22ndMass / USSC Boston Branch
"Here's a yellow sash for six feet of Virginia soil..."
Captain John F. Dunning, 22nd MVI, Co. D
Cambridge Chronicle - July 13, 1862
Headquarters Co. D 22d Reg. Mass. Vols.
Harrison's Landing, Va.
July 13, 1862
Mr. Editor - My last letter brought me up to the close of our days of peace. On the very night of the day when I finished it, we were called up at one o'clock and kept in line until morning. Our right wing was menaced at Mechanicsville, but, as the rebels did not show themselves, we were dismissed to "breakfast", with orders "to be ready at a moment's notice". We passed the day in fixing up our quarters and got pretty well used up, expecting a good sleep, which we didn't get; in fact, that was an article not to be had at any price for some little time thereafter.
On Tuesday, we started to go on picket, and, after marching to Gen. Porter's Headquarters, were dismissed and returned to camp, where we detailed a telegraph guard, and the rest of us had another night to be devoted to the usual alarm, and "fall in", and stand till morning, when we forced to go, almost breakfastless on picket at New Bridge - a point now of more than ordinary importance.
With the first light of morning alost, of this day, Thursday, June 26th, came to our ears the sound of cannon from far away to our right, where McCall's staunch Pennsylvania reserves, temporarily attached to our corps, were holding back a vastly superior force. For a while it seemed, from the gradually nearing waves of sound, that our brave boys were being driven back, and we chafed somewhat with the thought that this might be the case while we were in the rear inactive. But, at noon, all this stopped.
During the day, our orders were to keep quiet until our line on the right was driven to our point, then spike the guns of the battery in our rear, burn the carriages, destroy the bridges, and fall back to the new line of battle, all of which, with the aid of the arillery and engineers, we stood in readiness to do, but fortunately, thanks to the prowess of our brave boys in the front, we were not called on to do it.
In the evening, to relieve our suspense, Capt. Sampson, who was in command at our post, sent me to headquarters to learn what was going on, and I went back with a light heart, bearing good news, which put the boys in spirits.
It seems that early in the morning, in obedience to orders, the Tenth Pennsylvania advanced about three miles above Mechanicsville, where they were attacked by a large force of the enemy, and they fell back, figting, to Mechanicsville, where the position was much more favorable; and at this point they completely repulsed the enemy at all points, with great rebel loss, and at comparatively slight loss to ourselves. It was at the time of this retreat, that we heard the gradually increasing sound of the artillery, so soon held in check.
Night closed in on the contending forces, and it was not until after ten o'clock that the last gun was fired and the troops laid down to rest on the field of death. Our orders were; "rest, boys; but don't sleep"; and we tried to obey it literally, but couldn't.
Battle of Gaines Mill
At daylight, breakfastless, we were ordered to "fall in", destroy the bridges, return to camp for our knapsacks, and commence our march. Meanwhile the battle was raging on the fiercely on the right, and the wagon train, which, for twenty-four hours had been put in readiness for moving, was put in motion towards the bridge, as rapidly nearing booming of artillery betokened that McCall was drawing on our enemy, and if the baggage, which was the game he sought was to be saved, no time was lost, and there was none wasted. In every camp sacrificial fires were offered to the gods of strategy and military necessity, fed with commisary and quartermaster stores , engineers, and camp equipage, in short, every sort of article required by an army, was represented in some portion of the land of bonfires in the various camps through which we took our line of march.
The view presented by our late so pleasant camp, on this and other other respects, occaisoned by our sudden "change of front to rear", was, to a casual observer, rather dispiriting, conveying a rout; but any reflecting man, by giving the matter an earnest thought, could see that if the small force of yesterday could manage them so well at Mechanicsville, the augmented force could still hold them, and the view was not so dispiriting. However, not long were we allowed to ponder over these matters, for time was pressing on, and so was our eager and determined foe. Accordingly, at nine o'clock in the morning, we were marched to our position on the top of a hillside, facing Dr. Gaines house, and began making arrangements for giving our expected visitors a warm reception. In the mean time, the families of Dr. Gaines, whose house was in our front, and Dr. Williams, whose farm we were about to use for "planting grapes", were provided with vehicles and escorts, and sent to the rear, as the climate was soon to be uncomfortably warm for idlers. Our line of battle was formed in a spot perfectly adapted by nature for defence, as it was on a steep hillside, thickly covered with heavy pines and oak, with undergrowth of thorn and fir, while at the bottom, where it joined the open hillside wheatfield of Dr. Gaines, was a deep wet ditch, six to eight feet wide and deep. The Zouaves on the right were ably backed up by a regular and a Pennsylvania battery, if I rember rightly; the centre by Griffin's and a Rhode Island, and the left by Martin's Third, and Allen's Fifth Mass. In our front line were posted our gallant little fragmentary Thirteenth and Twenty-Fifth New York, who were so decimated at Hanover Court House, while the rear was held by our unparalleled Second Maine, and ourselves, while the First Michigan was divided, and thrown to the front on the flanks, as skirmishers and flankers.
