Alfred Davenport.

Camp and field life of the Fifth New York volunteer infantry. (Duryee zouaves.) online

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D. H. Hill says :

"It was now fairly dark, and hearing loud cheers from the
Yankees in our immediate front, some 200 yards distant, I or-
dfred our whole advance to halt, and wait the expected attack of
the enemy. Brig. -Gen. Winder, occupying the road to Grape-
vine Bridge, immediately halted, and the whole advanced columns
were halted also. The cheering, as we afterward Icarnrd, was

* Compte de Paris (p. loo) : "At 6 p.m. Jnckson attacked wirh 40,000 men.
F.nell atta-cked the regulars, who made it a point of honor never to yield before
volunteers, whatever may be their niimhers." (p. 102'): "Attacked in front and
menaced in flank, Sykes ftU back defending tlic ground foot by foot. The re^uI.Trs
do not allow Hill to push his success along the road le.ading from Cold Harbur to
I'iip.itch Station, by which he could have cut off the retreat of the enemy.

" Fearfully reduced a<; they are, they care less for the losses they have su-^taincd
»^an for the mortification of yieldinji to volunteers."— (p. 1-3): "Stuart, near
* 'M Harbor, does not know how to make his excellent troops play the part wliich
•^M..Tt..ins to Civalry or. th^ eve if a victory ; ho aU...v.s himself t-. oc l.eKl h:,.-k by
'!ie resolute stand of the re^^ulan, and some few hundred men bearing the ll.'.gs of
^Varren's brigade."

+ General C. K. W.irren.

224 Fifth Nciu York Volunteer Infantry.

caused by the appearance of the Irish brigade, which was sent
forward to cover the retreat. A vigorous attack upon it might
have resulted in the total rout of the Yankee army and the cap-
ture of thousands of prisoners. Ikit I was unwilling to leave the
elevated plateau around McGee's house to advance in the dark
along an unknown road, skirted by dense woods in the possession
of the Yankee troops."

The sanguinary battle of Gaines' Mill was over; a few scat-
tering shots were heard up to 9 o'clock, when quietness jire-
vailed ; both sides were about exhausted by the terrible ordenl
through which they had passed. The regiment was formed
in line and counted by th.e Adjutant, and numbered seventy-
three files, or 146 men. Besides those killed or disabled,
there were some who fell out from exhaustion ; others had
assisted their wounded comrades to the rear and fiiiled to re-
turn, and a detail under Lieutenant Eichlcr were guarding a
number of Confederate prisoners. The number whose hearts
failed them were comparatively few, and these managed to
elude the officers and file-closers, and retire to the rear.

Through the blackness of night little lights- could be seen
dancing about in the distance, looking like twinkling stars.
They were borne by the good Samaritans, and those who had
been transformed from demons into angels of mercy, and
were seeking and succoring the wounded of Union and Con-
federate alike, who lay together like one great t'.unily. As
soon as the ranks were dismissed, the men dropped down on
the bare ground without covering, and were soon in deep
slumber, with their riiles by tlieir sides, ready to clutch at
the first alarm. F.ut many a soldier misses his mate, who
may be lying wounded in the hands of tlie Confederates, or
being jolted over a rough road in an ambulance to the rear,
or mayhap lying on the battie-licM, wearing the laurels of the
brave, tliough his spirit has tied in :;lury from its eanlily t^-n-
ement, and taken winged tlight to Him who gave it.

The orders had been obeyed. Cencral Porter had held t'.ic

The Seven Days' Retreat— Gaines Mill. 225

left bank of the river till night. Notwithstanding their
desperate efforts, the tiower of the Confederate army, com-
prising, at least, 130 regiments of infantry, and 84 guns,
under command of the two Hills, I.ongstreet, Ewell, and
Jackson, all under the i)ersonal supervision of General Lee
himself, and also encouraged by the presence of Jeff". Davis,
had driven the Union troops only about one mile. They
had reaped a barren victory.

General Fitz John Porter fought this battle with 51 regi-
ments of infantry, besides his batteries, which was all his force.
He commanded in i)erson throughout, and directed all the
general movements ; and the obstinacy with which the troojis
held their ground, and the masterly manner in which he di-
rected their movements, foiled the well-laid plans of the Con-
federate Generals, and withstood till night the furious onsets
of the enemy.* This delay gave General ^^cClellan twenty-
four hours' start in which to forward his miles of wagons, con-
taining armv stores, ammunition, etc., and his heavy siege
guns, to the new base on the James River.

