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Chapter 11:

May 20 to June 1, 1864.

  • By the left flank—‘fresh fields and Pastures New’
  • -- Bowling Green -- North Anna -- Chesterfield bridge and that invincible Rebel Battery -- by the left flank -- across the Pamunkey -- at Tolopotomoy Creek.

It had become evident that Lee's position was now so strong, all attempts to force him from it by direct assault would be simple madness. Accordingly a new movement to the left flank was begun, in which the Second Corps, preceded by Torbert's cavalry, led off. The movement began on the evening of May 20, under cover of darkness. The Battery broke park about 12 P. M. and joined Tyler's heavy artillerists. Our march was along the road to Fredericksburg in an easterly direction until we reached Massaponax Church, where a turn was made to the southward.

The fact that our course took us easterly made the croakers happy. ‘We are now surely withdrawing,’ they said, ‘and active campaigning is over for the present;’ but our sudden and positive change of direction to the south was very saddening to these theorizers, who were ever presaging ill upon the slightest provocation.

The First Massachusetts Regiment, whose time had expired, and who were now on their way homeward, marched along with us, rejoicing at the prospect of the happiness the near future had in store for them. [244]

Once under way, we kept the road all right, and when morning came, no time was allowed us for rest or coffee. We were bent on another flank movement, and success was contingent on dispatch. Our route lay through a fine section of country, which showed none of the war scars of the territory left behind.

Here were fields with sprouting wheat and growing corn and luxuriant clover; lowing herds, and the perfume of blossoms, and the song of summer birds; homesteads of the Virginia planter (everything on a large and generous scale), and great ancestral elms, dating back to the time before our forefathers learned to be Rebels. Coming, as the army so lately did, from where the tread of hostile feet for three years had made the country bare and barren as a threshing-floor, the region through which it now passed seemed a very Araby the Blest. Army of the Potomac. Swinton.

The barns and sheds were filled with tobacco in various stages of curing, to which lovers of the weed freely helped themselves.

A short halt was made at Guiney's Station; then, pressing on, we arrived at Bowling Green about noon, thirsty and dusty. This is a small settlement, forty-five miles north of Richmond, having in 1860 a white population of 237. There was not an able-bodied white man to be seen, but women, children, and negroes abounded. Some of the women were communicative, yet seemingly so only to give utterance to sentiments of the most intense disloyalty. ‘You'll be coming back over these roads quicker than you are going now.’ ‘Are you going “On to Richmond?” ’ ‘You'll all lay your bones in the ground before you get a sight of it,’—were mild specimens of the remarks with which they cheered us on in their most withering manner.

But we make brief pause here, and about 4 o'clock reach Milford Station, on the Richmond and [245] Fredericksburg Railroad. Through this small settlement flows the Mat River, crossed by a bridge which was held by a Rebel force under one Kemper, who happened to be on his way from Richmond to join Lee. Him and his force our cavalry had dislodged by skilful tactics, and had captured sixty-six prisoners before our arrival. Having crossed the bridge and advanced about a mile, line of battle was formed, and the corps bivouacked for the night. Our lot was cast in a luxuriant wheat-field. As the enemy was not far away,1 a line of earthworks was thrown up for our defence in case of a sudden attack.

The next day (May 22) was the Sabbath, and was spent by us in quiet waiting for the rest of the army to come up within supporting distance; but at 7 o'clock, Monday morning, we renewed our march southward, past Karmel Church, striking the North Anna river just at dusk, at a point where the railroad above mentioned crosses it. Finding several batteries already in park here, we at once concluded that our services were not to be called for immediately, but were soon disarmed of this notion by being ordered up to take position on the north bank of the river. Leaving the caissons behind, the pieces passed up a road winding through the woods, and unlimbered on high ground overlooking the river. Battery K took position on our left, and the First New Hampshire on our right. A line of red earth, across the front of a small opening in the woods opposite, marked the enemy's position, behind which men were digging most industriously. We soon descried in the duskiness now approaching that they were putting in a battery, an enterprise in which our warmest concern became immediately enlisted. [246]

But our approach had not been unknown to the enemy, for we speedily became an object of interest to Rebel sharpshooters. Our zeal needed no further invoking, and we opened fire with a will. At the second discharge a mass of fire, smoke and fragments was seen to shoot heavenward behind the enemy's lines. We had exploded a limber chest for them, and a ringing cheer went up from our lungs, to tell them how badly we felt about it. For a few minutes silence reigned in that locality, and it was rather amusing to see the fugitives from the spot returning, first a head, then the body attached to it, cautiously reappearing from the bushes. They were not daunted, however, by this small earthquake, but, changing to a less exposed position, gave us a taste of their metal. A piece of one of their shells entered the Third Detachment sponge-bucket. But we were too many guns for them, and soon compelled them to move on to a more favored location, as they hoped. From this they resumed their fire till they were finally driven.

