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[118]

IV. Cold Harbor

[After Spotsylvania the Confederate Army was gradually forced back on Richmond. At Cool Arbor, or Cold Harbor as it is usually called, almost in sight of the southern capital, Grant ordered a frontal attack of the strongly entrenched enemy. The engagement was unsuccessful and the Union losses heavy. This battle has been much criticized, and is considered the most severe blemish on Grant's military reputation. He now determined to make for the James River. Leaving Richmond to the west, the army marched south, and the advanced guard reached the river on June 13. The Army of the Potomac was moved across the James, and took up its position in the neighborhood of City Point — a district already in the possession of Federal forces, which had advanced up the river under Butler.

The loss of the Union Army, from the time it crossed the Rapidan 122,000 strong until it reached the James, was within a few men of 55,000, which was almost equal to Lee's whole force in the Wilderness. The Confederate loss is unknown, but it was certainly very much smaller.1]

Headquarters Army of Potomac Sunday evening, May 22, 18642
I don't know when I have felt so peaceful — everything goes by contrast. We are camped, this lovely evening, in [119] a great clover field, close to a large, old-fashioned house, built of bricks brought from England in ante-revolutionary times. The band is playing “Ever of Thee I'm Fondly Dreaming” --so true and appropriate — and I have just returned from a long talk with two ultra-Secessionist ladies who live in the house. Don't be horrified! You would pity them to see them. One, an old lady, lost her only son at Antietam; the other, a comparatively young person, is plainly soon to augment the race of Rebels. Poor creature! Our cavalry raced through here yesterday and scared her almost to death. Her eyes were red with crying, and it was long before she fully appreciated the fact that General Meade, would not order her to instant death. To-night she has two sentries over her property and is lost in surprise. Have I not thence obtained the following supplies: five eggs, a pitcher of milk, two loaves of corn bread, and a basket of lettuce — all of which I duly paid for. I feel well to-night on other accounts. If reports from the front speak true, we have made Lee let go his hold and fall back some miles. If true, it is a point gained and a respite from fighting. Hancock had got away down by Milford. Warren had crossed at Guinea Bridge and was marching to strike the telegraph road, on which the 6th Corps was already moving in his rear. The 9th Corps would cross at Guinea Bridge, last, and follow nearly after the 2d Corps.

We started ourselves not before noon, and crossed the shaky little bridge over the Po-Ny (as I suppose it should be called), and so we kept on towards Madison's Ordinary, crossing, a little before, the Ta, a nice, large, clear brook. An “Ordinary” in Virginia seems to be what we should call a fancy variety store, back in the country. Madison's is a wooden building, just at cross-roads, and was all shut, barred, and deserted; and, strange to say, had not been [120] broken open. On the grass were strewn a quantity of old orders, which people had sent by their negroes, to get — well, to get every conceivable thing. I saved one or two, as curiosities, wherein people ask for quarts of molasses, hymn-books, blue cotton, and Jaynes's pills! The 5th Corps was passing along, as we stood there. After a while we went across the country, by a wood road, to the church you will see south of Mrs. Tyler's. Close to Madison's Ordinary was one of those breastworks by which this country is now intersected. A revival of the Roman castrum, with which the troops of both sides protect their exposed points every night. This particular one was made by the heavy artillery, whose greenness I have already spoken of. When they put it up the enemy threw some shells. Whereupon an. officer rode back in all haste to General Hancock, and said: “General, our breastwork is only bullet-proof and the Rebels are shelling us!” “Killed anybody?” asked the calm commander. “Not yet, sir,” quoth the officer. “Well, you can tell them to take it comfortably. The Rebels often throw shells, and I am sure I cannot prevent them.” We passed, on the wood road, some of the finest oak woods I have seen; nothing could be finer than the foliage, for the size, fairness, and rich, polished green of the leaves. The soil, notwithstanding, is extremely sandy and peculiarly unfavorable to a good sod. At the church (do I call it Salem? I am too lazy to hunt after my map; no, it is New Bethel), the 9th Corps was marching past, and Burnside was sitting, like a comfortable abbot, in one of the pews, surrounded by his buckish Staff whose appearance is the reverse of clerical. Nothing can be queerer (rather touching, somehow or other) than to see half a dozen men, of unmistakable New York bon ton, arrayed in soldier clothes, midst this desolated country

The North and South Annas and Pamunkey river

[121] I am glad to see that such men have the energy to be here. They are brave and willing, though, like your hub, their military education has been rather neglected.