•The field officers of the Fifth acted their parts with the
greatest heroism and braver)-, and throughout the battle re-
mained mounted, and were at every jioint where their serv-
ices were most required ; and how they escaped serious
wounds or death is miraculous. Colonel Warren received a
contusion from a s[)ent ball, and his horse was wour.dcd.
He was everywhere conspicuous on the field, and not or.iv
directed the movements of his own brigade, wliic h he hanul d
with consummate skill, and placed in the most advantacjcons
positions, where they could produce the most eft'ect on the
enemy, but directed the movements of other regiments.

Lieutenant-Colonel H. Duryea, acting in connnand o'i tl.e
regiment, rose fronj a sick couch to take part in the action

•Comptedc Paris fp. \o\\ : "Had fought with creat visor, .^nd it wxs no di;-
BT3<.i: 'o Porter's soldiers tlmt they had to succumb in such an unequal strug.;le.''

226 Fifth Nezo York Vohintcer hifantry.

when his services were most required, and did not make his
bodily aihiients an excuse, as some others did. to shirk
danger and responsibility and win glory without earning it.
He set a good example to the men by his bravery, coolness,
and gallantry. Captain W'inslow i>layed a noble j^art as a
field-officer. Surgeon Doolittle was wounded in the course
of the action, and his horse was killed under him. The
other officers, with a few exceptions, won honor by their cool
behavior and fidelity. Of the men, an officer high in com-
mand said that every man who stood supporting that battery
at dusk deserved a comuMssion. Another (a General) officer
said the next day as the regiment passed by \\\\w on the
march, in reply to the remark of an officer who stood by his
side, " Did well ! why, I could hug every man of them."

The New York Herald o{ July i, 1862, says: " l)ur\ e'e's
Zouaves fought, as did all the, under General Sykes,
in whose brigade they are attached, with undaunted courage."

In concluding his narrative of the battle, the correspond-
ent of the Cincinnati Commercial says :

" The conduct of the entire force that day was admirable.
The regulars, who had previously complained of restraiiU, had
full scope, and they re-established their ancient fame. Dunce's
Zouaves, clad in crimson breeches and red skull-caps, emulated
their regular comrades, winning the admiration of the army. But
volunteers and regulars alike won glory on that bloody field."

Extract from General George ?>. McClellan's rei^ort to the
Secretary of War, Hon. Edwin M. Stanton .

Hf.\dquarters Army of Potomac, Savage SxATinx, )^
/////f 28, 1862— 12.20 A.. M. ^
On the left bank our men did all that men could do, all that
soklicrs cnu'.d acooniplisii, hut tht-y were iivcrwlu hncd by vastly
supcriur numliers soun after I had l)rtiught my last reserves
into action. The loss on both sides is terrible. I believe it will
prove to be the must ilesberate battle of the war. The sad rem-

The Sfvcn Days' Retreat — Gaines' Mill. 227

nants of my men behave as men ; those battalions who fought
most bravely, and suffered most, are still in the best order. My
regulars zvere superb ; and I count upon what are left to turn
another battle in company with their gallant coj?iradcs 0/ the vol-

Abbott speaks of this battle as follows :

" It was now night — a night of awful gloom. The second day's
battle — the battle of Gaines' Mill — had ended, and silence suc-
ceeded the thunders of war, which all the day had shaken the hills.
Even the darkness could not conceal the harrowing spectacle of
death's ravages. The dead lay upon the tield in extended wind-
rows. The wounded were to be counted by thousands. Their
heart-rending cries and groans were audible on all sides."

Colonel B. Estvan, of the Confederate army, says :

" In by-gone days I had been on many a battle-field in Italy
and Hungary-, but ,1 confess that I never witnessed so hideous a
picture of human slaughter and horrible suffering."

General McClellan, in his report (p. 249), says :

" Our loss in this battle, in killed, wounded, and missing, was
very heavv, especially in officers, many of whom were killt-d,
wounded, or taken prisoners while gallantly leading on th-ir men.
or rallying them to renewed exertions. It is impossible to arrive
at the exact numbers lost in this rt^i/j'/^cn?/,;' engagement, owing to
the series of battles which followed each other in quick succes-
sion, and in which the whole army was engaged. No
returns were made until after we had arrived at Harrison's Lnntl-
ing, when the losses for the whole seven days were estimated to-

The Compte dc Taris. of General McCldlan's st.iff. \\ii''
distirgnisheil hiin^elf in this engagement, informs us in 1: s
History, lluit out of the 35.000 engaged, tlie h)ss was nearly
7,000, and that the assailants suffered still nior-.'.

228 , Fifth Nezv York Volunteer Infantry.

