An Honored Citizen—A Distinguished Soldier—A Noble Hero and Patriot has gone to his rest.
Passed quietly away at his home last Sunday Evening, at 8.45 o’clock, after an illness of but a few days.
A hero and patriot is dead.
The Union soldier who could write home to his family in the dark days of 1862, when he had every personal inducement to leave the service, “I can not leave the army while within the sound of rebel cannon” is no more. He died at his home on Bethel Hill, Sunday, May 3, 1903,—the anniversary of his battle of Salem Church near Fredericksburg, Va., forty years ago.
General Clark Swett Edwards was born in Otisfield, Me., March 26, 1824. He came of good old New England stock of which Rev. Jonathan Edwards, who in his day was the most noted preacher of the times, was a notable representative, on his father’s side. He was a direct descendant on his mother’s side of Hugh McLellan, one of the first settlers of Gorham, Me., whom Rev. Elijah Kellogg, the author, has immortalized in his “Good Old Times.”
General Edwards was not educated for a soldier, nor did he have a college education, but he loved his country and had in him the stuff of which the best soldiers are made. He belonged to that class of citizen soldiery that must ever be appealed to in times of national peril and of which Generals John Stark, Ethan Allen, John A. Logan, and Benjamin F. Butler are noted examples.
With such education as the country schools of his section afforded, he started out for himself at an early age. He began his business career at Pattee’s Mills, as North Albany was then called, where a married sister resided. A few years after he moved to Bethel Hill where he has since made his home.
He shortly after married Miss Maria Mason, daughter of the late Ayres Mason of Bethel. They had seven children all of whom are living except a son, Charles F., killed in a railroad accident in the West in 1884. The eldest child is Mrs. J. S. Phipps, residing at Milan, N. H. The others are Waldo W. at Denver, Colorado, Ayres M. at Syracuse, N. Y., Herbert A. at Caribou, Me., Delmer E. at Fort Fairfield, Me., and Fred L. at Bethel. His wife died in 1885 and the General never remarried.
Before the war he was engaged in general trade and at the same time did much work as a contractor and builder.
He was at work on the roof of a building, when someone passed on an April day in 1861, and told him that the report was that Fort Sumter in Charleston, S. C., had been bombarded and captured, and that President Abraham Lincoln had called for volunteers to put down the rebellion. He dropped his tools, left his work unfinished, and went to ascertain whether the report was true and finding it so, he immediately applied to Governor Israel Washburn for authority to raise a company. The neighbor who related the incident to the writer, picked up the tools and carried them home.
General Israel Putnam upon hearing the news of the British attack at Lexington and Concord left his plowing team in the field and hurried to the front. It is one of the acts of that old hero which will carry his name down to future ages. This act of General Edwards is of the same kind, prompted by the same impulse and spirit, and deserves equal recognition.
Governor Washburn granted the authority, a company was raised—Clark S. Edwards being the first to enroll. It was the first company raised in this part of the State from the citizens, and one of the very first in the whole State. Each of the four regiments then organized had been taken from the militia companies. The 5th Maine Regiment was entirely of such companies as the Bethel company, which became Company I, and of which Clark S. Edwards was chosen and commissioned captain. He served with distinguished ability and was in every engagement in which the regiment participated, and never received a wound or a scratch from Bull Run to Petersburg. The third battle in which the regiment took part was at Gaines’ Mill on the Peninsula. The colonel having been wounded, the lieutenant colonel killed, and the major sick, the command devolved on Captain Edwards. From that time on he led the 5th Maine in every battle, and his history is the record of the regiment.
That record is one of brave and glorious deeds. No troops from the North were better soldiers than those from Maine, and none of the sons of the Pine Tree State, exhibited greater bravery and heroism than the soldiers of the old 5th Maine.
They captured more prisoners twice over than the number of men who went in the regiment to the war. They brought home their flags, tattered and torn in conflict with the enemy, but they were never in rebel hands. With them were six Confederate flags taken in battle.
They were always but twice in the front line of battle.
When twelve picked regiments were selected to make the charge at Spottsylvania Court House, Colonel Edwards with his regiment was selected to lead it, which he did successfully.
The autumn before at Rappahannock Station, he had led his men into the works of the enemy, and captured over a thousand men. His little command was less than half that number. More than a score of officers and swords were delivered up to him.
The charge at Spottsylvania and the fighting at the “Bloody Angle” have become historic. Nothing excelled the fighting at that place during the whole war.
General Edwards’ army life was full of heroic deeds. The writer cannot name them all or even a tithe of them. Bravely and gallantly he served his country through three years of battle.
One little incident made him a worshipper of General McClellan. While on the seven days’ march to the James River—and on every day there was a battle—the commanding general passed, on horseback, the 5th Maine. He noticed that a captain was in command, and he spoke to him. “Captain, where is your colonel?” “Wounded, General,” was the reply. “Your lieutenant colonel?” “He is dead, General.” “Your major?” “General, he is sick.” He grasped Captain Edwards by the hand saying, “Cheer up, Captain, we will come out of this all right.”
By sheer merit alone he rose to be colonel of his regiment. He ought to have been for what he did, a major general, and in command of a division. But rank alone could not enhance the real qualities of the man. All who have read the story must accord him a place among the heroes of that great struggle, and the purest patriots of the land.
