Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Diary of 2nd Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Wednesday, June 1, 1864

It has been a terribly warm day. The enemy being too well posted at Totopotomy to attack, Grant concluded to move to Cold Harbor about fifteen miles away, last night. General Sheridan had taken it yesterday afternoon but being hard pressed by the enemy's Infantry he had started to leave when he was ordered by General Meade not to do so. The Sixth Corps in accordance with this plan started for that point at about 2 o'clock this morning over a narrow road leading a part of the way through swamps which are the source of the Totopotomy and Matadequin rivers, arriving at Cold Harbor which was being held by General Custer's Cavalry, at about 2 o'clock this afternoon. Characteristic of Custer when in a hot place, his band was playing Hail Columbia while his men were fighting like Trojans to hold their ground. He had had a goodly number killed and wounded who lay on the field uncared for because all his men were absolutely required for fighting in order to hold the place. Soon the dry grass and underbrush took fire and the helpless wounded were roasted to death, their charred remains being found afterwards. It was a sad sight for any one, and especially a thoughtful person.

Our line of battle consists of the Sixth and Eighteenth Corps, Major General W. F. Smith commanding the latter of about ten thousand men just from Bermuda Hundred being on the right of the line. Our Corps with its Third, First and Second Divisions in the order named from right to left was on the left of the line. The Third Division, Sixth Corps went into line about 3 o'clock p. m. just west of an old tavern at Cold Harbor Cross Roads or Old Cold Harbor, from which tavern the place probably took its name, owing to its custom of entertaining especially at an early day when its grounds were allowed for camping purposes to travelers and they cared mostly for themselves.

Our part of the line was in an open field behind a narrow strip of woods with the enemy's breastworks just beyond about a mile more or less away in our front. We were formed by regiments four lines deep. Our regiment was on the skirmish line all night on Totopotomy Creek, but was relieved about daylight and after a hot dusty march joined our Division in the foregoing position just in season for the assault at about 6 o'clock p. m., our brigade being on the left of our Division. We were all worn out from being on the skirmish line all night followed by a rapid but all-day march, so near asleep at times en route as to frequently actually unconsciously march into scrub trees by the wayside or anything else in the line of march before awaking. It was simply impossible to keep awake as overtaxed nature had reached its limit.

We were ordered to guide left on the First Division of the Sixth Corps in the assault, but owing to some misunderstanding at first there was some delay, but our brigade soon got in motion and advanced rapidly in unbroken lines soon all alone on its right, until broken by the woods, leaving the troops on our right far in the rear, which caused us to oblique to the right when, before we were half-way through the woods and swamp which were wider in our front than to our left, our brigade had deployed so we had only one line of battle where I was with no support on my right whatever which, owing to an enfilading fire from the enemy in that direction, greatly handicapped the right of the line here. This caused quite a sharp angle in the Union line of battle at this point, and when we were afterwards drawn back a little to connect with our right it brought our line of works here closer the enemy's than at any other point. The fact is we had no support either in rear or to our right and were in a precarious situation until drawn back in continuous line of battle with the rest of the assaulting line.

It was a determined charge though, through the woods and swamp. It was my first experience as Company Commander in an assault, and it did seem queer to step in front of my men to lead them, one of if not the youngest among them. But I was on my mettle and had I known a solid shot would have cut me in part the next second, pride would have kept me up to the rack, for the Company Commanders of the Tenth Vermont did not follow but led their men in battle ever after the first one at Locust Grove and some did there. The men of Company K are splendid fighters, and I am proud of them. If there was a man who shirked I didn't see him. They followed me splendidly, have gained my respect and esteem, and I shall hate to give up the Company when the time comes to do so.

A part of our Division together with General Emery Upton's Brigade of our Corps, quite largely went over the enemy's works in the assault to-night, but could not hold them because not supported on either flank. It was a plucky fight. Our opponents were Generals Hoke, Kershaw, Pickett and Field's Divisions. General Clingman's Brigade was on the right of Hoke's Division, and was badly broken up in the assault, as well as the Brigade on either side of his, one of which belonged to Kershaw's Division. Our regiment captured the Fifty-first North Carolina Infantry, the commanding officer of which surrendered his sword to Captain E. B. Frost of Company A, acting Major. Our Division and Upton's Brigade captured five hundred prisoners, most of whom were probably taken by our regiment. Such as were taken by it were sent to the rear, without guard, but were again picked up en route so we got no credit for them. We could not spare men to send them under guard for we had more than we could do to hold the works after taking them.

The loss in the Sixth Corps was twelve hundred, of which over eight hundred were from our Division. The splendid work of the Third Division here put it in full fellowship with the rest of the Sixth Corps. We had proved our mettle grandly even if a shorter time in service than the Second and Third Divisions. The loss from our Brigade was twenty-one officers, seven of whom were killed, ten wounded and four were taken prisoners; one hundred enlisted men were also killed and two hundred and seventy-five wounded. Our regiment lost nineteen killed and sixty-two wounded, and Company K, one killed and four wounded. Lieutenant Colonel Townsend of the One Hundred and Sixth New York, Lieutenants Ezra Stetson of Company B, and C. G. Newton of Company G, Tenth Vermont, were killed; Colonel W. W. Henry and Lieutenant William White of the Tenth Vermont, Colonel W. S. Truex of the Fourteenth New Jersey, commanding First Brigade, Colonel Schall of the Eighty-seventh Pennsylvania were wounded, and Major McDonald of the One Hundred and Sixth New York and Lieutenant J. S. Thompson of Company A, Tenth Vermont were taken prisoners and two other officers.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 69-74

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