The Confederate losses from their own estimates (iuernsey
places at 9,500. "Jackson's loss alone was 3,284, and the
other corps in the same proportion would make the Con-
federate loss about 10,000."

The Fifth Regiment lost more than one-tinrd of its officers
and n)en, killed and wounded, including nearly all of the
color-guard. Out of the 450 men engaged, 56 were killed
or died of their wounds; 3 were missing, no severely
wounded, making the total casualties among the officers and
men 169. Besides tlie above, there were about 50 who re-
ceived contusions in the course of the engagement, which,
although in most cases paintul, were not of such a serious
! nature as to be classed in this regiment as wounds, or to in-

i capacitate the recipients for duty.

j The Tenth lost 114, in killed, wounded, and missing, out

I of 575 nien engaged; among whom were Lieutenants James

j R. Smith and George Y. Tate, wounded.

I As an instance of the different effects of gun-shots produced

[. in battle, the losses in two instances may be mentioned.

I Company H had twenty-one severely wounded, some of them

\ having several wounds, but none of the wounds proved mor-

I tal. Company K had nineteen hit, out of whom eleven were

\ killed or died of their wounds.


I After the regiment was relieved by fresh troops, and after the

I latter had become engaged, William McDowell, the Orderly

k: Sergeant of Company G, remained on the field wholly re-

I gardlcss of tiying bullets, aiid eini>loved himself in picking up

I - rifles and throwing them into the ditch. He also took off

' his shoes and stockings and bathed his feet, and then rejoined

t!io main L'x'y of th^' re^iiU'.'iit, who u-.-re re.-tir:^:, as already

nicntiuned, lu:icLd down with the riiles lie iuul collected. If

others had been as thoughtful, the enemy uuiild have gleaneil

less booty in the matter of abandoned arms.

The Seven Days Retreat — Gaines Mill. 229

When the men lay in the cut of the road. Sergeants Forbes,
Law, Tiebout, and a few others crept out under lire to the
o\>t\\ field and secured their knapsacks, which had been left
wuh those of the majority of the regiment. The others
socured theirs afterward, but most of the men supportmg the
battery, the second time they went in, which was late in the
afternoon, were compelled to lose them.

Dave Burns, of the Fifth, had a long argument while the
battle was raging with a wounded Confederate, who, it ap-
pears, was an Irishman. His attention was attracted to him,
by seeing that he had a revolver in his hand. He asked him
what he was doing with " that," and was answered, it was for
protection from being bajoneted. Burns waxed wroth at the
idea of one of the Fifth doing anything so cowardly, and be-
rated him soundly ; getting warmed up, he wished that the
Confederate was a well man, and he would knock all the
secesh blood out of him ; that he was a disgrace to the Irish
people for figliting against the tiag, etc. Finally, he took the
revolver away from him, and removed the caps, but the man
begged so hard for it, as it was a present from one of his
officers, he gave it back to him, and also a drink of
water, and went at the fighting again, a? if he had merely
stopped work for a few moments to have an argument with
a friend.

In the battle, Walter S. Colby, a native of New Hamp-
i>hire, and a member of Company G, received a wound which
shattered his leg, and he fell. He supported himself as well
as ne could, pulled his caji oft" his head, waved it in the air,
•'ind gave three cheers for the Union and the American flag,
and iiiW down again. Several of the men went to his assist-
'ince and offered their aid, but he declined it, saying that
"^lt• would have to luse his leg, aiid that meant, in his p',>';r
•i^-aiti), his lifo ; that ihcy could testify that he died in a g.-od
f^iuse and died 'game.' " He told them to look after them-
selves and let him lav.


230 Fifth New York Volunteer Infa}itry.

No other information of him has ever been obtained from
any source, and the only inference is that he died Hke a hero
in the hands of the enemy, and sleeps in an unknown grave.
He was troubled with a racking cough in Baltimore; and
when the regiment left Federal Hill, he was left in the hos-
pital. He was offered his discharge, but refused it. After
the regiment was on the march up the Peninsula, beyond
Yorktown, the men of his company were surprised to see
Colby appear among them, knapsack and all, fully equipped ;
he looked thin and emaciated. One of the boys said : " Why,
Colby, we never expected to see you again." He replied :
"You didn't! Well, I expected to see you again ; and I
mean to go home with the regiment, or go home in a box,"
and there was not a man in the company but knew that Walt
Colby meant what he said. He had an iron will, and his de-
cision once made, as they knew from exi^erience, was un-
alterable. The writer had him for a messmate on the march
up to near Richmond, and was often kept awake by his vio-
lent coughing. One night, being very tired and sleepy, after
a long march, a rather petulant remark was made, which
the writer has ever since regretted. The poor skeleton, for
that was all there was of hnn in the tlesh, flared up with,
"I'll live to stamp on your grave," and bounced out of the
shelter that I had rigged ; nor could any persuasion on my
part induce him to come back that night, but he laid outside
on the ground, without any covering, in a drizzly rain. As
long as he liverl, no matter how long or hard the march, be
it rain or shine, there was Colby at its end, with what was
left of the regiment. While strong men were strewed all
along far in the rear, he was never known to dro[i out, and
his limbs were wasted away to skin and bone. He did
not aspire to any higher position than that uf a private,
although evidently of good social rank, and had seen much
of the world. When he enlisted he was handsomely dressed.
He once told the writer that when he enlisted he was only