And this leads me to remark that it is a crying mistake to think, as many do, that an aide is a sort of mounted messenger — an orderly in shoulder-straps. An aide should be a first-rate military man; and, at least, a man of more than average intelligence and education. It is very difficult, particularly in this kind of country, to deliver an order verbally, in a proper and intelligent way; then you must be able to report positions and relative directions, also roads, etc.; and in these matters you at once see how deficient some men are, and how others have a natural turn for them. To be a good officer requires a good man. Not one man in ten thousand is fit to command a brigade; he should be one who would be marked anywhere as a person (in that respect) of superior talent. Of good corps commanders I do not suppose there are ten in this country, after our three-years' war. Of army commanders, two or three. When we had seen enough of the 9th Corps and had found out that Hancock had mistaken Birney's line of battle (down by Milford) for that of the enemy,--whereat there was a laugh on the chivalric H.,--we departed for the Tyler house. In one of Burnside's regiments are a lot of Indian sharpshooters, some full, some half-breeds. They looked as if they would like to be out of the scrape, and I don't blame them. . . .


May 23, 1864
It was with regret that early this morning we left the fine clover field of Dame Tyler, and wended our way towards the North Anna. We crossed the Mat (or what is called South River, I am not sure which, at any rate a mere brook), and kept straight on for Garrett's Tavern. Grant, [122] mounted on the purloined black pony, ambled along at a great pace, but General Meade, who got his pride up at Grant's rapidity, set off at a rate that soon raised a cloud of dust and left the Lieutenant-General far behind; where-at George G. was much pleased, and his aides much the contrary, as they had to scramble after. About ten we got to a side road, leading to the right, and here we turned off the 9th Corps, so as to keep the telegraph road open for the passage of the 5th. Then we took a bend to the left again and came out by the Moncure house, crossing the Polecat Creek by the way — a pleasant stream running over stones, and with the trees quite growing into it. There, I knew, Biddle and Mason “straggled” and took a bath. We passed also a house where dwelt four women, all alone; we left them a guard, to stay till next morning. A hazardous position for these people, with all the stragglers and camp scoundrels about! Old Ma'am Moncure was a perfect old railer, and said: “They should soon see us coming back on the double-quick.” However, they (the family) were amazing sharp and eager in selling us sheep, and took our greenbacks with avidity. A gold dollar now is worth about $30 in Confederate money! This afternoon Warren crossed the North Anna at Jericho Bridge, and was fiercely attacked on the other side by Longstreet; but he repulsed him with heavy loss, after a sharp fight. Hancock coming along more to the left, stormed the rifle-pits near Chesterfield station and seized the bridge, ready to cross. I have been lately up at three and four in the morning and I am so sleepy I must stop.


May 24, 1864
We started quite early — a little before six--to go towards the North Anna; and halted at Mt. Carmel Church, where this road from Moncure's strikes the “telegraph [123] road” (so called, because the telegraph from Fredericksburg ran along it). If you want a horrible hole for a halt, just pick out a Virginia church, at a Virginia cross-roads, after the bulk of an army has passed, on a hot, dusty Virginia day! There was something rather funny, too. For in the broad aisle they had laid across some boards and made a table, round which sat Meade, Grant, General Williams, etc., writing on little slips of paper. It looked precisely like a town-hall, where people are coming to vote, only the people had unaccountably put on very dusty uniforms. General Meade is of a perverse nature; when he gets in a disagreeable place, he is apt to stay there. I think he likes to have officers who are prone to comfort feel decidedly uncomfortable. That reminds me of an anecdote. The day before yesterday, when we had our bloody attack along the whole line, General Meade had ordered his whole Staff ready at four in the morning. Now, such people as the Judge-Advocate-General are Staff officers and at Headquarters, but not aides. Ours is an old army officer, with many characteristics of a part of his class, that is, rather lazy and quite self-sufficient. He came to the front with us and staid some time; but, as dinner-time approached, late in the afternoon, he thought it would be bright to go to the camp and arrange a snug dinner. Pretty soon the suspicious and not very kindly gray eyes of the chief began to, roll about curiously. “General Williams! did you give orders that all my Staff should accompany me?” “Yes, sir; certainly, sir.” (Seth is rather scared at his superior, as are many more.) “Where is Major Platt?” “I think he must have gone to camp for a moment, sir.” “Send at once for him!” In no great time the Major arrived at a gallop. “Major Platt,” said the General slowly and solemnly, “I wish you to ride along [124] our whole lines (possibly about eight miles) and ascertain as accurately as possible the amount of our casualties during the day!” Somewhere about nine o'clock that night

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