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Chapter 10:

May 3-20, 1864.

  • Our anticipations
  • -- order of march -- Grant's plan -- almost a stampede -- General Hancock -- Chancellorsville -- Todd's Tavern the Wilderness and its terrific battle -- by the left flank -- battle of the Po -- Spottsylvania -- the ghastly salient -- moving about -- the Tenth a four-gun Battery -- news from home.

It was with something of a thrill that, in the afternoon of May 3d, we heard orders for drill countermanded by those foreshadowing a march at dark. We did not shrink from the prospect as did some of the older soldiers, who had been scarred and battered in the months gone by. There was that about it which made all unwilling to be left behind. We wanted to have a part in the great campaign soon to begin. We wished to banish every trace of ‘band-box’ from the Battery and make a record as famous as that of Ricketts' company from Pennsylvania. We had seen just fighting enough to believe our organization composed of men who lacked only the opportunity to show that neither Massachusetts nor any other state had sons who would contend more manfully in the cause. Gen. Meade's address to the army, informing them of the movement about to begin, enforcing the tremendous issues involved and urging to heroic sacrifices for country and home, was read at evening roll-call to a hushed audience who felt that for them those [212] earnest words were weighty with meaning. Capt. Sleeper also addressed a few words to the men, stating the probable magnitude of the campaign before us, and impressing upon us the necessity of remaining at our posts. Whatever might befall individuals, we were to stand fast, ready for any order.

The advance to the Rapidan was to be made in two columns. The right column, consisting of the Fifth and Sixth corps, was to cross at Germania Ford,1 and the Second at Ely's, six miles farther down. Grant's plan2 was to cross the river below Lee's army and by a sudden movement turn his right flank, then, by fierce battles, beat and destroy his army.3 In case this plan failed, his alternative was to force him back by left-flank marches, and by this flank movement to follow him to Richmond.4 At eight o'clock, our artillery moved out of camp, and after advancing about four miles, parked in company with the rest of the artillery brigade and an extensive wagon train, awaiting the arrival of the infantry and its passage of the river. While we lay here, in momentary expectation of starting along, each man attempting to catch a nap in a position as comfortable as the uncertainties of the situation would permit, whether curled up on [213] the limber chests or at full length on the ground between the carriages,—at midnight we were startled from our drowsy state and brought to our feet by a roar and din, which, growing nearer every movement, made a crash as if the entire artillery brigade and the whole wagon and ambulance trains were dashing along at headlong gallop; and, indeed, such would have been the case had not the drivers sprung to their horses' bridles just in season to prevent it, for the sudden commotion seemed to animate them with a common impulse of rushing madly off. We afterwards learned that the tumult was started by a mule team, which, taking fright, ran furiously away, dragging its clattering wagon after it through the midst of the trains and batteries. The darkness and lateness of the hour, and the drowsiness of the men, made a combination of circumstances favorable for a general and disastrous stampede, that would have been a portentous omen with which to begin the spring campaign. As it was, the result proved quite serious. One lieutenant was mortally injured, and a dozen men more or less severely hurt, but, luckily for us, including none of our Company. A piece and caisson from the Sixth Maine Battery broke away and disappeared in the darkness, not to reappear until daylight.

Wednesday morning, May 4th, at 5 o'clock, we resumed our march, following the almost interminable columns of infantry across the Rapidan. The Second Corps was now 27,0005 strong. We joined Birney's Division of our old corps, and crossed the river at 10 A. M. Gen. Hancock was under instructions to march directly to Chancellorsville, and by 9 o'clock the infantry advance had reached that destination, [214] preceded, however, by Gregg's division of cavalry, which was thrown out easterly towards Fredericksburg, and southerly towards Todd's Tavern. We reached Chancellorsville about 3 P. M., and placed our guns in earthworks constructed a year previously.

It is a fact by no means insignificant for us to notice, that in the movement making to turn the enemy's right, to Hancock and his corps was given the most responsible place. This was undoubtedly due in large measure to the confidence Gen. Meade put in his many soldierly qualities, conspicuous among which was an implicit obedience of orders. With him to hear was to obey.6 It might naturally be expected that if the first part of Grant's plan for the campaign succeeded, Lee would fall upon and attempt to overwhelm the left wing of our army, with a view to re-establishing his line of communication southward; and ultimately, this was in substance what he did attempt to do, and that, too, with such spirit and determination that reinforcements were dispatched to Hancock until at one time he was in command of fully one-half of the entire army. While the original plan of the campaign failed of execution, the sequel proved ‘Hancock the Superb’ to be the right man in the right place.

It soon becoming apparent to us that no further movement of the Corps was contemplated this day, we devoted our leisure before sunset, in common with hundreds of others, to inspecting the topography of this most interesting battlefield, together [215] with the vestiges of the contest still visible. There was the old line of works hastily thrown up by the Third Corps. Old soldiers point out the spots where the leaden and iron storm fell hottest. The spectral outlines of shattered brick walls mark what was once the Chancellor House, used early in the battle as a hospital. It will be remembered that it was while leaning against one of its columns that Gen. Hooker was stunned by a shell which struck the pillar. Around it for some distance the ground was strewn with broken muskets, cartridgeboxes, belts, belt-plates, canteens, scraps of clothing, etc., taken from the wounded or left by the flying; but the saddest spectacle of all was in the woods on our right. We counted within an area of less than ten rods square, fifty skulls upon the surface of the ground. The graves in which the remains had been buried were so shallow that the bodies were scarcely below the general level in most cases; and the little soil thrown over them had either been washed off by rains or scraped away by animals, so that the bodies were lying about in all states of dismemberment. There were legs still cased in the army blue, and shoes yet filled with the foot. This want of proper attention to the slain of an enemy is perhaps to be palliated on the ground that the Rebels had an immense number of their own dead to bury,7 and that the digging of even a shallow grave in the woods, in earth thickly matted with roots and stones, is a difficult task, even for friendly hands. Some members of a New York regiment found the unburied remains of one of their sergeants, identifying them by the clothing and the false teeth which he wore, and gave them a Christian [216] burial. But as nightfall now approached we concluded our observations and returned to camp.