He fought to save the nation, to preserve the Union, and was the first to refuse to return to slavery black fugitives who had come into our lines. He was solicitous of the welfare of his men and saved them from slaughter when it was possible. Again and again he ordered them to throw themselves on the ground till the enemy’s volleys passed over them, then it was “Up Guards, and at them,” with tremendous effect. He would not allow his men to be imposed upon by anybody—not even by the authorities at Washington. The incident of his refusing to camp his men in a cattle and hog pasture at Washington while on their way home, and boldly marching them into the grounds of the Smithsonian Institute to the horror of the authorities, is in point. They settled the Colonel’s accounts promptly and furnished him transportation for his men home. Red tape, delay, and ill usage for the men who had fought the country’s battles, would not be allowed by him.
And so he took the survivors home to Maine, and parted with them. God bless them all—living and dead—the heroes of the old 5th Maine.
It is a satisfaction to know that its colonel, who had been promoted to brigadier general for meritorious service, prospered in business, and became well to do, after the war.
He cherished no hatred—felt no rancor of spirit. He would have the wounds made by the war healed. He would that all were good citizens—happy and prosperous.
His service to his country, in the hour of its peril is a priceless inheritance to his children. His life a striking example and inspiration to the boy born on the farm in this free land.
He was a strict temperance man through life. In religion he was a Universalist, and in politics a democrat. In 1886 his party nominated him for governor and he polled over 55,000 votes. He was one of the commissioners at the World’s Fair at Chicago in 1893.
He lived to see his children settled in life and prosperous.
Colonel Edwards, as we always called him, was a man loved by multitudes and one who will be mourned and missed by all. Go north, south, east, west, where you will and wherever you find one who was known Colonel Edwards in business life, in private life, or during those bloody and exciting days of the rebellion, you will find an admirer of his sterling qualities as a man, as a citizen, as a soldier, and as a trusted and tried friend. Truly it may be said of him “None knew him but to love him,” and especially may this said of the children, for he always loved the children dearly always inquired for them in their absence and always had a kind and pleasant word for them when he met them. They too loved and respected the Colonel and will long remember and miss him.
The sincere words of one little fellow who knew and loved him, will express the sentiments of all. When he was told Monday morning of the Colonel’s death he was somewhat quiet for a little time and then in his childish and sincere way he remarked, “Papa, isn’t it too bad that the good old Colonel had to die?”
The Colonel’s health has been gradually failing for some time and yet for the large part of the time he has been able to be around and meet and converse with many friends upon subjects of interest to him. He prided himself more than in all other things, that he was able to render his best service to his country in the hour of its deepest peril, and during his declining years, scenes of these bloody days occupied his mind the greater part of the time. He always referred to them with a great deal of feeling, and could never conceal his emotions when thinking or speaking of the sufferings of his men in battle.
As the anniversaries of different conflicts would come around it was always interesting to listen to the various incidents in connection with them which he would always recall and relate and during the last afternoon of his eventful life his memory and consciousness were spared to him to rehearse to his son, A. M. Edwards, the awful scenes at Salem Church on that fatal Sunday afternoon just forty years before when his regiment actually lost over one half its men.
“Tell all my friends that I tried to do my whole duty well” was his last message given to his pastor, Rev. F. E. Barton, a few days ago, and as this message was given out to a host of friends and admirers this afternoon all could but feel that his efforts had, indeed been fruitful.
This afternoon schools, stores, and places of business were closed and all came out to pay their last tribute of respect to an honored citizen, noble character, a true and trusted friend. The services were held at the Universalist church and were conducted by Rev. Geo. W. Bicknell, D. D. of Cambridge, Mass., and Rev. F. E. Barton of Bethel. The church was very fittingly decorated with the stars and stripes and a very choice and elaborate display of flowers. Upon the casket rested the old flag given by the ladies of Bethel to Company I when it went into service, and also the sword which the Colonel wore at his side while fighting for his country.
Rev. Mr. Bicknell served as Adjutant of the 5th Maine under Colonel Edwards and knows his army life as few survivors of that terrible conflict know it. We regret that time and space while not allow the mentioning of many incidents related by him. As an incident touching his principles toward the use of intoxicating liquors was mentioned an experience as follows: While marching his company through the streets of Philadelphia a halt was made and some members of the company entered a saloon near by and had their canteens filled. Upon their return Captain Edwards commanded his company as follows: “Attention company; handle canteens; unstop canteens; reverse canteens.”
Dr. Bicknell had no hesitancy in saying he felt that he was not over stating the facts when he said that he considered Colonel Edwards one of the bravest men that ever lived. He reminded us of his single handed work in demanding and securing the surrender of scores of men at Rappahannock Station, and paid glowing tributes to his bravery in many other individual instances in the service. He was a man, he said, who left the detail of things to his minor officers, but when a charge was made, when someone must stand at the front and face the very mouth of the cannon, it was there you would always see Colonel Edwards; that he never in all his experience said to his men “Go.” It was always, “Come on, boys,” and in the very hottest of the fight, he was never seen pushing his regiment forward, but invariable six or eight rods in advance of it. He was always kind, loved his men, had their best interest at heart and was always exceeding solicitous of their well being. He in turn had the sincere love and respect of his comrades because he gave out his best love to them.
The members of the Grand Army attended the services in a body, and a large number from away who were members of the old 5th Maine came to pay their last respects to their hero, comrade and friend. His children were all present except one son, Waldo, who resides in Colorado, and could not get here. Interment took place in Woodlawn Cemetery.
His work is done.
Rest, patriot, in thy hillside grave, Beside the form which loved thee. Long may the land you fought to save Her bannered stars wave o’er thee, Upon our history’s brightest leaf, And on fame’s glowing portal, They’ll write thy grand, heroic life, And grave thy name immortal.