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of the way parallel to the Mechanicsville road, then across to a point not far from the Tolopotomoy. The movement was made in the face of considerable opposition by the enemy, and with some loss of prisoners in General Crittenden's division.
The object of these movements was for the purpose of forcing the passage of the Chickahominy and driving General Lee into the intrenchments around Richmond. With this end in view, a force of sixteen thousand men under General W. F. Smith had been brought round on the 29th of May from Bermuda Hundred to White House, and had been instructed to march to New Cold Harbor in order to seize that important point. By a mistake in the transmission of the order, the name of the place had been wrongly given, and General Smith had unfortunately directed his command towards Newcastle. This deflection of the line of march lost us a great advantage, and General Grant was obliged to be content with the occupation of old Cold Harbor-a position of much less consequence. This was the centre of General Grant's-or rather, since the union of the Ninth Corps with the Army of the Potomac, General Meade's-posi.tion, his left resting near the Despatch Station road, and his right near Bethesda Church. General Lee's line extended from a point a few miles east of Atlee's Station beyond Shady Grove, covering New Cold Harbor, and commanding the public roads, with the Chickahominy in the rear. In front numerous thickets and marshy places rendered the approach difficult. The line was well intrenched, in some places formidably so, and defied attack. The key to the position was opposite General Hancock's corps on the left and was a redoubt or earthwork occupying a crest called Watt's Hill, with a sunken road in front. The ground had already been fought over in the Peninsular campaign of General McClellan, the position of the two armies being reversed. Our entire line was at least eight miles in length. The ground was varied, wearing the same features as, the region north of the Pamunkey, woodland,
marsh, hills, and open plain, a capital country for defence by inferior forces.
About sunrise on the 3d the assault commenced. Artillery opened along the line. In front of General Hancock, the two divisions of Generals Barlow and Gibbon made a magnificent charge, which swept before them all opposing forces, and gave them for a few minutes the summit of the enemy's position. Had these two brave divisions been promptly supported the day would have been our own, and General Grant's plan would have been grandly successful. But the supports were from some cause delayed, the enemy rallied, poured in a murderous enfilading fire, and our men were forced to give way and finally to abandon the captured work with its guns. Two or three hundred prisoners and an advanced position near the enemy's line were the only fruits of this gallant assault, and for these we paid dearly. "In less than an hour Hancock's loss was above three thousand."* The sixth corps and General Smith's command made gallant attempts to carry the enemy's position, but succeeded only in dislodging him from his exterior defences. These were brilliant charges, splendid heroism and immense sacrifice. But the inability of General Barlow to hold his advanced position had really decided the contest on our left, and proved the strength and determination of the enemy.
On the right, the brunt of the battle fell upon the Ninth Corps. The fifth was formed in a long attenuated line, and could do little else but hold the ground on which its ranks stood. The Ninth, formed with its right refused, could not make the attack quite so early in the day as the corps upon the left. General Wilson's cavalry division was pushed out on the extreme right, the two divisions of Generals Willcox and Potter were formed for attack, and General Crittenden's division was held in reserve. Colonel Curtin's brigade of General Potter's division made a daring charge, drove in the enemy's
*Swinton; Campaigns of Army of Potomac, p. 486.
skirmishers, carried some detached rifle pits, forced the enemy-— consisting of portions of Longstreet's and Ewell's corps-back into the inner works, and established itself in close proximity to his intrenchments. General Griffin's brigade came up in support, and held the right flank of the corps. Our artillery was brought forward and did effective service, silencing the enemy's batteries and blowing up two of his caissons. General Willcox's division attacked at an early hour, and recaptured a line of rifle pits that had been lost on the previous night. General Hartranft's brigade won additional distinction by the manner in which it advanced upon the enemy, driving him, as Curtin had done, into his interior works. Artillery was brought to the front, as on the right, and the Ninth was fairly established face to face with the foe at the shortest possible distance, ready for a second spring upon the stronger line of works.
