Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Diary of 1st Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Monday, September 19, 1864 – Part 5

The formation in front of the Nineteenth Corps which was our infantry right in the noon or first assault of the day was entirely different. (See Nos. 4 and 5 illustrations). Its whole front after about three hundred yards down a gentle slope was broad and comparatively level with slight breaks several hundred yards across, but not probably impassable for infantry at any point, where three or more small rivulets apparently headed with banks so undefined and flat as to give no defensive protection in a military sense so the enemy had no men or infantry there so far as I could see, but did have at least a small showing of artillery which I could see far across the breaks. These rivulets run northerly probably into the rivulet we came up from the Opequan or the Red Bud, but I do not know this. They help to form a morass it is said, probably about a mile more or less from where I was about fifty feet wide in front of where Crook's Corps was later in the day and it was probably here that Colonel R. B. Hayes (Nineteenth President, U. S. A.) later in the day, at the head of his brigade plunged in on his horse which at once mired when he dismounted and waded across alone under fire followed as soon as he waved his hat to them to join him, by about forty of his men to try and capture a battery which, led by him, they did after a hand-to-hand fight with the gunners, the enemy having deemed the battery so secure that no infantry support had been placed near it,* which indicates that in this assault the bulk of the enemy's infantry force confronting our infantry was at first largely in front of our division on the pike. The trees in number 4 illustration along the breaks in 1864 were not there then. The open foreground is the divide running east and west in this illustration so it can be easily seen why the Nineteenth Corps had no considerable fighting to do here.

The left of the enemy's line of infantry in the ravine in my front, so far as I could see, ended about nine hundred yards to my right at the head of the ravine as there was no cover further north except beyond the divide running east and west a good distance away to the north in front of the Nineteenth Corps, and its line was bent to conform to the ravine's direction in my right front; (See No. 8 illustration) the head of the rivulet had quite flat banks the convex side of the creek and its near and most abrupt bank being toward us in my front, but the reverse at the head of the ravine. This was the point in the enemy's line where the gap in our lines occurred mentioned further on which owing to the flat artillery and musketry-swept ground was untenable for the Second Brigade or any force except large enough to drive the enemy's infantry from its cover as was Russell's.

(See Nos. 4 and 5 illustrations). If the historian hereafter accuses the Third Division of breaking in this assault, it will be but fair to state extenuating circumstances, for a portion of the First Brigade was similarly situated and we got no direct effective flank help from our critics on either flank during the fight. The pike from our line of battle ran in an air line about nine hundred yards directly towards Winchester (See Nos. 2 and 9 illustrations) and was practically level except where it crossed the divide and little rivulet near my front where in the ravine the enemy had such a strong force in front of us about a regiment of which moved there across the pike from in front of the left of our First Brigade, (See No. 6 illustration) the Second Division having nothing in its immediate front in the ravine and the Vermont Brigade only a weak force in its distant left front beyond, but what a regiment could probably have easily handled and probably less than that did; but, nevertheless, that part of the Second Division next to us obliqued to the left to attack it which was what caused that Division to pull away from the Third Division's left at the same time the Nineteenth Corps pulled away from our right causing wide gaps —as the position which should have been occupied by the Second Brigade was vacant, too — thus leaving our brigade and especially our regiment, alone at a critical time when the gallant General Russell with his magnificent Division so grandly marched in and filled the gap on my right and lost his life in the act. (See No. 5 illustration). Our colors were on the pike thus bringing the right half of our regiment to the north or right side of it on open ground (See Nos. 3 and 5 illustrations) and leaving only about three regiments of our Division to the left of it on the wooded side hill (as shown in Nos. 3 and 7 illustrations) soon sloping abruptly towards the ravine in front which gave all our troops to the left of our colors on the pike some welcome cover but the right of our regiment and the Second Brigade, none. (See Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 illustrations).

No. 5 – Sheridan's Sept. 19, 1864, Winchester, Va. battle-field looking westerly showing the source of the ravine in which was the enemy's infantry In front of the right of the Tenth Vermont and the Second Brigade, Third Division. Sixth Corps. The enemy's artillery was on the further side of the smooth mid-ground to the left beyond the corn-field and ravine;also on the left mid-ground not shown in the illustration. It was opposite the barn, pool and trees on the right where the Second Brigade collapsed but 200 yards before reaching where they now are. Who wonders! Still the Tenth Vermont didn't collapse, nor did it when it advanced over the ground where the cornfield now is in the illustration. We preferred death instead, many of whom accepted it, including Gen. Russell. Majors Dillingham, Vredenburg, and Lieut. Hill. Russell's command assaulted over the ground where the barn, pool and trees now are.

* See "Descendants of George Abbott of Rowley, Mass.,"

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 157-60

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