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Chapter 35: battles of Cold Harbor.

On the 27th, the enemy having withdrawn to the north bank of the North Anna, and commenced another flank movement by moving down the north bank of the Pamunkey, Ewell's corps, now under my command, by reason of General Ewell's sickness, was moved across the South Anna over the bridge of the Central Railroad, and by a place called “Merry Oaks,” leaving Ashland on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad to the right, and bivouacked for the night at Hughes' cross-road, the intersection of the road from Ashland to Atlee's Station on the Central Railroad with the road from the Merry Oaks to Richmond. Next morning I moved by Atlee's Station to Hundley's Corner, at the intersection of the road from Hanover Town (the point at which Grant crossed the Pamunkey), by Pole Green Church to Richmond, with the road from Atlee's Station, by Old Church in Hanover County, to the White House on the Pamunkey. This is the point from which General Jackson commenced his famous attack on McClellan's flank and rear, in 1862, and it was very important that it should be occupied, as it intercepted Grant's direct march towards Richmond. All of these movements were made under orders from General Lee.

My troops were placed in position, covering the road by Pole Green Church, and also the road to Old Church, with my right resting near Beaver Dam Creek, a small stream running towards Mechanicsville and into the Chickahominy. Brigadier General Ramseur of Rodes' division was this day assigned to the command of my division. Ewell's corps, the 2nd of the Army of Northern Virginia, now numbered less than 9,000 muskets for duty, its loss, on the 12th of May, having been very heavy. [362]

On the 29th, the enemy having crossed the Tottopotomoy (a creek running just north of Pole Green Church, and eastward to the Pamunkey), appeared in my front on both roads, and there was some skirmishing but no heavy fighting.

On the afternoon of the 30th, in accordance with orders from General Lee, I moved to the right across Beaver Dam, to the road from Old Church to Mechanicsville, and thence along that road towards Old Church, until we reached Bethesda Church. At this point the enemy was encountered, and his troops, which occupied the road, were driven by Rodes' division towards the road from Hundley's Corner, which unites with the road from Mechanicsville, east of Bethesda Church. Pegram's brigade, under the command of Colonel Edward Willis of the 12th Georgia Regiment, was sent forward with one of Rodes' brigades on its right, to feel the enemy, and ascertain his strength; but meeting with a heavy force behind breastworks, it was compelled to retire, with the loss of some valuable officers and men, and among them were Colonel Willis, mortally wounded, and Colonel Terrill of the 13th Virginia Regiment, killed. This movement showed that the enemy was moving to our right flank, and at night I withdrew a short distance on the Mechanicsville road, covering it with my force. When I made the movement from Hundley's Corner, my position at that place was occupied by a part of Longstreet's corps, under Anderson.

On the next morning, my troops were placed in position on the east side of Beaver Dam across the road to Mechanicsville, but Rodes was subsequently moved to the west side of the creek. Grant's movement to our right, towards Cold Harbor, was continued on the 31st, and the 1st of June, and corresponding movements were made by General Lee to meet him, my command retaining its position with a heavy force in its front. [363]

On the 2nd, all the troops on my left, except Heth's division of Hill's corps, had moved to the right, and in the afternoon of that day, Rodes' division moved forward, along the road from Hundley's Corner towards Old Church, and drove the enemy from his entrenchments, now occupied with heavy skirmish lines, and forced back his left towards Bethesda Church, where there was a heavy force. Gordon swung round so as to keep pace with Rodes, and Heth co-operated, following Rodes and taking position on his left flank. In this movement there was some heavy fighting and several hundred prisoners were taken by us. Brigadier General Doles, a gallant officer of Bodes' division, was killed, but otherwise our loss was not severe.

