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[95]

Chapter 11: battles at Totopotomoy Creek and cold Harbor.

From the 21st to the 24th of May we were engaged in skirmishing, picket fighting, with now and then a charge. On the morning of the 24th we crossed the North Anna River, and about noon advanced in line, our regiment being on the left of Smith's division. Finding the rebels strongly intrenched on the edge of the woods, we charged across an open field and drove them out. It was one of the bravest acts of the war, but it counted for nothing. As soon as we captured the works we sent word back that we must be reinforced or we could not hold them; but no one in the rear seemed to be in a hurry. We could hear the rebels reorganizing their men, and knew that we should be unable to resist the charge, as we were only a skirmish line. I lay on the works by the side of Captain Hincks. Both of us had muskets, and resolved to make the best fight possible. The rebels came in over the works at our left, at the same time advancing in front. We waited until the skirmish line came so near that we could get a good shot. Captain Hincks said, “What is it, Jack; Richmond or legs?” I said, “Legs.” We covered our man, fired and fell back. The rebels came on in force; we retreated until we came to a brook, and standing in the water used the bank for a breast-work, and held them until re-enforcements came up. A more angry set of men than we were never wore Union blue. We had [96] done a brilliant thing, had captured and held a line of works for two hours against heavy odds, and could have been supported in fifteen minutes as well as not.

As we were falling back after our relief had advanced, and were safe in the rear, a staff officer rode up and swinging his sword said, “Go back, you cowards, go back.” We requested him to go where he would require the constant use of a fan, --and kept on. We reorganized our companies and were ordered on picket for the night. We were so disgusted that we paid little attention to duty, but came to our senses the next morning upon finding we were all there was between our army and the rebels. About day-break I heard the picket cry, “Halt! Who comes there?” and going to his post found he had a negro in waiting. The darkey had a letter from the rebel commander; it read: “Send Cora to Richey.” I did not understand it and sent it to headquarters.

The boy was very intelligent, but he was a strange-looking mortal; had not as much clothing on as the prodigal son wore home from his excursion, but he could sing and dance, besides knowing all about the rebel army. Orders came to send him to headquarters of the division, and I reluctantly parted with G. Washington, whom I had intended to keep as a servant. I saw him several times in the next few weeks, then he went out of my mind. One day soon after the close of the war I was standing on the street in Lynn, when a negro boy went past whistling. It struck me I had heard that whistle before, and I called to him. I asked him if he were from the South, and he said he was. “How came you here?” was my next question. “Oh, I was captured by Lieutenant Adams of the 19th on the North Anna, and came home with Colonel Palmer of Salem.” “What became of [97] Lieutenant Adams?” I asked. “Guess he is dead. The rebels done caught him, and we never heard from him again.” “Look up here,” I said. “Did you ever see me before?” “Golly, you are Lieutenant Adams,” and he rushed for me. George Washington remained in Lynn several years. When the war ended he could not read or write, but he passed through all grades to the high school, and after two years there went South; was a member of the Virginia Legislature two terms; and the last I heard of him, he was with an Uncle Tom's Cabin Company whistling in the plantation scene, being the best whistler in the country.

We were constantly moving by the left flank, marching every night, fighting every day. On the 30th we were on the Washington Jones plantation, near Totopotomoy Creek, the rebels advancing at night, but being repulsed. Captain Mumford and myself, with our companies G and I, were on the outpost all night; we were very near the rebel lines and picket firing was constant. In the morning we advanced and they returned to their works. Captain Hume, commanding Company K, was on our right, a swamp being between us. Captain Mumford and I had muskets, as it was poor fun being fired at with no chance to reply. We made up our minds to charge the works, so arranged with Captain Hume that he should go to the right around the swamp and we would advance and connect with him on the other side. With a yell we started and the rebels retired before us, some of them to an old church. When we arrived at the crest of the hill we opened on them. Mumford was behind a tree, and had just fired his piece when he fell at my feet, shot through the head. All the fire of the rebels was concentrated on this spot. No man could live a [98] moment unless he lay close to the ground. Assisted by one of my sergeants I placed a rubber blanket under the captain and dragged him to the rear. He was nearly gone. The surgeon came but could do nothing, and in a short time he passed away. As the firing ceased for a time, we made a rude coffin and laid him to rest. We nailed a wooden slab on the tree, enclosing the grave with a little fence. Then I must perform the saddest duty of all,--write to his loved ones at home.