In the evening Gen. Hancock received orders to move at 5 A. M., Thursday morning, to Shady Grove Church, a place considerably south of the Orange Plank Road and well around Lee's flank, and to extend his right towards the Fifth Corps at Parker's store on the same road.8 After a good night's rest, the last quiet one we were destined to have for some time, at the appointed hour we were astir, joining Birney's division as before; and taking up our march south-easterly, we pursue that course for a time along a plank road, then turning abruptly to the right, we change our direction to south-westerly, arriving towards noon at Todd's Tavern, an unpretentious structure one story and a half in height, with no merits, architectural or otherwise, to warrant its becoming a conspicuous landmark in the history of this campaign. Here a halt had been ordered. Batteries were parked in luxuriant fields (luxuriant when contrasted with portions of country over which we moved). The infantry, having stacked arms, were stretched upon the ground; and, in short, all—generals and soldiers alike—lay carelessly about in the shade (for the day was quite warm), apparently as light-hearted as if they had no part in War's mission. But suddenly all is activity. The General issues from the Tavern, leaps quickly into his saddle, gives a few rapid orders to staff officers dispatching them to the various divisions; and in a brief space of time the corps is in line again and moving promptly back the road we came.9 This [217] course, however, we pursue only a short distance before bearing to the left, on what is known as the Brock Road. But before following the Corps further in this direction it will be interesting to make pause for a moment to note briefly the state of affairs calling for this retrograde:

My advance [says Gen. Hancock] was about two miles beyond Todd's tavern, when, at 9 A. M., I received a despatch from the Major-General commanding the Army of the Potomac to halt at the tavern as the enemy had been discovered on the Wilderness Pike. Two hours later I was directed to move my command up the Brock Road to its intersection with the Orange Plank Road.

It happened that while we bivouacked at Chancellorsville the evening of the day previous, Warren's corps, in advance of the right wing, had camped at Wilderness Tavern, situated at the junction of the Stevensburg Plank Road with the Orange, or, as we have just seen it termed, the Wilderness Pike. Ewell's corps, that part of Lee's army nearest the Rapidan, and his advance wing, was marching over the same pike to meet our army, and halted that night not above three miles from Warren's position, at Robertson's Tavern, already mentioned in the chapter on Mine Run. Each commander was ignorant of the vicinage of the other, partly due to the fact that our cavalry, which had been in advance during most of the afternoon, had been withdrawn and sent across to Parker's store, on the Plank Road. When Warren, therefore, attempted to resume his march, early Thursday morning, he found the enemy confronting him. Grant and Meade, both believing it to be the rear guard of Lee, who, they thought, must have retreated and left a divison merely to cover the movement, gave [218] Warren orders to brush it out of his track. This he at once began to do, and at first carried everything before him, but the other divisions of Ewell's corps coming up, assumed the offensive and gave Warren a rough handling for a time, inflicting a loss upon him of about three thousand men. It was now sufficiently manifest that the Rebel army was present in force and meant business, and although Grant would have much preferred not to fight in the Wilderness, he nevertheless decided to accept the gage of battle here thrown down, and, suspending the plan of marches decreed the day before, proceeded to concentrate the whole army for that purpose. This change of plan it was which caused us to turn in our tracks at Todd's Tavern.10

We pass along the road quite promptly at first. There are nearly ten miles intervening between us [219] and the right wing. Moreover, Hill's corps was pressing down the Plank Road, striving to gain its intersection with the Brock Road before our arrival. If he succeeds, our army is divided and there is hard fighting ahead. In anticipation of this contingency, Gen. Meade had sent Gen. Getty with a division of the Sixth Corps to hold this important position till the Second Corps came up. This he was doing right manfully, under a steadily increasing pressure from the enemy, when, toward 3 o'clock, the welcome cheer of our advance announced to him that help was at hand. From this time until nearly half past 4 was spent by the infantry in getting into position, and fortifying in the woods along the Brock Road. Then began that terrible roar of musketry occasioned by Hancock receiving orders to advance upon Hill and drive him back on the Plank Road beyond Parker's store.

About 4 o'clock, a few minutes before the attack already referred to began, the Tenth was ordered into position in a ploughed field, along a low ridge locally known as Poplar Neck Ridge. It appeared to be the only clearing in the neighborhood.11 We were on the extreme left of the line, supported by Barlow's division of infantry. But artillerists in this battle were at a liberal discount. In the attack on the Plank Road one section of Ricketts' [220] Battery (the one referred to in the notes) was moved along in rear of Birney's infantry as they advanced, and during the fight suffered severely in men and horses. At one time it was captured, but was afterwards retaken and then withdrawn, being replaced by a section of Dow's Sixth Maine Battery. With these exceptions, and that of our own brief engagement, yet to mention, the Second Corps artillery took no part in this terrible battle. It may be stated as a fact, curious in the history of battles, that although there were nearly three hundred guns on the field, only about twenty were used,12 such being the nature of the country in which the battle was fought.

After dark our position was changed a little to the right, where we remained till dawn. It was not permitted to unharness the horses that night, and we slept as we could, with one ear open for any alarm. So calm was the night it seemed impossible to believe that thousands of men lay within rifle-shot, ready to engage in deadly conflict at break of day. The only sound that reached the ear was the rumbling of ambulances, which rolled almost ceaselessly along (luring those dismal hours, giving us a tolerably definite idea of the severity of the afternoon's fighting.13 At early dawn we were back again in the ploughed field, but at 7 o'clock moved to a position still farther to the left, near two white cottages. Fully two hours before this, the morning stillness had been broken by a tremendous crash beyond the woods at our right, and this crash was continued in a prolonged roar. The reports from tens of thousands of muskets blended into a single [221] sound like that of a mighty cataract, and this was greatly intensified by the reverberations consequent upon the firing taking place in the woods. Gen. Hancock's own corps was strengthened on this eventful morning by the addition of three other divisions, so that he then held command of more than half of the army. For four long hours did this torrent of sound continue without even momentary cessation. The result was that Hancock had driven and routed the enemy's right, comprising two divisions of Hill's corps, a mile and a half; an advance, however, which he did not maintain, being driven back to his line on the Brock Road two hours afterwards.

In addition to the light batteries, some heavy siege guns were brought up and put in position on the ridge close by one of the cottages mentioned. It was a pitiful sight to see the anguish and terror of the women and children, who still clung to their homes. What could they do? Where could they go? They could not remain, for the enemy was likely to make their houses a mark for his shells; and go somewhere they must. Gathering up, therefore, a few articles of clothing, they departed, sobbing bitterly. How much misery of this description was entailed by the war!

Before our position, and parallel with it, lay a narrow valley. Through this ran the railroad already alluded to in the notes. Beyond the valley, which was more or less sprinkled with shrubbery and small trees, was another crest, well wooded, but open on the hither slope. Through this opening ran a road down by our left to the Brock Road. Our distance from this clear slope was about eight hundred yards. We were ordered to keep our eyes vigilantly in that direction, lest the enemy should [222] plant a battery there or make an advance from that quarter. But having done this some time, our vigils relax, and we lie scattered about in the shade, some asleep, some chatting upon various topics or guessing at the whereabouts of a Rebel battery, the whistle of whose shots is so distinctly heard in our direct front, and whom they are engaged with, when suddenly a puff of smoke issues from the edge of the woods on the slope at the left of the road, and simultaneously a shell bursts low directly between two of our guns.

There must have been a comical sight presented to the view of the Rebel officer in charge of that battery, if at the moment his glass was levelled on us, for a livelier getting up and scrambling for posts could not be imagined. Shell after shell came whizzing over us, plunging into the woods in our rear, or exploding above us, scattering their fragments with a horrible sound that made the flesh creep. They had us in perfect range from the first shot. One of their missiles took off the head of an orderly as he sat on his horse.

But whatever amusement our appearance may have caused at the outset, it certainly was of brief continuance, and soon gave way to an earnestness to which we are sure the aforesaid officer would bear convincing testimony. The moments that we waited for the first round seemed long, for we stood out on the bald ridge, a conspicuous mark; but our turn came at last, and now our six ‘Rodmans,’ opening their iron throats, send back greetings two to one, and soon ‘dust’ them out of their position. The whole affair did not occupy twenty-five minutes. We expended about seventy rounds of ammunition during its continuance.14 Our pickets who [223] were thrown out along through the valley, when they came in at night, reported that we dismounted one of the Rebel guns. This concluded our part in the fighting of the battle,—a small part, it is true, but nevertheless well done. No one regretted more than ourselves that we were compelled to so much inactivity while the hard fighting was in progress.

The struggle continued with more or less desperation during the day. At 4 o'clock Lee assaulted the Second Corps with the greater part of Longstreet's and Hill's corps a second time; but after gaining a temporary advantage, he was repulsed with considerable loss.15 The next morning (Saturday, May 7th), we threw up earthworks, but aside from skirmishing, which continued more or less during the forenoon, the day was comparatively quiet. Both armies were willing to be assailed, but each had suffered too severely to assume the offensive. During the day the Battery was separated, the left section resuming position in the ploughed field, near an Irishman's cabin. At night the sections came together again and went down on the flat, back of the ridge to pass the night.16

Morning of the 8th dawned warm and smoky. It was the Sabbath, but its holy associations were lost sight of in the unceasing activities of war, and an- [224]

Where the Battery stood in the Wilderness as it looked in 1890.

other movement was projected, having for its object the passing around Lee's right flank by a march to the left, and placing our army at Spottsylvania Court House between him and Richmond. This was the first in that continued series of moves by the left flank which did not end until the Rebellion collapsed at Appomattox. It was a surprise to the army for the prediction was general that Grant would now retreat across the Rapidan. That wasn't Grant.

The Fifth Corps was in the van, having left the lines and the Wilderness, and started at 9 o'clock the evening previous, with directions to move to the Court House by the Brock Road.17Maj. Gen. [225] Hancock, commanding Second Corps, will move to Todd's Tavern, following Fifth Corps closely,’ is a verbatim extract from Gen. Meade's order of march, distinctly outlining the next course we were to pursue. Owing to delays experienced by the Fifth Corps we did not march until about 9 o'clock A. M. of the Sabbath, again accompanying Birney's division. The morning was decidedly hot, and under a broiling sun we set forward at a quick pace to Todd's Tavern. Many a poor fellow dropped by the roadside on this ten-mile march, utterly overcome by the heat or fatigue. The firing now heard in our front told us that the enemy had been found in that direction, and at that very moment our advance might be in pressing need of support. Reaching the tavern about noon, we hardly recognized the spot, so great were the changes wrought in its appearance during the past three days. Only the day before a severe cavalry contest had taken place here between the forces of Gregg and Fitz-Hugh Lee. This was an important point for the Union army to control, as here, what is known as the Catharpin Road enters the Brock Road from the westward. The promising growths of wheat and corn were trampled in the dust, and fences were laid low in all directions.

