Chapter 11: battle of Oak Grove.
On Saturday, June 21, at 11 P. M. the regiment moved forward and pitched tents in the rear of the rifle pits which stretched from the railroad at the left, to Hooker
Here it remained during the rest of the stay of the army at this point.
The tents were pitched in such a manner, in the rear of the rifle pits, that when the men fell in there would be a line of battle already formed.
The rifle pits were about eight or ten feet high, with a deep ditch back of them.
The breastworks consisted of logs and fence rails, with earth thrown up against them, breast high, making a redoubt with embrasures for field artillery.
They were connected with a ‘curtain’ or line of earth work, behind which the infantry were posted.
The redoubts were placed at distances to give a raking or cross fire of the ground in front.
On the first night when the pits were occupied by the Nineteenth Massachusetts there were many alarms.
On Monday night a sharp fire was heard in the woods in front.
The men were at once under arms and most interested auditors of the contest.
The shouts of the enemy drew near and it was thought that they would engage the men in the rifle pits, but they contented themselves with merely holding the woods.
In this contest the artillery stationed near the Nineteenth took part, also siege guns, mortars and field batteries.
The fight was in the immediate front and from the right and left the guns in the forts and redoubts sent their shells into the woods.
While the bombs from the mortars would mount high into the air, they would seemingly remain stationary for an instant and then descend with increasing rapidity into the works of the enemy.
At the left, where General Hooker
commanded, the country was more open in front.
On Wednesday, June 25, several regiments were seen to move out from General Hooker
Second Division, Third Corps and soon he sent for one regiment from Sumner
's Corps to assist in his proposed attack on the rebel lines in front, at Oak Grove
The Nineteenth regiment was selected and received orders at 8 A. M. to fall in and file over the parapet to form the right of the Union
After filing along through the dense foliage the regiment reached the wood and formed in line, having passed several skeletons clothed in gray, rebels who had been shot in venturing too near the line, where their comrades had not dared to come for them, or perhaps did not know whether they were killed, or captured, or deserted, as many had done.
Company K was then extended as skirmishers to the right, and the regiment moved forward in line with the injunction not to fire as there were some of the other Union regiments in front of them.
Moving cautiously forward, the bullets began to make unpleasant music as they whistled through the blueberry bushes.
Some of the men busied themselves in picking off the ripe berries by the handful and eating them as they moved along, unmindful of the bullets which spattered around them.
Second Lieutenant Charles B. Warner
, of Company H, was sent forward to reconnoitre.
He ran forward through the hot fire and returned in safety, but, five minutes afterward, while he was standing in the centre of a group of three officers, a stray shot pierced his breast.
With a sharp cry he fell and expired, being the first officer of the regiment to be killed in battle.
Suddenly, while the regiment was at a halt, the skirmishers began firing and fell back to the right of the regiment, when the companies on the right opened fire.
Company I was next to C in line on the right and Company F on the extreme right, as Company K had been deployed as skirmishers.
The left then began to fire.
Smoke was darting from the bushes in front, men dropping or hurrying to the rear, hundreds of bullets were whistling and buzzing about the ears of the men in the centre and a yelling and cheering was going on in front, behind the bushes, but those in the immediate centre of the line saw no rebels and did not fire.
The bushes completely hid the foe from them.
Company G was color company, and as the enemy
could see the flags waving over the underbrush, they fired in that direction.
The result was that most of the casualities in this engagement were in Company G.
The firing ceased as suddenly as it began, the enemy retiring.
The regiment then advanced in line to the edge of the wood and halted.
In front was an open field and about a quarter of a mile distant the woods ran out in a point.
As the men came out into the open, a rebel soldier was seen just disappearing around this point.
To the left the clearing extended as far as one could see and just beyond the point of woods could be seen the earthworks of the enemy, extending across the field.
These were the outer works of the fortifications of Richmond
, only three miles and a half away.
The Nineteenth opened a brisk fire of about three rounds and the rebel force began a precipitated retreat.
called upon his men to give three cheers.
Upon hearing this, a regiment of the enemy that had been working down upon the right of the Nineteenth joined their fellows in their ‘advance’ upon Richmond
at once ordered ‘Cease Firing’ and as soon as the smoke had cleared away, the remainder of the enemy in front were seen to be moving across the field toward their works.