Captain Mumford and I had been warm friends for more than two years, had shared the same blanket on the march, and while at home had been constantly together. He joined the regiment at Lynnfield, a young boy just out of school; had been promoted from second lieutenant to captain, and had shared every march and battle in which the regiment had been engaged. Kind-hearted, generous and brave, I loved him as a brother. In December, 1865, I went to the place where we laid him and brought the body to Providence, R. I., where it now rests.

“By the left flank” we marched on, arriving at Cold Harbor on the morning of June 2. We were deployed as skirmishers and lay in line until three A. M. the 3d, then were ordered to advance in three lines of battle, charging the enemy, who were intrenched. We stood in line three hours, waiting for the order to advance, and when it came the rebels were ready and waiting for us, yet over the field we went. Men were mowed down by hundreds. Major Dunn, who now commanded the regiment, was struck by a bullet and fell, but rallied again. The colors of the regiment were shot down, but Mike Scannell picked them up and carried them forward. Mike always had an eye to [99] business. When we halted Major Dunn said, “Mike, keep the colors.” “Not as a corporal,” said Mike; “too many corporals have been killed already carrying colors.” “I make you a sergeant on the spot,” said the major. “That is business” replied Mike; “I'll carry the colors.”

We changed brigade commanders several times that forenoon; first one colonel would fall, then another, until at last a lieutenant-colonel commanded. We reached a ravine within a few yards of the rebel works and lay down. By forming line to the rear, the men lying flat on the ground, we were able during the night to get a few rails and before morning had quite a good breastwork. Lieutenant Thompson and many men were killed on the charge. After the death of Captain Mumford I had slept with Lieutenant Thompson; only three days and another must share my blanket. Like other officers we had lost, Thompson was remarkable for his bravery, had been promoted from the ranks for good conduct, and had distinguished himself in every battle of the campaign.

We were in a peculiar position,--so near the rebel works that we could throw a stone over, and no man on either side could show his head without getting a shot. Rations could not be brought to us until we dug a trench over the hill to the rear, which we did the second night. The second day we were in this place we saw a pile of dirt in our front, on a little knoll, and once in a while a shot would be fired, followed by a yell. Mark Kimball, Gus Bridges, Frank Osborne and Milt Ellsworth dug out and found Alonzo W. Bartlett of Andrews, Mass., sharpshooter. Bart. had come out after the body of the colonel of the 8th New York, who fell at the foot of the rebel works. He had managed to get [100] a rope around the body, but the rebels made it so hot that he was forced to intrench, which he did with his dipper, and was fighting the war on his own hook. His face was cut and bleeding from gravel stones which had struck him, but he had held his own, and having a good rifle with plenty of ammunition thought he could hold out as long as they.

For four days the little fort kept up a constant musketry fire. Every man was a dead shot, and the result must have been fearful. The rebels were also doing much damage to our side. No man could stand erect without being shot, and we lost several as they crossed to the spring for water. Among the killed was the boy William Fee, who had followed the regiment from Massachusetts. He was a brave little fellow and had done the full duty of a soldier.

On the 7th a truce was held. A white flag was raised on the rebel works and firing ceased on both sides. General officers met between the lines, and it was agreed to suspend fighting until the dead who had lain between the lines for the past four days were buried. This was welcome news, as the stench was terrible. The men of both armies were soon over the works and mingled together freely. Had they the power to settle the war, not another shot would have been fired. By mutual agreement not a shot was fired by either side for the next two days. On the morning of the 9th a rebel stood upon the works and in a loud voice said, “Keep down, Yanks, we uns are going away;” and the firing was soon resumed as before.

