previous next

Chapter 12: from the angle to Cold Harbor

The 121st came out of this engagement with four company officers and 185 enlisted men present for duty, and was held in reserve with the rest of the brigade during the 13th of May, but on the 14th the brigade was ordered to cross the Nye River and occupy Myer's Hill, an elevation to the left, and in front of the Fifth Corps. At this point quite a sharp engagement occurred. The position was occupied easily, but being attacked sharply by a force large enough to flank the troops engaged, they were compelled to fall back a little distance until reinforcements arrived, when the enemy in turn retired and the hill was reoccupied and the picket line extended to the left.

Colonel Cronkite who was not present, having been wounded on the 10th, speaks very briefly of this affair, but Colonel Beckwith describes it quite minutely.

On the morning of the 13th we moved to our left and early in the morning of the 14th crossed the Nye River, a narrow, sluggish, deep stream where we crossed, and moving a short distance came to a brigade of regular troops which we relieved. We moved forward a short distance and were deployed in a heavy skirmish line, taking down a rail fence and making a protection of the rails as best we could. A little way in our rear was a line of log cabins formerly occupied by the slaves. On a conspicuous eminence, called Myer's Hill, was quite a large mansion, and our line of battle [150] ran in front of it. On the right our line ran into the timber. In our rear a short distance, fringed with timber, ran the Nye River, dark and silent. As soon as we got our rail protection completed we began to build fires and get breakfast, and had gotten it nicely under way when word was passed along from the left, that the enemy was advancing. We rapidly got into our rail barricades, and swallowing what we could of our food in a hurry at the same time, we watched for the Rebs to appear. We knew we would be the first to be attacked because a piece of woods in our front reached to within 600 feet of our position, and the rail fence running along it would conceal and shelter the advancing force until they came up to it. In a few minutes word was again passed from the house, that the Rebs were advancing in skirmish line, supported by a line of battle with artillery accompanying it. In a few minutes their skirmishers appeared in our front and opened fire, which we returned so effectively that they seemed reluctant to come on out of the woods and into the open, where they would offer a fair mark. At the same time their battery opened on us, a few shells bursting very near but not hitting any of us. While we were attending to the enemy in front, the 96th Pennsylvania moved out in line of battle and advanced toward the woods. We expected to continue this advance, but the 96th had scarcely disappeared in the woods when they met the enemy, and immediately the battle broke out. The Rebels charged and drove our men out, their advance reaching to our front. The troops on our left gave way, and we ran back toward the river. Some of our men jumped into it to wade across, but the water was too deep and they were fished out, wetter and wiser men. Jack Schaffner was one of the waders. Moving along [151] to the right parallel with the river, we were met by Lieutenant Redway who ordered us to rally. A shell just then bursting near us, stopped his efforts, and we continued down the river. In a short distance we met General Upton who directed us to move onto the road and down to the bridge, cross to the other side and rally on the colors which we would find in the field beyond. The Rebels in the meantime had occupied the position we had just vacated, and were throwing shells into our ambulance train, which was hurrying back out of range of their fire. Just at nightfall we moved forward and reoccupied the position under cover of our artillery and skirmishers without serious resistance. The 15th and 16th we remained at Myer's Hill (dubbed by the men “Upton's Run” ). Just before dark on the 16th we moved forward in line of battle a long distance into the woods in our front, but did not find the enemy. Returning to our lines we were marched to our right, reaching and forming line of battle just to the right of the “Bloody angle.”

A little after daylight glancing around we saw that a heavy column was massed there, and saw troops on all sides of us. Heavy skirmishing in our front and a brisk artillery fire continued for some time and then died down. This gave notice that there was a hitch in the program, and a little later we learned that the enemy's position and works were of such a nature as to render the result of an assault doubtful, and it had been given up at that point.

An incident occurred while we were lying in line of battle, illustrating the pitiful fate of dumb animals under fire. A mounted officer had fastened his horse by the bridle reins to a stump so that the animal stood side to the front. A cannon shot passed under him cutting the covering of [152] his intestines, letting them run out. The poor brute stood for some little time looking pitifully around, until the officer, coming up looked at the wound, drew his revolver and killed him, removing his trappings after the death struggle was over.

General Gordon in his reminiscences, speaks of this affair as a desperate effort of the Second and Sixth Corps to break through the Confederate line, and a disastrous repulse. The brigade moved back to Myer's Hill in the evening of the 18th and the next day moved to the right and rear of the Fifth Corps and threw up entrenchments. The day after it relieved a portion of the Third division of the Second Corps. General Ewell made an effort to attack the right of the army by a flank movement, but ran into a regiment of heavy artillery that was coming to the front and was so badly handled by them that he gave up the attempt. The opportune arrival of these fresh troops, saved the brigade from another encounter with the enemy.

On the 21st, the brigade again returned to Myer's Hill, and here the 2d Connecticut Heavy Artillery joined the brigade. It was a magnificent body of men, more than 1,800 strong and containing many veterans who had reenlisted. At about 11 P. M. of the 21st another movement to the left was begun and the brigade marched by long and tedious stages, to Guinie Station, Lebanon Church, and arrived at Jericho Ford on the North Anna River about midnight of the 23d. In the morning of the 24th the Corps crossed the river and took position in line of battle on the right of the Fifth Corps. The most of the day was spent in tearing up and destroying the railroad. Colonel Beckwith describes the method of destruction in this manner: “We would form on the uphill side of the track, and taking hold and lifting turn the track completely over, and removing the ties stack and cord [153] them, and setting fire to the piles, place the rails on top of the ties thus piled. The fire would heat a portion of the rails in the middle red hot. Then we would take the rails off the piles and wind them around trees or stumps or bend them double, and so effectually prevent their further use.”

The army of General Lee was found posted in an advantageous place, and strongly fortified, so that no attempt was made to assail him, and on the 26th another movement to the left was made. The division in this movement guarded the trains to Chesterfield Station, where Sheridan had arrived after his brilliant raid around Lee's army in which he had defeated the Confederate cavalry under Stewart at the outer defenses of Richmond, and inflicted an irreparable loss to the Confederate cause by the death of General Stewart, the most able and efficient leader of the cavalry of the South. Sheridan was in dire need of the supplies we brought him, both of food and ammunition. Resuming the march in the evening we reached and crossed the Pamunky River in the morning and pushed on by what seemed to be forced marches to Hanover Court House, and now having joined the other divisions of the Corps, we marched to Atlee's Station on the 30th and the next day arrived at Cold Harbor.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Sheridan (3)
G. W. C. Lee (3)
Stewart (2)
Clinton Beckwith (2)
Emory Upton (1)
Jack Schaffner (1)
Sheldon J. Redway (1)
John B. Gordon (1)
Ewell (1)
James W. Cronkite (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
21st (2)
May 13th (1)
10th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: