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Chapter 15: the rest at Harrison's Landing.

What a week had been passed Though the enemy had been soundly whipped in each engagement, the army was not ‘flushed with victory.’

Three months before a great army, with all the paraphernalia of war, had started on its mission to capture the rebel capital. Now it was at Harrison's Landing with but 50,000 effective men. These, however, were augmented, as the days passed by, with stragglers, sick and wounded who reported for duty. Notwithstanding its terrible ordeal, the Army of the Potomac was still intact, its morale was preserved and, when rested and rationed, it was ready for any emergency.

For six weeks after the close of the ‘Retreat,’ the army drew a long breath at Harrison's Landing. The midsummer sun was exceptionally hot. Daily the sweet southern summer airs kissed and flaunted the tattered colors. Daily the great army and its chief waited for the succor which would impel it once more upon the walls of Richmond. Daily brave hearts grew sick and faint with ‘hope deferred.’ Succor came not and hope died out.

The scenes on the river soon became as animated as at the former base at White House on the Pamunkey. The river was full of transports, schooners, flat boats and tugs which, with the gunboats, brought a condition of activity never before witnessed there. Sutlers' schooners helped to swell the flotilla and now that the army was likely to remain some time, the Sutlers came ashore with their molasses ginger cakes and their lively cheese. They had suffered with the army in losses of their supplies and had seen them either taken by the enemy or destroyed, rather than be left behind. The Paymaster also came, and the men were paid off. [110]

The headquarters of the quartermaster and subsistance departments were located at a beautiful plantation called Westover, but three miles down the river. Here the wagon trains reported for rations and forage which once more were issued with regularity. The supply boats of the government and the Christian Commission furnished a limited supply of potatoes and onions.

On July 3, the day after the arrival at Harrison's Landing, General McClellan came through the camps, making a short speech to each brigade. General Dana, commanding the third brigade, called for three cheers for the new campaign and they were given, not so much for the campaign as for ‘little Mac.’ The boys were always ready to shout for him. In the afternoon the Nineteenth regiment marched back two miles and went into camp. The next day was the glorious ‘Fourth’ and it was celebrated with a national salute by the artillery. The peculiar contrast of the sound of blank cartridges to the shotted cannon familiar in battle was noticed. The report was ‘bit’ off short and everyone missed the ‘whizz’ to which his ears had become accustomed. On July 4, also, when the roll of the regiment was called, it was found that more than one half of the men who had left Massachusetts less than a year before had either been killed in battle, died of disease or were sick and wounded in the General Hospital.

It was nearly two weeks before clothing or shelter tents were issued and the only protection from the hot sun in the day and the chilly dews at night was the clothing which the men had on. This, in nearly all cases, consisted merely of the cap, blouse, shirt, trousers and shoes,—all very much the worse for wear. For a bed there was the sandy soil. When the tents were issued, they were pitched on stakes about two feet from the ground, to admit of a free circulation of air. The death rate was very high. Men who had stood the hardships of the retreat now sickened and died, and the ‘Dead March’ could be heard at almost every hour of the day.

The medical department was busy by day and by night caring for the sick and wounded and shipping them away. An operating hospital was established near the river bank, some [111] distance from the camps. Sanitary orders were issued for the better care of the health of the men. They were forbidden to fry fresh beef as was the custom in cold weather. Sick and wounded men who were restored to duty arrived nearly every day at the camp and every effort was made to place the Army in condition to renew the offensive.

On July 9, Lieut. Col. Devereux sent the following letter to Governor Andrew.

Headquarters 19TH Mass. Vols., in camp near Harrison Landing, Va. July 9TH, 1862.
To his Excellency, John A. Andrew, Governor of Massachusetts.

Having received from General Headquarters a circular desiring all regimental commanders to nominate such enlisted men of their commands as have exhibited unusual good conduct during the retreat of the Army from Fair Oaks, for positions as ‘Acting Officers’ until such time as the Governors of the several states shall grant them full commissions, I have the pleasure of sending forward the following names—

Sergt. Maj. Edgar M. Newcomb, who fearlessly exposed himself to rally the ranks broken by the tremendous volleys the regiment had to encounter in the fight at Nelson's Farm, to be Second Lieutenant.

First Sergt. William R. Driver, for like conduct in same battle, to be Second Lieutenant.

First Sergt. J. G. B. Adams, for his coolness and bravery in the affair before Fair Oaks on June 25th and in the separate encounters in the retreat from the entrenchments at Fair Oaks to this point, to be Second Lieutenant.

Sergt. Frederick Crofts, for his gallant conduct when wounded, rendering able assistance in rallying his own and another company in the fight at Nelson's Farm, to be Second Lieutenant.

The regiment now numbers 527 ready for duty, but all are more or less exhausted. [112]

Too much praise cannot be accorded Surgeon Dyer who has had all the labor of his department thrown upon himself by the sickness of Surgeon Willard, and, in addition to his usual duties, has had the labor of managing the Medical department of the Brigade as Senior Surgeon.

A. F. Devereux, Lieut. Col. Commanding Regt.

On July 15, 1862, Colonel Hinks, then in Boston suffering from his wounds, wrote to Governor Andrew, recommending the following promotions for bravery and gallantry in the various engagements from June 25 to July 1.

Capt. Ansel D. Wass, to be major, vice Howe, killed.

First Lieut. Henry A. Hale, to be Captain, vice Wass, promoted.

Second Lieut. Elisha A. Hinks, to be First Lieutenant, vice Hodges, resigned.

Second Lieut. Samuel S. Prime, to be First Lieutenant, vice Hale, promoted.

Second Lieut. Oliver F. Briggs, to be First Lieutenant, vice Lee, killed.

Sergt. Maj. Edgar M. Newcomb, to be Second Lieutenant, vice Palmer, promoted.