Scarce had these arrangemets been made, and before we had finished our ? breastworks, when the cracking of musketry from the skirmishers, quickly answered by a volley from the enemy and the dropping among us of a shower of lead, mingled with there crashing shot and bursting shell, warned us that our foe was upon us, and each man seized his ready gun, and taking his position behind the barricade, breathlessly awaited their coming; and not long had we to wait. Before our part of the line was touched, they were on our right, and with fury bore upon it; but the "red-legged devils", as they themselves call our brave Zouaves, and who gave them such reason to remember them at Big Bethel, were there, and they couldn't pass. Throughout the entire fight was their attack kept up on our right, hoping to cut through it, and thus gain the main road, cut off our train, and outflank the line. But Fitz John knew who he was confiding in, and in the hands of Duryea's boys the path was safe.
After the repulse on the right, they essayed the centre, but Griffin's battery, Griffin's boys and GRIFFIN himself were there, and discomfiture was speedy.
This was the first part of the fight that I had the pleasure of seeing as a spectator, for, as our part of the line was not engaged, I could avail myslef in one of the many chinks in our impromptu breastworks, and get a glimpse of the field through the trees and foliage. After a slight pause, that is , at our part of the line, the musketry being incessant on the right, they advanced over the brow of the hill, the firing and coming in of our skirmishers giving us warning of their approach, and soon their "stars and bars" were in view. As they came on, how feverently I prayed that they might soon trail in the dust! Even as I so prayed, Hurrah! the bearer is down! he is up again! No! another has the flag, and, now he too is down, and the flag lies with him!
Meanwhile the carnage was tremendous. Griffin with his guns double-shotted with grape and canister, his infantry pouring in tons of minnies, and over all, and in all, Griffin himself the very embodiment of a hero, directing and controlling all, recieved them, and soon our bluff and fearless Lieut. Symonds, who had a stand-up seat behind a pine, just in our rear, clapped his hands and shouted, "By Heavens! they've broke! they've skeddadled! Hurrah, boys! Hurrah!" I looked over the breastworks and could see that this was so. Their line was entirely broken up, and the field showed only its fragments, making each off on his own hook, anxious to get out of sight beyond the brow of the hill, and out of range. Their colors, the object of my prayers, were left on the field, and some of Griffin's boys got them. He was soon aided in his cheering, and the shout we sent after them must have helped them along.
As it was plain that the foe was feeling along our line to find a weak place, if it had any, it was now our turn, and we had it. Soon they came down upon us; but, if they imagined that our weakness lay in our front line, weher our brave boys from the "Excelsior" State held the place, they soon found their mistake; thatt they did discover it, I feel confident from what occurred afterwards. They were repulsed at this point also, and fell back for a third time, leaving on the field a battle flag of the new pattern, which was soon in the hands of the Thirteenth's boys.
22d Reg. Mass. Vols at Gaines Mill
And now, for the first time during the progress of the battle, which had raged for nearly five hours, there was a brief lull, and we knew that the tide of battle was soon to be upon us, whether to overwhelm us or be again and finally turned back, was yet to be seen, and breathlessly we awaited .....coming on, it was now five o'clock, and we wanted no night battle. At last they came, and what a sight! For the last great struggle they had formed their entire force, inclusive of fifty thousand fresh troops, in line of battle, close columns by divisions five brigades deep, and thus they swept on over the hillside, whcih was soon one solid mass, pressing on to overwhelm us, not by fighting, but to crush us by the mere force and weight of numbers. But no coward, trembling foe did they find, as their rapidly piled up dead attested. Along the entire line, and from Smith, came the crash and rush of grape and canister. From both lines of infantry the shower of lead was incessant, and the flankers were not idle.
But force of numbers was to prevail, as it was by no means possible that 16,000 worn and jaded troops could forever hold back 80,000; and soon our front gave way. As the tremendous shower of bullets which was falling in our line, rendered it impossible for us to show ourselves above our breastworks, we were kept lying down in our places; but by looking in the face of our Colonel, who occupied a pine in the rear of the centre, Major Tilton having one direct rear of our company, next the one behind which Liuet. Symonds was encounced, I could see how the fight was going, for his countenance was a complete daguerrotype of the battlefield. Alternate light and shade, always tinged with anxiety, showed me all I required. At last, Major Tilton, after a hasty look to the left, suddenly left his post, spoke to the Colonel, and in attempting to get back to the tree, recieved a wound and went to the rear. Colonel Gove, after a hasty look to the left, immediately came down into the line and said earnestly, bringing his hands together, "Boys, we must check them here! for God's sake give it to them!" I gave a hasty look to the left, saw the skirmishers coming in on the run, without regard to order, while at the same time the front line fell back on ours. The effect of this was somewat dispiriting, and our front line wavered at the flanks where they came in on us. But the Colonel's eye was upon us, and the boys mostly held firm, and on our ? it was not until I saw the rebel flag placed on the right of our breastworks, and saw one color bearer shot down, that our company rose and delivered a volley in splendid order. Seeing that our Colonel still held his position, and thinking that Mrs. Frank N. Scott's chances of becoming a widow were excellent, I concluded I would keep him company, and so I dropped again and hastily reloaded. In my front was a young hero, about fourteen years of age, a lad named Edgar Starkey, who originally enlisted as a drummer, but was subsequently put into the ranks at Hall's Hill. After firing, he turned, and seeing me with him, he too remained, and with his bayonet resting on the breastwork, waited. Soon they appeared with only the narrow breastwork between us. Starkey instantly drove his bayonet through a Lieutenant, and left it there up to the shank. Simultaneuosly I took good aim on his file leader, and have no doubt that we each had accounted for our No. 2, and as teh entire right was filled with the rebels, we turned to leave, and for my part expecting to be riddled as they were litterally on us. But I was fortunate, for though the bullets whistled lively around us, like a swarm of bees, and full as thick, I escaped unhurt. Not so, however, my brave little friend to get away, for as we were escaping over the hill, he recieved his first wound, soon after that another, which was shortly followed by a third. When he recieved his first wound, he stumbled, and I being determined that they shouldn't have him at any rate, stopped to aid him, but it was only momentary, and he dashed on and we were seperated.
