Letter written by Colonel Clark S. Edwards of the 5th Maine Infantry, to his wife. Edwards laments about the transfer of General William T. H. Brooks. There is trouble in the regiments, and Edwards fears that more men may leave. He mentions that the Confederates will likely let his regiment stay in their current location. Edwards says he intends to return home in June, but cannot be certain. He briefly mentions the casualties suffered at the battle at Chancellorsville.
The letter continues on May 21st. His division was reviewed by General John Sedgwick, and Edwards hopes the General will stay as he is discouraged by the loss of so many good commanders. He particularly feels that a great injustice was done when General McClellan was removed, and that the battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville would have had better outcomes if McClellan was still in charge.
May 20th 1863
My Dear Wife
Yours of May 14th arrived tonight. I was very glad to hear from you and that you were all well. I have just come in from Gen. Brooks’ headquarters. He leaves in the morning for Washington. But where he goes from there I know not. He is taken from this division. He resigned soon after our last fight, but they would not accept of his papers – some trouble but I cannot tell what. He is a very fine officer and we meet with a great loss. All of the field officers of our brigade were there, or nearly all. While we were there, the field officers of the Jersey Brigade came, also the band. It was quite a gathering, I can assure you. I am afraid that there will be more leaving, as there is some trouble at the bottom. But I dare not say what I think about the matter. We have had three cases on trial today. One was cleared, the other two convicted. I am getting to be quite a judge, but I will let that slide and answer your letter. One thing I like to have forgotten – that is the Vermont Brigade, the one Brooks commanded before he commanded us, presented him with a silver set of eight pieces; cost not less than a thousand dollars.
On each piece is the general’s name and opposite of his name on the other side is one of the battles he led the brigade in. I did not look to see if there were any two pieces alike – that is the names of the battles. I think you would like to be Mrs. Brooks as far as the silver set is in the matter. You say in yours that Jas. Brown is almost crazy. I do not wonder at it, as it is quite different from what it would be for anyone to be taken away after a sickness at home. You speak of Monroe Stevens, but I think I wrote you in my letter of yesterday of him. You say you are in suspense about us crossing the river. I think I wrote you in one of mine soon after we got back to camp my opinion about crossing again. If the Rebels will let us remain where we are, it will be quite as well, as I think they will do. You look back and see my letters & you will see that I always guess about right. You speak of snow now in Maine – what are you made of? Why I noticed the apples are as large as potato balls here. I should think you would go out South & live. I am afraid your garden will get weedy if you wait for me to go home and take care of it. You say you will look for me about June. Well, I mean now to go home then, but still everything is uncertain in this war. You say our corps had the worst of it. Yes, we lost nearly one half of all the loss & still
there is some fault found with us for not doing more. I say now as I said in one of mine to you a few days ago, it is a great wonder we were not all taken prisoner. You asked if the ham has arrived as yet. No, but it will come sometime, so I do not care. I am sorry you should feel so about me. I sent word to Charles to write you, as he was on this side of the river at the time the fight was in progress.
Thursday afternoon, [May 21, 1863] It is hotter than that place we hear so much told of. We have just come in off a review. Our division was reviewed by Genl. Sedgwick. The gen. is looking finely. I hope they will not take him from us as they have Genl. Brooks. We have been quite unfortunate in losing our commanders. I sometimes get almost discouraged in this matter. This changing of commanders is dangerous business. I think the country must see that they made an awful blunder when they removed Little McC. Where is there a man who can say he thinks that there has been as much accomplished now as would have been had Little McC been in command. I do not wish to complain, but I feel that great injustice was done McC, and that thousands and tens of thousands of widows & orphan children have and will be made by that great blunder. What has
been gained since McC left us? At Fredericksburg, first, our loss was more than ten thousand, and at this fight [Chancellorsville] it will reach full fifteen more. Twenty-five thousand lives lost to gratify a few offenses to McClellan. Where is there a man that will say that the army at the time that McC left it was not in better condition, better spirits, and in fact better in anything than now? I would not have you understand me that we have had twenty-five thousand killed outright, but that number taken from our army by being killed, wounded, and prisoners. I believe that if McC had kept the command of the army that he would have given them battle at Waterloo or Culpepper, and that we would have been victorious. He was to have given them fight in there three days from the time they relieved him of his command. He would then taken them on equal ground. His army had been victorious in their late fight in Maryland [Antietam],and I have no doubt but he would have routed the whole of Lee’s army. But how has it been since? Why we fought them twice in their fortifications and been repulsed in both battles. Anyone can see that we would have been much better off to have fought up near the Orange & Alexandria R.R. than here. Our army has not been increased since McC left it, but has lost more than twenty-five thousand. Now would it not have been better to have fought the Rebels where McC proposed to? – on equal ground with our army one third larger than it is now. Any man of common sense will say yes. It is experience dearly bought. Love 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.