Speech of Colonel Elijah Walker
I am not here to deliver an oration of such rhetorical finish as that which characterizes the efforts of my learned comrades at the exercises around the Seventeenth Maine regiment's monument to-day at the wheatfield, but as the representative of the Fourth Maine, to accept this granite shaft and turn it over to the protecting care of the Battlefield Memorial Association, pending a formal and more befitting dedication. You will pardon me if, as one speaking from personal knowledge and experience, I take this opportunity to briefly review the Fourth Maine regiment's history, and tell of a few of the movements in which the command participated in the course of its long term of service in the field.
In the latter part of April, 1861, four companies were enlisted and organized in Rockland, two in Belfast, one in Brooks, one in Searsport, one in Wiscassett, and one in Damariscotta. Mat 8th the officers of these companies met in Rockland, in obedience to orders, and elected Hiram G. Berry as their colonel. The regiment went into camp in Rockland on May 17th, was mustered into the United States service June 15th, left the state on the 17th, arrived in Washington the 21st, crossed the Potomac to Alexandria July 8th, and encamped at Bush Hill.
On the 12th a reconnaissance was made by companies B and C, and three Confederate soldiers were captured with loaded muskets in their hands. On the 16th we marched in pursuit of the rebels. On the 21st we came upon and engaged them at Bull Run, where our army was defeated, with a loss to our regiment of 23 men killed, 3 officers and 24 enlisted men wounded, and 3 officers and 38 men missing. Few are the regiments that suffered more fatalities than, on that hard-fought field. We returned to Alexandria and the camp we left, on the 16th From that time until March 17th, 1862, the regiment was employed in drill, picket duty, felling trees and building fortifications. We also made several reconnaissances, and were the first to report the retreat of the enemy at Manassas. On the 18th we were board a steamer enroute to Fortress Monroe, whence we went to Hampton, Va.
March 25th Colonel Berry, who had been promoted and assigned the command of a brigade, took leave of the regiment and I assumed command. April 4th we left Hampton, and arrived near Yorktown the next day. Here we remained until May 4th, when we followed the retreating enemy to Williamsburg, where we found them , strongly fortified, on the 5th. Here we escaped without a loss of men, although we were the first to occupy Fort Magruder on the morning of the 6th. The enemy were defeated and we followed to Fair Oaks, where the left of our army was attacked on the 31st. here, for two day's, our (Kearny's) division had severe fighting. On June 15th, 22d, and 25th the regiment had skirmishing on the picket line. On the 27th, a retreat having been ordered by the army commander, our regiment was assigned to prepare two roads across White Oak Swamp, and we were the last infantry troops to cross the swamp on the morning of the 30th. We held the advanced position in the battle of Glendale during that day, and when the retreat began at night were the last to leave the field.
At Malvern Hill, July 1st, with our food supply exhausted, we held the front line of our division, and were the last infantry to leave that famous battlefield. At Harrison's Landing we were obliged to endure miasma and bog water until Aug. 15th, when we marched to Yorktown, took a steamer for Alexandria, going thence by rail to Warrenton Junction, where we arrived on the 21st. We were sent five miles in advance, to Rappahannock Station, where on the 27th we left, without rations, to serve as a "blind" and be captured by the enemy, if need be; but we succeeded in extricating ourselves, by hard marching, with the loss of a few who became exhausted and fell into the hands of the rebels. These unfortunates were stripped of their outer garments, paroled and permitted to rejoin us. On the morning of the 29th we arrived on the Bull Run battlefield, where we had severe fighting nearly all day, losing 10 men killed, 2 officers, the sergeant-major, and 33 men wounded, and 8 missing. I escaped without injury, but thereafter my horse carried Confederate lead in his flesh. On the 30th our division was on the reserve, but late in the day we had a lively time, and the Fourth Maine and the 40th N.Y. were the last to leave the field.
September 1st, at Chantilly, we were sent by General Kearny to open an attack on the enemy, and had desperate fighting, losing 12 men killed, and 2 officers and 52 men wounded. My horse was shot and killed. We then fell back to Alexandria, moving thence up the Potomac to Point of Rocks, Md. October 12th we had a skirmish with Stuart's cavalry near the mouth of the Monocacy. The Third and Fourth Maine were under my command, and we were successful in turning the cavalry into a road leading to an ambush at the ford; our troops, however, that were to spring the trap, hastily left on the approach of the horsemen, who crossed the Potomac in safety. On the 28th we left the upper Potomac and marched to Falmouth, arriving on the 20th of November. The first duty assigned us was to load 300 wagons with logs. We then moved twelve miles down the river and built a corduroy bridge across a swamp. This work accomplished, we joined our division, by a forced march, and crossed below Fredericksburg, where, on December 13, I led 211 men and officers in a charge upon the enemy's fortified position, having three officers and 19 men killed, and 7 officers and 59 men wounded; 36 men were reported missing, of whom 8 have never been heard from. Our army retreated on the morning of the 16th, when I withdrew and followed the last pickets across the river.
