The Fighting Parson's Regiment
CHAPTER XV.Assigned to 6th corps. On the way to the Army of the Potomac. A dreadful march. At Cold Harbor. Trying situation. Assume command. A gallant charge. Grand success. Severe losses. Driven back. Lack of support. Incidents of the battle. The demoralized general. Further account of Cold Harbor. Occupying the Confederate line. A sad picture of war. An uncomfortable situation. Relieved. Close work. Change of base. Grand but perilous movement of the army. The old church at Jamestown.
GENERAL SMITH'S HEADQUARTERS, COLD HARBOR.
times it was impossible to see the distance of a company front ahead of us. When the command to halt was given, the regiment seemed to melt away, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the march could be resumed. Many men were reported as fatally exhausted and left to die by the roadside from the commands that had preceded us, and it required the com- bined efforts of our own officers, and the example of patient and cheerful endurance on their part, to keep our men from falling away and straggling. Arrived at Cold Harbor, latein the afternoon, we were ordered into the woods -as we supposed, to encamp. But alas! a soldier may never rest, till he or the enemy is dead.
After standing in line, with arms stacked, for a half-hour, the order came to move forward to engage in an attack on the enemy's works, first from the brigade commander, afterwards from the division, and finally from corps headquarters. The 47th New York regiment, which was on our left, had already moved away, and still no word of command was given. What should we do? The greatest excitement prevailed. Finally, in the absence of Major Coan, who had been detailed on special duty, and at the earnest solicitations of several officers, the writer assumed command, although' not the ranking officer present. The situation was peculiar, and the emergency desperate; and when the order was given to take arms, they were seized with an alacrity which told of the feeling that prevailed. The officers expressed their satisfaction, and the men moved with a promptness which signified the relief they felt for their rescue from the impending disgrace. " Shoulder arms! Left face! Forward march! By the right flank, march! Left oblique! Double quick! " and we had joined the brigade. "Charge bayonets!" across the field, and into the woods; and the first iine of the enemy's rifle-pits was occupied. Here the men stopped, and commenced firing; but a lull in the fire of the enemy enforced the order to move forward, and in little more time than it takes to write it we had captured and occupied a section of the main line of Confederate works, and had more prisoners marching to the rear than the whole number present in the regiment. - Will any of our readers recall the name of the little corporal of Company G, scarce five feet high, at whose command, as he stood on the top of the works, at charge bayonet, "Come out of there, you d--d rebels," a lieutenant and nearly a dozen men emerged from the works, and humbly and quietly proceeded to the rear with the other prisoners? How much was crowded into the short time that we occupied that line of intrenchments. Lieutenant Ingraham, for the first time in action, having heretofore been detailed in the commissary department, with many others, was shot in the very moment of victory. It was a dreadful place to hold, with the rebels massed just at the foot of the hill, on the right, and pouring in upon us a deadly flanking fire. Repeated messages were sent to the commanding general, explaining our situation, and urging an attack on our right, or re-enforcements to enable us to do it; but no help, and no word of any kind, was received. Efforts were made to induce the commander of the 47th New York, which was separated from us. by a little ravine on our left, to unite with us in a charge down the hill; but without avail, for either our purpose was misunderstood owing to the distance between us, which made communication difficult, or disinclination or positive orders forbade, and so we were compelled to wait and suffer, hoping that some general officer would become interested to find our whereabouts, and organize some new move-
POSITION OF GENERAL SMITH'S COMMAND AT COLD HARBOR, VA.
ment, by which we would be relieved. The order to charge down the hill would have been welcome, but it would have been madness to have attempted it without support. While we waited, and our numbers were rapidly diminishing, we could plainly see the Confederate reserves gathering in the distance, across the meadow at the foot of the hill, and knew that we could not hold our position long unless help came.
At this time, the adjutant-general of the brigade that had charged across the same ground that we had come over, came to me, and offered his services, stating that his brigade had been routed and scattered, and nearly all the field officers of the command killed or wounded. While explaining to him the position of affairs, and urging him to go to the rear and endeavor to hurry up re-enforcements, a bullet pierced his brain, and he sank in death. I remember Corporal St. J olm of Company G, who, finding a sword which had belonged to a rebel officer, kindly presented it to me, as unmindful of the bullets which whistled about our heads as if they were not freighted with missions of death to himself or comrades. Of such men was the regiment composed. But, as the shadows deepened about us, there came a rush. The enemy was fairly upon us; and, before we could gather ourselves to repel the attack, some one, without authority, had called out to retreat, and, in the confusion which, followed, tbe colors were seized and held by the enemy, not, however, without a fierce bu.t hopeless struggle. Back through the woods we went, broken and dispirited. After securing a victory, we had been left alone and unsupported, to be shot down like sheep, and the men knew that it was time to seek a place of shelter.
