Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
Grant Vs. Lee
Brandy Station, Virginia
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June 18-20, 1999
camp of the Eighth Conn. Vols.
south of Cold Harbor, Virginia.
June 11, 1864
Great events have occurred with this army in the past several days that have been accompanied by a series of vicious engagements. I have been involved or at hand for many of these events, and so I will tell you some particulars as I observed them.
Our army started moving south a week ago, and has been building near here, south of the Rapidan river in great numbers. There are several corps in the area, and we are pressing the enemy in a race for Richmond. On Thursday last, a small band of soldiers from the old Eighth arrived here, and reported to headquarters of the United States Volunteers 1st brigade. There, Col. Waffler, commanding, assigned us to be brigaded with the 79th NY under Capt. Kelley, the 1st. West Virginia under Capt. Skaggs, the 107th NY, and ourselfs. We established our camp in a thin woods which afforded us a fine degree of coolness and comfort from the Virginia sun. The temperatures were singularly temperate for the environs, but was not unwelcome. The darkness fell, and it reveled a host of the army by its fires, a camp here that no doublt was about half a mile in length and a quarter mile in breadth.
The morning followed the soundung of revielle, and we were up and involved in roll, and a large breakfast. Having just drawn rations, and knowing there was much of a march in front of us, the boys elected to get hot food, and get a good deal of it now. All is well with our supplies thus far on the campaign. We were detailed to the army quartermaster and sutlers main area, where we were fortunate to hear a man named Ed Bearrs report of the actions and issues and news of the recent campaign up til now. He is a great speaker, almost like a town crier, and his stories captivating. He is a first rate orator, and I would like you to hear him one day.
About midday, the officers called us out, and formed the columns. We were inspected as to our arms, and our supplies, and the column promptly moved out. We left our woods, and followed the roads and trails over the rolling countryside of farms, and after about an hour or so, turned off the road, onto a woods trail, and we were thus plunged into the Wilderness. The breezes stopped, being visible only fifty feet up above the thicket in the tree tops. We marched along, stopping occasionally for rest. We would break out into a field or meadow once in a while, but usually would turn back into the woods and brush. It started after one of the rests, that the officers with some great exhileration, deployed the column, in companies into the woods on the right and left of the trails, and we moved forward, more or less, through the jungles. We quite suddenly came upon the enemy in line, also going cross country against us, and the fighting commenced quickly and hotly, at close range. The officers were intent on success, and we did not hesitate to push their front. We split off our second platoon, and paralleled the line, as the first held them in place. But the pressure we all put on the rebels sent them withdrawing down the trail, and our second platoon paralleling them in the woods could not close on their flank, so we rejoined the company and pressed towards the developing sound of battle to our front. Once again we put our line through the brush, and when we arrived near the engagement, we swept towards their right flank. We pressed hard, and just as we were clearing that flank, the 14th Brooklyn was seen coming up in force to our left, and corked up the rebels. We all arrived on them at the same time, and the lot of them were captured. They were a North Carolina regiment, but they were too embarrassed to tell us their identity. We turned them over to the guards, and moved off once more.
We wound our way back towards the roads line with telegraph that brought us so deep into this Wilderness, and when we arrived upon it, we stopped for a rest. After recuperating, we were once again on the march, continuing through the thickness of the land. Presently, we did break out of it onto some clear space and farm land. We once again stopped to rest, while the rest of the column closed and congregated there. It seems that all our troops were pulled out of the woods, and were back in column towards a known location of the main body of the enemy. And when we arrived after about another mile or so, our brigades and divisions were deployed in lines across the east end of this area we hear is named Saunders fields.
The rebels were there in strength and posted on the crest in front of a swale, and so we attacked them full front. The fighting was hard, and the musketry was clouding the sun with smoke, but the rebel line held. A storming column tried to punch through the rebel lines on our left, but it was repulsed. And so our charge was repulsed, and on our right the same results. After a short lull, the rebels counter attacked, swept across the ground where our casualties laid, and pressed our boys back to where we had started. Vain attempts to push back were tried, but the day was growing short, so we were ordered to hold our position and not give any ground.
The next morning, well before dawn, we were called out and put in line once more, and moved to the south in force. We came out of our woods and were put in column of divisions. To our front, across an open field, we could see a large rebel earthworks, and the trenches stretched out in either direction as far as we could see, but right in the middle of the scene, there was a larg epromintory of the trenches extruding from the lines in the shape of a Mule Shoe saliant. It was this saliant that was the target of the attack. So on we went, masses of men trying for the works. With the protection affored them the rebels raked the field with lead and balls and took large tolls. Many units were pinned down in front of the trenches, and could not advance. Some of our boys did gain the works, fight savagely there, and were then repulsed. The fighting went on to the point of exhaustion. It ended with the rebels pulling back from the Mule Shoe, and reestablishing a second line which we could not pass.
