Letter written by Colonel Clark S. Edwards of the 5th Maine Infantry to his wife, from the headquarters of the 5th ME Volunteers near White Oak Church, VA. Edwards begins by expressing gratitude at still being alive when so many others have died in battle or from disease, and states how much he misses his wife and children. Edwards lists the battles in which he has fought with the 5th Maine, including West Point, Gaines Mill, Fredericksburg, and Antietam. He describes his daily life in camp, and that for the next three days he will be the field officer of the day while the regiment goes on picket. The papers have reported a bill to consolidate the regiments, and Edwards says he will leave if that happens.
A second part of the letter is dated January 15th, 1863. Edwards claims though he believes slavery is wrong, he feels it is none of the North’s business to meddle with the affairs of the South. However, now that the South has rebelled, the North must bring the states back together. Edwards bitterly writes of how unworthy officers are being promoted due to their political ties, and cites Henry Halleck as a prime example.
Head Quarters 5th Me. Vols.
Camp near White Oak Church, Va.
Jan. 14th, 1863
My Dear Wife
I sit down to write you this evening with a heart overflowing with gratitude to our Heavenly Father for protecting and carrying me through the past year, while thousands of this army have been killed in battle – with prospects one year ago as bright as mine. And I feel thankful for His kindness in preserving me in health and strength while tens of thousands of this army have been cut down by diseases; while I have never seen yet a sick day. One year ago tonight I was with you at home, as I left on the fifteenth for Augusta. Little then did I think that one long year would pass before I should see you again. You may think I have lost that feeling which should always animate a father’s breast for his wife and little ones, but I can truly say that my dear
family is always uppermost in my mind. Not a day nor an hour but some incident reminds me of beloved ones far away. Glad would I be if I could but press those little ones to my breast this night, but that cannot be. What a change has taken place in this the last year. When I look back, it seems like a dream. I can hardly realize it, but still there has been some reality, in the fight of West Point, Gaines Mill, Golding Farm, Charles City Cross Roads, Crampton Pass, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and a sprinkling of Malvern Hill & the last Bull Run, all of which I have taken part in. I think I have done my part of fighting. But few officers can boast of taking part in so many fights. No man can say in the 5th Maine that he has been in every fight of the regt, and has not seen a sick day. I am probably all the officers or man but what has [not] been off duty at some time on ac[count] of sickness, and I think but few can say what I can in regard to drink. Not a drop of
the critter have I taken. But then I am not perfect, but far from it. When I look back, I can see many things I have done that I ought not, and many things undone which should have been, but we live to learn, and learn to live – or at least such has been my life. My life for the past year I am willing to have it published to the world. In battle I have always looked after the interest of others, regardless of my own in a great measure. But I will not boast of my deeds. I have done no more than any soldier should do in his duty to his country. But I must leave of this style of writing – you will say I am growing sentimental. I expect you will want to know how I pass my time now. I will tell you. I get up at eight, eat breakfast at nine, have the camp policed up, and the work done around camp till twelve. Then the men eat their dinner. I eat mine at half past one, drill the battalions from two till four, then have dress parade, supper at six, read & write till ten
go to bed ½ past ten. That has been the way I have done for the past week. In the morning our regiment goes on picket for three days, but I shall not stay with them but little, as I am to be the field officer of the day for the next three days, and shall stop nights at my tent. I went to Falmouth tonight to look after that fatal box, but could not find it, so have now given up in full. I still wear the old blouse with a plenty of shirts, so I plan to keep comfortable. I have sent to W[ashington] some five times after it. I have also been more than one hundred miles, so I think I have some little reason to be cross about it. If it had come, or been sent at a reasonable time after I sent for it, I should have gotten it, but two months had passed from the first letter I wrote before it left Maine, and then we were away from Washington so far that it could not be looked after. I do not blame you, but those that had the job to get it. But we will let that pass now, henceforth and farewell. Your last letter that I received was dated ten days ago, and was answered six days
[ago], so I have none now to answer. I am in hopes I may get one in the morning before this leaves. I wrote you or the boys about having an overcoat the same pattern of the one I now have, but they never sent me word why they did not get it up. But as it is almost spring, I shall not need it, so will let it go now, or if I ever get a chance to go home, I can then see to it. I see by the papers that they are getting a bill [up] to consolidate the regt. – that is put two or three into one. If so, I will leave the show any way, as it will be an honorable way to get out. I am in hopes of getting another commission before the time arrives, so as to go home as high as any of the Bethelites. I expect everything has changed some in Bethel within the last year. Write me of the most important changes. I expect the little ones have gone along some in size. Nelley must be quite a miss, & Frank a big boy. Waldo, I expect goes over to see Adel Twitchell as usual. Kate I hope is courted up