Orders were given for a simultaneous attack by the two advanced divisions, to be delivered at one o'clock. Intelligence of the movement was communicated to General Wilson, and the suggestion made to him to move his command around the enemy's left flank and attack him in the rear. The plan of attack seemed certainly feasible, and had fine promise of success. But, as the movement had so signally failed on the left of the army, General Meade thought it best to suspend further operations, and just as the skirmishers of the Ninth Corps were advancing against the enemy, General Burnside received orders to cease all offensive operations. The skirmish line was accordingly drawn in, and our entire position strengthened. During the afternoon, the enemy made a sortie and ventured upon an assault, but was quickly and vigorously repulsed. The men of the Ninth Corps had bravely fought, and were on the point of winning a decisive advantage. They had shared
They also shared
in the honors and dangers of the movement.
been freely spilt. More than a thousand men had But all this heroic self-sacrifice had
been as yet unsuccessful. The enemy's works still barred the road to Richmond.*
The issue of the battle of Cold Harbor was not what was
* Mr. Swinton, in his history of the Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac, is copious and severe in his criticisms of the entire movement from the Rapidan. He lauds General Lee and his principal officers, and correspondingly disparages General Grant and some of his associates. He does not appear to entertain a very high opinion of General Meade's ability or skill, and, in his remarks upon the battle of Cold Harbor, on page 487, he insinuates a very grave charge against the entire army. "The action was decided," he says, in an incredibly brief time in the morning's assault. But rapidly as the result was reached, it was decisive; for the consciousness of every man pronounced further assault hopeless. The troops went forward as far as the example of their officers could carry them; nor was it possible to urge them beyond; for there they knew lay only death, without even the chance of victory. The completeness with which this judgment had been reached by the whole army was strikingly illustrated by an incident that occurred during the forenoon. Some hours after the failure of the first assault, General Meade sent instructions to each corps commander to renew the attack without reference to the troops on his right or left. The order was issued through these officers to their subordinate commanders, and from them descended through the wonted channels; but no man stirred, and immobile lines pronounced a verdict, silent, yet emphatic, against further slaughter."
This statement seems altogether incredible. It has been thought that there was some basis of fact in it, especially as it regarded some of the corps commanders; but how much, it is impossible to say. If true, it shows that the Army of the Potomac was affected by universal cowardice, or was in a state of downright mutiny. That the commanding general should issue a distinct order, and that the soldiers of his army should utterly refuse to take the first step towards its obedience, is not to be believed for a moment. Indeed, if the judgment of General Meade and other officers was not at fault, Mr. Swinton's declarations are to be considered as requiring considerable qualification. So systematically and persistently had he, while correspondent of the New York Times, given inaccurate accounts of the movements and operations of the army as to draw upon him the notice both of General Grant and his subordinate officers. He was finally dismissed from the lines of the army by a formal order from General Meade, dated on the 6th of July. He was recited as "having abused the privileges conferred upon" him "by forwarding for publication incorrect statements respecting the operations of the troops." He was warned not to return, and corps commanders were advised, that should he be found within the limits of the army, he was to be "sent under guard to the Provost Marshal General" at headquarters. It is possible that the mortification caused by this expulsion from the army is the secret source of his unfavorable criticism of Generals Grant and Meade. What bearing this fact may have upon the worth of his volume, as an authority for the declarations which it contains any one can judge. An untruthful correspondent can hardly make a trustworthy historian.
expected or desired by General Grant. But it effectually proved that we could not cross the Chickahominy at this point, without the greatest opposition and a vast sacrifice of life. General Grant was not yet disposed to retire, and for the next few days the army intrenched itself, buried the dead, cared for the wounded, and prepared to enter upon new and more promising movements. The enemy made one or two assaults, which were beaten back with severe loss to the attacking force. At midnight, on the 6th, a heavy charge was made on General Burnside's position, which was very gallantly repuls by the men of the Ninth. Meanwhile our line had been shortened by the withdrawal of the fifth corps to the rear for a reserve, and the substitution of the Ninth in its place. General Meade was manoeuvring to prepare for a change of base, and for throwing his army across to the south bank of the James. It was a delicate and hazardous movement, and was gradually accomplished by moving our lines steadily to the left, refusing our right flank, until the time for marching the entire army should arrive. Upon the fifth and Ninth Corps devolved the most difficult of these manoeuvres-the two commands alternating in moving by the flank and rear.
Of course the movements could not be made without the knowledge of the enemy, who endeavored to thwart them and harass our troops. A hill near our lines, in the vicinity of the Tucker estate, which was needed for fortifying, became the scene of some sharp fighting, and was at different times in our own and the enemy's hands. General Potter had taken the position and posted his skirmishers. Upon these the enemy advanced, on the afternoon of the 6th, and drove them off, capturing a few prisoners. He established batteries and commenced an ineffective cannonade. Withdrawing in the night, he left the hill once more free for occupation by our troops. Our skirmishers again took possession, and a working party dug a long line of rifle pits. But on the 7th, a heavy force of the enemy appeared, and again drove in our men. During the following night, General Potter, unwilling to yield that