previous next

[228] front line, leaving it indented but unwavering; with the momentum of a mighty river, the brigade swept on, until but two hundred paces — a mere stone's-cast it looked — divided the assailants and the assailed. The musketry of the enemy died to a mere pattering — muskets must be reloaded, and this fact sometimes loses battles. But palisades and abatis must be passed, and with the next rebel volley, fired as the fearless Fortieth Indiana reached a point within one hundred paces of their works, came a more awful thunder. Squarely in the teeth of the inspired brigade opened a battery of six guns, belching forth grape and canister, every shot ploughing through the devoted ranks, and the thick fumes of their guns enveloping the interval of ground over which our brigade must pass. Every ball from those guns enfiladed sixty men, the column of attack, as I have already said, being thirty lines deep. The front lines shattered to pieces, slackened the furious onset, which brought those in the rear jamming up in one confused mass of men — confused, but still bent on their fearfully grim and bloody task. It was intended, when the head of. the assaulting column reached a point within pistol-shot of the enemy's parapet, to deploy into a column of regiments. This was no longer feasible, for organization was lost, and the whole column was a tightly closed, surging mass of men, ragged at the edges — but all moving one way — toward the enemy.

The rebel battery fired a second volley, completely shattering Wagner's column as a column, the cannon blowing aside every animated thing in their front. Masses of men moved to the right and left of the range of the battery, still bent upon one object. Many struggled up within twenty yards of the enemy's works; some penetrated the lines of palisades and abatis at their base, and a devoted few planted the foot of a Winkelreid on the slope of the parapet, but the assault had failed — failed heroically, in less time than I have taken to relate it. For nearly an hour portions of the brigade held points within fifty yards of the enemy's line, but all such were thinned out by the deadly rifleman, who, nearly secure himself, was at liberty to indulge in the uncommon luxury of gloating over a foe, before firing with cool, deliberate, and unerring aim. As the remnants of the brigade started back, long lines of rebels swarmed from their trenches, pursuing rapidly with infernal yells. They soon swarmed back, and faster than they emerged, when our reserves opened on them with a withering fire of small arms and artillery.

The brigade fell back to the line of works vacated in the morning, leaving over two hundred killed and wounded. The proportion of officers lost is larger than the average, and here, as elsewhere during the assault, an unusual number were hit in the head. Wagner's brigade left winter-quarters last spring nearly two thousand strong, but it was reduced to less than half that number, over fifty per cent. having been killed and wounded during the campaign. General Wagner fought, where he always fights, at the head of his brigade, and his escape from hurt is almost miraculous. Two or three hours after the assault his men were bustling around their camps, making their coffee, having already exhausted conversation on the great topic which the morning had furnished. “Damn these assaults in column,” I heard one of them remark, as he punched up the blaze under his coffee, “they make a man more afraid of being trampled to death by the rear lines than he is of the enemy. They might do on a marble floor.” His comments would offend Jomini or Monteculli; but the speaker, as a member of one of the advance regiments in the assaulting column, had a clear right to speak his mind.

The heaviest loss in the assault of Wagner fell on the noble Fortieth Indiana, which sustained nearly one half the casualties of the brigade. The regiments in the rear suffered but slightly.

It is claimed for Wagner's brigade, and I believe with justice, that it was the last of all to fall back. Yet such, if the fact, can have but little significance. The self-same heroism inspired each of the assaulting brigades; all did their utmost, and all deserve like chaplets for their brilliant and not wholly unavailing out-bursts of courage and endurance.

Harker's brigade held the right of Newton's division, the One Hundred and Twenty-fifth, Colonel Opdyke, in advance. Like Wagner's, it was deployed into a column of divisions, the six regiments forming a column just thirty lines deep. When the bugle pealed forth the clarion note for the advance, the brigade sprang into line, and marched boldly from their trenches, sweeping over the enemy's scattered pickets, and gaining the rifle-pits where his skirmishers were posted. The enemy opened a terrible fire of musketry, grape and canister, but our boys poured into the ravine equidistant from the hostile trenches, and began to ascend the slope beyond, fast becoming slippery with blood. At this moment, a battery opened on their right, enfilading the column and disordering its lines, without, however, lessening the impetuosity of the lads. Many swarmed to the rebel works, and after vainly endeavoring to scale the works, took lodgment at their base, fighting desperately within reach of each other over the parapet; so close that several of an advance regiment were dragged over by the hair and captured.

The struggle lasted one hour and twenty minutes; regiment after regiment planting its colors on the ramparts only to be driven back. Harker, the fearless and beloved commander, upon whose shoulder the star had rested but a brief month, fell mortally wounded at the head of his column, and died two hours after. No one who saw his cheerfulness on going into the fight, and his glorious bearing during the action to the moment he was hit, would have dreamed that a few hours before he had quietly handed a packet to a comrade not selected for

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
J. A. Wagner (2)
Harker (2)
Opdyke (1)
Newton (1)
Jomini (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: