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Chapter 5: battles at Peach Orchard, Glendale and Malvern Hill.

Company A had in its ranks men of every trade and profession, not excepting the clergy. Our minister might have been a good soldier in the army of the Lord, but was not a success in the Army of the Potomac. At the first fire he scattered and could not be rallied. I said to him, “You have been telling the boys to get ready to die, but you are not in good marching order for the other shore yourself.” “That is not it,” replied Levi; “I should not have enlisted; it always made me nervous to hear a gun fired and I don't believe I can get used to it.” As will be shown later he never did.

Returning to our works we were ordered to throw up traverses between companies. At night cheering began on our right. An aid rode down the line and gave orders to Colonel Hincks to have the regiment cheer. “What for?” said the colonel. “I do not know,” was the reply; “it is orders from General McClellan to General Dana.” “Give my compliments to General Dana and say that we did our cheering in front of the line yesterday.” Soon we were ordered to pack up and leave everything not absolutely necessary to carry. We were ordered into line and remained under arms all night. The next morning we found the [33] retreat had begun, and, before we had recovered from our surprise, were ordered in to support Tompkins's Rhode Island battery, and the enemy was soon upon us.

At the headquarters of the commissary department all was confusion. A pile of hard-tack as large as Faneuil Hall was set on fire. Heads of commissary whiskey barrels were knocked in and the whiskey ran in streams. This was also set on fire and men were burned as they tried to drink it. Blankets, clothing, stores of all kinds were destroyed, and one would think as an army we were going out of business, but such was not the case, as we had enough on our hands to last us the next seven days.

We made a stand at Peach Orchard and found that our corps was to cover the retreat of the army. We were slowly driven back to Savage Station, where a battery went into position and we lay in the rear as its support. One who has never supported a battery can form no idea of this duty, which is to lie just as snug to the ground as you can and take those shells coming from the enemy that the battery does not want. Our position at Savage was a dangerous one. Shells were constantly bursting in our ranks and our battery was being severely tested. It did not seem that our lines could be held much longer, yet we knew that our wagon train was crossing the bridge and we must stand our ground until they were safely over. We heard a cheer, and looking to the left saw Meagher's Irish brigade moving forward on the run. The entire corps, forgetful of danger, sprang to their feet and cheered them wildly. On they went; grape and cannister ploughed through their ranks, but they closed up the gaps and moved on up to the mouth of the rebel batteries, whose guns were captured, and the [34] firing that had been so disastrous ceased. The Irish brigade held the line until night, when our army was withdrawn.

It was the hottest day of the year. As we changed front many fell from sunstroke. Captain Wass was so badly affected that he lost his reason and never fully recovered. Lieutenant Hume was left by the roadside and was soon captured by the enemy. At night we were stationed at the bridge until the last regiment was over, when we crossed and destroyed the bridge.

After we had rested a few hours we were ordered back, and sunrise found us engaged with the enemy. In the afternoon the terrible battle of Glendale was fought. This was June 30. About two o'clock P. M. we were ordered to charge the enemy, who were in a belt of woods. To do this we must charge over an open field. Faces turned pale as we looked over the ground. We grasped our muskets firmer and waited for the order. We had kept our knapsacks until this time,--they had become priceless treasures, filled as they were with little articles for our comfort made by loving hands, and with letters from dear ones at home,but we threw them into a pile, and the voice of Colonel Hincks was heard: “Forward, double-quick,” and we moved across the field and entered the woods. Here we met a line clothed in Union blue, and thinking it was the 7th Michigan, of our brigade,--a regiment loved by every officer and man of the 19th,--we reserved our fire, and cried, “Don't fire, boys, we are the 19th Massachusetts.” A galling fire in our faces drove us back, but we promptly moved forward again, still thinking it was the 7th Michigan and that they would see their mistake. Again we were repulsed, and believing we were mistaken, and that the line [35] was composed of rebels in our uniforms, we charged with a will. As they rose to receive us we saw that this time we were not mistaken, as they were rebels clothed in part in our uniforms. We had a hand-to-hand fight for a few moments, when we discovered that we were being flanked and withdrew to the edge of the woods.

Under a terrible fire we changed front. Our brave Major How fell, never to rise again; Colonel Hincks was supposed to be mortally wounded and was carried from the field; Lieut. David Lee was killed, and the ground was strewn with our dead and wounded comrades. For a moment the regiment was in confusion, but Captain Weymouth, assisted by Sergeant-Major Newcomb and others, rallied the men on the colors and the line was at once reformed and our position held. Capt. Edmund Rice was in command of the regiment. He was noted for his coolness and bravery, and the men had confidence in him. As I looked down the line of Company A many places were vacant. Ed. Hale, Volney P. Chase, Charles Boynton and several others were killed, while the list of wounded could not be ascertained at that time. Company A had lost men by death, but this was the first time any of our number had been killed in action.

Charles Boynton was one of my townsmen. He was an eccentric man and had troubled Captain Merritt by his peculiar ideas of drill, but he was as brave and patriotic a man as ever shouldered a musket. He had no patience with the slow movements of the army, and I have often heard him say that he wanted to fight every day and close up the job. When advancing in line he would constantly rush ahead of the company, his only desire being to get a shot at the rebels. I do not think it would be showing disrespect [36] to his memory should I relate one or two of the little dialogues between Captain Merritt and Boynton. Our regiment had a peculiar drill in the manual. It was formulated by Colonel Devereaux, and is nearly what is used by the army to-day. After loading we stood with our little finger on the head of the rammer until the order was given to shoulder arms. One day on drill Captain Merritt looked down the line and saw Boynton with his hand by his side. “Put your little finger on the head of the rammer, Boynton,” sang out Captain Merritt. “I won't do it,” replied Boynton. “Won't do it! Why not?” “Because it is all nonsense; my gun is loaded, and do you suppose I would stand up in battle like a darned fool with my little finger on the head of my rammer? No, sir, I propose to drill just as I intend to fight.”

Another day the order was, “Right shoulder, shift arms.” The proper way was to make three motions, but Boynton did it in one. “Make three motions, Boynton,” said Captain Merritt. “Didn't I get my gun on my shoulder as quick as any man in the company?” was the reply. Captain Merritt was discouraged and ordered me to punish Boynton, but I explained his peculiarities, and assured the captain that he would earn his thirteen dollars a month when fighting began. He let the matter drop. Had the Union army been composed entirely of men like Charles Boynton the war would have ended long before it did.

We held our position until midnight. It was the saddest night I ever spent. The dead and wounded of both armies lay between the lines. The wounded were constantly calling on their comrades for water, and we could hear calls for Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia, mingled with those for [37] Michigan, New York and Massachusetts. Brave men from our regiment crawled over the field, giving water to friend and foe alike. About midnight the order was whispered down the line to move. I had been from right to left of the company keeping the men awake, as we expected the order. As still as possible we crawled over the field. We had gone but a short distance when, looking back, I saw one member of the company had not started. Thinking he had fallen asleep I returned, and shaking him said, “Come, come!” As I drew close to him my eyes rested on the face of Jonathan Hudson, cold in death. He had been killed in the early evening as we lay in line and his death was not known to his comrades near him. It was the saddest sensation I ever experienced. When we arrived at the road we found many of our wounded. Colonel Hincks was on a stretcher, and as the ambulances were full he was carried a long distance before one could be found. Captain Devereaux was also badly wounded and had to be carried. We started with the body of Major How in a blanket as we had no stretchers, but being so very heavy we were forced to leave him.

Without any regimental formation we began our weary march to Malvern Hill, where we arrived at daylight, were at once ordered to support a battery, and witnessed one of the most terrible artillery battles of the war. In the afternoon our brigade was ordered to the woods and held the right of the army. The next morning, in a drenching rain, we started for Harrison's Landing. We marched in three lines, but it was not an army, it was a mob. Artillery was stuck in the mud, wagons were abandoned and burned by the roadside. The only thought of every one was to get to Harrison's Landing as soon as possible. Some did not stop [38] at the landing but took boats for Washington. Among these was our minister, Levi. He had managed to keep out of every battle, and now deserted, joining the advance-guard in Canada.

Harrison's Landing when dry was a sandy plain; when we arrived it was a sea of mud. Without shelter, overcoats or blankets we dropped in the mud, and being so exhausted, having been without sleep, except the little naps caught in line of battle, for seven days, we soon forgot our misery. It was two days before we could reorganize our companies. Men were coming in who we expected were killed or captured, but July 4 upon calling the roll, we found that more than half of the men who had left Massachusetts with us less than a year before had either been killed in battle, died of disease or were sick or wounded in general hospital. The death-rate at Harrison's Landing was fearful. Men who had stood the retreat now broke down and soon died. Every hour in the day we could hear the dead march, as comrade after comrade was laid at rest. The subject for discussion around the camp-fire was the disaster to the Union army. Newspapers called it “an important change of base.” We knew that some one had been outgeneralled, and although the men had confidence in General McClellan, we believed that while we had been digging and dying before Yorktown we should have been advancing and fighting.

Looking at the campaign in the most charitable light possible, the fact remained that on April 4 the finest army ever mustered began the advance on Richmond; that we had been within five miles of that city, and that July 4 found the army on the banks of the James River, with less than half of the number it had three months before. We were not [39] disheartened. Many had expected that 1862 would see the end of the war, but it now looked as though those who were spared would see the end of their three years enlistment. The losses in officers had been such that many promotions were made. Four enlisted men were promoted second lieutenants, and I was one of the number. I was assigned to Company I, Capt. J. F. Plympton. By a misunderstanding between Colonel Hincks and Lieutenant-Colonel Devereaux, First Sergeant Driver and myself did not receive our commissions until August, although we continued as acting second lieutenants, the two commissioned by recommendation of Colonel Hincks not being assigned to duty.

It was impossible to obtain officers' uniforms, so I bought a pair of brass shoulder-straps, sewed them on my well-worn blouse, borrowed a sword of Lieutenant Mumford and went on duty, as verdant an officer as could be found in the army of the Potomac.

About the middle of August I was ordered to report to First Lieut. John P. Reynolds for special duty. We were to take charge of the guard of the division wagon train that was ordered to Fortress Monroe. Our duty was an important one. We knew we were liable to attack at any time by guerillas, and constant vigilance was required. We often met small parties of mounted citizens who rode past our train. We believed they were “taking us in,” but we had not arrived at the time when men were arrested on suspicion, so we let them pass but kept our train well covered. We arrived at Fortress Monroe in due time, turned over the train and reported to the regiment at Newport News, they having marched a few days after we were ordered away. [40]

While our duty as the advance guard had been arduous, we had not suffered as much as those who marched with the regiment. They had marched rapidly over dusty roads, under a broiling sun, and many had been sunstruck. Among the number was Capt. William A. Hill. He was not able to speak above a whisper for several days, and his condition was serious; but his courage was good and he remained on duty with the regiment. The men having rested a day, and being now veteran soldiers, had forgotten their hardships, and when we arrived were nearly all in the James River hunting for oysters.

On August 24, the brigade embarked on the steamship “Atlantic” for Washington, arriving at Alexandria the 28th,--just one year from the day we left Massachusetts.

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