to her knees, and I presume she is. Massie & Bertie are quite [the] boys now, I suppose as a year makes a great odds with such little ones. I feel somewhat older than I did when I came into to the show, but still I am well and hearty; fat as a hog, and about as putrid. Thursday morn., Jan. 15th 1863, The mail has just come in and it brought a letter from you to me. It is dated Jan. 9th. The thing you speak of I have received, that is the hat & scarf. You spoke of my being changed in politics, but it is not so. I am the same as ever. I was never a negro worshiper. I believe the principle of slavery is wrong, but it was none of our business to meddle with slavery in the states where the constitution planted it, or rather where it was planted before the constitution was passed. Let the North look after her own affairs, and she has enough to attend to. If she had always done that this war could have been avoided. But now as the South has violated the constitution and has rebelled against one of the model governments of the world, I say if she cannot be brought back by an honest promise of the North not to meddle with her states’ rights, why then use all the powers of the North to do it. I go for giving the South a chance to repent once. If she does not, make her if it takes all the treasure of the North
and a million more men. But what I am sick of [is] this, of having men to fill offices that are not worthy of the place. There is Halleck, commander in chief of all the armies of the North. What is he? It he a warrior? No, never as yet saw the first battle – never under fire in his life. Is he the man for the place? It is some political favorite that gets these places. There is where all these blunders have arisen. For instance, I will give you an illustration. Yesterday, Capt.[James A.] Hall of the 2d Battery called on me. He is one of the best officers from Maine, puts on no airs, but goes in for work & has been in more fights than any other officer in any of the Maine batteries, but still is hardly known outside of his division; is not a political aspirant. Now for another capt. of one of the Maine batteries, his name is [O’Neil W.] Robinson, from one of the rural towns back in Oxford Co., Maine. He is a candidate
for what – it should be for a dishonorable discharge for cowardice from the service – but to the contrary, it is for a brigadier general. And I would not be at all surprised if he gets it. That is what a man by the name of Kimball is now at W[ashington] fixing. Is it to be wondered at that many of the battles come off as they do under such officers? As I write you, I am sick of the show. Who would wonder at it. Give us the men we want for leaders and the thing will be cleaned up. But force generals on us to serve under, that the latest recruit from Maine can teach, and who wonders at the result. When I tell you I am sick, I tell you the truth. Not of disease, but of heart. When McClellan was removed and Burnside put in his place, [that] was the first attack. But after the repulse at Fredericksburg it sunk deeper. But now if I could see any improvement I should get better. But when I see saints removed and the broken down politicians of the North replace them, it causes my
heart to ache. Only give us McClellan, or more of his stamp, and victory is sure to follow. But force on us the political aspirant and the broken down demagogues of the east, and we are gone. I reflect and then rave. I rave and then reflect. But for no purpose, as such men will have sway. Is the thing to always go on in this way? If so, I am like the comedian Jerry Blossom, I want to go home. I am willing to fight if I can see the least prospect ahead, but for such generals we have already had enough of. Lord deliver us from any more such. But I have written more on this than I intended. Say to Kate that I know of no one by the name of Billy Toohey. I have not sent my trunk. I intend to go with it soon myself. As for money, I have but about $25. The government is now owing me some $400. It has cost me much more to live now than before I was a field officer. But I will try to
save something for a rainy day. Ask the boys if the greenback is worth a premium. If so, in my next payment I would exchange it in Boston or Portland for bank paper, as that will pay my debts. You say in yours that not a cent of rent do you get, but I suspect Ayres gets it. So it is just as well, as it helps to pay [my debt?]. Do give my regards to Dr. Line. Say to him I will never forget his kindness, and I thank him a thousand times for his good wishes toward me. I have written much more than I intended to at first. My regt. has just gone on picket, and I must go over the line. I have written the last part of this in a great hurry, and please correct it before you read it to anyone. I have written the sentiments of my heart. I will be honest in expression. Let them say I have changed, or what not, I have tried to do my duty faithfully in all things, but have some regrets for things – that is your part.
Regards to all,
Clark Swett Edwards, was born March 26, 1824 in Otisfield Maine. On June 24, 1862 at the age of 37 he enrolled as captain of Company I, 5th ME Infantry, in Bethel, ME. He was promoted to major on July 1, 1862, following the severe losses of the 5th ME at Gaines Mill. Edwards was promoted to lieutenant colonel on Sept. 24, 1862, and colonel January 8, 1863. He was mustered out of the service on July 27, 1864, at the expiration of the regiment’s three years of service. Edwards was brevetted brigadier general on March 13, 1865 for war service. He died in Bethel, ME on May 5, 1903. Many of his letters have survived, and a large grouping are in the Peace Collection at Navarro College, Corsicana, Texas.