Although by Gen. Meade's order of march this was our destination, the positive indications of active work farther to the left led us to believe our services would be required in that direction ere [226] long; but owing to the large number of troops that were passing over this road,—it being the thoroughfare for the fighting part of the entire army,— and more especially because Gen. Meade feared an attack on the rear of the column, the Second Corps, now having the left of the line, held fast at Todd's.18 Just at dusk, while we were unharnessing, and addressing ourselves to preparations for supper, a lively succession of musketry volleys broke out in our front, and in a moment Gens. Grant and Hancock were spurring down in that direction to get at its meaning. A line of cavalry was at once deployed to the rear to check skulkers. We hastily replaced the harnesses, and stood awaiting orders to advance in the direction of the fighting. The wounded men, a few of whom came by us to the rear, and the familiar music of stray minies, by no means permitted our interest in the occasion to flag. But after awhile it became evident that our services were not to be needed, and the horses were unharnessed, for the first time in three days, and thoroughly groomed.19

During the succeeding night, a detail of our infantry were engaged in throwing up intrenchments, [227] into which we moved the next morning early, strengthening, to some extent, those along the battery front. At 7.30 we joined the Red Diamonds once more, and moved down the Brock Road still further to the left, but at noon were ordered back to the tavern. It was with no slight degree of satisfaction, however, that we turned our backs upon this dust-covered spot for the last time at 3 P. M., for, owing to the excessive travel over the road, the surface was reduced to an impalpable powder, which with the slightest movement filled the air, and had deposited a stratum upon us that made us grayer than the grayest of the ‘Johnnies.’

We direct our course along the Brock Road for nearly a mile and a half, then turning abruptly to the right, proceed southerly for three-quarters of a mile, issuing from the woods at what was known as Widow Talley's farm. By order of Gen. Birney we unlimbered on some high ground, and shelled a Rebel wagon train whose course along a road parallel to our own we could trace by the long line of dust rising above the trees. We made no long stop here, but moved on moderately, and crossing the Po River, bivouacked near the road for the night, unaware of our close proximity to the enemy. But our lines were, in fact, a short distance from those of the Rebels, for Gen. Hancock had been ordered to cross the Po with the hope of capturing a part of the above wagon train, It was for this reason that the Second Corps, still holding the left of the Union line, was pressed thus far forward. Night came on, however, before full dispositions were made, and at dawn of the 10th it was too late, as the train had gone by. Nevertheless, Gen. Hancock continued his forward demonstration. The plan of placing the army at Spottsylvania Court House between Lee [228] and Richmond had failed,20 and now the two antagonists once more confronted each other in long extended lines of battle.

The morning was ushered in by heavy cannonading, both sides seeming glad of the opportunity to thunder their defiance at one another through these noisy and destructive implements of war which had been compelled to remain silent in the recent death-grapple. Our centre section was temporarily detached, and engaged for a time with the enemy's artillery. Despatches were read at the head of the respective organizations, announcing that Gen. Sherman was driving Joe Johnston before him, and that Gen. Butler, having beaten Beauregard, had got between him and Richmond, thus having Petersburg at his mercy. It was with a comfortable feeling, that matters were going well all round, that we received orders about 11 A. M. to advance, as we then supposed, across the Po,21 not knowing at the time that we were already on the south side of it. It turned out, however, that we were being withdrawn across it, in compliance with an order Gen. Hancock had received to send two divisions to aid in an attack to be made by the Sixth and Fifth corps upon fortifications in front of the latter. In conformity with this order, the divisions of Gibbon and Birney were retired,—we, of course, being inseparable from the latter. We marched leisurely along across [229] Graves' Farm, down over the pontoon, closely following the infantry, when a few rattling shots, soon increasing to a fierce volley, broke out alarmingly near. It was an attack on the rear of the retiring divisions. ‘Double-quick!’ comes the order; the cannoneers mount, and the horses are urged on with increased speed. The roar of battle is before us as we hasten. Crash goes a shell through the trees, immediately followed by another

Jonas W. Strout

Jacob B. Sulham

that explodes over us. Thicker and thicker they come. We are in full range of a Rebel battery, and wheel into an opening on our left to unlimber for action. We are eager to commence firing. But a dire contingency now appears,—the enemy are not within our range. Nothing remains to be done, then, but to get out of this place as lively as may be. The caissons are ordered to stand fast while the pieces pass on down across a little run, and soon come to a halt in a hollow. [230]

But we have not escaped this time unscathed, for a ragged piece of shell, on its errand of death, shattered the lower jaw of the off swing horse on the Fourth Detachment caisson, and another passed directly through the lower part of the abdomen of the driver, inflicting a mortal wound from which he fell from his saddle and expired in less than five minutes. ‘Tell them I (lied doing my duty,’ were the last words of Emerson B. Mullett, the first man in the Company to be killed in battle. Wrapped in his blanket he was laid in a grave hastily made by his comrades, and a simple inscription on a smooth pine board, taken from a cracker box, was put at his head, marking the last resting-place of one of the first martyrs to Freedom and Union at the battle of Po River.

A wheel of the Fourth Detachment caisson was demolished soon afterwards, making it necessary to mount a spare one under somewhat trying circumstances.

Our stay in a place of comparative safety is of short duration, for soon we are moving rapidly by a road. in the rear, and at last emerge on another part of the line, and take position on high ground—a former cornfield—in rear of Pritchett's house, near which we passed when we came up from the pontoon. The situation is a good one, for it not only commands the approaches from the river, but has in complete range the slope on the opposite side. Why we are detached from Birney's division, which has gone on, and put in this position, a brief explanation will show. After the withdrawal of Gibbon and Birney the division of Barlow only remained across the Po, and as the enemy showed a disposition to attack it in its isolated position, Hancock was ordered to withdraw that also; but thereby hangs a large [231] part of this very Battle of the Po. Two brigades of the divison were drawn from the enemy's front, by skilful handling, without molestation from the enemy. But, encouraged by what seemed like a forced retreat, Hill's troops fiercely assailed the other two remaining, who, nevertheless, checked their assailants in several stubborn stands, finally retiring across the river, and taking up the pontoon.22

It was to aid in covering the crossing of this division, then, that we were assigned our present location. We take in the long, dark lines of our forces, as they lie along the opposite slope, the smoke and dust from the batteries,23 and the flashes from the muskets. A column of Union troops is marching towards the river when a Rebel battery opening upon them, shatters them, and they take refuge lower down the slope, where they re-form and resume their march under its shelter. We now train our guns on this battery and open fire, but scarcely have we done so ere an orderly rides up with orders to cease firing, as our shots endanger Union troops24 Then comes a season of mortal agony for us, long drawn out. The Rebel battery opens, exploding its first shell on our left flank, whose fragments sweep through our guns, taking down the two lead-horses on the piece of the Second Detachment. Another disables two more, one of them the iron-gray of Lieut. Granger, and wounds private Augustus C. White, lead driver on the First Detachment piece, in the leg. Private John T. Goodwin, pole driver, is also wounded [232] slightly. To this grim kind of music we are compelled to dance attendance in our exposed position, with positive instructions against letting our Rodmans ‘talk back.’ The horses are soon ordered down behind the hill, for greater security; but we cannoneers lie flat on the ground and watch that battery, hugging the bosom of mother earth with a display of affection never realized before, as a puff of smoke is seen to issue from those distant woods, and we await with suspended breath the succeeding moment to elapse, whose termination may lay some of us by the side of Mullett. A heavy plunge close beside us announces that the shell has come, and we are sprinkled with the flying gravel. Another puff, and an explosion overhead fills the air with hurtling missiles of death. What shall we do? We are dying a thousand deaths a minute, so intense is our feeling under this suspense. We finally receive the welcome orders to draw back down behind the crest; but this comparatively blissful seclusion lasts only a few minutes ere we are ordered back again, and again we commence firing with the same result as before. A second time we retire, by orders, and by orders are restored to the post a third and final time. The last brigade was now across, and at this moment Gen. Barlow, at the head of his division, came over the hill past our guns. This elicited fresh attention from the Rebel battery, at which the General ordered his color-bearer to lower the headquarters flag. ‘Why don't this battery open fire on them?’ said the General, addressing no one in particular. He was speedily informed that we were acting under orders. Nothing would have pleased us better or relieved us so much as an opportunity to measure mettle with this persistent antagonist. Tenth Batterymen saw war [233] in much worse aspects many times afterwards, and were exposed to greater dangers, but never in their term of service did they suffer such an hour of soul-harrowing agony as that spent on the eminence overlooking the Po, back of Pritchett's house. We were marched from place to place during the afternoon, once going into battery on the right of the Fifth Corps, remaining, however, but a short time. The batteries could not seem to be used to advantage, and were finally ordered to the rear, where we parked near the ambulance train for the night.

It will be seen from the above narration, that the battle of the Po was participated in on the Union side by troops of the Second Corps only, and chiefly Barlow's division. But there was still severer fighting down the lines front of the Fifth Corps, for the possession of Laurel Hill. In the desperate and bloody but fruitless charges made to gain possession of it, the Second Corps lost very heavily on this same 10th of May. At 6 o'clock, a charge was made by two brigades of the Sixth Corps, one of which was Gen. Russell's, which did such glorious work at Rappahannock Station. They carried the first line of works, taking 900 prisoners and several guns; but, being unsupported, fell back after dark, leaving the guns on the field. We did not hear until the next day of the fall of that gallant soldier, Gen. Sedgwick. He was killed on the 9th, by a Rebel sharpshooter, while giving directions for strengthening the works in his front.

During the following day (Wednesday), comparative quiet reigned along the lines. The weather was warm and muggy, and the shower which came up in the afternoon, while very refreshing and much needed, was not without its disagreeable aspects to those having to make themselves comfortable on [234] the ground. But Fortune had decreed that we should not be troubled at present with any great efforts in this latter respect. We had just unharnessed, and were making preparations to pass the night as comfortably as circumstances allowed, when orders to move were received. For Grant, having apparently relinquished the idea of crushing out Lee's army by superiority of numbers, had now resolved to use a little strategy.25 A point had been found in the right-centre of the enemy's line, that was considered a favorable place against which to make a sudden sally. The night of the 11– 12th was selected as the time for the enterprise, and Hancock's corps as the assaulting force. At 11 o'clock the Battery was on the move, for the corps was shifting over from the right to a point opposite the place designated for attack. By this time a drizzling rain had set in, and then followed such a march! Toiling and stumbling on in the darkness through the mud and the woods, over roots and stumps, into puddles and pitfalls, crowded by gun-carriages and jostled by horsemen in the narrow cart paths, about 2 o'clock we reached a clearing, and halted for orders. Here, in the rain and mud, dirty, sticky, and by no means sweet-tempered, we wore away the time till daylight, looking longingly towards the East. Dawn at last appeared gray and foggy, and at the same time cannonading was heard, showing the attack in progress. As soon as objects were distinctly outlined we were ordered forward, and started off over roads newly cut through the forests, and partially corduroyed, till at last we emerged on a high, open hill which conmanded [235] a limited view of the Rebel works when the fog had lifted. We were at the ‘Stevens House’ (or ‘Deserted House,’ as we called it) where we placed our guns ‘In Battery’ and here came Generals Grant and Meade with their staffs and viewed through field glasses the progress of the attack making by Hancock on the Rebel works. For at half past 4 in the morning of Thursday, the 12th, he had moved from the Brown House, with irresistible onset capturing the Rebel salient in the centre of their line with nearly 4000 prisoners, thirty colors and 20 pieces of artillery. The history of this event is most thrilling, but is too well known to need repetition here.26

A few buildings stood near us, filled with wounded and a large number of prisoners. Among the wounded lay a lieutenant, shot through the body. His wound was mortal, but his spirit was still up-borne with fire and enthusiasm at the grand charge of the morning. Raising himself on an elbow, his eyes kindling with a wild light, he began to portray in glowing language the great charge. ‘We swept right over their works, and found them just drawing on their boots, and captured them without firing a shot. Some of them ran like sheep. I saw one captain capture five men and bring then off;’—and thus he continued, apparently regardless that his life was departing with every syllable. His surgeons found it impossible to keep him quiet, [236] for he was still carried away by the ecstasies of triumph, and while the spell was upon him, it extinguished all suffering and thought of himself.

