Cold Harbor Campaign - 1864
Reports of Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock MAY 4-JUNE 12, 1864
Reports of Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, U.S. Army, commanding Second Army Corps,
with statement off guns captured and lost from May 3 to November 1,
and list colors captured and lost from May 4 to November 1.
MAY 4-JUNE 12, 1864--Campaign from the Rapidan to the James River, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXVI/1 [S# 67]
HEADQUARTERS MIDDLE MILITARY DEPARTMENT,
Baltimore, Md., September 21, 1865.
SST. ADJT. GEN.,
ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the Second Army Corps, from May 28, 1864, until June 12, 1864, inclusive, embracing the time designated by Major-General Meade as the fourth epoch of the campaign of the Army of the Potomac:
On the 28th, at 5.30 a.m., we broke camp, crossing the Pamunkey about 4 (?) miles above Hanovertown at 12.30 p.m., and taking position on the left of the Sixth Corps, the right near Pollard's house, prolonging the line toward Haw's Church. Communication was established during the afternoon with the Fifth Corps, which had crossed at Hanovertown, but an actual junction was not effected. The cavalry was heavily engaged in my front during the afternoon.
Early on the morning of the 29th, the Ninth Corps (General Burnside) moved into the interval between my line and Warren's corps, the whole line being thrown in front of Haw's Shop. These dispositions were hardly completed when I was directed to make a reconnaissance with a division of infantry, accompanied by artillery, supported, if necessary, by the remainder of my corps, on the road from Haw's Shop to Hanover Junction. Similar reconnaissances were ordered at the same hour on my right and left from Wright's and Warren's corps. Barlow's division moved at 12 m., meeting with no opposition, except from the enemy's cavalry vedettes, until he arrived at the crossing of the Totopotomoy, as laid down on the map, or of Swift Run, a branch of the Totopotomoy, as stated by the negroes in the vicinity. The enemy was found in force, intrenched on the opposite bank, and a brisk skirmish ensued, General Barlow attempting to dislodge him. General Birney and General Gibbon were ordered up, Birney's division being placed on Barlow's right. Gibbon's division got up early on the morning of the 30th, and was placed on Barlow's left, and on the left of the Cold Harbor road. Burnside's corps formed on Gibbon's left. In front of the position assigned to General Gibbon's division the enemy's skirmish line was posted, strongly intrenched. It was handsomely carried without much loss by skillful maneuvering by Colonel (now General) Brooke's brigade, of Barlow's division, assisted by General Owen's brigade, of Gibbon's division. Most of the skirmish line was captured, and our own was immediately advanced to the creek.
I had ordered that epaulements for the guns should be thrown up during the night in an advanced position near the Shelton house, but through some mistake they were placed 400 yards in rear. This error was rectified very handsomely and skillfully by Colonel Tidball in broad day and under a sharp fire at close range from the enemy, and our batteries established at the Shelton house, and a heavy fire opened on the enemy's battery opposite, which was soon silenced.
About 3 p.m. Wright's corps moved up to my right. The enemy were very advantageously posted, their line being protected by the creek and a marsh. The skirmishing was incessant during the day in endeavoring to develop the enemy's line. A few minutes after 7 in the evening I received an order to attack as soon as I could find a suitable place, to relieve General Warren on the left of the army, who had been vigorously assailed by the enemy. There was no point on my line where an assault could be made with success at short notice, but I at once gave the order for General Barlow's division to attack. He moved as usual with most commendable promptness. Brooke's brigade advanced just at dark, over obstacles which would have stopped a less energetic commander, and carried the enemy's advanced line of rifle-pits. At 7.40 the order was given by the commanding general to cease operations. About 11 a.m. on the 31st, Birney moved forward across Swift Run and carried the enemy's advanced line on the right of the Richmond road. Generals Barlow and Gibbon pushed up close to the enemy's line, but owing to the unfavorable nature of the ground could effect nothing more. The artillery was engaged often and with great credit. General Wright was ready to support me with his whole corps, if necessary, but I had no occasion to call on him.
Early on the morning of the 1st of June Wright's corps was withdrawn to Cold Harbor, and I therefore drew Birney's division back from the south side of the run, his pickets remaining in the advanced line. Later in the day the enemy were reported moving around my right, and dispositions were made to meet them, but it proved to be only a party following the stragglers of Wright's corps. Shortly before noon I received an order to be in readiness to attack, to relieve Warren and Wright, who were expected to become engaged soon. I immediately gave orders for a careful examination of the enemy's position in my front with a view to an assault. The reports from division commanders were quite unfavorable, the enemy's position being, as heretofore mentioned, one of great natural strength, and his works fully manned. My skirmish line was sharply engaged during the day, and about 2 o'clock the enemy, apparently anticipating an attack, was discovered re-enforcing his line, and no further attempt was made to force the position. Early on the night of the 1st, I commenced withdrawing my corps in obedience to instructions from the major-general commanding. My orders required me to mass near army headquarters, but were afterward changed, and I was ordered to Cold Harbor.
Captain Paine, topographical engineer, was directed to report to me to guide my column, and I was instructed to make every effort to reach Cold Harbor as early as possible to re-enforce Wright's left. Every exertion was made, but the night was dark, the heat and dust oppressive, and the roads unknown. Still we should have reached Cold Harbor in good season had not Captain Paine unfortunately taken one of my divisions by a short cut where artillery could not follow, and so thrown my command into great confusion. My staff officers are entitled to great credit for reuniting the column and repairing the unfortunate mistake. The head of my column reached Cold Harbor at 6.30 a.m., June 2, but in such an exhausted condition that a little time was required to allow the men to collect and to cook their rations.
The attack ordered for this morning was postponed until 5 p.m. At 7.30 a.m. the corps was placed in position on the left of Wright's corps, Gibbon's division crossing the Mechanicsville road, with Barlow on his left. General Birney was left to aid General Smith (Eighteenth Corps), in front of Woody's house. Brisk skirmishing ensued during and subsequent to the formation. Birney's division was sent to me at 2 p.m. At 2.40 p.m. I received an order further postponing the assault until 4.30 a.m., June 3, and immediately gave the directions for the necessary examinations and arrangements.
The attack was to be made by Barlow's and Gibbon's divisions, supported by Birney. Barlow formed in two deployed lines, the brigades of Miles and Brooke in the front line and the other two brigades, Byrnes and MacDougall, in the second line. Gibbon formed his division in two lines. The first deployed, consisting of Tyler's and Smyth's brigades; the second line of McKeen's and <ar67_345> Owen's brigades in close column of regiments. Barlow advanced at the time indicated and found the enemy strongly posted in a sunken road in front of his works, from which they were driven after a severe struggle and followed into their works under a very heavy artillery and musketry fire. Two hundred or 300 prisoners, 1 color, and 3 pieces of artillery fell into our hands. The guns were turned upon the enemy, forcing them to retreat in confusion from that portion of the line. But this partial success of Barlow was speedily turned into a reverse by the failure of the second line to get up to the prompt support of the first, which was forced out of the captured works by the re-enforced enemy, and an enfilading artillery fire brought to bear on it. The troops of the first line showed a persistency rarely seen, and, taking advantage of a slight crest, held a position within from 30 to 75 yards of the enemy's line, covering themselves in an astonishingly short time by rifle-pits.
The gallant commander of the Fourth Brigade, of Barlow's division, Colonel (now Brevet Major-General) Brooke was severely wounded in this assault. He fell at the moment when his troops entered the enemy's works. On the right Gibbon had been even less success-full, and had met with heavy losses. His attack was a little delayed, he reports, by the failure of General Owen to have his troops formed, but the delay was brief. Gibbon's line was unfortunately cut in two by a marsh, which widened as the line neared the enemy's works. The country over which he advanced was cut up by ravines. The line moved gallantly forward, however, until close to the enemy's works, but was not able to advance farther under the destructive fire. General Tyler was wounded and taken from the field, and the lamented McKeen, after pushing his command as far as his example could urge it, was killed. The gallant Haskell succeeded to the command, but was carried from the field mortally wounded, while making renewed efforts to carry the enemy's works. On the left, and separated from his brigade by the swamp described above, Colonel McMahon with a part of his regiment, the One hundred and sixty-fourth New York, reached the enemy's works, planting with his own hand his regimental colors on the parapet, where he fell covered with wounds and expired in the enemy's hands, losing his colors with honor. A portion of Smyth's brigade also reached the enemy's works, but failed to effect a lodgment owing, General Gibbon states, to the fact that General Owen did not bring his brigade promptly to the support, as he had been directed, but deploying it on Smyth's left when he first became engaged. A portion of Gibbon's troops held ground so close to the enemy that they could only be reached by means of covered ways. Thus ended the assault at Cold Harbor. The major-general commanding was anxious that I should renew the attempt, if practicable, but I did not consider it wise to make another assault, if the matter was left to my judgment.
The first report of casualties after the action, which was unusually short, hardly an hour in duration, showed a loss of 3,024. Among officers the loss had been without precedent. I had to mourn the loss of those who had hitherto been foremost and most daring and brilliant in action. Among the killed were Colonels McKeen, Haskell, and McMahon, already mentioned, three most promising young officers,who had never failed to distinguish themselves in battle; Colonel Byrnes, of the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts Volunteers; Colonel Porter, of the Eighth New York; Colonel Morris, of the Sixty-sixth New York; all tried and excellent officers. To this list was added, unfortunately, on the following day, Col. L. O. Morris, Seventh New York, killed in the trenches by a sharpshooter. When it is remembered that I had only my two smallest divisions actually engaged, it will be seen that the loss in commanders was unusually severe. It was a blow to the corps from which it did not soon recover.
Soon after the failure of the assault, I was ordered to send Birney's division to support General Warren, where it remained until the 5th. We occupied this position until the 11th, there being no material change except the extending of my line to the left as far as the Chickahominy. Siege operations were conducted for several days, our lines being advanced by regular approaches, and a mine commenced. Before any practical result was reached the siege operations were abandoned. The daily skirmishing was sharp and caused us some loss. The nights were characterized by heavy artillery firing and sometimes heavy musketry, the close proximity of our lines causing unusual nervousness. On the 12th, a new and shorter line, covering Cold Harbor, was built, and roads opened to the rear of the old line, and immediately after dark the troops, except the pickets, were drawn out of the first line and assembled in the second, from which they moved about 11 p.m. to Long Bridge. The picket-line was drawn in at 3 a.m. on the 13th without molestation. This terminates the operations of my command during the fourth epoch of the campaign.
The bearing of the troops under my command on the march and during the operations on the Totopotomoy, and especially at the bloody battle of Cold Harbor, was distinguished for bravery and good conduct. My subordinate commanders deserve high commendation for their faithful performance of duty. My staff behaved with their usual zeal and gallantry. Capt. Alexander M. McCune, acting assistant provost-marshal, Second Corps, a valuable officer, was mortally wounded on the evening of the 5th by a shot thrown from the enemy's batteries.
The following is a list of the casualties, as far as can be given, occurring in the Second Corps, during the fourth epoch of the campaign:
NOTE.--The casualties of the Fourth and Eighth Ohio Volunteers, Fourteenth Indiana Volunteers, and First Delaware Volunteers are not included in the above table, as reports of their losses have not been furnished to corps headquarters.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WINF'D S. HANCOCK,
Major-General of Volunteers.
Posted By: Joe Elia