The annoyance we were beginning to undergo from their sharpshooters was of brief duration, for the First New Hampshire batterymen, turning their exclusive attention upon the pines from which these marksmen were doing their work, with shell and canister soon drove them from the field.

Not long after this, there came from down the river the roar of musketry and cheering of soldiery. It was Pierce's and Egan's brigades of Birney's division, charging across an open plain to capture a tete-de-pont held by the enemy, and covering the approach to the ‘County Bridge’ above Chesterfield, a wooden structure spanning the river at this point. This bridge-head was held by a part of McLaw's division of Longstreet's corps, which fled precipitately [247] to join their main body on the other bank, as our line, advancing at a double-quick, began to close around them. But thirty of them were captured in the redan, and the road was thus cleared to the bridge, with a loss on our side of less than one hundred and fifty. While this charge was in progress we shelled at random over the woods into the enemy's lines beyond the river, trusting to chance for our missiles to afford any aid.

During the night, the Rebels made futile efforts to burn the bridge, but the dawn showed that they had fallen back from the river at this part of the line. In the evening we were relieved by Burnside's batteries, and drawing out went into park. We were aroused at half-past 1 the following morning to be in readiness, as we supposed, for an early attack, but made no movement until daylight. We then took position at the extreme left of our line, or nearly so, on commanding ground, and there threw up earth-works again; but we had no occasion to use them, for we lay inactive most of the day. Our corps was crossing the river upon the bridge, and the only hostile demonstration attracting our attention, meanwhile, was a Rebel battery some distance up the river, which fired at short intervals during the whole day, although in doing so it invariably drew upon itself a concentrated fire from several of our batteries which had it in tolerably fair range. Its persistence against such odds became explicable when, about sundown, it came our turn to cross. To us on that wooden bridge suspended fifty feet above the river, compelled to walk at a slow pace, and even then swaying the frail structure considerably, the air seemed thick with Rebel shell and ball, and we seemed an age in crossing. That battery, from a well-chosen position, and protected by [248] elaborate works, was closely watching the bridge, and whenever a body of troops attempted to cross, it opened briskly upon them, evidently hoping and striving to strike the bridge thus encumbered, in a vital spot, and thereby perform a double service. It may have been in their minds, should any catastrophe betide the bridge, to fall upon that portion of the corps already across. But this structure was destined to serve the Union cause to the full; and although those Rebel guns were posted not above six hundred yards up river from it, and were served at short intervals during the entire day, they never once struck it, and the only casualties were the wounding of two men. We can do no less, however, than pay a tribute of admiration to the cannoneers of those guns, who stood so steadfastly by them despite the hot fire poured in upon them by three of our batteries, though we must condemn them for poor shooting, as, at their distance, the bridge should have been destroyed with one-tenth the amount of ammunition they expended.

Having got safely across, affairs wore a stormy aspect. We lay perhaps half a mile from the river near a brick house, awaiting orders. A part of the corps was engaging the enemy, with what result we could not then determine. We were in just the position to receive the enemy's shells, which every now and then dropped or exploded uncomfortably near. Soon a line of infantry was rapidly deployed near us, and some of them began to fortify, in momentary expectation of an attack. Just at this time, the clouds having been gathering blackness, discharged their contents, and the combatants were drenched in a torrent of rain. This seemed to cool their ardor, and the fighting ceased.

We lay here all night. The next day we were [249] sent down to the left to relieve Ricketts' Battery. Meanwhile we could not fail to notice that matters did not seem to be working satisfactorily. Anxiety was perceptible on the faces of all general officers, and was further betrayed by the frequent marchings and counter-marchings from point to point. The cause of all this uneasiness seems to have been due to the position occupied by the army with respect to the enemy, which was substantially as follows:—Gen. Warren's Fifth Corps had crossed the river at Jericho Ford, four miles above us, without opposition, and, having advanced some distance, repelled an assault from Hill's corps and established his lines, correspondingly forcing back Lee's left. By reason of the advance of the Second Corps across the river, Lee drew back his right to cover Hanover Junction, still clinging with his centre to the river. His army was thus in the form of a V, the apex resting on the river. Thus situated, he could promptly reinforce any portion of his line that was threatened. When, therefore, Burnside attempted to cross at a point midway between Hancock and Warren, he was repulsed. The situation was now a critical one, for Lee's position was not only invulnerable, but by rapid concentration he could fall upon either of our flanks before assistance could reach it. This was sufficient cause for the anxiety that was so universal. Nothing, we now believe, but Lee's inferior force could have prevented him from executing this maneuver.