The intention had been for us to have a part in the assault, but owing to various mischances, we were prevented from doing so, although in the fierce contest that took place for the possession of the salient during the day we were under fire, exposed both to shells and bullets. During the forenoon, the prisoners, and a part of the captured artillery, defiled by us to the rear, under guard, and we, in common with hundreds of others not engaged in active duty at that moment, passed them in review. They were a good-looking set of men, notwithstanding the ragged and faded gray and butternut garb in which they were clad. Many of them seemed quite crestfallen at the handsome manner in which they had been ‘gobbled up,’ while others wore a stern and sullen expression, which meant war to the bitter end.

The thunder now began to roll, and the rain poured in torrents; nevertheless, the fighting continued with relentless vigor. Lee had resolved to retake, at whatever cost, the works so summarily wrested from him, and to this end made at least five desperate assaults on the position during the day, but each time was repulsed, with tremendous slaughter on both sides. It is now generally conceded to have been the fiercest struggle of the war. At times it was hand-to-hand warfare. It is a singular fact in the history of this war, that the bayonet was seldom used; but in this engagement a very large number of wounds were inflicted with that instrument. At times, the standards of both armies were planted simultaneously on opposite sides of the breastwork. At midnight, after twenty hours [237] continuous fighting, finding all his efforts to regain possession of the angle—now a ghastly trench of death—unavailing, Lee sullenly withdrew.

Our labors during the forenoon of this eventful day were trying in the extreme. We were marched and countermarched up hill and down dale, through the rain and mire, taking position at the ‘Stevens House’ twice, but at rest only a brief time in any place. At last our wanderings ceased, and our guns were ordered into the ravine just in rear of the point of heaviest fighting, where we lay all the afternoon, exposed to stray shots. In this place, one of the Fourth Detachment drivers—Edwin F. Damrell—was hit by a spent ball, which made a slight abrasion of the skin over the heart.

Columns of men, with fixed and somewhat jaded look, marched sternly up past us to the very front of the tempest. They were mainly from the Fifth Corps, which was now the right of the army, but from which two divisions were taken to support the Second and Sixth corps while they held the captured salient Continuous lines of ambulances bore back the hundreds who were wounded in this day's battle.

Night at last set in, with the rain falling in increasing quantities, and most of us being without blankets, turned in upon the wet tarpaulins, lying on one half, and doubling the other half over us, and, being well exhausted with the fatigues of the past twenty-four hours, slept soundly; but the firing continued even after Lee's withdrawal at midnight, and the whistling of a bullet fell now and then on the ear of the wakeful.

Morning of the 13th broke bright and clear, with comparative quiet in front. The Rebels having fallen back to an interior line of fortifications, our [238] piece drivers were sent up to draw out from behind the works such of the captured artillery as had not been removed the day before. They returned with one gun and five caissons, and described the sight to be witnessed at and near the salient as beggaring all description. The slope in front of the salient had been carefully cleared of all material obstructions by the enemy, and along this lay scattered many dead men, wearing the Union blue, whom a burial-party were rapidly consigning to soldiers' graves. They lay thickest next the breastwork, where they had fallen fighting hand to hand. To the right lay the piece horses of Battery ‘C and I,’ which were shot as they were making a ‘left about’ to unlimber. Behind the works stood a heavy growth of hard wood, and just inside them was a vast trench from which the earth had been taken for their construction. This ditch, in places, was literally filled with the enemy's dead and wounded. I went up with the drivers to get the guns and remained to look over the field. In the trench I saw the Rebels lying four deep, with some of the wounded at the bottom, now and then sending up the most agonizing shrieks of pain. A more horrible or heart-stirring sight seems scarcely conceivable. The dead lay in all kinds of attitudes as they fell, and the rain had added horror to their ghastliness. Not far apart lay two dead Rebel colonels, and behind a log were six men, all of whom I thought dead, until I discovered the eyes of one of them following me in my roaming. There he lay mute—until addressed—and motionless, three of his dead comrades pressing him on the one hand and two on the other. He was wounded in three places, but made no signs of pain. Feeling somewhat interested in his case, I called for help, and, [239] lifting him out, laid him upon a blanket, hoping to get him into an ambulance; but upon seeking an ambulance sergeant, he said there was no present opportunity, as not all of our own wounded were yet cared for, but that the enemy's would be attended to as soon as possible.27

So furiously did the tempest rage at the angle, so numerous were the bullets fired from either side, especially from the Union, that nearly all the trees standing within musket-range were killed by them,28 and one sound oak, twenty-one inches in diameter, was absolutely cut off by bullets alone. A section of it may now be seen in the War Department at Washington, to which it was presented by Gen. N. A. Miles, who commanded a brigade of Barlow's division in the charge.

Now came days of moving about, and changing positions.

‘No mere general statement,’ says Swinton, very truly, ‘can give any idea of the enormous amount of labor, suffering, and privation that befell the troops in these continual shiftings of the corps from point to point of the long line.’

The following extracts from a private diary detail our movements during tile week succeeding the battle. They were by no means as onerous or varied as befell many of the organizations,—in fact, we got well rested, and prepared for a fresh start in these days. [240]

Saturday, May 14. Moved to the right a little and took position. Four other batteries on our right. The breastworks thrown up by the Fourth New York Heavy Artillery.

Sunday May 15. Left works at 3 A. M. Came three miles to large house used as hospital (Harris House) near army headquarters. Lay there all day and night with large part of Second Corps.

Monday, 16 Moved up across the road. Went to “Stevens House” awhile in P. M. Back again at night.

Tuesday, ,17. To “Stevens House” again. Back again at night. On the move all night, and

Wednesday, 18, brought up at “Stevens House.” Went into battery on the hill near the house. Grant and Meade there. First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery came by. Left about noon, and came down by Sixth Corps ambulance train.

Thursday, 19. Left camp about 9 and moved down the left to the Ny River. Fight in the evening on our right flank. Were ordered out with pieces, but came back about 10 o'clock. First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery engaged.