The Seven Days Retreat — Gaines Mill. 231

on a visit to New York, and had dined with a friend at the
St. Nicholas Hotel, and bid him good-bye, the friend to go
South for the purpose of joining the Confederates. He him-
self strolled otf, went into the quarters in Canal Street, and
entered the Fifth. He always had plenty of money to spend
or to lend, but who he was or who his friends were, he would
never divulge. And this invincible hero, unknown to his
comrades, further than is narrated above, sleeps in an un-
known grave in Virginia. He deserves a better tribute than
mine to the decision and character of a soldier who had no
superior for loyalty and heroism in the army,

Snittin, of Company B, was one of the first men killed in the
first charge. He was one of the comical characters of the
regiment. Skipping out over the turf, he said : "Johnny on
the green ! here comes a ball from Brooklyn," then, " Here is
one from Coney Island;" but one came from a Confeder-
ate, as if in mockery, and poor Snifiin dropped dead.

One of the color-guard, Spellman, was overcome by the
lieat during the height of the action, and fell as if dead ; he
was carried to the house used as a hospital, on- the hill to the
rear. His "chum" found time to run over and see how he
fared, after the regiment was relieved the tirst time, and dis-
covered him lying unconscious. He asked a surgeon to i\o
something for him, who said it was of no use, as he was as
good as a dead man. Finally, another surgeon was induced
to e.vamine him, but he also gave him up, and said that he
must use his time on tliose he could save. When the ene-
my shelled the hospital building, the crash of the shell i)ar-
tially aroused Spellman, and his comrade raised him up and
half dragged him from the building. All those who could
niove were crawling off, and a great many stragglers were
dicing to the rear. Spellman oi)cned his eyes, and glared
• 'b'mt hiia tor an in-tant, as if his consciousness was return-
ing. "What does this niean ? " he asked. He was an-
swered that the battle was going all right ; those are the

232 Fifth Neii> York Volunteer Infantry.

stragglers. " Cowards ! " exclaimed Spellman, and again he
went off in a swoon. His friend succeeded in getting liiui
into an ambulance, never expecting to see iiim again, and
rejoined the regiment. On the march to Malvern Hill, tl.o
men were surprised to see Spellman coming over the fields
to join them. We will see what a " dead man " was maiic
of on a future occasion.

We rested as well as it was possible to rest, after the san-
guinary struggle of the day, and early in the morning of
Saturday, tiie 28th, before daylight, the men were ordered
from their slumbers, and crossed the Chickahominy, over
Woodbury Bridge, to the Richmond side of the river, and
took a position on Trent Hill, which overlooked the stream.
The regulars crossed about 6 o'clock, and blew up the bridge
behind them. We remained here, with the rest of Syke^'
division and the reserve artillery, serving also on picket
along the river till 6 p.m. We then started about dusk and
marched to Savage's Station, and destroyed by fire a large
])ile of knai)sacks and other property, to prevent them from
falling into the hands of the enemy.

At this i)lace there were about 6,000 wounded and sick,
about 2,500 of whom, the last troops that left on the suc-
ceeding night, were compelled to leave from inexorable ne-
cessity, as there was not sufficient means of conveyance to
remove them all. The army marched on its way, accom-
panied with the thousands of disabled and afflicted com-
rades upon whom the blow of war had fallen, but with heavy
hearts that so many were left behind to take the hospitalities
or the revenge of the enemy, at whose hands they had re-
ceived their wounds.