A New Jersey regiment had come down and partly covered the left wing of the Nineteenth Massachusetts. Colonel Hinks
tried to have them moved out of his way, so that he could make a charge and capture the colors of the rebels, but they were so slow in moving that by the time the regiment was unmasked, the enemy were nowhere to be seen and it was too late.
Orders then came for the command to withdraw and at 11.15 A. M. the men marched back through the woods to the earthworks, which for twenty days previously they had occupied under the continual fire of the enemy's guns.
Here they remained until the change of base of the army was inaugurated.
was warmly complimented by General Sedgwick
for his gallantry and skill and the excellent behavior of his regiment in the battle, which was given the name of Oak Grove
The loss was 43, of whom eight were killed, and one mortally wounded.
Company G lost one third of the men lost in this engagement, having three killed and nine wounded.
While the regiment had been under fire nearly all the time since arriving in Yorktown
, this was the first square fight in which it had been engaged.
There had been no opportunity for the use of tactics, as the woods were thick and little of the enemy could be seen.
‘Never did I know before how hard it is to fight,’ wrote Sergeant Major Newcomb
to his brother after this battle.
‘It is not the marching or the firing that wears men, but the suspense of the slow advance and frequent halts, the increasing rattle of musketry, the devilish yells of our merciless enemy; till finally, when at once the storm of bullets whirs over and on each side men begin to fall, and orders come thick and fast, the sweat oozes from every pore.
It is not fear, but uncertainty that so strains the nerves and makes men live days in every moment.’
says in his report: ‘My regiment performed to my satisfaction, there being no exceptions to the general good behaviour of officers and men in the performance of the difficult and trying duties required of them.
I may, however, without injustice to others, acknowledge my indebtedness to Major Howe
and Adjutant Chadwick
for their assistance and gallant bearing upon the field under the heaviest fire, and particularly commend the bravery of Corporal O'Rourke
, of Company E, who gallantly siezed the color (the flag of our Commonwealth) when its bearer, Sergt. Samuel H. Smith
, was shot down, and continued to bear it through the fight.’
Moses Short, of Company G, died of his wounds.
He was shot in the corner of his mouth, the ball passing down the neck, over the shoulder, down the back and lodging in the thigh.
It shattered his jaw and broke almost every bone in its course.
David B. Ash
was shot in the breast.
The ball glanced off and struck his arm just above the elbow, shattering it so badly that it had to be amputated.
, of Company C, had a terrible wound in the shoulder.
Benjamin H. Jellison
had received two bullets in the chin where a minie ball had gone in one side of it and out the other.
The wound of color Sergt. Samuel H. Smith
was a peculiar one.
Manfully steadying his color during the advance, he felt something strike
Turning his head instinctively down and toward the side, another ball almost immediately struck him in the ear, passing into his throat and injuring the larynx.
It was undoubtedly from a rebel sharpshooter in a tree.
While encamping in the breastworks after this little fight, the cooks remained in the old camp and the food was brought out to the regiment by them, or, when they could be spared, by a detail of two men from each company.
One day, no detail being made, two men on special duty started up the railroad for their company quarters, bearing between them on two sticks a kettle of coffee and one of food.
When about half way to the breast works, the Confederates
sent a shell down the track from a gun on a platform car which they had run down almost to the picket lines.
Thinking that it was sent for them and that it was an attack on the ‘base of supplies,’ they dropped the stick and took to the woods, while the kettles were left, overturned, on the railroad.
Dinner was not served that day to Company C.
On the night of June 25, the enemy made an attack to break the line, but were repulsed.
This attack was probably made to see if the Union
forces were retreating.
The troops on the right of the Army of the Potomac made a desperate attempt to cross the Chickahominy river
, which ran diagonally through the Union
lines, thus splitting the army in two.
The enemy was as desperately determined that such a thing should not occur, as, once across, the investment of Richmond
would be complete and their right would present a continuous line to the Union
centre and left.
Consequently the enemy hurled his strongest battalions against Porter
's Fifth Army Corps, resulting in the battle of Mechanicsville
on June 26 and Gaines' Mills on June 27.