First Sergt. Frederick Crofts, Company B, to be Second Lieutenant, vice Briggs, promoted.

Sergt. Warner W. Tilton, Company A, to be Second Lieutenant, vice Hinks, promoted.

First Serg. Thomas Claffey, Company G, to be Second Lieutenant, Vice Prime, promoted.

Sergt. David T. Chubbuck, Company K, to be Second Lieutenant, vice Warner, killed.

Snakes were numerous in the camp at Harrison's Landing. Lieutenant Dodge appeared one day with a huge black snake; one man pulled an adder from his trouser leg, and soon after a copperhead was discovered to have ‘turned in’ along with two tent mates. Mosquitoes were less frequent here than at Fair Oaks, but every kind of insect abounded.

On July 10, President Lincoln visited the Army and after [113] a grand review addressed the troops, expressing great satisfaction at their condition and declaring that he had ‘wanted to see for himself.’ Rumor began to be rife that the Army was soon to be sent ‘On to Richmond’ again.

On July 22, Sumner's Corps was reviewed and nearly 30,000 troops took part in the parade. Veterans of nearly every fight upon the Peninsula composed this Corps, which won Fair Oaks when it had been lost, and which had the battle of Savage's Station all to themselves and made a clean victory. In this review the Nineteenth Massachusetts and the First Minnesota regiments bore away the palm, as appears by the following order:

General order, no. 21.

Headquarters Second Army Corps, July 23, 1862.
The general commanding would hereby announce to this corps d'armee the fine appearance on the review to-day of the Nineteenth Massachusetts and the First Minnesota regiments. The condition of these regiments is an honor to their States, and reflects great credit upon their commanders.

By command of Major General Sumner.

L. Kip, A. D. C. And A. A. G. W. D. Sedgwick, A. A. G.


This praise was a source of much pride to every member of these regiments.

On the afternoon of July 31, the camp was startled by artillery firing in the direction of the landing, over the camp near the river. Orders were at once received to make ready to move. Considerable concern was manifested, as the base of supplies was there and some thought a rebel gunboat or a second Merrimack had some down to destroy the Union fleet.

In a short time, however, the firing ceased, the men broke ranks and the artillery, which had harnessed up and moved to the landing, returned. It was then learned that the rebels had planted a battery of 43 guns at Coggins Point on a commanding hill and opened fire on the hospital and the shipping, despite the [114] fact that the yellow flag was floating over the hospital, as it had been for a long time and that no hostile move had been made from that quarter to provoke the assault. A few shells from the 100-pounders soon caused them to make a hasty departure and then a force was crossed which fortified the hill and no further trouble came from that direction.

At this time Gen. Halleck had been called from his duties in the Mississippi and made Commanding General of the U. S. Army, with headquarters at Washington.

On the night of August 3, the monotony of camp life was slightly broken when the regiment moved back to Malvern Hill in light marching order, with haversacks full, in an endeavor to surround a rebel camp. A round — about way was taken, but the enemy escaped just in time and the command returned to camp on Aug. 7.

While here, Lieut. Bachelder, of Company C, received his commission as Captain, and Lieut. Fred Crofts, who had been promoted from Sergeant of Company B, was assigned to Company C, as Second Lieutenant, Samuel S. Prime being promoted from Second to First Lieutenant Lieut. Crofts was soon transferred to Company I, and Second Lieut. Edgar M. Newcomb was transferred from Company B to Company K, being promoted from Sergeant Major. First Lieut. Henry A. Hale was promoted to Captain and assigned to Company B.

First Lieut. J. G. C. Dodge was transferred from Co. C, to Company D, and First Lieut. Oliver F. Briggs from Co. A, to Co. E.

In Company I, Second Lieut. J. G. B. Adams was transferred from Company A and First Lieut. William L. Palmer went to Company D.

Capt. Ansel D. Wass, who had been wounded in the action of June 30th, and was absent in Massachusetts, was promoted to be Major.

There was a great deal of sickness in the regiment at Harrison's Landing and much homesickness and discontent. The camp of the Nineteenth was on the banks of a beautiful brook and here snakes and lizards amused the soldiers, flies came to rob them of their peace of mind and vermin tried hard to prey [115] upon them—in most cases succeeding. The water was very bad and extremely foul of odor. The weather was warm and debilitating and the food not such as to add much to the physical strength of the men who seemed, thereby, to lose much of their stamina.

Col. Hinks, after being wounded, returned to Massachusetts for a brief period, and, while convalescing, improved his time by eloquent appeals to his fellow citizens to volunteer at the call of the Government, and spoke with great effect in several towns of the Commonwealth, inducing a large number of men to enlist.

On Aug. 8, he returned to Harrison's Landing, and, though not recovered from his wounds, was immediately assigned to the command of the Third Brigade, composed of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Massachusetts, the Forty-Second and Fifty-Ninth New York, and Seventh Michigan regiments, Second division, Second Corps; which Division was assigned to cover the retreat of the army to the Chickahominy River, upon its evacuation of Harrison's Landing.

Gen. Halleck, commander-in-chief, was opposed to any further demonstrations against Richmond from the position then occupied by the Army of the Potomac. McClellan, however, insisted upon the plan, declaring that the rebels had received a sincere chastising and that the Army was ready and anxious to again push forward. McClellan's purpose was to cross the James at Harrison's Landing, attack Petersburg, and cut off the enemy's communications by that route south, making no further demonstration at that time against Richmond. (This was exactly the plan adopted by Grant two years later, by which he took Richmond and destroyed Lee.) Halleck, however, deemed the idea ‘dangerous and impracticable’ and so, after a stay of six weeks at Harrison's Landing, during which time the army had recovered from its losses and greatly improved its condition, orders came for the evacuation of the Peninsula.

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