Rev. J. J. Marks, D.D., in the "Peninsular Campaign in
Virginia," p, 24 ;, dL'scribi.s the scene on the evening of the
291!), in the following language:

"I beheld a long, scattered line of the patients staggering

The Seven Days Retreat— Gaines Mill. 233

away, some canning their guns and supporting a companion on
an arm, others tottering feebly over a staff which they appeared
to have scarcely strength to lift up. One was borne on
the shoulders of two of his companions, in the hope that when
he had gone a little distance he might be able to walk. One had
already sat down, fainting from the exertion of a few steps. Some
had risen from the first rest, staggered forward a few steps, and
ftU in the road ; but after a few moments in the open air, and
stimulated by the fear of the enemy, they could walk more
strongly. Never have 1 beheld a spectacle more touching or '
more sad."

Also an eye-witness* of this painful episode in the events
of the campaign, tells his observations as follows :

" A very affecting scene was now witnessed as the troops bade
adieu to their sick and wounded friends, whom they were com-
pelled to leave behind, to abandon as prisoners to the rebels.

'• Up to this time the disabled had not known that they were
to be left behind ; and when it became manifest, the scene could
not be pictured by human language. I heard one man cry out,
* O my God ! is this the reward I deserve for all the sacrifices I
have made, the battles I have fought, and the agony I have en-
dured from my wounds?' Some of the younger soldiers wept
like children ; others turned pale, and some fainted. Poor fellows !
they thought this was the last drop in the cup of bitterness, but
there were many yet to be added."

Report of Colonel G. K. Warren,

Sd Brigade, 2d Division, '^th Corps, of the Battle of Gaines


Headquarters 31) Brigade, Sykes' Division. )
Porter's Corps, July a, 1S63. ^
Sir t—I have the honor to report the opcnitions of this brig ule
from June 2(><^^ to July 31I. iSio.

The brigade consistetl, on the 26th ultimo, of the 5ih New

• Rev. John S. C. Abbott's " Change of Base."

■! ^:: „MilX|

234 Fifth New York Volunteer Infantry.

York Volunteers, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Dun,ea, numberint^
about 450 effective men for duty, and of the loth New York Vol-
unteers, commanded by Col. Bendix, numbering about 575 men
for duty. The ist Connecticut, Col. Tyler, had been relieved from
my command for duty with the heavy artillen,-.

The conflict having- begun on the right of our army, at Mc-
chanicsville, on the afternoon of the 26th ultimo, we were ordered
out with the rest of the division, and remained in line of battle all
night. At 2.30 A.M. on the 27th, we marched back, as directed.
and took up our line so as to defend the crossing of Gaines' Creek
while the trains and artillery effected a passage. This having
been accomplished, we again marched forward to a new position,
about half a mile from the last, where it had been determined to
prevent the further advance of the enemy.

The line assigned to my brigade, forming the left of the division,
had its left resting upon a forest, which, I was informed, was held
by Griffin's brigade, and our line of battle was in an open, plowed
field, along a gentle slope, in a measure hiding us from the obser-
vation of the enemy, though affording but little shelter from dis-
tant curved firing. In front of us, distant from 200 to 300 yards.
was a belt of woods, growing in a ravine, through openings rf
which a view could be had of an extensive, open held beyond.
These woods I occupied with a company of the 5th New York
Volunteers as skirmishers. From 300 to 400 yards to the right
of my line was another forest bordering the open field, and run-
ning nearly in a direction perpendicular to our line. This I
guarded by a company of the 5th New York Volunteers, deployed
as skirmishers. Major Clitz's battalion of the 12th Regular In-
fantry' was on my right, on a line nearly perpendicular to mine,
with a large inter\-al between us. Our artillery was posted to the
rear and to the left of my line.

About \o\ o'clock a.m. these arrangements were complete,
and we waited the approach of the enemy. The weather was
ver}'- warm.

About \2\ P.M. the enemy forced the passage of G;iines' Creek

near the mill, and cheering as they came, apn;:!rcd in force at a

distance in the oi)en field beyond the wooded ravine in my front.

About I o'clock P.M. they advanced in several lines, and at my

The Seven Days" Retreat— Gaines Mill. 235

request, Captain Edwards brought up a section of liis battery- on
my right, and opened on them, and a tierce tire was carried on
between them over our heads, in which we suffered considerably.
Captain Edwards steadily kept up his tire, though opposed by sev-
( batteries, till the enemy having driven in our line of skir-
mishers, I advised him to retire. The enemy now advanced sharp-
shooters to the edge of the woods to pick off our artillerymen,
posted behind us, but our ritle-firing compelled them to retire.

One of our batteries .having opened with shrapnel, the prema-
ture e.xplosion of these shells behind us caused so much loss that

Online LibraryAlfred DavenportCamp and field life of the Fifth New York volunteer infantry. (Duryee zouaves.) → online text (page 19 of 39)