Friday, October 7, 2016

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fessenden Morse: The Battle of Averysboro

March 15, 1865, the day preceding this battle, was cloudy and rainy, the brigade marching about ten miles on a plank road, getting into camp after dark. The camp was in an ancient grave-yard, very damp and disagreeable. Our men had just started fires and were preparing their frugal supper, when a mounted orderly clattered up to my shelter tent with orders for the regiment to be ready to march at once. Our brigade was soon in motion through the pitchy darkness, over the most execrable of mud roads. We marched only about five miles, but it was nearly twelve o'clock when we filed off the road into a pine thicket, and lay down on the wet ground for the remainder of the night. During the night march we learned that Kilpatrick's cavalry had encountered a force of the enemy, and that we had been ordered up to relieve one of his brigades. This force was General Hardee's command, which had been halted in a strong position for the purpose of holding Sherman's advance, to give time for Johnson to concentrate his army at some point beyond. About seven A. M., I received orders to form the regiment on the left of the brigade, throw out skirmishers and engage the enemy, and was told that my left would be supported by cavalry. The ground in our front, over which we advanced during the day, was a pine swamp, the water in some places being a foot or more in depth.

As soon as the regiment had taken its position, I ordered. Captain J. I. Grafton, who commanded the left flank company, to take his company and the one next on his right, and deploy them in front of the regiment. The skirmishers were at once engaged, and we came under a well-directed, scattering fire. Captain Grafton was just placing his men in position when he was wounded in the leg and started to the rear, but when within a few yards of the place where I was standing he turned again to the front, and almost immediately was struck by a bullet in the neck. Even with this mortal wound he staggered several paces to the rear, when he fell, and died a few moments afterwards. Captain Grafton was a gallant soldier, and a gentleman in every sense of the word. He joined the regiment as junior second lieutenant in November, 1861. He was severely wounded at Cedar Mountain, and again at Chancellorsville. The latter wound was in one of his legs, which caused a lameness from which he never fully recovered, but in spite of pain and discomfort he maintained his place at the head of his company at all times, and with his fine bearing was an example of a gallant soldier. It seemed hard that he should meet his death after passing through the great campaigns of the war, and when the regiment was in action for the last time; but so it was, and we had to mourn the death of one more brave and true comrade.

The skirmishers of our brigade steadily pushed back those of the enemy, and after our ammunition was exhausted, we were relieved by General Coggswell's brigade of the Third Division, the remainder of the Twentieth Corps having now come up to the front and taken the place of the cavalry. Coggswell continued to press the enemy with his brigade, and advanced for about a mile until he encountered a line of breastworks into which the enemy had retreated. In the meantime our brigade, the Third of the First Division, had been transferred to the right, and late in the afternoon we were ordered forward again. Our last advance carried us close to the enemy's works, and we became hotly engaged. The action lasted until dark, when the firing subsided, and during the night the enemy retreated from our front.

The regiment carried into this action only 141 officers and men: the companies were mere skeletons. Captain Grafton, with two companies, had but twenty men under his command when he was killed. The casualties in the action were Captain Grafton and seven enlisted men killed or mortally wounded; Lieutenant-Colonel Morse and fourteen enlisted men wounded. Lieutenant Samuel Storrow, who had joined the regiment at Atlanta and had made the “March to the Sea,” was detailed as aide on General Coggswell's staff when the latter was placed in command of a brigade at Savannah. Averysboro was his first real battle, and he went into it full of zeal and courage. While carrying an order he was struck by a bullet, and although the wound did not seem serious he could not rally from its effect, and died a few hours after. He was a fine, spirited young fellow, and his loss was greatly felt by those who had been associated with him during his short term of service.

The battle of Averysboro was a comparatively small affair, but the fighting was spirited, and the march of Sherman's army was but little delayed by Hardee's efforts.

The battle of Bentonville followed on March 19, but the Second Massachusetts Regiment was not actively engaged.

SOURCE: Charles Fessenden Morse, Letters Written During the Civil War, 1861-1865, p. 219-21

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