Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Diary of 2nd Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Friday, May 6, 1864

We slept on our arms last night. Report says that we forced the enemy's right flank back about three miles yesterday besides capturing a goodly number of prisoners, but I doubt it. It is also rumored that the Vermont Brigade of our Corps was badly cut up yesterday afternoon, but I hope it's not true; it was hotly engaged, though, on our left. We were led further off into the woods this forenoon to form another line of battle evidently, but General Seymour who was in charge seemed to be dazed, and while poking around alone in front of and too far away from his command without a skirmish line in his front, was taken prisoner.* A part of our brigade was finally detached and taken north of and just to the right of the Orange turnpike including our regiment where we formed line behind some natural breastworks with the enemy's earthworks about fifty yards more or less in our front across a pretty, level, green field, in the edge of the woods; this work of theirs was in front, I am told, of the enemy's main line. We were shelled more or less at times through the day until about mid-afternoon when we were let alone.

Later in the day all at once hearing heavy firing on the right flank of our army not far away, Colonel W. W. Henry excitedly called us to attention, faced us to the right and then turning the head of the column directly to the rear we ran with all speed possible — there was no double quick about it — for a mile or more into the woods in rear of where the heavy firing on our right was, stumbling over logs, ditches, brush, etc., till our faces, hands and shins smarted from bruises and scratches, when we were halted all out of breath, faced to the left and ordered to give the charging war cry which, being a good deal wrought up, not knowing what had happened but that a disaster had occurred to our forces as panic-stricken men were hastening to the rear from our defeated right through our lines, and not knowing our own position relatively speaking to any other of our forces, or but what we would be pounced upon any moment, for we had but a small part of our brigade even, with us, so far as I could see in the woods, and annihilated, we, together with the One Hundred and Sixth New York Volunteer Infantry and Fourteenth New Jersey repeatedly gave the war cry as we had never given it before or did give it again afterwards. It reverberated again and again in the forest until the echo died away in the gloaming as softly as a fond mother's lullaby, and it pleased me at the time to think that perhaps it was God's offering through us and the medium of nature, or His lullaby to the thousands of wounded and dying heroes both of the blue and the grey within hearing, for the softly dying echoes certainly were soothing and restful in the quiet twilight even to me. This war cry had the effect not only to stop the enemy's firing but its advance, thinking probably it was a counter-assault to meet theirs, and it saved many a poor fellow from being captured, as the enemy ceased its aggressive tactics in order to reform and be prepared to meet our anticipated assault.

General Jubal A. Early's Division of three brigades had stolen round in rear of General Shaler's veteran brigade of the First Division and the Second Brigade (formerly General Seymour's) of green men of the Third Division, Sixth Corps, which were on the right of our army in the order mentioned, attacked vigorously both in rear and front, threw Shaler's veterans into disorder as well later as the Second Brigade, captured Shaler and created temporary confusion among the trains and hospital corps nearby. Seemingly it was the result of bad generalship by someone on our side. If I had been a General in command there, I'll bet the Johnnies wouldn't have got away with me! It was evidently lack of alertness, and the Johnny fellow got the best of it because the most alert.

Generals Meade and Sedgwick probably returning from an investigation of that part of the battlefield after the fight just after dark near our regiment where I was, inquired what troops were there and on being told it was the Tenth Vermont at that particular point Sedgwick said to Meade, “We are safe enough with that regiment!” as though they doubted the security of their surroundings.

* In a letter to Chaplain E. M. Haynes of my regiment by me which he used in his history of our regiment, I state that Seymour was taken prisoner when the right flank of our army was thrown into confusion late May 6, 1864. From what source I got the information I don't recollect, but supposed it correct. I had not then seen my diary for many years, and had forgotten about the matter. My diary is correct, for I recall having heard of Seymour being taken prisoner that day before the fighting on our right flank later in the day. I wondered when I saw him so far in front of his column why he didn't have a skirmish line in his front. An alert General wouldn't have been captured, I don't think. — L. A. A.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 45-8

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