While bringing in the dead we found one man wounded many times, but yet alive. He was first shot in the leg, and being unable to move had taken shots from both sides; had been without food or water four days, yet he revived in a few [101] hours and was able to talk. He had lost all trace of time, but said that he had suffered little, being unconscious most of the time. During the day Bartlett took the body of the colonel to the rear, and was returning to his old place when a sharpshooter fired, hitting him over the eye, which placed him on the retired list for a time.

From the 9th to the 12th the firing was constant day and night; men were killed every hour in the day. Captain Hincks was severely wounded while lying in rear of the works. The duty was very hard. One-half the men must be on guard during the night, and all in line at three A. M. The officer in charge was obliged to go from right to left, as the men would drop to sleep as soon as they were posted, being exhausted from long hours of duty. The mental strain was unspeakable.

While at Cold Harbor about one hundred recruits joined the regiment. They were not brought to the front, but placed in the rear line, with Lieutenant McGinnis in charge. At nine P. M. on the 12th we quietly moved out of the works and marched towards the Chickahominy. This was old ground to us. We had been here with McClellan in 1862. Lieutenant McGinnis had quite a time with his recruits; not half of them could speak or understand the English language, and Bill taught them by the kindergarten method. Standing in front he would say, “Look at me. Put on your bayonets, put 'em on.” He would go through the motions, they following. After a few days his “army of all nations” was disbanded, the men being assigned to companies.

Arriving at the James River we crossed on a steamer and halted for rations, but before they could be served were ordered forward, and marched twenty-five miles without a [102] hard tack. We reached the first line of works before Petersburg, and relieved a division of colored troops commanded by our old colonel, now General Hincks, who had been fighting all day. This was a great day for some of us. It had been said that the negro would not fight, but here we found them dead on the field side by side with the rebels they had killed. The stock of the negro as a soldier was high in the market. With no time for rations we went into line and waited until nearly morning, when the detail brought us our hard tack and pork.

Hard fighting every day since the Battle of the Wilderness had reduced our officers to major, adjutant and four line officers, with the addition of First Sergeant Osborne of Company B, who had been promoted on the march. Our men had been reduced to one hundred and forty, including the recruits who had joined us at Cold Harbor. The morning of June 22 we were ordered to advance through a thicket to the edge of an open field. We found the enemy in force, several batteries being so posted that they could protect the field, while the infantry was well cared for behind works. We threw up slight works and both sides were active all day. Our regiment was so small that we were in single rank and the formation was two companies instead of ten, Captain Hume commanding the right and I the left wing.

At noon the officers withdrew a little to the rear for dinner, and in conversation Major Dunn said, “I fell asleep a little while ago, and had a queer dream. We were lying just as we are here, and the rebels came in our rear and captured the entire regiment.” We laughed at his story, said we guessed we should not go to Richmond that way, and returned to our places in line. The firing in our front [103] increased, the batteries doing good service for the rebels. About four P. M. we heard loud talking and cheering on our left and the firing ceased. The woods were so thick we could not see through them, but knowing something was up, I went to the right of the line and reported to Major Dunn. Returning to my place, I met Billy Smith of Company F, who said, “Come with me; if you go farther you are sure to be captured.” While I was talking with Smith, Colonel Hooper passed us, on the way to the rear. The colonel had been there and escaped through the tunnel at Libby. He did not propose to go again. I told Smith to go on, but I must return to the company. I soon met two rebels who ordered me to surrender, but I declined. I saw my men standing up and the rebels as thick as mosquitoes. A major of a Georgia regiment demanding my sword, I presented it to him, omitting the presentation speech. With the rebels I went to the right. Captain Hume was standing on the works looking to the left. I called to him, “They have us, Hume.” Quick as a flash he stamped his sword into the dirt, broke the scabbard against a tree, saying, “There is the second one the cusses haven't got.” In less time than it takes to tell the story we were driven to the rebel rear, and my story for a time will be my experiences in rebel prisons.

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