It was determined to move some of our forces against the rebels posted on Laurel Hill. It was thought to be weakly defended. We once again, advanced in line of brigades, and two waves were sent against the Confederate positons there, but they were much stronger than expected, and the results were costly to us in killed and wounded. The surviving lines were simply withdrawn, under advancing rebel pressure, and the rebels then resumed their positions, while we were once againg disengaged, and returned to camp. That ended the days work. We spent a watchful night, but tried to get some rest.
Once again, we were ordered into camp for the evening, and it was a quiet, but pleasant affair. Many a soldier who was fighting elbow to elbow with old friends and new acquaintences, all visited, and shared their experiences of the days events. As this day came to a close, a light but steady rain started to develop, and so the boys sought some canvas shelter.
The morning found the rain still present, and that made some more dreary. It surely dampened both body and mind of our soldiers. Breakfasts were had, and many officers were seen back and forth, trying to determine what the orders would be for the day. Orders came down, and orders were recinded, and came again, &c. It was our pleasure to take part in a sort of birthday party, since it was the first anniversary of the statehood for West Virginia. Our fine friends produced a cake, and it was duly blessed, words were spoken, and the cake dedicated and cut. We all sang of the occasion, and it was a fitting tribute to the Union, or states, and our friends.
We passed the time by collecting our traps, since we knew we were moving, only not where or when. And we sat half the day in the rain, til our clothes were heavy. We did have some protection from the woods and trees from the rain, but only for a while. Then we moved to a fine thached arbor that the 6th New Hampshire had constructed for protection from the sun. That was also fine for a bit, but as we were almost depressed, we were invited to the compant fly of the 7th Ohio, our good friends. There we stayed from getting wetter until the orders to form came down.
And we formed in the rain, and proceded through the Virginia clay mud, slicker than grease, and moved south for a time, then came in to positions facing the rebels behind formidable works once more, It seems that they have been given enough warning and time to prepare for our attacks at this point, at this place near a tavern called Cold Harbor. Their lines stretch along a good position, and they have full view of our troops, all the way back to our trenches and rifle pits here. I do believe that the plan is to attack with the whole army, but it will be a futile affair. Looking arond, many of the boys are now pinning pieces of paper with their names and regiments in their clothes.
After little delay, our columns went into line, and swept up to our last line of trenches facing the enemy. We could see the enemy across the open ground in his trenches, and we could hear them shouting things like "Gettysburg, Gettysburg!" at us, but we shouted back such taunts as "Who Shot Jackson?", and "Who Shot Longstreet?" which stalled their wit some. But by then it was too, late, and the opening vollies and exchanges began. They were deadly, and without waste. This was going to be a deadly contest, each side intent on the victory. We were ordered to cease fire, and we were up on trenches, all the headlogs were rolled away as to not hinder the climbing and the advance. Then the orders came, and the entire line was up and over, and formed in front on the open ground. We advanced at the trail arms in order. When we were in range, the rebels turned to their work, and the lead balls were singing fast. In little more than a few minutes, it seemed that every soldier who made the advance was down in heaps and rows. I was hit in the calf, and went down near my friend Mark, who I looked up to see frantically digging up the Virginia dirt with bayonet to pile something of protection in front of him. The reason for this was that the rebels seemed to be poring it into the wounded between the waves of the attack. For many, it was over, and the rest were stranded out between the lines. The moaning and screaming for help, for water, and so on, was singularly gruesome. Some Johnnies did cross the works to bring canteens, but usually returned with stolen shoes.
As the day wore on and ended, it was clear that there would not be any furthe attacks on the Cold Harbor line, and most were expecting a quick withdrawal, and movement south. But as it was, several days have passed ,adn we are still here. There are many dead and wounded on the field still to bury, and we are not sure what will next occur.
I have used all my paper, and so I must stop for now. Most of the boys you know are not dangerously hurt, and far as I know, but many a boy from the Nutmeg state have been killed here needlessly for their country. It is said that Grant was wrong to make this attack here, but a soldier will not question a superior. I will try to write again in a time, and to let you know of our trials, and how we fare. Direct as usual via Washington.
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.