At about the time of the coming in of our line of skirmishers on the left, Capt. Dunning fell, with a ball through the head, and at about the same time that saw Starkey and myself leaving, our Colonel recieved his first wound, so soon followed by his second and fatal one. Soon our line was in full retreat, followed by musketry and shell from our enemy, who were now in possession of our line. Fortunately, we had reserve battery placed on a hill in our rear, and they covered us in our retreat, or the rebels would have cut us up with the bayonet, and their prize in prisoners would have been large.
Behind the hill, after we got beyond their line of sight, we tried to rally the men, and succeeded in getting seventy or eighty representing almost every regiment in the division, and took up our position on the right of a company of cavalry, who were supporting a battery; but just as we all got ready to do something, the battery and cavalry left suddenly, and we filed off the field in order. Just at this time, our dashing Ninth, and her "twin", the Sixty-Second Pennsylvania, made three or four dashes to the front, and as Meagher's brigade came across the river and former their line for an advance, our troops gathered more courage and held up.
Night was closing in during these last scenes, and by this time it was dark. One or two incidents of the retreat I will record.
As I was leaving the trenches, I passed by the tree behind which Lieut. Symonds was all this time standing, and saw a scene that I have since laughed at, though at the time I thought nothing of it. A Secesh had spied Lieut. S.'s shoulder strap, and rushing up close to him, took deliberate aim, which he seeing, said, fixing his eye firmly on the rebel, "Look here! If you shoot me you'll pay dearly for it." Whether or not the Secesh was scared, or only amazed at his sublime impudence, I can't say, but he changed his mark and Lieut. S. left with me.
The rally I speak of was made by the following commissioned officers: Capt. D.K. Wardwell, Co. B; Capt. Mason Burt, Co. C; Capt. J.J. Thompson, Co. H; Lieut. C.K. Field, Commanding, Co. B; Lieut. H.G. Connor, Co. A; and Lieut. J. Henry Symonds Co. D. Captain Wardwell acing as Captain and I filled the part of orderly.
Brig. Gen. Butterfield rode up just as we got formed, and said, "That's right, boys! I'll lead you!" and dismounting, he gave his horse in into the charge of his bugler, and placing himself on the right (we had been marching by the flank) he ordered, "By the left flank,march!" - and we took the position on the right of the cavalry, as described above; but as the cavalry and battery both slid, nothing was left for us but to follow suit.
Just as we arrived at the hospital in the rear, the colors of a regiment with thirty or forty men came along the road, when they were brought to a stand by a splendid fellow wearing the stripes of a sergeant of cavalry, who reined up his horse directly in front of the color bearer, and with his pistol directed at his head, shouted: "Stop where you are; don't you carry those another inch in this direction" and the line was reformed, but Meagher's brigade left them nothing to do.
And now commenced the sickening portion of the labors of the day. The excitement of action was all gone, and the tide was surging heavily to its ebb. With hearts torn and bleeding, Lieut. Symonds and myslef, who were all that could be found at the place, looked in each others faces and with filling eyes spoke of the lost; and I am not ashamed to say that for a long time I could not speak of the loss of our esteemed Colonel without shedding tears, and I am not done with it yet. However, we set about the melancholy tasks of rallying the scattered remains of our company and the regiment. Soon the colors were found in the hands of Color Corporal Edwin H.C. Wentworth, who assisted by Color Corporal Wilson and one other belonging to Co. B, whose name I have forgotten, being all who remained of our Color Guard, brought them safely from the field, though they were made a target by the rebels. All honor to them said we, for it removed a heavy weight from our minds, and with the aid of the colors we soon had about sixty men.
At midnight, we crossed the Chickahominy and encamped at daylight on this side, about two miles from Savage Station and began to see just how we stood, and made up our returns to headquarters.
This fell to my task, my chum, Orderly Sergeant Corthell being sick; and I was obliged to report our loss in killed, wounded and missing - forty-one, including Capt. Dunning; and I am infomed that when our regimental returns , showing a footing up of the various heads to be three hundred and sixty five, shown to our Brig. Gen. Martindale, he burst into tears and said "My God! Is that my Twenty-Second?"
Frank N. Scott