We spent all of Wednesday and Thursday, the 25th and 26th, here, and in the evening of the latter, at 10 o'clock, recrossed the river, on a pontoon constructed below the bridge, going into camp in breastworks near the captured redan. We were preparing for another move, for Grant, having decided [250] that Lee could not be forced from this position, concluded to flank him again. In this operation, the Second Corps was to cover the rear, and so held position on the north side of the river until morning of the 27th, when it, too, moved off, the Tenth breaking park about 10 o'clock.2

The County Bridge had been imperfectly destroyed under the fire of skirmishers by Birney's Division. Afterwards, some of Gen. Tyler's heavy artillerymen were sent back and completed its destruction before the corps left.

Our line of march now took us in a course nearly eastward, for the turning of the enemy's flank anew necessitated quite an extended detour for several reasons: first, that our destination should not be unmasked too soon; second, that the enemy should not assail our flank on the march; and third, because of the nature of the country. Our course finally lay towards the Pamunkey. This river is formed by the confluence of the North and South Anna rivers. Further down, the Pamunkey unites with the Mattapony to form the York River. On the latter is a settlement known as White House. It had been used by McClellan as a base of supplies in the Peninsula Campaign and was selected as our next base of supplies, Port Royal on the Rappahannock, which had been serving that purpose, being now abandoned.

We traversed about thirteen miles of country this day, unmolested, bivouacking at night at a place four miles south of ‘Concord Church.’ Six o'clock of the next morning (Saturday, May 28) saw us again in motion, and an advance of ten miles brought us to the ferry.3 [251]

Here we came upon the wagon train of the Sixth Corps, which had just crossed. At 1 o'clock we went over the pontoon. There was some fighting in progress ahead, and now and then a stray Rebel shell exploded in the neighborhood. On coming to higher ground, not far from the river, we took position, covering the road with the pieces, threw up earthworks, and passed the night there.

At this time the exact position of Lee's army was not definitely known, and Sunday we advanced our line to the right and front somewhat—again erecting breastworks—and lay there all night.

Monday morning, May 30, we moved forward about four miles through the woods, advancing in part by means of a road cut by the pioneers. This forward movement was one in which all the corps participated, and was made with a view of developing the Rebel position. Our march was directed from Hawes' Shop, or Store, towards Hanover Court House.4 Hawes' Shop was an important junction of several roads, and was contended for most manfully on the 28th instant by three brigades of Union cavalry, under Sheridan, pitted against that of the enemy commanded by Fitz-Hugh Lee and Wade Hampton, with the result in our favor.

The scarred trees and Rebel dead that lay yet unburied along our path attested in some degree the severity of the fighting.5

There had been some skirmishing as our column advanced, and about four miles from its starting [252] point a halt was ordered, and the prospects indicated trouble ahead; which was indeed the case, for the enemy was found strongly posted on the south bank of Tolopotomoy Creek, an affluent of the Pamunkey. It was high noon when an order came sending us to the front; and moving by a road newly cut through the trees, marked by rough guide was place boards directing to the different divisions, we finally emerged in a cornfield on what was known as Jones' Farm.6 The rattle of musketry and occasional boom of cannon farther to the right showed that the deadly business had begurn in earnest, and the whizzilng of stray bullets warned us of our nearness to the picket line.7 Before we had completed our customary redoubts, Gen. Gibbon ordered the right section forward to an advanced position. It

Hosea O. Barnes

was placed behind a low earthwork—a mere rifle-pit already thrown up which afforded little protection for the men—in the edge of some pines; and as [253] there was underbrush just outside the works which obstructed the aim of the gunners, at the command of Capt. Sleeper three of the cannoneers leaped over to cut it away; but just as they were completing this task an explosive bullet from a Rebel sharpshooter laid one of them low, mortally wounded. It was Hosea O. Barnes, Number Three man on the Third piece. One of his companions8 lifted him up and bore him into the breastworks, but he was rapidly entering the valley of shadows. ‘I am about gone,’ were the last words that passed his lips. Shrouded in his shelter tent he was laid in a grave dug near by, and the spot marked by a hastily carved board placed at his head. His death cast a deep gloom over the Company, for his many good qualities as a soldier, notably his genial temperament and good-humor, had made him a general favorite.9

During the rest of the day the men lay pretty close, now and then firing a few shells whenever the enemy showed themselves in numbers. Under the cover of darkness the left section was brought up and put into position in the clearing at the right of the right section, and during the night Tyler's heavy artillerists threw up a strong line of breastworks, [254] along the crest of which we scattered green brush as a screen from sharpshooters. This done, there remained for us but three or four hours in which to sleep, ere the battle which we expected to usher in the morning should summon us to posts.

Soon after 6 o'clock of Tuesday, May 31, we commenced firing and continued it in a desultory manner all the forenoon, and he who was so careless or reckless as to show his head above the works was greeted with minies. Tolopotomoy Creek was about midway between us and the enemy. Their main line was not visible directly in our front, being screened by woods; but a little to our right front it came into plain view, at a distance, we now judge, of less than a thousand yards. We spent the afternoon in shelling the enemy's lines at intervals. Heavy firing came up from the left a long distance away. This we now know to have been the attack made upon Warren's corps, near Bethesda Church, by Ewell, who was attempting to turn his left. To relieve this pressure upon Warren, Gen. Meade ordered an attack along the whole line. The order was not received in time to be acted upon by all the corps commanders; but Hancock received it, and with commendable and characteristic promptness sent in Barlow's division, which drove the enemy's skirmishers, captured their rifle-pits, and held then all night in spite of a midnight attempt to retake them.

Next day (June 1st) we had little to do but watch the picket lines, till noon. The Rebel pickets charged down and drove our men from the pits captured by them the day before. Our line then rallied and pressed them up the hill again, only to give way before a stronger wave of the enemy. It was quite exciting to watch the swaying to and fro of [255] the respective lines, and when we were sure which was which, we sent a shell or two along to turn the scale; but no decisive results followed this fighting. It was a useless expenditure of life.

In the afternoon a Rebel battery opened in the main line. They seemed interested in firing at something down to the left of us, and it become our duty—a pleasant one—to keep them quiet. Our guns had an enfilading fire upon them. A puff of smoke from them was the signal for four from us, rapidly repeated until the desired end was accomplished.

Just before night there were heavy movements of troops to the right and left, brisk cannonading, and general activity, and after dark orders came for us to ‘limber up’ and move out as quietly as possible.

Morning reports.


May 21. Serg't Townsend, Artif. Stowell, Serg't C. Gould, Farrier Bruce, and 12 men with Caissons and B. W. (Battery Wagon?) in Ammunition Train.

May 25. Willard Y. Gross appointed Artificer by General Orders No.— Headquarters 10th Battery vice David R. Stowell reduced to the ranks. William Herring appointed Stable Sergeant vice Asa L. Gowell reduced to the ranks.

May 26. Elbridge D. Thresher appointed Farrier vice C. E. Bruce returned to the ranks. Corporal Beck sent to caissons in train. One horse worn out and abandoned.

May 27. Jonas W. Strout and John M. Ramsdell missing. One horse abandoned—worn out. [256]

May 28. Strout returned for duty. One horse worn out and abandoned. Battery Wagon returned with one sergeant and six men.

May 29. John Ramsdell returned.

May 30. Hosea O. Barnes struck in bowels and killed by sharphooters, Jones' Farm, Va.

1 Longstreet's corps.

2 As we lay here, a random Rebel shell dropped among the thirty-sixth Wisconsin regiment that lay in rear of us, killing one man and wounnding three others.


On May 28, at 7 A. M., the Second Corps crossed the Pamunkey at Holmes's Ferry, four miles above Hanovertown. Banes: History of the Philadelphia Brigade.

This crossing-place I conclude to be the one laid down on the government map as Nelson's Ferry, as there is no other at that distance above Hanovertown.

4 Gen. Meade's order of May 29.

5 The Union loss in this battle was upwards of four hundred men, that of the enemy nearly twice as many.

6 W. Jones.—Michler's Army Map.

7 A singular incident happened this day on the line of the First Division. This line ran through the yard of the ‘Sheldon House,’ and behind it were several guns in position exchanging shots with the enemy's batteries. In the house were several ladies who had refused to leave notwithstanding the danger, and had taken refuge in the cellar, having with them a negress. When the fire of the artillery was apparently the hottest, this latter personage, becoming delirious from fright, took up a shovelful of live coals from the hearth, and, rushing out, threw them into an open limber and then rushed speedily back into the house. The ammunition exploded, killing two men and terribly burned the faces and eyes of one or two more, while the negress escaped uninjured, though greatly terrified at the deed she had done.—From the Diary of a Staff Officer.

8 William E. Endicott.


Some of the wounded artillerymen were struck with barbarous missiles called explosive bullets. These messengers of death were of a conical shape and contained a small copper shell arranged on the principle of a fuse and calculated to explode a short time after it had left the rifle. One of these entered the breast of an artilleryman belonging to a battery which the brigade was supporting, and the man had scarcely cried out to a comrade ‘I am shot!’ before the murderous ball exploded in his body producing terrible laceration. Banes: History of the Philadelphia Brigade.

This extract is made from the chapter on North Anna, but seemed so similar a case that I thought it of sufficient interest to insert here.

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