.
Who wonders that our town, our state, and our nation were stirred to the very depths? President Lincoln had called for seventy-five thousand troops to defend the country, little dreaming that he would be obliged to call out two millions during the next four years. Maine’s quota had been recruited and consisted of about six hundred and fifty men or one regiment, which encamped near the place now occupied by the Marine Hospital in Portland, Col. N. J. Jackson of Lewiston commanding. Here let me say with pride, that five of our Bethel young men enlisted in the Norway Company in answer to this first call. One of that number who bears the title of “Major,” served the whole time, or nearly five years, and I feel certain that he did not enlist for the compensation he might receive, but from pure patriotism and he has never asked for any pension from the government although I persume it would readily be granted.
The President’s call for “the hundred thousand more,” revealed to us the fact that we had a stubborn foe to encounter, that war was no play and that if the Union was to be preserved we must give our best and all we had if need be. April 26, I received recruiting papers from Gov. Israel Washburn though our honored representative, T. J. Kimball, and commenced recruiting a company in the village post office. Seven or eight volunteered to sign the papers at once: more were ready to do so as families at home were consulted. Six days later, the company of between sixty and seventy men was full. I at once notified the Governor that we were ready for organization. He immediately dispatched Col. Wm. P. Frye, no our honored Senator, who reached us on May 4, or forty years ago to-day, and we assembled at what is known as Pattee’s Hall (it should be known as Liberty Hall) and before proceeding with business, a fervent prayer was offered by Rev. J. S. Wheelwright lately deceased. The Company was called to order by Col. Frye, who made a most telling speech in which he gave the boys much good counsel although quite young himself at that time. The officers were duly elected and we were ready for drill, to prepare us for duty at the front.
During those anxious days our streets were alive with the relatives and friends of our soldier boys, and the hospitality of our loyal citizens was taxed to the utmost and one good woman whose husband was what we called “a secesh,” accosted me to offer her house for the accommodation of any stranger who might need a place. I suggested that it might not be pleasant for her husband but she replied, “I run this house,” therefore, three were sent to her home for lodging and food that night.
In closing the reminiscences of that memorable day, let me say, that I honestly believe that, out of those sixty or seventy men, not one enlisted for love of money or fame, but for pure love of a country which was in peril, in fact, we did not know what to pay, if any, we were to receive.
Of the events that followed, your readers have been advised in previous articles, but the memories of the 4th of May will linger long in the hearts of the few who are left on this earth.
E. [Col. Clark S. Edwards]