On the next day (the 3rd), when Grant made an attack at Cold Harbor in which he suffered very heavily, there were repeated attacks on Rodes' and Heth's fronts, those on Cook's brigade, of Heth's division, being especially heavy, but all of them were repulsed. There was also heavy skirmishing on Gordon's front. During the day, Heth's left was threatened by the enemy's cavalry, but it was kept off by Walker's brigade under Colonel Fry, which covered that flank, and also repulsed an effort of the enemy's infantry to get to our rear. As it was necessary that Heth's division should join its corps on the right, and my flank in this position was very much exposed, I withdrew, at the close of the day, to the line previously occupied, and next morning Heth moved to the right.

My right now connected with the left of Longstreet's corps under General Anderson. The enemy subsequently evacuated his position at Bethesda Church and his lines in my front, and having no opposing force to keep my troops in their lines, I made two efforts to attack the enemy on his right flank and rear. The first was made on the 6th, when I crossed the Matadaquean (a small [364] stream, running through wide swamps in the enemy's rear), and got in rear of his right flank, driving in his skirmishers until we came to a swamp, which could be crossed only on a narrow causeway defended by an entrenched line with artillery. General Anderson was to have co-operated with me, by moving down the other side of the Matadaquean, but the division sent for that purpose did not reach the position from which I started until near night, and I was therefore compelled to retire, as my position was too much exposed.

On the next day (the 7th), a reconnaissance made in front of Anderson's line showed that the greater part of it was uncovered, and, in accordance with instructions from General Lee, I moved in front of, and between it and the Matadaquean, until my progress was arrested by a ravine and swamp which prevented any further advance, but a number of pieces of artillery were opened upon the enemy's position in flank and reverse, so as to favor a movement from Anderson's front, which had been ordered but was not made; and at night I retired from this position to the rear of our lines.

Since the fighting at the Wilderness, Grant had made it an invariable practice to cover his front, flank, and rear with a perfect network of entrenchments, and all his movements were made under cover of such works. It was therefore very difficult to get at him.

On the 11th, my command was moved to the rear of Hill's line, near Gaines' Mill; and on the 12th, I received orders to move, with the 2nd corps, to the Shenandoah Valley to meet Hunter. This, therefore, closed my connection with the campaign from the Rapidan to James River.

When I moved on the morning of the 13th, Grant had already put his army in motion to join Butler, on James River, a position which he could have reached, from his camp on the north of the Rapidan, by railroad transports, [365] without the loss of a man. In attempting to force his way by land, he had already lost, in killed and wounded, more men than were in General Lee's entire army; and he was compelled to give up, in despair, the attempt to reach Richmond in that way.1

1 Grant, in describing his movement from Spottsylvania Court-House to Hanover Junction, says: “But the enemy again having the shorter line, and being in possession of the main roads, was enabled to reach the North Anna in advance of us, and took position behind it.” And, when he speaks of his final determination to join Butler, he says: “After the battle of the Wilderness it was evident that the enemy deemed it of the first importance to run no risk with the army he then had. He acted purely on the defensive, behind breastworks, or, feebly, on the offensive, immediately in front of them, and where, in case of repulse, he could retire behind them. Without a greater sacrifice of life than I was willing to make all could not be accomplished that I designed north of Richmond.”

He has made some observations, in his report, about the advantages of interior lines of communication, supposed to be possessed by the Confederate commanders, which are more specious than sound. The Mississippi River divided the Confederacy into two parts, and the immense naval power of the enemy enabled him to render communication across that river, after the loss of New Orleans and Memphis, always difficult. The Ohio River, in the West, and the Potomac, in the East, with the mountains of Western Virginia, rendered it impossible for an invading army to march into the enemy's country, except at one or two fords of the Potomac, just east of the Blue Ridge, and two or three fords above Harper's Ferry. The possession of the seas, and the blockade of our ports, as well as the possession of the Mississippi, the Ohio, and Potomac Rivers, with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and the railroads through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, enabled the enemy to transport troops, from the most remote points, with more ease and rapidity than they could be transported over the railroads under the control of the Confederate Government, all of which were in bad condition. The enemy, therefore, in fact, had all the advantages of interior lines; that is, rapidity of communication and concentration, with the advantage, also, of unrestricted communication with all the world, which his naval power gave him.

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