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Cold Harbor salient. [from the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, April 27, 1902.]

The story told from the other side.

Through the kindness of a friend I am in possession of copies of your paper of dates of February 16th [see Vol. XXIX, Southern Historical Society Papers, page 285] and March 9th, in which correspondents very graphically describe what to us is the other side of that fierce struggle for the so-called bloody salient at Cold Harbor June 3, 1864. Having been a participant in that short but sanguinary encounter, I must say I was highly interested in the perusal. In encounters of that kind it is a source of satisfaction to know who were our opponents, or commonly speaking, we run up against. In that little affair we had no time to ask questions, for our stay was short in that neighborhood. Hence, I am glad even at this late day to learn who it was who put up so strong an objection to our occupying that salient, and it may be equally interesting to those survivors who so bravely defended it, to learn who it was who ran up against them on that memorable 3d of June morning. This leads me to say one correspondent labored under a very wrong impression when he says Hancock's whole corps was there. On the contrary, it was a very small portion of it—in fact, only one regiment, [277] and that regiment, in a measure, new recruits—one of those heavy artillery regiments whose first experience in the field dated no further back than Spotsylvania. It was the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery to which the writer belonged.

In the charge at Cold Harbor the Second (Hancock's) Corps formed the left wing of the army, with the First (Barlow's) Division on the left, and the Second Division in reserve. As near as I could judge, the Seventh Heavy Artillery was on the extreme left of the line. Early in the morning we were ordered forward, and halted near a narrow strip of woods, where we waited for the sound of the signal gun for the charge. We had not long to wait. As we gained the other side of the woods this salient came to our view for the first time. At the command, double quick, it was but a few moments ere we were scrambling up its incline. So quick had been our movements only a few musket shots had been fired by the enemy. And here, let me say, the charge of misbehavior imputed to the occupants of that salient is unjust and untrue; for if any body of troops ever got a warm reception we did. The enemy bravely stood their ground, not waiting for us to come over their works, but meeting us on the parapet. They contested every inch. I remember as I reached the top of the works a brave fellow confronted us. Standing below he thrust his bayonet into the comrade by my side, and was about to give me the same dose, but a charge from my gun changed his mind. It was a hand-to-hand fight to the finish. Clubbed muskets, bayonets, and swords got in their deadly work. Both sides can be equally credited with deeds of valor. In reference to the capture of that flag, the honor of performing that deed was awarded to Corporal Terence Bigler, of Company D. For this Congress awarded him a medal, but he did not live to receive it; he was killed at Petersburg.

Corporal Thomas Healy had a desperate hand-to-hand struggle with a stalwart fellow; but lives to-day to tell of his narrow escape. It was evident from the first that the odds were against the enemy. The bravest could not have withstood the impetuous onslaught of our superior numbers. And like any true soldiers they gave discretion the preference to valor, and doubtless with heavy hearts submitted to the inevitable.

Your correspondent gives the number of prisoners captured at 180. We are credited with capturing 400. Thus far we had had it about all our own way; but looking off in a field beyond, what was our dismay in seeing a long line of the gray approaching on the run. [278] What was to be done? We had lost all semblance of organization—a veritable mob with no means to turn the captured guns upon the enemy. In this dilemma, each man decided that question for himself. Green soldiers though we were, our short experience had taught us to know just when to run, and run we did, I assure you. We did our level best to get to a place of safety, though we did not reach it till many had been stricken down by the bullets of the approaching column and were left between the lines, the dead to lie there till their decomposed bodies appealed for their burial, while the wounded suffered untold agonies in the broiling sun until death came to their relief. None dared to rescue them. In one instance a rescuing party went out in the night and brought in one of our boys, who had lain for two days so near the opposing lines his cries for water awakened the better nature of the enemy who kindly threw canteens of water to him.

Thus the last desperate attempt of Grant to get between Lee and Richmond had failed. Although baffled, subsequent events proved the Army of the Potomac was not vanquished. In all that long assaulting line only the Seventh New York Heavy Artillery had succeeded in penetrating Lee's lines. But the honor was won at a fearful cost. We left Cold Harbor with over 400 less in our ranks than when we came. Yet, the grand assault was by no means all of Cold Harbor. We who were there well remember those ten or twelve long days that we lay hugging our breastworks, when it was almost sure death to show a head, and when at the close of each day came the terrific artillery duel. Then, as the boys used to say, hell had broke loose. There was no time during the war, probably, when the sharpshooters got in their deadly—I might say murderous—work, more successfully.

In reference to the burial of the dead, wherein your correspondent intimates a lack of humanity on the part of General Grant in refusing the request of General Lee, permit me to say those of the Army of Northern Virginia should be sufficiently impressed with the magnanimity of General Grant to feel convinced such a refusal would be foreign to his nature. By the way, I was one among the number detailed to bury the dead, and have a vivid recollection of the scene—how we chatted familiarly with the like detail from the other side while engaged in our gruesome task; how Major Springstead, our officer in charge, and the Confederate officer exchanged cordial greetings. However, that was not all; they seemed to be more interested in the contents of a black bottle than in the burial of the [279] dead. But, Mr. Editor, I fear you will give me a boil down if I further intrude on your space. When we old soldiers get in our war talk mood we hardly know when to stop.

Allow me to say in closing that we who wore the blue have none but the highest respect for those of the gray, who so bravely opposed us on many a hard-fought field. And as soldiers, regardless of by-gone differences or the opinions of others, we can stand on one broad level proud in the fact that we demonstrated to the world that the American soldier is second to none on the face of the earth.

A. Du Bois, Company F, Seventh New York Heavy Artillery, Albany, N. Y.

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