There was a rally at the edge of the woods, where we found the commander of a division reclining under a tree, apparently deserted by everyone, and in a state of complete helplessness and demoralization. Although he has since occupied positions of great prominence and responsibility, we never hear his name without recalling his appearance, when, emerging from the woods, we discovered him in the situation described, and learned his name and rank. Completely beside himself because of the defeat and dispersion of his command, he insisted that the feeble line of officers and men who collected in his vicinity should renew the attack, when a whole division had been defeated and scattered. Fairly out of the sound of his voice, we left him to his own reflections. Already darkness had settled down upon us, ahd, after a little council of war, with Lieutenant Barrett and others, we lay down for a little rest, in the field over which the regiment had so gallantly charged that afternoon. It bad done nobly, and, with the other regiments of the brigade, can claim the only substantial success attained by the division; for we belleve they were the only troops who succeeded in capturing the main line of rebel intrenchments.
At the point which we occupied, this line passed across the top of a hill, which sloped down to a meadow in front, and on the right dropped more abruptly, to what seemed quite a deep ravine. The Federal line stopped with the right of our regiment, and evidently no successful attack, if any at all, had been made on our immediate right. After we commenced our charge across the field, no communication whatever was received from our commanding officers, while it has always seemed to the writer that, if the success which we attained had been followed up, most important results would have been achieved. It is possible that the troops who preceded us in the attack reached the first line of the enemy's rifle-pits, for at that point we met with little opposition. But they penetrated no farther, and, either unaware of their partial success, or exhausted in the effort, they became so completely scattered that we saw no trace of them.
The next day, June 2, the remnant of the regiment capable of duty was ordered to occupy a portion of the Confederate line, to the left of that captured by us the night before. As we filed through the woods, we passed a little palefaced boy. Separated from his comrades, he struggled on through the underbrush. with wearied steps, uncared-for and alone. His feeble hands scarce held the musket which he dragged along. All his remaining consciousness seemed concentrated on the effort to do as others did, and as we hurried past him, he turned on us a dazed, bewildered look. We could not stop, else we would have taken him by the hand, and led him away from the danger he was in, to the protection and care of comrades and friends, as we longed to do. We found him when we came back, but he had passed beyond the sphere of human sympathy and aid. The look of painful weariness was gone from that little upturned face. He had found rest. It seems strange, but that picture is burned into the memory with such distinctness that it comes up before the eye whenever the touch of recollection brings back the incidents of army life. That day, on those intrenchments, we lay down beside the dead and dying of the regiment relieved, to serve as targets for the enemy, who were close at hand, and familiar with the locality. We did not remain long, and were glad to get away. During our stay, the greatest precaution was necessary, on account of the near vicinity of the enemy. Lieutenant Barrett, who was always at the point of danger, while obeying the order of the commanding officer to lie down behind the log which lay across the path, at the foot of the intrenchments, received a painful wound, which kept him in hosPital for months afterwards. A member of company G, who had sheltered himself behind a stump, which rose about two feet above the top of the earthworks, received, as he supposed, his death-wound, and gave audible expression to his dying agonies, but, as the effect of the shot, which had nearly spent itself in the rotten stump, passed off, the sharp whizzing of a bullet, which came uncomfortably near his head, brought him to life so suddenly that, starting up with a spring, he darted away for the intrenchments as if the Evil One were following, and did not fully recover his senses until he found himself in a place of safety, outside the, wood. The nature of the situation in which we were placed may be judged by the order which I was constrained to give in respect to the manner of retiring when we were relieved; namely, that the men should go out one at a time from the extreme left of the line, hugging closelr to the earthwork as they crawled to this point. This was accomplished without a single casualty, and the writer resumed com- mand just outside the danger line, where he found the regiment formed as if for parade. It was a constant pleasure to be associated with such officers in the command of such men. That night we remained under arms near our intrenchments, which had been thrown up after our repulse of the day previous. From the journals before me, I learn that the casualties in the regiment, during the twenty-four hours, were five officers killed, four wounded, and eighty enlisted men killed, wounded and missing,- a very large proportion of those engaged, especially of officers.
June 3, no special duty, but frequently moved from one point to another along our works. Some hard fighting was going on near us at different times in the day, and we were constantly under an irregular but annoying fire. June 4, moved up into an exposed position in the rear of our advanced line of works. June 5, although the men built intricate lines of rifle-pits, with most ingenious contrivances for protection, they were still very much exposed, and several were wounded. In the evening occupied the very front line. A sharp attack was made on our left, but without avail. During the afternoon of the 6th, the firing ceased for a little while, and we had an opportunity of seeing the Confederate works, which in Our immediate front were somewhat disconnected and not as strong as ours. It had been dangerous to expose even a hand, so close were the Confederates, and so sharp the firing; and it was good to be relieved from this for a few moments. When the short truce was over, some of our men commenced singing, "We'll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple-tree," which so enraged the Johnnies that they made it warm for us until the singing ceased.
The 7th was a quiet day, but we had need of watchfulness. The 9th corps, under Burnsid..e, was on our right, and formed the right flank of the Federal army. In front of some p.arts of our lines, the Confederate works were apparently within a hundred yards, and extreme precautions were necessary to guard against a sudden rush. Men were stationed outside, in rifle-pits, so near that they talked with the Confederates similarly posted. These men could only be relieved in the darkness of the night. This evening the bands played all along our lines, not funeral dirges, but airs of joy and triumph, telling us that something important had occurred, or was about to occur.
The 8th and 9th were, comparatively speaking, days of rest. The woods between us and the 9th corps had been cut down, to make the COl1nection more perfect. Our position and duties continued about the same until the night of the 11th, when extra precautions indicated that something was going on. On the 12th, the air was full of rumors, and it was soon understood that the whole army was about to change its base of operations. Just at dark, the 76thPennsylvania, on our left, moved out of the rifle-pits, and their places were occupied by our regiment. At the same time, we were informed that the 9th corps had already left, and we should be the last to go. The constant yells and the heavy firing of the Confederates indicated that they suspected something unusual, and we prepared ourselves for an attack on our weakened line. The utmost vigilance was exercised, for everyone knew the extreme peril of our situation, and when, at one o'clock on the morning of the 13th, the order came to evacuate, every voice was hushed. The whispered word was passed from man to man, to retire from the works one by one from the left, in perfect silence, and rendezvous in the woods some distance in the rear; seven companies thus moved out, without accident, or casualty, although the shot and shell shrieked about Our heads continually. But the most delicate task remained - namely, the extricating the three companies who, as outpost sentinels and sharpshooters, were so near the enemy that it seemed impossible for them to escape. This, however, was accomplished, with the loss of a few men, who were necessarily left behind, and we took up our line of march for the White House, occupying the most honorable position in this perilous movement, when the whole .Federal army was withdrawn from the immediate presence of Lee's army, without its knowledge and without serious loss. It has been' well remarked, by an able writer on military operations, that it was one of the most remarkable movements in the annals of warfare, and could not have been carried out successfully except by the most experienced troops, under the most perfect training and discipline.
Early on the morning of the 14th, we steamed away from the White House on the Pamunkey River in two small transports on our return to Bermuda Hundred. During our
BATTERY AND CHURCH TOWER, SITE OF JAMESTOWN.
voyage, we passed within sight of the ruins of the old church at Jamestown. How
full of suggestion and reflection, recalling, as they did, the history of the
proud old state, with its long line of distinguished patriots, soldiers, and
statesmen. We thought of Patrick Henry, whose glowing eloquence first set ablaze
the smouldering embers of rebellion, and of Wash-
ington, whose wisdom, endurance, and conr i?tancy, sealed at Yorktown the title
to independence, and the inalienable rights of manhood to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness, and wondered at the inconsistency and blindness of the
early fathers of our country, who permitted the ingrafting. of the gigantic,
festering evil of slavery upon Our system of government, thereby entailing on us
the sufferings and horrors, the changes and uncertainties, of this war. All the
more singular because liberty and justice were the foundation principles of
church, state, and society. During the voyage to Bermuda Hundred, the transports
became separated, and the morning of the 16th found only one wing oUhe regiment
arrived at its destination. This was immediately ordered outside the
intrenchments, to the Confederate picket-line, which had been evacuated during