Second); connecting with him on the right, and forming the left centre, is Wright's (the Sixth); then Smith's (the Eighteenth), which holds the centre; next comes Warren's (the Fifth), which forms the right centre, and then Burnside's (the Ninth), which holds the extreme right. Our line runs almost parallel with the Chickahominy, and from one and a half to two and a half miles north of it. On the left wing we approach nearest the river, on the right we are somewhat refused. Hancock, holding the left wing, rests across the Despatch station road (that is, the road leading from Cold Harbor to Despatch station); our right is across the Tolopotamy. The rebel front is formed immediately in front of the Chickahominy, in three lines (two lines of battle and a skirmish line), on an irregular line, to conform with the woods and ridges and swamps of the ground. Between the two armies is a low, swampy region, whose dark hollows will soon be lit up with the fires of death. Suddenly from behind the rude parapet there is an upstarting, a noiseless springing to arms, the muffled commands of officers forming the line. The attack was ordered for 4:30, and it may have been five minutes after that, or it may have been ten minutes, but it certainly was not later than 4:45, when the whole line is in motion. Skirmishers are thrown out, and presently meet the enemy's pickets, as we learn by the smart fusilade you hear; our artillery opens, the rebels respond, and in a moment the deadly conflict is joined. The metaphysicians say that time is naught — is but a category of thought; and I think it must be so, for into ten mortal minutes this morning was crowded an age of action. Ten minutes of the figment men call time, and yet the scant space decided a battle! There are a thousand details, ten thousand episodes, but the essential matter is this, that that first rush of advance carried our whole front butt up against a line of works, which we were unable to break through, or, breaking through, were unable to hold. Conceive of this in the large: the fierce onslaught amid deafening volleys of musketry, and the thunder of artillery, and the wild, mad yell of battle, and see the ranks mown down and the lines break here and there, and the sullen obstinate retreat, every inch contested, and we shall then be able to descend to some of the points of action, as they individualize themselves along the line. Hancock held the left of the whole line of battle; and of his three divisions, that of Barlow held the extreme left of the army, that of Gibbon was drawn on the right of Barlow's, while Birney's division was held in reserve. Of the four brigades of Barlow's division Brookes had the left and Miles the right — each brigade in double line of battle. Smith, commanding the Irish brigade, was placed in support. The left was protected by refusing it — the Third brigade being disposed so as to cover that flank. The formation of Gibbon's division on the right of Barlow was similar, Tyler's brigade (heavy artillery) holding the right, Smith's the centre and Owen's the left — McKean in rear of Tyler's centre, in two lines. On Hancock's line there were but few places where artillery could be used with effect. Barlow had directed that his attacking brigades should, previously to the assault, be moved out, and formed just in rear of the picket line. From this point they advanced for half a mile through woods and over open intervals, under a severe fire, square up to the enemy's works. That portion of his front where the right of Miles' brigade joined with the left of Brookes — the same brigade that so brilliantly carried the famous salient in the lines of Spottsylvania — succeeded in a similar splendid coup here; they got over and into the enemy's parapet, capturing his guns (four light twelve-pounders), his colors, and five or six hundred prisoners, about three hundred of whom were secured by promptly passing them to the rear. The storming column, in fact, was just turning the enemy's guns on the retreating rebels, when powerful reinforcements from the second rebel line appeared advancing. The first rebel line was held by Breckinridge's troops, and was carried, but Lee is too good a General to leave a point so important thus weakly defended. Breckinridge's men were placed in the fore-front to receive the baptism of fire, but behind these lay the veterans of Hill's corps, and it is these we now see dashing forward to retrieve the honors we had snatched. Barlow's brigade — stout hearts not used to pale before the greatest odds — could have held their own under conditions the least short of desperation, but the situation in which they now found themselves o'erleaped its limits. It was not merely the overwhelming front that came pressing down upon them, of that they had no fear; but the position they had gained placed them in advance of the whole line of battle, and gave the rebel artillery the opportunity for a deadly enfilading fire. Besides this, they had lost the directing heads of two of the chief commanders. Brookes and Byrnes, “souls of courage all compact,” fell mortally wounded, and all the organizations had suffered fearfully from an unparalleled loss of officers. In this state of facts they fell back, bringing with them the prisoners they had taken, and a captured color, but not the guns. They fell back, but not to their original position; to a position far in advance of that they had held, and at different points not more than fifty yards from the enemy. Here they intrenched, and here I leave them, to pass on to Gibbon's division of the same corps, on the right, and which was engaged at the same time. Gibbon's advance was simultaneous with Barlow's, but in moving forward, he came upon one of the swamps of the Chickahominy, which had to be turned or overpassed, in the process of which it became very difficult to establish the connection between different parts of his line. This overcome, however, his troops pressed
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Table of Contents:
Doc . 16 . operations in Tennessee .
Doc . 19 . the siege of Suffolk, Virginia .
Doc . 36 . General Rousseau 's expedition.
Doc . 59 . battles of Spottsylvania , Va: battle of Sunday , May 8 , 1864 .
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