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Chapter 21: Cold Harbor of 1864.

  • The great fight of June 3d
  • -- unparalleled in brevity, in slaughter, and in disproportion of loss -- Grant assaults in column, or in mass -- his troops refuse to renew the attack -- effect at the North -- Confederate “works” in the Campaign of 1864 -- the lines -- sharpshooting -- the covered way -- the spring -- death of Captain McCarthy, of the Howitzers -- how it occurred on the lines -- how it was received in the city -- my brother Loses an eye -- “alone in the world” -- a last look at the enemy -- buildings felled and scattered by artillery -- gun wheels cut down by musketry -- bronze guns Splotched and Pitted like smallpox -- epitome of the Campaign of 1864 -- maneuvering of no avail against Lee's Army -- did that Army make Lee, or Lee that Army?

There were two battles at Cold Harbor, one in 1862 and one in 1864. In 1862 the Confederates attacked and drove the Federals from their position; in 1864 the Federals attacked, but were repulsed with frightful slaughter. It is undisputed that both McClellan's army and Grant's outnumbered Lee's,--Grant's overwhelmingly,--and it is asserted that the position occupied by the Federals in 1862 and the Confederates in 1864 was substantially the same.

We were in line of battle at Cold Harbor of 1864. from the 1st to the 12th of June-say twelve days; the battle proper did not last perhaps that many minutes. In some respects, at least, it was one of the notable battles of history-certainly in its brevity measured in time, and its length measured in slaughter — as also in the disproportion of the losses. A fair epitome of it in these respects would be that in a few moments more than thirteen thousand men were killed and wounded on the Federal side and less than thirteen hundred on the Confederate. As to the time consumed in the conflict, the longest duration assigned is sixty minutes and the shortest less than eight. For my own part, I could scarcely say whether it lasted eight or sixty minutes, or eight or sixty [286] hours — to such a degree were all my powers concentrated upon the one point of keeping the guns fully supplied with ammunition.

The effect of the fighting was not at all appreciated on the Confederate side at the time. Why we did not at least suspect it, when the truce was asked and granted to allow the removal of the Federal dead and wounded, I cannot say, although I went myself with the officers on our side, detailed to accompany them, on account of my familiarity with the lines. I presume the ignorance, and even incredulity, of our side as to the overwhelming magnitude of the Federal losses resulted from two causes mainly-our own loss was so trivial, so utterly out of proportion, and the one characteristic feature of the fight on the Federal side was not then generally known or appreciated by us, namely, that Grant had attacked in column, in phalanx, or in mass. The record of the Official Diary of our corps (Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VII., p. 503), under date of June 3, 1864, i. very peculiar and is in part in these words: “Meantime the enemy is heavily massed in front of Kershaw's salient. Anderson's, Law's, and Gregg's brigades are there to support Kershaw. Assault after assault is made, and each time repulsed with severe loss to the enemy. At eight o'clock A. M., fourteen had been made and repulsed (this means, I suppose, fourteen lines advanced).”

This is obviously a hurried field note by one officer, corrected later by another, in accordance with the facts known to the writer, that is, to the officer who made the later note, but not generally known at the time to the public. We suppose, however, it will to-day be admitted by all that there was but one attack upon Kershaw up to eight A. M., and that at that hour the order was issued to the Federal troops to renew the attack, but they failed to advance; that this order was repeated in the afternoon, when the troops again refused to obey, and that at least some of Grant's corps generals approved of this refusal of their men to repeat the useless sacrifice.

Here, then, is the secret of the otherwise inexplicable and incredible butchery. A little after daylight on June 3, 1864, [287] along the lines of Kershaw's salient, his infantry discharged their bullets and his artillery fired case-shot and doubleshotted canister, at very short range, into a mass of men twenty-eight (28) deep, who could neither advance nor retreat, and the most of whom could not even discharge their muskets at us. We do not suppose that the general outline of these facts will be denied to-day, but it may be as well to confirm the essential statement by a brief extract from Swinton's “Army of the Potomac,” p. 487:

The order was issued through these officers to their subordinate commanders, and from them descended through the wonted channels, but no man stirred and the immobile lines pronounced a verdict, silent, yet emphatic, against further slaughter. The loss on the Union side in this sanguinary action was over thirteen thousand, while on the part of the Confederates it is doubtful whether it reached that many hundreds.

To like effect, as to the amount and the disproportion of the carnage, is the statement of Colonel Taylor, on page 135 of his book, that:

I well recall having received a report after the assault from General Hoke-whose division reached the army just previous to this battle-to the effect that the ground in his entire front over which the enemy had charged was literally covered with their dead and wounded; and that up to that time he had not had a single man killed.