At Chancellorsville, May 2d and 3d, we had our share of the fighting, taking the lead in the moonlight charge and being the last to cross the pontoon bridge on the retreat. Here we lost 1 officer and 2 men killed, 3 officers and 15 men wounded, and 7 men missing. Things remained quiet until June 11th, when we marched from camp to Bealton Station, thence successively, to Catlett's Station, Manassas junction and Blackburn's Ford, and on the 17th arrived in Centreville. on the 19th our Third corps bivouacked at Gum Springs, where we remained until the 25th, when we again moved and bivouacked at the mouth of the Monocacy. On the 26th we marched to Point of Rocks, Md.; on the 27th to Middletown; on the 29th to Taneytown, and on the 30th to near Emmitsburg, occupying the village the next morning, July 1st, at 11 o'clock. at 1 P.M. our corps commander, General Sickles, led the larger part of his command to Gettysburg, arriving at 7 o'clock that evening. We heard there had been a severe engagement in which our troops encountered a force much superior in point of numbers, and were driven back past Seminary Ridge, through the village of Gettysburg, and having made a stand on Cemetery Hill, were there reforming their lines. This was unwelcome news to us who had been so often defeated, but every soldier knew we were on the free soil of a free people, and all were determined to defend it or die in the attempt.
The sun disappeared, and presently the stars became dimly visible through a vaporous and smoky atmosphere. The soldiers were seeking rest for their wearied limbs, and the officers were engaged in readjusting the lines and forming new ones, and in seeing that their men were supplied with ammunition. With my regiment of about 300 men and 18 officers I made a bed of that soil destined to become the Union veterans' Mecca, and be immortalized in song and story; and we were trying to get a little sleep in preparation for the morrow when I heard a familiar voice inquiring for Colonel Walker, and I answered, "I am here, Captain. Is it our turn to establish a picket line?" "Yes, it is the order of General Sickles that you regiment establish a picket line, the right to connect with the First corps pickets and the left with those of the Second corps."
I reluctantly obeyed, moved to the front about half a mile and established a line by a rail fence, some 30 or 40 rods west of the Emmitsburg road, making connection with the First corps pickets, as directed, but I failed to find any troops on my left, except a few cavalry scouts. The enemy's pickets, at this time, occupied the woods directly in our front, 30 and 50 rods from our line, in which woods the enemy were assembling throughout the night. All was quiet until daybreak, when they opened fire upon us and several times advanced into the opening, but were as often glad to regain the shelter of the woods. Early that morning I reported a large force in the woods in front of me, but the report was disregard by my superiors, and I was twice ordered to advance and drive the enemy's pickets out of the woods. These orders I did not attempt to execute. At 9 o'clock Colonel Berdan reported to me with 250 of his Sharpshooters with orders to join me in dislodging the rebels. I soon convinced Colonel Berdan that it would be foolhardy to make the attempt, and he agreed with me that an attack on the rebels' flank was the only practicable move that could be made, if our superiors could not be otherwise convinced of the strength of the concealed Confederates. He left, saying he would report the result of his observations, and at about 9.30 the Third Maine and the Sharpshooters did attack the rebels' flank, as I had suggested, by which movement the correctness of my conclusions was soon demonstrated. From that time until 2.30 P.M. it was quiet on our front, but there was some sharp fighting on our left, and we were then relieved by the 1st Mass. We at once joined our brigade, which we found packing up to move, advanced with it to the front and were assigned a position on the high ground to the left of the corps and, at that time, the left of the army, connecting with the 124th N.Y. At my front and centre was the 4th N.Y. battery, Captain Smith.
It was now 3 o'clock and my men were hungry, having drank water for supper, breakfast and dinner. fires were kindled, a heifer was found near by and slaughtered, coffee was steeped and beef impaled on sticks was warmed over the blaze. We drank our coffee and ate the very rare and thoroughly smoked meat, sprinkling it with salt, of which condiment every soldier carried a little in his pocket.
At 3.45 the enemy came out of the woods half a mile from us and opened with their artillery, Smith's battery responding. Their infantry appeared in large numbers. They first met the 2d U.S. Sharpshooters, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Stoughton, who checked the advance, but fell back as the strong rebel force came on. I was ordered to the left, leaving Smith's guns without support and creating a space of about two hundred yards without infantry. To this move I objected, but was assured by the adjutant-general of the brigade, who brought the order, that other troops would take my place to protect the battery. I unwillingly moved to the low ground, - the valley now memorable in history, - sending a few skirmishers, commanded by Capt. Arthur Libby, into the woods between the two mountains, and also a strong line of skirmishers to my front. I soon withdrew the men from the woods, as troops were coming down Little Round Top in the rear of Libby's line. The line in front had a severe time with the advance of the enemy, but was not dislodged.
The troops of the Fifth corps had occupied Little Round Top and were advancing down its southern slope, being 40 or 50 rods to my rear and left, when they met the enemy. Musketry fire commenced with severity. At this time I had not been engaged, except with my skirmish line in the valley, but in a moment the 44th Ala. regiment appeared at the edge of a wood of small pines on our left flank. The colonel of that regiment says that while he was getting his men into position, and before they fired a shot, one-fourth of them had been killed or disabled; but when he did open fire upon us we soon found, to our sorrow, that we had no mean foe to contend with. They soon gave up and retired into the woods, where they were completely concealed.
Smith, on the high ground, abandoned his guns, and the rebels came over my right flank and in the rear of my skirmish line, many of the latter surrendering. I moved back about 100 yards, fixed bayonets, and charged forward by the right oblique, driving the enemy from Smith's guns and connecting with the 124th N.Y. We had a sharp encounter on our left, at the brow of the hill, a little to the right of Devil's Den. It was at close quarters. I was on foot and wounded, my horse having been killed. My sword was wrenched from my hand, but my men saved me and I recovered my sword. At this critical moment the 99th Penn. came to our assistance, forming on our left along the brow of the hill, and the enemy fell back, taking cover behind the rocks and bowlders [sic.] and in Devil's Den. The 6th N.J. regiment soon arrived, taking position to the left of the 99th Penn. and the 40th N.Y., extending the line further to the left, swinging their right and advancing into the low ground. The low, wet ground, which we had been obliged to abandon, was occupied by large numbers of the advancing enemy, but that valley, which we had christened, had received its name for all time,- the "Valley of Death."
We held our position until about sunset, when our brigade fell back and the troops of the Second and Fifth corps had a line in our rear. When I gave the order to fall back I was unable to walk, but was saved from prison, and possibly from death, by Sergeant Mowry of company B and Corporal Roberts of company F, who wrested me from the foe and assisted me to the rear. Our flag was pierced by thirty-two bullets and two pieces of shell, and its staff was shot off, but Sergt. Henry O. Ripley, its bearer, did not allow the color to touch the ground, nor did he receive a scratch, though all the others of the color-guard were killed or wounded.
I turned the regiment over to Capt. Edwin Libby, a tried, brave and faithful officer, and took my first ride in an ambulance. July 3d the regiment was with the brigade, in reserve, and with the Third Maine, 99th Penn. and 20th Ind., under Colonel Lakeman, moved to support the Second corps when the enemy was assaulting it. On the 4th it was on picket.
The Fourth Maine was with the troops that followed the defeated enemy into Virginia, our division meeting and engaging the rebels at Wapping Heights on the 23d. I was absent, but I rejoined the regiment in time to be with it in the manoeuvres from Culpepper to Centreville, in October.
At Kelly's Ford, November 7th, I commanded the second attacking brigade, composed of 99th Penn., 86th and 124th N.Y., Third Fourth, and Seventeenth Maine. I had the Fourth Maine in support of Randolph's Rhode Island battery, but it escaped without casualties. At Orange Grove, November 27th, seeing the supports leaving Randolph's battery, I took my regiment to his assistance, dragging his guns out of the mud, placed them on high ground, and the enemy were repulsed with great slaughter. At Mine Run, November 29th and 30th, the Fourth Maine and 20th Ind. had special orders to charge the rebel batteries, at a signal gun announcing general Warren's attack on the left; had the signal gun been fired we would have been given over to destruction, but Warren refrained from assaulting.
During the winter of 1864 I was recommended by my superior officers and a long list of Maine officials, including the governor, for promotion; having, in an unguarded moment, expressed my favoritism for George B. McClellan, our representative, who had been intrusted with my cause, failed to present the recommendations.
May 5th we were the first of the Second (Hancock's) corps to meet and attack the enemy, losing 1 officer killed and 3 mortally wounded; 4 other officers were wounded, 1 of whom being disabled; 17 men were killed, 104 wounded and 2 missing. Myself and horse were wounded, but I remained on duty.