It will be seen by the above extracts that there were no movements made by us to the right beyond the ‘Stevens House,’ for the army was gradually swinging to the left. After the battle of the Wilderness, Culpepper was abandoned as a base of supplies and Fredericksburg opened. To this point were transported the wounded and prisoners of the recent contests.

Our movement; on the 15th was due to Hancock being directed to transfer the divisions of Gibbon and Barlow to the Fredericksburg road, and on the night of the 17th to be on hand in the attack Gen. Hancock had been ordered to make at daylight on the morning of the 18th, upon the intrenchments occupied by the enemy in front of the captured line of works.29

Our move on the 19th was one in connection with Barlow's, Birney's, and Gibbon's divisions, which [241] took post near Anderson's Mills on the Ny.30 Here orders were received to be in readiness to march at dark towards Bowling Green; and it was while preparations were making for this movement that the corps was called upon to aid in checking a bold dash against our right flank. Gen. Ewell, who was undoubtedly still smarting at Hancock's sudden swoop upon him on the 12th, wishing to redeem himself, had passed around our right undiscovered, as it had been drawn in somewhat preparatory to the contemplated move, had seized the Fredericksburg road, and was possessing himself of an ammunition and subsistence train that was on the way to the army, when Gen. Tyler and his division of artillerymen,31 who were holding this flank, assailed him and drove him into the woods. Their own loss was heavy, for raw troops never fight to the best advantage to themselves, but, nevertheless, they displayed great pluck and audacity. Troops coming up from the Second, Fifth, and Sixth corps charged through the woods, at 3 o'clock the following morning, striking the rear of Ewell's column and capturing about four hundred prisoners, besides picking up many dead and wounded. It was a bold move for the Rebels, but evidently not a profitable one.

During this week, when on our way to take position at some point in the line, orders came to turn in two of our guns. The fact that all the batteries were to be thus reduced mollified our feelings somewhat. [242] In accordance with the order, the guns of the centre section were ordered to the rear, and for the next five months we were a four instead of a six-gun battery.

Friday, May 20, was a quiet day with us, nothing occurring to break the reigning quiet except the arrival of a mail—the first since we left Stevensburg. It opened to us once more the outer world. We eagerly scanned the Boston papers to ascertain what had really been accomplished in the campaign and read with some amusement, not wholly unmingled with disgust, that Lee's army was ‘utterly routed and fleeing in confusion’ which, like so much of the trash published by the papers during the war, would have been decidedly ‘important if true.’

But now came orders to be in readiness for another move.

Morning reports.


May 10. Emerson B. Mullett killed by shell through groin. Augustus C. White wounded in the leg by shell and sent to hospital. John T. Goodwin slight wound in leg. Two horses killed and two wounded.

May 11. One horse slightly wounded.

May 12. Edwin F. Damrell slightly wounded in breast by spent ball.

May 13. One horse slightly wounded. May 15. One horse abandoned—worn out.

May 17. Turned in at Pratt's Landing two horses and two pieces complete. Lieut. W. G. Rollins, Serg't G. M. Townsend, G. B. Nichols, E. J. Wilson, Devereaux, Sawyer, L. Hunt sent with pieces.

May 19. One officer and seven enlisted men returned from Pratt's Landing.

1 Also called Germanna, this being the original name. So named from a colony of Germans that came over during the reign of Queen Anne. They settled here and were employed in working the mines of the neighborhood. Near here, too, stood the residence of Col. Spottswood, Governor of Virginia, early in the last century, after whom Spottsylvania County was named, the sylvania being the Latinized meaning of woods.

2 Grant and his Campaigns. Copper.

3 That this plan was not altogether unreasonable, appears from the disparity in the strength of the two armies. Lee's rolls showing as present for duty a force of 52,626 men—foot, horse, and artillery, while Meade's, including Burnside's corps, an independent command, numbered at this time not far from 140,000 men of all arms.—Swinton's Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac.

4 Grant and his Campaigns. Coppee.

5 Private letter to the author from Gen. Hancock.

6 Hancock may be characterized as the ideal of a soldier; gifted with a magnetic presence and a superb personal gallantry, he was one of those lordly leaders who upon the actual field of battle rule the hearts of troops with a potent and irresistible mastery.—Swinton's Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac.

7 Loss of the Rebels, 10,281 in killed and wounded.—Lee: Report

8 This road has already been alluded to in the Mine Run chapter. It runs generally parallel to the Orange Turnpike at this point, but is farther south.

9 I have been credibly informed, since writing the above, that Gen. Hancock, hearing evidences of a sharp conflict in progress, and beliving his services were required in that direction, was already well on the way when orders to that effect met him from Gen. Meade.


The field where the first rencontre of the armies had taken place, and where it was now decreed the battle should be fought, was that region known as ‘The Wilderness.’ It is impossible to conceive a field worse adapted to the movements of a grand army. The whole face of the country is thickly wooded, with only an occasional opening, and intersected by a few narrow wood roads. The region rests on a bed of mineral rocks, and, for above a hundred years, extensive mining has here been carried on. To feed the mines, the timber of the country for many miles had been cut down, and in its place there had arisen a dense undergrowth of low-limbed and scraggy pines, stiff and bristling, chincapins, scrub-oaks, and hazel. It is a region of gloom and the shadow of death. Maneuvering here was necessarily out of the question, and only Indian tactics told. The troops could only receive direction by a point of the compass; for not only were the lines of battle entirely hidden from the sight of the commander, but no officer could see ten files on each side of him. Artillery was wholly ruled out of use; the massive concentration of three hundred guns stood silent, and only an occasional piece or section could be brought into play in the roadsides. Cavalry was still more useless. But in that horrid thicket there lurked two hundred thousand men, and through it lurid fires played; and though no array of battle could be seen, there came out of its depths the crackle and roll of musketry like the noisy boiling of some hell-caldron, that told the dread story of death. Such was the field of the battle of the Wilderness; and General Grant appointed that at five o'clock of the morning the fight should be renewed. Combinations or grand tactics there were none; the order of battle was simple, and was to all the corps—Attack all along the line. Swinton's Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac.