So much for the amount, the disproportion, and the cause of the slaughter. A word now as to the effect of it upon others than the immediate contestants. Is it too much to say that even Grant's iron nerve was for the time shattered? Not that he would not have fought again if his men would, but they would not. Is it not true that he so informed President Lincoln; that he asked for another army; that, not getting it, or not getting it at once, he changed his plan of campaign from a fighting to a digging one? Is it reasonable to suppose that when he attacked at the Bloody Angle or at Cold Harbor, he really contemplated the siege of Petersburg and regarded those operations as merely preparatory? Is it not true that, years later, Grant said-looking back over [288] his long career of bloody fights — that Cold Harbor was the only battle he ever fought that he would not fight over again under the same circumstances? Is it not true that when first urged, as President, to remove a certain Democratic officeholder in California, and later, when urged to give a reason for his refusal, he replied that the man had been a standardbearer in the Army of the Potomac, and that he wouldallow something very unpleasant to happen to him-before he would remove the only man in his army who even attempted to obey his order to attack a second time at Cold Harbor? Is it not true that General Meade said the Confederacy came nearer to winning recognition at Cold Harbor than at any other period during the war? Is it not true that, after Grant's telegram, the Federal Cabinet resolved at least upon an armistice, and that Mr. Seward was selected to draft the necessary papers, and Mr. Swinton to prepare the public mind for the change? And finally, even if none of these things be true, exactly as propounded-yet is it not true, that Cold Harbor shocked and depressed the Federal Government and the Northern public more than any other single battle of the war?

A few words as to some of the prominent features, physical and otherwise, of fighting in “the lines,” as we began regularly to do in this campaign of 1864, particularly at Cold Harbor. Something of this is necessary to a proper understanding and appreciation of some of the incidents that occurred there. And first, as to “the works” of which I have so often spoken. What were they? I cannot answer in any other way one-half so well as by the following vivid quotation from my friend Willy Dame's “Reminiscences,” already mentioned and quoted. Says Mr. Dame:

Just here I take occasion to correct a very wrong impression about the field works the Army of Northern Virginia fought behind in this campaign. All the Federal writers who have written about these battles speak about our works as “formidable earthworks,” “powerful fortifications,” “impregnable lines ;” such works as no troops could be expected to take and any troops should be expected to hold.

Now about the parts of the line distant from us, I couldn't speak so certainly-though I am sure they were all very much the same-but [289] about the works all along our part of the line I can speak with exactness and certainty. I saw them, I helped with my own hands to make them, I fought behind them, I was often on top of them and both sides of them. I know all about them. I got a good deal of the mud off them on me (not for purposes of personal fortification, however). Our works were a single line of earth about four feet high and three to five feet thick. It had no ditch or obstruction in front. It was nothing more than a little heavier line of “rifle pits.” There was no physical difficulty in men walking right over that bank. I did it often myself, saw many others do it, and twice saw a line of Federal troops walk over it, and then saw them walk back over it with the greatest ease, at the rate of forty miles an hour; i. e. except those whom we had persuaded to stay with us, and those the angels were carrying to Abraham's bosom at a still swifter rate. Works they could go over like that couldn't have been much obstacle! They couldn't have made better time on a dead level.

Such were our works actually, and still they seemed to “loom large” to the people in front. I wonder what could have given them such an exaggerated idea of the strength of those modest little works! I wonder if it could have been the men behind them! There wasn't a great many of these men! It was a very thin gray line along them, back of a thin red line of clay. But these lines stuck together, very hard, and were very hard indeed to separate. The red clay was “sticky” and the men were just as “sticky,” and as the two lines “stuck” together so closely, it made the whole very strong indeed. Certainly it seems they gave to those who tried to force them apart an impression of great strength.

Yes, it must have been the men! A story in point comes to my aid here. A handsome, well dressed lady sweeps with a great air past two street boys. They are much struck. “My eye, Jim, but ain't that a stunning dress?” says Jim with a superior air. “0 get out, Bill, the dress ain't no great shakes; it's the woman in it that makes it so killing!” That was the way with the Spottsylvania earthworks. The “works wa'n't no great shakes.” It was the men in 'em that made them so “killing.”

The men behind those works, such as they were, had perfect confidence in their own ability to hold them. And this happy combination of “faith” and “works” proved as strong against the world and the flesh as it does against the devil. It was perfectly effectual, it withstood all assaults.

The original intent of such “works” is to afford protection against regular attack by the full line of battle of the opposite side, advancing out of their works to attack yours. This, of course, everyone understands. But this is only an occasional and comparatively rare thing. The constant and wearing feature of “the lines” is the sharpshooting, which [290] never ceases as long as there is light enough to see how to shoot; unless the skirmishers or sharpshooters of the two sides proclaim, or in some way begin, a temporary truce, as I have known them to do. I have also known them to give explicit warning of the expiration of such a truce.

Sharpshooting, at best, however, is a fearful thing. The regular sharpshooter often seemed to me little better than a human tiger lying in wait for blood. His rifle is frequently trained and made fast bearing upon a particular spot,for example, where the head of a gunner must of necessity appear when sighting his piece,--and the instant that object appears and, as it were, “darkens the hole,” crash goes a bullet through his brain.

The consequence of the sharpshooting is the “coveredway,” which, when applied to these rough and ready temporary lines, means any sort of protection-trenches, ditches, traverses, piles of earth, here and there, at what have proved to be the danger points, designed and placed so as to protect as far as possible against the sharpshooters. Only in regular and elaborate lines of “siege,” such as we had later about Petersburg, is seen the more perfect protection of regularly covered galleries and ways for passing from one part of the line to another inside; just as, outside and on the face toward the enemy, such elaborate and permanent lines of works are protected by ditches, abattis or felled trees, friezes or sharpened stakes, to make the “works” more difficult of approach, of access, and of capture.

One can readily understand, now, the supreme discomfort and even suffering of “the lines.” Thousands of men cramped up in a narrow trench, unable to go out, or to get up, or to stretch or to stand without danger to life and limb; unable to lie down, or to sleep, for lack of room and pressure of peril; night alarms, day attacks, hunger, thirst, supreme weariness, squalor, vermin, filth, disgusting odors everywhere; the weary night succeeded by the yet more weary day; the first glance over the way, at day dawn, bringing the sharpshooter's bullet singing past your ear or smashing through your skull, a man's life often exacted as the price of a cup of water from the spring. But I will not specify or [291] elaborate further; only, upon the canvas thus stretched, let me paint for you two or three life and death pictures of Cold Harbor of 1864.

The reader may recall our “Old Doctor,” the chief of our ambulance corps, who helped to rally the Texans and Georgians on the 10th of May at Spottsylvania, first exhorting them as “gentlemen,” then berating and belaboring them as “cowards.” No man who was ever in the Howitzers but will appreciate the grim absurdity of this man's feeling a lack of confidence in his own nerve and courage; but he did feel it. When the war broke out he was in Europe enjoying himself, but returned to his native State, serving first in some, as he considered it, “non-combatant” position, until that became unendurable to him, and then he joined the Howitzers as a private soldier; and that final flurry of the 10th of May was the first real fight he ever got into. Hearing someone say just as it was over that it had been “pretty hot work,” he asked with the greatest earnestness whether the speaker really meant what he said, and when assured that he did, he asked two or three others of his comrades, whom he regarded as experienced soldiers, whether they concurred in this view of the matter, and on their expressing emphatic concurrence, he expressed intense satisfaction at having at last a standard in his mind, and a relieving standard at that; saying that he had feared he would disgrace his family by exhibiting a lack of courage; but if this was really “hot work,” he felt that he would be able to maintain himself and do his duty. The story is almost too much for belief, but it is the sober truth and vouched for by gentlemen of the highest character.

I think it was the evening after the big fight at Cold Harbor that I was sitting in the works, with one of the Howitzer detachments, when the Doctor announced his intention of going to the spring for water. I reminded him that it was not quite dark and the sharpshooters would be apt to pay their respects to him; but he said he must have some water, and offered to take down and fill as many canteens as he could carry. His captain was present and I said no more. He was soon loaded up and started off, stepping right up out [292] of the trench on the level ground. I could not help urging him to take the “covered way,” but he replied, “I can't do it, Adjutant. It is dirty; a gentleman can't walk in it, sir.”

Away he went, walking bolt upright and with entire nonchalance, down the hill; to my great relief reaching the spring in safety, where he was pretty well protected. In due time he started back, loaded with the full canteens and having a tin cup full of water in his right hand. I heard the sharp report of a rifle and saw the Doctor start forward or stumble, and sprang up to go to his relief, but he steadied himself and came right on up the hill without further attention from the sharpshooters, and stepped down into the work. As he did so he handed the captain the cup of water, in the quietest manner apologizing for having spilled part of it, adding that he had met with a trivial accident. The upper joint of his thumb had been shot away, yet he had not dropped the cup. Then he turned to me and asked my pardon for his disregard of my warning and his imprudence in getting shot, protesting still, however, that it was very hard indeed for a gentleman to walk in those filthy, abominable covered ways.

The spring was perhaps the point of greatest power and pathos in all the weird drama of “The lines.” About this date, or very soon after, a few of us were sitting in the part of the trenches occupied by the Twenty-first Mississippi, of our old brigade,--Barksdale's, now Humphreys',--which was supporting our guns. There had been a number of Yale men in the Twenty-first--the Sims, Smiths, Brandon, Scott, and perhaps others. A good many were “gone,” and those of us who were left were talking of them and of good times at Old Yale, when someone said, “Scott, isn't it your turn to go to the spring?” “Yes,” said Scott, submissively, “I believe it is. Pass up your canteens,” and he loaded up and started out. There was a particularly exposed spot on the way to water, which we had tried in vain to protect more perfectly, and we heard, as usual, two or three rifle shots as Scott passed that point. In due time we heard them again as he returned, and one of the fellows said, “Ha! they are waking up old Scott, again, on the home stretch.”

The smile had not died upon our faces when a head appeared above the traverse and a business-like voice called: [293] “Hello, company I; man of yours dead out here!” We ran around the angle of the work, and there lay poor Scott, prone in the ditch and almost covered with canteens. We picked him up and bore him tenderly into the trench, and, as we laid him down and composed his limbs, manly tears dropped upon his still face. Each man disengaged and took his own canteen from the slumbering water-carrier. We did not “pour the water out to the Lord,” as David did when the “three mightiest brake through the host of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate” --albeit, in a truer sense than David spoke, this water was the very “blood of this man.”

It was about six o'clock in the evening of one of the days that followed close upon the great fight that there befell the company the very saddest loss it had yet experienced. An order had come to Captain McCarthy, from General Alexander, commanding the artillery corps, directing that the effect of the fire of several Howitzers, which were operating as mortars, from a position immediately back of the Howitzer guns, should be carefully observed and reported to him. The captain, appreciating at once the responsibility and the peril of the work, with characteristic chivalry, determined to divide it between himself and one of the most competent and careful men in the company. He was not the man to shrink, or slur over, or postpone his own part in any duty, and immediately stationed himself where he could thoroughly discharge it. He had taken his stand but a few moments when he fell back among his men, his brain pierced by a sharpshooter's bullet. The detachment sprang to his aid, but too late even to prevent his fall. His broad breast heaved once or twice as they knelt about him, and it was all over. The men broke down utterly and sobbed like children.

We never found his hat. While his boys were still gazing at him through their tears a Mississippi soldier came working, his way along the lines, from a point some one hundred feet or more to the right, holding in his hand a little piece of brass, and as he approached the group said: “This here thing has just fell at my feet. I reckon it belongs to some of you artillery fellows;” and then, looking at the [294] noble figure stretched upon the ground, he asked in the dry, matter-of-fact soldier style, “Who's that's dead?” When we told him Captain McCarthy, of the Howitzers, he said musingly: “McCarthy, McCarthy; why, that's the name of the folks that took care oa me, when I was wounded so bad last year. Well, here's the cannons from his hat.” And so it was; his hat, as we suppose, had gone over the works, and his badge of cross cannon, dislodged from it by the shock, had fallen at the feet of a man who had been nursed back to life by his mother and sisters in his boyhood's home.

In a few moments his men bore him to where he could be placed in an ambulance, and then all, save his cousin, Dan, afterwards Lieutenant McCarthy, who went into Richmond with his body, turned back to the lines with such choking of grief and heaviness of heart as they had never before felt.

It is seldom a man is so beloved or so deserves to be. I can truly say I never heard him utter an evil word concerning anyone, and never heard from anyone either adverse criticism or complaint of him. A day or two before, on that very spot, he had shown what a true hero he was. Just after the great repulse, and while a fearful fire was pouring upon us from the Federal batteries and such of their assaulting infantry as had succeeded in reaching their own works, a poor wretch, who had fallen just outside our works, was shrieking for help. The captain, deeply stirred, cried: “Boys, I can't stand this. I don't order any of you to accompany me; but, as I can't well manage him alone, I call for one volunteer to go with me and bring in that poor fellow.” Several volunteered, but Sergeant, afterwards Lieutenant, Moncure said, “You can't go, boys; I am chief of this piece,” and he and the captain went right over the works, and, picking up the man, brought him back inside, but he was dead before they laid him down. He had been killed by the fire of his own friends.

Such was death upon the lines; but let me show what all this meant to the people at home. General Kershaw very willingly furnished Dan an ambulance and a man from his old brigade to drive it, and the two started on their melancholy journey. Counting the necessary turn-outs in the road, [295] which was badly cut up by army wagons, they had some twelve or thirteen miles to travel, and it must have been after seven o'clock before they started. Meanwhile, at the captain's father's home, in the northern part of the city, were his mother and sisters, his father, an aged man, suffering from a disease which had robbed him of the power of speech and forced him to breathe through a tube, and a younger brother, under military age, who was his father's constant attendant and nurse; and who slept with him at night. This brother was roused that night from his first nap by loud shouts on the street and a rough, startling, disagreeable noise made, as he thought, by running a stout stick backwards and forwards across the wooden palings of the front fence. Going to the window the lad hesitated for a moment to throw up the sash, the streets of a beleaguered city at night being, of course, not entirely free from prowlers and disorder. What he saw was a man holding a horse, from which he had evidently just dismounted, and who had been making these noises for the purpose of rousing the people in the house. As the sash went up the man said: “Captain McCarthy was killed on the lines awhile ago. If you want his body you had better send for it to-night, or it may be buried on the field.” As he said this he remounted and was gone.

The house was instantly in a turmoil, but the inmates soon recovered reasonable balance, and in a short time the lad was off after a horse and wagon for the sad errand. At first he could not think where he might get one, but it soon occurred to him that he had seen upon the streets within a few days a new wagon of “John and George Gibson, Builders,” and he went to Mr. George Gibson's house and waked him. Upon hearing the sad news, Mr. Gibson kindly consented not only to let him have the wagon, but to go with him to the lines. He added, however, that the horse and vehicle were kept at a considerable distance from his house and that, as the night threatened to be stormy, young McCarthy had better go home and get some proper wraps and protections and meet him at an appointed place and time. As the boy reached home, or soon after, an ambulance drove up to the door [296] and his Cousin Dan and the South Carolina soldier bore the captain's body into the house. As soon as they had deposited it and helped the family to arrange it as they desired, Dan kissed his uncle, aunt, and cousins, and was bidding them good-by, when the old gentleman made signs for him to remain a moment and asked for pencil and paper. When these were given him he wrote just these words and handed them to Dan-“Since it was God's will to take him, I am glad he died at his post.”

Dan was back at his post by daylight, and sent word to the captain's two brothers, who were in another corps, when he would be buried. These young men walked into town, attended the funeral, and walked out again to their posts the same night, and in a very short time the lad who had been his father's nurse was regularly mustered into the company to which his elder brothers belonged. Such was death, and also life, in the devoted city back of the lines.

My younger brother was a great favorite in the company. As before stated, he had been a sailor, and as we had come from New England to Virginia, he was nicknamed “Skipper.” He had a beautiful tenor voice and a unique repertoire of songs from almost every clime and country. Whenever “Skipper” deigned to sing, “the Professor,” the trainer of the Glee Club, would enforce absolute silence throughout the camp, under penalty of a heavy battery of maledictions.

The day after Captain McCarthy's death, my brother, being in almost the exact position the captain occupied when killed, was shot in the left temple, and fell just where the captain had fallen. I was not present at the moment, but the boys reported that as they bent over him, thinking him dead, he raised his head and said, “If you fellows will stand back and give me some air, I'll get up!” --which he not only did, but walked out to the hospital camp, refusing a litter. He also refused to take chloroform, and directed the surgeons in exploring the track of the ball, which had crushed up his temple and the under half of the socket of his eye, and lodged somewhere in behind his nose. After they had extracted the ball and a great deal of crushed bone, he declared there was something else in his head which must come out. The surgeons [297] told him it was more crushed bone which would come away of itself after awhile; but he insisted it was something that did not belong there, and that they must take it away immediately. They remonstrated, but he would not be satisfied, and finally they probed further and drew out a piece of his hat brim, cut just the width of the ball and jammed like a wad into his head; after that he was much easier. I omitted to say we never found his hat, either.

He was blind in the left eye from the moment the ball struck him, and became for a time blind in the other eye also. While in utter darkness he sang most of the time, and I remember our dear mother was troubled by a fancy that, like a mocking bird she once had that went blind in a railroad train, he might sing himself to death. But he recovered the sight of his right eye after a time, and the marvel is that the left eye did not shrink away and was not even discolored. The bony formation of the under-socket of the eye grew up and rectified itself almost entirely, and a lock of his curly hair covered the desperate-looking wound in the temple. It was a wonderful recovery.

There was a gunner in Calloway's battery named Allen Moore, a backwoods Georgian and a simple-hearted fellow, but a noble, enthusiastic man and soldier. The only other living member of Moore's family was with him, a lad of not more than twelve or thirteen years; and the devotion of the elder brother to the younger was tender as a mother's. The little fellow was a strange, sad, prematurely old child, who seldom talked and never smiled. He used to wear a red zouave fez that ill-befitted the peculiar, sallow, pallid complexion of the piney-woods Georgian; but he was a perfect hero in a fight. After the great repulse it looked for a time as if Grant had some idea of digging up to or mining our position. We had all day been shelling a suspicious-looking working party of the enemy, and about sunset I was visiting the batteries to see that the guns were properly arranged for night firing. As I approached Calloway's position the sharpshooting had almost ceased, and down the line I could see the figures of the cannoneers standing out boldly against the sky. Moore was at the trail adjusting his piece [298] for the night's work. His gunnery had been superb during the evening and his blood was up.

I descended into a little valley and lost sight of the group, but heard Calloway's stern voice: “Sit down, Moore! Your gun is well enough; the sharpshooting is not over yet. Get down!” I rose the hill. “One moment, Captain! My trail's a hair's breadth too much to the right,” and the gunner bent eagerly over the hand-spike. A sharp report and that unmistakable crash of a bullet against a man's head. It was the last rifle shot on the lines that night.

The rushing together of the detachment obstructed my view; but as I came up the sergeant stepped aside and said, “See there, adjutant!” Moore had fallen on the trail, the blood flowing from his wound all over his face. His little brother was at his side instantly. No wildness, no tumult of grief. He knelt on the earth, and, lifting Allen's head on his knees, wiped the blood from his forehead with the cuff of his own tattered shirt-sleeve and kissed the pale face again and again, but very quietly. Moore was evidently dead, and none of us cared to disturb the child.

Presently he rose,--quiet still, tearless still,--gazed down at his dead brother, then around at us, and breathing the saddest sigh I ever heard, said: “Well, I am alone in the world!”

The preacher-captain sprang to his side, and placing his hand on the poor lad's shoulder, said confidently: “No, my child; you are not alone, for the Bible says: ‘When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up;’ and Allen was both father and mother to you; besides, I am going to take you up, too; you shall sleep under my blanket to-night.”

There was not a dry eye in the group; and when, months afterwards, the whole battalion gathered on a quiet sabbath evening, on the banks of Swift Creek, to witness a baptism, and Calloway, at the water's edge, tenderly handed this child to the officiating minister, and receiving him again when the ceremony was over, threw a blanket about the little shivering form, carried him into a thicket, changed his clothing, and then reappeared, carrying the bundle of wet [299] clothes, and he and the child walked away, hand in hand, to camp-then there were more tears, manly, ennobling tears, and the sergeant laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “Faith, Adjutant, the Captain has fulfilled his pledge to that boy!”

In one of the regiments of Kershaw's old brigade, which was supporting our guns at Cold Harbor, were three young men, brothers, whose cool daring in battle attracted our special admiration. We did not know the names of these gallant fellows, but had christened them “Tom, Dick, and Harry.” A day or two after the great fight a fourth and youngest, a mere lad, who had been wounded at the Wilderness, came on his crutches to visit his brothers, and they had a hard time getting him safely into the trench. We noticed they called him “Fred.” He was going home on what the soldiers called “a wounded furlough;” that is, a furlough granted because of a wound, to last until the man should be fit for service again; and as the lines were quiet in the sultry noon, except, of course, the spiteful sputter of the sharpshooters, all the men from his neighborhood were soon busy painfully scribbling on scraps of paper and in the cramped trenches, letters for Fred to carry home.

Meanwhile, “Tom, Dick and Harry” surrounded their pet, as he evidently was; and indeed he was a lovely thing. We had not specially noted that the other young men were gentlemen. In fact, that did not so specially appear through the dirt and rags. We had readily seen they were “men,” and that was what counted in those days.

But Fred-all the dirt was off of him, and the rags, too, and the sunburn, and the squalor — they were all gone. The Richmond ladies who had attended to his wounds in the hospital had seen to his toilet as well, which was simple and strictly military, but of the best material and fitted perfectly his perfect figure. His thin skin, his blue veins, his small, finely-formed hands and feet, his beautiful manners-everything, in fact-indicated that he was the scion of a noble house, the flower of South Carolina chivalry. In short, he was the most thoroughbred and aristocratic-looking thing any of us had seen for many a day. Compared with the rest [300] of us and in the midst of our surroundings, he glowed like a fair seraph.

After a while he warned the writers that the mail was about to close and they must bring in their letters; that his “old leg” was hurting him and he must be off. The men gathered around. His haversack was filled with the priceless letters, head and heart crowded to confusion with trite messages, inestimably precious to those at home. He rose with a smile of weariness and pain, yet bright anticipation, and as he did so said, “Well, let me take a good look at those rascals over the way; for it will be a long time before I get another chance.”

“Look out, Fred!” Too late! The sharp shock of the bullet against the skull-he sprang up wildly, his cap flew off and his brothers caught him in their arms and laid him gently down. The home letters tumbled out of the full haversack and were dabbled with the blood of the postman; his brothers knelt about him, in a silent grief awful to look upon, and heavy-hearted comrades gathered up each his blood-stained package and gazed vacantly at it.

During the great gathering of Confederate soldiers at the dedication of the Lee Monument, in Richmond, I told this story of his Cold Harbor lines and his old brigade to General Kershaw, when Gen. Joseph E. Johnston happened to be sitting near. It was too much for General Johnston. Tears started to his eyes and he reproved me sharply for telling a story that had in it only dead, unrelieved pain. He added that he must “take the taste of that thing out of our mouths as quickly as possible;” and, as sharpshooting seemed to be the theme, he would repeat to us a practical lecture on that subject which he once heard delivered by an expert to a novice.

He said it was during the Atlanta campaign that he was sitting in a clump of laurel on the north face of a mountain, out beyond the bounds of his own lines, sweeping with a glass the lines and camps of Sherman's army, which were spread out before him upon the plain below. He had been deeply absorbed and was suddenly startled by hearing conversation in a low tone comparatively near him. He sat [301] absolutely still and peered about, until, to his great relief, he saw two gray-brown figures stretched out side by side on the leaves but a little distance in front of him. One was a grizzled, fire-seamed veteran, and the other a beardless youth, and the elder addressed the younger, in substance, as follows:

Now, Charley, when you ain't in a fight, but just shootin‘ so; of course you ought to get a fellow off by himself, before you let fly. Then the next thing is to see what you need most of anything. If it's clothes, why, of course, you choose a fellow of your own size; but if it's shoes you want, you just pick out the very littlest weevil-eaten chap you can find. Your feet would slide ‘round in the shoes of a Yankee as big as you are like they was in flat-boats. Why, no longer ago than last evening I had drawed a bead on a fine, great big buck of a fellow, but just as I was about to drop him I looked around and found I didn't have no shoes. So I let him pass, and pretty soon here come along a little cuss of an officer, and

--raising his right foot, as the old general did his, by way of vivid recital and illustration-“there's the boots.”

A word or two as to the volume, intensity, and effect of the fire at Cold Harbor. So far as the Confederate fire is concerned, nothing can be needed to supplement the fearful record of the slaughter upon the Federal side. But now as to the Federal fire, and first, of artillery. I think the barn just back of the positions of Manly's guns and two of the Howitzers' was Ellyson's. It was cut down, cut up and scattered, and the very ground so torn and ploughed by artillery fire that it was really difficult, after the battle was over, to say just where the barn had stood. Just back of this barn trees were so constantly felled across the road opened for the purpose of bringing in ammunition that it was necessary to have axe-men constantly at hand, and they were chopping almost continuously. Once or twice the falling trees and limbs actually drove the division pioneer corps from the work, and I was forced to get a detail from the Howitzers to do the necessary chopping. [302]

As to musketry fire, I remember counting ninety odd bullet holes through a “dog tent,” which was stretched immediately back of Calloway's guns, and he walked backward and forward between this tent and his pieces during the great attack. Though he did not leave the field, he was wounded in several places, and his clothes looked as if he had been drawn through a briar patch. His field glasses were smashed by a bullet and the guard of his revolver shot away. It is fair to say the same ball may have made two holes through Calloway's little tent; but on the other hand, many balls may have passed through the same hole.

When we left Cold Harbor all our bronze guns looked as if they had had smallpox, from the striking and splaying of leaden balls against them. Even the narrow lips of the pieces, about their muzzles, were indented in this way. One of the guns, I think of Manly's battery, was actually cut down by musketry fire, every spoke of both wheels being cut. Indeed, I had an extra wheel brought and substituted for that which first became useless, and this also shared the same fate. It is my desire and purpose to speak accurately, and therefore I take occasion to say that I do not intend to imply that all the spokes were completely severed and cut in two separate parts. Some of them were and others were not, but these latter were so frayed and splintered that the wheel would not stand straight and could no longer be used as a wheel. Much of the other wood work of this and other guns was badly split and splintered by musket balls, and some of the lighter iron parts and attachments were shot away.

The particular gun referred to was finally rendered absolutely useless for the rest of the fight. The men had worked it, for the most part, upon their hands and knees. How many of them were killed and wounded I do not recall; but one lieutenant was killed and one wounded, while directing, if I remember rightly, the fire of this gun and the one next to it.

After the fight it was necessary for some purpose to tip this gun, when a quantity of lead, exactly how much I would not like to say, but I should think more than a handful, [303] poured out of the muzzle upon the ground. The gun carriage, with two of its wheels, was carried into Richmond and hung up in the arsenal as an evidence of what musketry fire might be and do. Dr. Gaines, of Gaines' Mill, whom I knew very well, had the other wheel carried to his house. I saw it there a few years later. The hub and tire had actually fallen apart.

A brief epitome of some of the salient features and results of the campaign of 1864, from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, inclusive, may not be devoid of interest.

The campaign covered, say sixty miles of space and thirty days of time. General Lee had a little under 64,000 men of all arms present for duty at the outset, and he put hors de combat of Grant's army an equal number man for man. Mr. Swinton, p. 482 of his “Army of the Potomac,” puts Grant's loss at “above sixty thousand men;” so that Grant lost in killed and wounded and prisoners more than a thousand men per mile and more than two thousand men per day during the campaign.

Again, Lee had, as stated, at the start, present for duty, less than 64,000 men, and the reinforcements he received numbered 14,400 men; so that, from first to last, he had under his command in this campaign, say 78,400 men; while Grant had at the start, present for duty, 141,160 men, and the reinforcements he received numbered 51,000 men; so that from first to last he had under his command in this campaign, say 192,160 men.

Now, Grant's one desire and effort was to turn Lee's either flank, preferably his right flank, and thus get between him and Richmond. To accomplish this purpose, with his preponderance of numbers, he might have left man for man in Lee's front, and at the same time thrown an army of 77,000 to 114,000 on his flank, and yet he utterly failed to get around or to crush that inevitable, indomitable flank.

From what I have read and heard of Grant, and the opinion I have formed of him, it is my belief that if this proposition had been put to him he would have admitted candidly that he would not have dared to leave man for man in Lee's front; that it would have been utterly unsafe for him to do [304] so — a statement I am certainly not prepared to dispute. Well, then; he might have left two for one in front of Lee, and yet have free from 13,000 to 36,000 men with which to turn his flank-and yet he failed utterly to turn it.

The figures here used are those of Col. Walter Taylor, and are less favorable to Lee than those of most of the Confederate authorities upon the war. General Early, for example, says that Lee, at the outset, had less than 50,000 effectives of all arms under his command.

It is not my purpose to accentuate this contrast in any unfair or unpleasant way, and yet an intelligent soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia, who fought at Chancellorsville in 1863, and again from the Rapidan to Cold Harbor in 1864, cannot but set opposite to the picture just sketched that of Lee holding the front of Hooker's 92,000 with “scant 14,000 muskets,” while with about one-third (1-3) his numbers he utterly crushed in the right flank and rear of Hooker's great host. It should not be forgotten in this connection, and in endeavoring to form a just estimate of Lee's operations throughout this campaign of 1864, that in the death of Jackson, Lee had lost his great offensive right arm, to which, at Chancellorsville and theretofore, he had looked to carry into execution his confounding strategies and his overpowering, resistless attacks.

This last suggestion was made as bearing upon a just and balanced view of the campaign in general, as well as an estimate of the ability displayed by Lee in the conduct of it. I ask leave to submit one other reflection of like general bearing, as well as tending to explain and relieve what may be regarded as adverse criticism of Grant. I said the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia did not generally consider Grant as a great strategist or maneuverer. His friends have entered for him a plea by way of confession and avoidance of this negative indictment — a good, sound plea. We cannot demur to it, and the Court of Impartial History will never strike it out as immaterial or improper, nor record a verdict that it is false.

I have not before me just now General Badeau's life of his chief, but in it he, in effect, says that Grant did not [305] maneuver against the Army of Northern Virginia, because he found maneuvering of no avail against that army. Other Federal generals have made in substance the same remark. Maneuvering differs from fighting as a force in war, in this, that fighting is purely physical, while maneuvering gets in its work largely upon the moral plane. Its most deadly and disastrous effect is wrought by the destruction of confidence; confidence of the out-maneuvered general in himself and in his army, of the out-maneuvered army in itself and in its general.

In the case of Lee's army none of these consequences followed, when, for example, its huge adversary overlapped it upon one flank or upon both; or even turned its flank and took it in reverse — a thing which actually happened at least once in this campaign, when Hancock, on the 10th of May, at Spottsylvania, marched clean and clear around our left flank, and even, for a time, drove us in the fighting there. The men in our line fully appreciated what was happening, and yet there was not the slightest trepidation. Billy chanced to be standing near two intelligent infantry soldiers who were listening to and looking at the steady progression of the fire and the smoke of the fight, further and further in our rear, and quietly discussing the situation. At a sudden swell of musketry one of them, removing his pipe from his mouth and spitting upon the ground, said, “Look here, Tom, if those fellows should get much further around there we would be in a bad fix here; we'd have to get out of this.”

“Law, John!” said his friend, “Marse Robert'll take care of those fellows. He knows just what to do.”

So we all felt, and if he had deemed it best and so ordered, we would have fought just as steadily in two lines, back to back and facing both ways.

Two days later the gallant Hancock made further and, if possible, higher proof of the soundness of Grant's plea, and of the steadfast, indomitable courage of the Army of Northern Virginia, when after bursting through its center with 40,000 men, and taking and holding the “Bloody Angle,” embracing, perhaps, counting both sides, approximately two miles of its line, and capturing the infantry and [306] the artillery that defended it, he yet found himself unable to advance one foot beyond the point where the first impulse had carried him, in the darkness and surprise, and he encountered, across the base of the salient and at each extremity of the captured line, troops as staunch and sturdy and unconquerable as any he had ever met in battle.

It is this quality or condition, or habit of mind and conduct, of which different Federal officers have spoken under different names, in expressing their high estimate of the Army of Northern Virginia. It is this which General Hooker terms “discipline,” in his remarkable testimony before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, already quoted, in the course of which, speaking of Lee's army, he said “ ... that army has by discipline alone acquired a character for steadiness and efficiency unsurpassed, in my judgment, in ancient or modern times.”

It has been said, and it may be true in a certain sense, to the honor and glory of the private soldiers of that immortal army, that the army made the general and made for him his world-wide fame; that General Lee throughout his great career wielded an unrivalled weapon, a weapon of perfect temper and of finest edge,--but it has also been said, and it is also true, perhaps in a yet higher sense, that the general made the army; that the weapon was wielded by an unrivalled swordsman, a swordsman of dauntless courage and of matchless skill.

We are free to admit that, in our view, the explanation of all this is to be found largely in the fact that the relation between our general and our army was constant and permanent, undissolved and indissoluble; that we grew to be, as it were, one body dominated by one great inspiring soul; and that we came to look with wonder, not unmixed with pity, upon the contrasted condition of the opposing Federal army, with generals jealous of and plotting against each other, and the Government forever pulling down one and putting up another. Nor are we small enough to be unappreciative of the manhood which could and did, even under such unfavorable circumstances, exhibit the loyalty and courage which the Army of the Potomac exhibited upon many a hard-fought field.

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