McAllister's brigade at the bloody angle.
by Robert McAllister, Brevet Major-General, U. S. V.
The writer of the article on “Hand-to-hand fighting at Spotsylvania
” gives all the honor of holding the “salient” on May 12th, 1864, to the Sixth Corps.
It was the Second Corps that made the grand charge of May 12th, and my brigade1
of that corps, the First Brigade of the Fourth Division, helped to defend the “Bloody angle” from the first to the last of the fearful struggle.
The brigade which I commanded during all these operations was composed of the 1st and 16th Massachusetts, the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 11th New Jersey, and the 26th and 115th Pennsylvania.
In the great charge at dawn it was in the second line.
At first we moved slowly up through the woods.
When the first line reached the open field at the top of the hill, in sight of the enemy's works, the men rolled out a tremendous cheer which was taken up by the second line.
Our boys started on a run. The first line parted in my front, leaving a long open space,
and up to and partly into this space went my brigade, striking the enemy's works at the salient.
At this place the Confederates
had a field-battery of eight or ten guns.
I ordered some of my men to draw back these guns on our side of the works, and with the remainder of the brigade pushed on toward the enemy.
But we soon discovered another line of works, and large reenforcements coming to the aid of the enemy.
I ordered “about face,” and retreated to the first line and completed the hauling off of eight guns, two of which we manned; we had not gunners to man all. By the time we got the guns on our side of the works and my line formed, the enemy came in force determined to dislodge us, and succeeded in carrying the works on my right up to the salient.
Encouraged by their success thus far, with traverses in their recaptured works behind which their sharpshooters could be protected while taking deadly aim at us, the enemy kept the offensive, and our position became very critical.
Besides all this the Confederates
here were more or less protected by fire from their second line of works.
Many officers without men and men without officers who had been driven from our line on the right came to our assistance and fought nobly, many of these from the Sixth Corps, and all were inspired by the one serious thought that we must hold this point or lose all we had gained that morning.
It was a life or death contest.
Their massed columns pushed forward to the “Bloody angle.”
The stars and stripes and the stars and bars nearly touched each other across these works.
Here were displayed on both sides of the breastworks more acts of individual bravery and heroism than I had yet seen in the war during three years of hard service.
The gray and blue coats with rifles in hand would spring on top of the breastworks, take deadly aim and fire, then fall dead in the trenches below.
This I saw again and again.
More troops came to our aid and took a hand in the fight.
A new line of troops from different commands was formed at an obtuse angle from this fighting line to stay the progress of the enemy on our right; but no sooner was it formed than it was swept away by the enemy's deadly fire.
The 16th Massachusetts, one of my regiments here on the left of my brigade, lost heavily, and its brave commander, Waldo Merriam
, was killed.
Here, also, Thomas W. Eayre
, Assistant Adjutant-General
of General Mott
's staff, was killed.
It was in our immediate front that the large tree was cut down by rifle-balls, the stump of which was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition
As night closed about us, the moment we would slacken fire the enemy would close in upon us, so determined were they to carry this point.
Had they succeeded in driving us from it, all we had gained that morning would have been lost.
Not till about 3 o'clock on the morning of the 13th did the battle cease.
A dead and dying mass of humanity was lying in the Confederate
trenches, while on our side the ground was covered with the dead.
Never during the war did braver men meet each other in battle than here.