11 The following extract is from Gen. Hancock's official report:

Barlow's division with the exception of Frank's brigade, . . . . held the left of my line and was thrown forward on some high clear ground in front of the Brock Road. This elevated ground commanded the country for some distance to the right and left, covering the Fredericksburg and Orange Court House railroad in front. Owing to the dense forest which covered my front, this was the only point on my line where artillery could have an effective range, and I therefore directed that all of the batteries of my command, save Dow's Sixth Maine Battery, and one section of Ricketts' “F” Co., First Pennsylvania Artillery, should be placed in position there, supported by Barlow's division, and forming the extreme left of the line of battle of the army.’

12 Grant and his Campaigns. Coppee.

13 Hancock continued his unavailing efforts to drive Hill, till eight o'clock, when night shutting down on the darkling woods, ended the struggle.—Swinton's Twelve Decisive Battles.

14 Gen. Hancock was unapprised of this little interchange, as the following extract from a private letter to the writer goes to show:—

‘The batteries of Ricketts and Dow were the only ones closely engaged on my lines during the battle of the Wilderness. Some of the corps batteries posted on the high clear ground on the left may (during the two days contest) have thrown a few shells over our lines and into the forest where the enemy was supposed to be; but if so, that was all they could do, owing to the dense woods which concealed our troops as well as the enemy.’


The loss of the Second Corps in the Wilderness, not including the Fourteenth Indiana Regiment, was 3,761. Of these 359 were missing; the rest killed or wounded. Hancock's Official Report.


The losses of the Union army in this battle are put at 20,000, including killed, wounded, and missing, and those of the enemy, by their own statements, as at least 8,000. American Conflict. Greeley.

17 As an illustration of the part chance sometimes plays in ordering the fate of battles, Gen. Lee, taking note of the fact that our army was withdrawing, but not knowing whither, instructed Gen. R. H. Anderson, who had succeeded to the command of Longstreet's corps after the fall of the latter, to draw out of position after nightfall and hold himself in readiness to march to Spottsylvania Court House in the morning; but finding no suitable place to camp on account of the burning woods, he began his march that night simultaneously with the Fifth Corps.

18 Except Gibbon's division, which was sent forward towards Spottsylvania Court House in the afternoon.


At 5.30 P. M., when Col. Miles was returning from his reconnoissance towards Corbin's Bridge, he was attacked by Mahone's brigade of Hill's corps, which was then marching towards Spottsylvania Court House. As soon as the firing commenced on Col. Miles's front, 1 directed Gen. Barlow to send a brigade to his support. The remaining troops were held in readiness to march in the same direction if required. About this time I was informed that the enemy's infantry was also advancing on the Brock Road to attack my right. I therefore directed that Col. Miles should retire slowly toward my main line of battle at Todd's Tavern. This movement was executed with great skill and success by that officer, who, while accomplishing it, repelled two spirited attacks of the enemy, inflicting severe loss upon him. After the second repulse of the enemy, I withdrew Miles's command inside of the intrenchments at Todd's Tavern. Hancock's Official Report.

20 The cavalry escort of Gen. Meade blocked Warren's way an hour and a half at Todd's Tavern, and two miles beyond he was retarded by waiting three hours for Merritt's cavalry to clear his way. They gave it up about 6 A. M. of the 10th, and got out of his way. But these delays had given Longstreet's column, under Anderson, time to arrive and head him off, which they did at Ajsop's Farm.—Warren: Notes on the Rapidan Campaign.

21 At this crossing we noticed, for the first time, pontoon-boats covered with canvas, instead of being entirely constructed of wood,—a change which made transportation, and the labor of the pontoniers, lighter.

22 During the heat of the contest the woods between these troops and the river took fire, so that they were compelled to fight a fierce foe in their front and the fire in their rear. But notwithstanding this complication they held the enemy in check.

23 The Second Corps lost its first gun in this battle, it having become hopelessly sunk in a marsh.

24 The opposing lines at this point were very close.

25 ‘Shortly before the opening of the Rapidan campaign, Gen. Meade, in conversation with the lieutenant-general, was telling him that he proposed to maneuver thus and so; whereupon Gen. Grant stopped him at the word “maneuver,” and said, “Oh! I never maneuver.” ’—Army of the Potomac. Swinton.

26 We cannot refrain, however, from repeating a little incident that grew out of this event. Among the prisoners taken were Generals Johnson and Stewart. The latter was an old army friend of Hancock, who, upon observing him among the prisoners, cordially offered his hand to him, saying, ‘How are you, Stewart?’ The haughty Rebel refused it, saying, ‘I am General Stewart of the Confederate Army, and under the circumstances I decline to take your hand.’ To which Hancock immediately replied, ‘And under any other circumstances, General, I should not have offered it.’

27 What became of him afterwards, of course, is not known. A more stoical case I never saw. He manifested no great warmth of desire to get off the field, and displayed no disappointment after being apprised that he could not be removed yet. He made no conversation, only in answer to inquiries, and seemed perfectly reconciled to whatever Fate had in store, evidently not expecting much consideration from the ‘Yanks,’ although not saying so. He was a member of the Twenty-first Mississippi Regiment.

28 Lossing, Vol. II.

29 It is scarcely necessary to add that our troops, after capturing a line of rifle-pits, were repulsed with considerable loss, the Rebels being now so strongly intrenched

30 ‘Owing to the losses in action and the expiration of the term of service of many regiments of Mott's division (4th), it had become so reduced in numbers that I issued an order on the 13th of May consolidating it into a brigade, and assigning it to Birney's division.’— Hancock's Official Report.

31 ‘On the 17th Tyler's division of Heavy Artillery, Brig. Gen. R. O. Tyler commanding, and the Corcoran Legion (Infantry), joined the Second Corps, making in all a reinforcement of eight thousand (8,000) men.’—Hancock's Official Report.

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