Letter written by Captain Clark S. Edwards of Company I, 5th Maine Infantry, to his wife from Camp Lincoln. He recently went out to work on a new road, but they were called back early to take up arms. However, the fighting moved further away and the regiment was told to stand down. He mentions the casualties suffered by both sides in the fighting. Edwards describes a picket on a plantation along the Chickahominy River, and a Confederate encampment located at the end of the field. Union batteries were cross firing over the camp, but Edwards writes that the Confederates “stood it like heroes.” He writes about men he encountered when he returned to camp, and mentions attending an officer’s meeting. He was awoken that night by the sound of musket fire, and his men took up arms until after midnight. Edwards then reminisces about how the regiment has changed in the last year and updates his wife on the state of several of his friends. This letter was written the day before his regiment is savaged at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill.
Camp Lincoln June 26, 1862
My Dear Wife
You see by the date of this that we are at Camp Lincoln. But still we are at the same old camp; only a new name. Yesterday I sent a letter to you by one of my boys that went to Maine. As I close[d] that letter, I wrote you I was going out with a working party. I left the camp at eight o’clock and worked till ten on a new road. I had one hundred & ten men with me. At ten, or a little past, the word came to me to take all my men to the camp as quick as possible as the fight had already commenced in earnest. So we came to camp and were under arms in less than five minutes, ready to march. But the fight went from us, instead of coming towards us. But we stood on our arms till nearly night, when we were relieved. But it was one of the most exciting days we have yet seen. I cannot tell you the result of the day’s work, only would say that we advanced our line some more than a mile on the left. I hear we lost in killed and wounded about five hundred & took that amount of prisoners, and the Rebel loss was much larger than ours. But I cannot state this to be the fact, as camp
stories are very uncertain. At six last night, I went on to our right line of pickets, on this side of the Chickahominy. Our pickets at the place I went are about thirty rods apart. It was on one of those large plantations. The field, I should judge, to be one and a half mile long. At the south end of the field there was a large Rebel encampment. At the time I was there, our batteries on the north side of the Chickahominy, and our advanced line, were cross firing over their camp. I thought it a hot place for them to stop. It was one of the finest sight I ever saw, as I stood on the height of land to see the shells come into their encampment from two sides. But they stood like heroes. I was a looker-on till the sun sank behind the western hills. I then returned to my camp. As I came back, I saw Lieut. Brown. He was out with a small working squad. He is well. I then came by the camp of our good old friend, Thompson. Stopped a few minutes, and then came to my tent. The old Christian is not very well, but much better than he was two weeks ago. I got back to camp just at twilight. After arriving at camp, I had an invitation to an officers’ meeting, to get up a cornet to present to Cole, the leader of
our band. I had an invitation to set the example, as I being the senior capt., and it is got up wholly by the line officers. So I put down ten dollars, and finally we got one-hundred-seventy-five dollars to buy it with. It is to be pure silver, gold mounted. It will be the finest instrument in the army. I presume you will see the account of it in some of the Maine papers. Our meeting broke up at nine o’clock. And I then came to my tent and camped down for the night, as I supposed at the time. But had not been to bed but little more than an hour, when one of those smart volleys of musketry broke forth on the stillness of night. It was about ¾ of a mile from us. In less time than it takes to write this, our men were under arms & we were kept in that position till about midnight, and then allowed to lay down on our arms. Yesterday was one of the most exciting days I have seen. It was a day long to be remembered by me. I was fast asleep as soon as I lay down. I slept finely till six this morning, and then was awakened by the booming of our cannon. But since seven o’clock, up to this time now, near noon, it has been very quiet. It was
just one year ago today since we left our Pine Tree State. Many changes have taken place in our regt. Some have gone to their last resting place. Others are prisoners of war. Some are now suffering from wounds received at West Point, and some are on our Western gunboats. One of my boys, I fear, was on that awful gunboat the Mound City, that her boilers were stove in, and one hundred of her men scalded & killed. But I hope he is safe. It was Small, the one I had the money for that I let Norwell have. Perhaps you have seen the account of the disaster. We left Maine with more than a thousand and have had more than two hundred recruits, and now only number about six hundred. And quite a number of them are off duty. Only about five hundred can be got out on duty. But so it was. I have reason to be thankful, as I have never been sick [since] the first day I came into the army. (One o’clock) I have just been to dinner. We had beef steak, tea, bread, butter, cheese, so you see we get something to eat a part of the time. Jimmy is in the me[ss]. He does well. He always inquires after you when I get a letter. John is better. I hear he is still at hospital. Tim is about the same. All the rest of the boys are about the same as usual. I think of nothing new to write. I must close this as the mail goes soon. Write as often as convenient. My love to all the good folks of Bethel, [ME] I shall write you quite often till I get to Richmond.
Yours, C. S. Edwards
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.