May 6th I was in command of the brigade. We had severe fighting all day, the Fourth losing 1 officer killed, and myself and another slightly wounded but not disabled; also 4 men killed, 26 men wounded and 6 missing. On the 7th, 4 men were wounded and 1 missing, probably killed, as he was never heard from.
Small engagements often afforded as critical situations as great battles. One such occasion befell me on May 10th, when I was ordered to cross the Po River and, using the Fourth and part of the Seventeenth Maine and the picket men, to force the enemy's outposts and learn what force he had. The stream was some 10 or 12 feet broad, bordered with swamps, and varied in depth up to six feet. With Captain Briscoe, of General Birney's staff, I crossed and reconnoitered; decided to advance the Seventeenth and pickets on the road nearest the river, while I led the Fourth by another road farther out, running nearly parallel. The enemy's mounted videttes retired as we approached them. During our advance of about two miles we wounded and took two of them with their horses. While scouting in advance of my men, I suddenly came within 150 yards of a gray-appareled line of battle which a scrub growth had concealed from view. We retraced our steps to the road on which Briscoe had advanced and was now skirmishing with the "graybacks," as I wanted to recall him and cross the stream, for I knew they would be after us in large numbers. But an order came from division headquarters to go in and assist Briscoe's force to drive back the enemy's pickets. I protested but could not disobey the order. Sending my colorguard and prisoners across the river, and leaving Lieut. Henry O. Ripley with a squad of men to guard the road, I attempted to carry out my instructions. Captain Briscoe was then a mile away. Advancing about half a mile I received an order to rejoin the division on the other side of the river. Sending out Capt. Arthur Libby with a few men to learn whether our road was open, he found that the "woods were full of them," and commanding the road. This was one of the situations that tests a man's nerves. I formed my men under the brow of a hill, where they bravely held the enemy in check while I got word to Briscoe to retreat across the river. We then dashed through the swamp and into the water, which with the mud was up to our armpits; this was our only chance, as the enemy had gained the river on our right and left. My horse followed the men, and both he and his rider were safely landed on the other side with the assistance of two gallant boys.
Here my beloved and reliable Lieutenant Ripley was brought in a blanket, fatally wounded. On the enemy's approach to the point where he had been stationed, he rallied his men to check their advance, and the next instant a bullet had passed through his neck. His men retreated and crossed the road. In this spirited affair two enlisted men of the regiment were also wounded, - one mortally, - and four were missing. Ripley was the sixth officer of the regiment killed or mortally wounded since this short campaign began, the others being Captain Amos B. Wooster and Edwin Libby, killed; Major Robert H. Gray and Lieutenants C.C. Gray and J.R. Conant, mortally wounded; four others besides myself had been wounded, but only one disabled from duty.
On the 12th, at Spotsylvania, we were exempt from casualties. On the 15th one man was wounded. On the 23d, at North Anna, in a successful charge upon the enemy's works, which, on the north side of the river, defended a bridge, we has 5 men killed and 19 wounded. I was again hit by a rebel bullet, adjutant Sawyer was also wounded, - both continued on duty. On the 24th one man was killed, private Juam Millano, the last on our long "roll of honor." June 2d, at Cold Harbor, two men were wounded. June 14th we crossed the James River, and on the 15th I turned over to the Nineteenth Maine the 217 re-enlisted men and later recruits, and with the balance of my command, including 4 staff and 9 line officers and 113 men, proceeded to Maine, where we mustered out of the service July 19, 1864.
When General Berry was called to a more exalted position, he recommended me for the colonelcy of the regiment he so dearly loved. I accepted the honor reluctantly, conscious of my inability to adequately fill his place; but I am satisfied that while under my command the name and fame of the regiment were bravely upheld, and that fresh laurels were added to those it has already won.
[ I desire to say here, that the 99th Pennsylvania monument stands on ground from which that regiment did not fire a shot July 2, 1863. Their right was where their left marker is now placed, and extended along the brow of the hill. The Fourth Maine are entitled to the ground from the 124th N.Y. to the base of Little Round Top, except that occupied for a time by Smith's battery.]
The number of wounded recorded on our regimental shaft includes only such as were seriously disabled.
In conclusion, I desire to say that, as a Commissioner appointed by the governor, I accept this monument (which is of my own design) from the granite and lime district of Maine in which the regiment whose heroism it commemorates was raised, and to you, Major Krauth, representative of the Battlefield Memorial Association, I entrust it, with the fervent hope that when the stone shall have yielded to the disintegrating hand of time, our flag will still be floating over an undivided country and a free people.