Cold Harbor - June 1st 1864
On May 26, 1864 the 18th Corps under Major General William.F. Smith with the 3rd Division of the 10th Corps attached was to be sent by transports to reinforce the Army of the Potomac. The Brigade with the 112th New York left Bermuda Hundred by transports for the White House on the Pamunky River. The 112th was attached to the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, XVIII Army Corps. Two Regiments of the Brigade landed at West Point about 15 miles below White House and marched up by land. The 112th was landed at White House and went into camp near the landing. The next day that portion of the Brigade which marched from West Point reached White House and later that afternoon, the whole command moved out on the New Castle Road.
On the morning of June 1st the men had a chance to rest and wash themselves on a plantation with a clear running stream, there was some confusion about the direction they were to march, and about 10 am they were in motion in the direction of Cold Harbor. At noon they halted for an hour near an *ancient stone church, a tavern stand opposite was called Old Church Tavern.
The 6th Corps was now passing on the same road and in the 6th was the 49th New York. Several Companies of the 49th had been recruited in Chautauqua County and here was a chance of glad greetings between friends who had not seen each other in two years.
As the march resumed, (and concluded after nearly 25 miles) the sun poured the fiercest rays upon the column. The atmosphere was stifling with not a breath of wind stirring. The mud of the prior days had entirely disappeared, and in its place a fine dust, several inches thick; ground up by thousands of men, wheels, and horses. This dust rolled over the entire column as it progressed toward the coming conflict, enveloping it as an entire cloud. Everything was one color and the men were nearly suffocated and could hardly be recognized before the next halt was ordered. Added to this was the horrible smell of the dead horses and men from a Cavalry fight in the area in the days before. After a brief halt at 3 pm the column moved on past the 5th Army Corps and then passed the 6th Corps. About a mile down the road bent toward the right, along a skirt of woods. Here the Brigade formed, the 112th NY connecting with the 6th Corps. This Brigade was the first line of the Division. Soon the artillery opened on both sides and Colonel Drake, given the order by General Devins at 4 pm, “Colonel, put your Brigade in immediately”, and here the 112th joined one of the most sanguinary battles of the war. The officers left their horses and on foot with the men moved forward. The ground was uneven with ridges and ravines and the woods in places were unbroken to the Confederate works. At other places they were wide open. In front of the 112th NY, on passing out of the woods was an open field of 600 yards to be crossed to reach the Confederate advance skirmishers. This had been successfully accomplished and the enemy driven back to there rifle pits and the capture of 600 Confederate soldiers. Facing the Union Army were veteran soldiers….the right was occupied by General A.P. Hill’s Corp., in the center was General James Longstreet’s Corps., and on the left was General Richard Ewell’s Corps. As the attack progressed, Colonel Drake ordered the men to cease firing and fix bayonets. The attack pressed on, the Confederate works were irregular and the men were exposed to a galling fire. Though the loss was severe the works were reached and mounting the parapet among the first of the men, Colonel Drake waved his sword, hurrahed and fairly danced with exultation as the rebels ran back to their rifle pits. This line of works had been carried with considerable loss and the ranks now quite broken, but the men were pressing on toward the second line. Unfortunately a Regiment of the 6th Corps on the flank of the 112th New York was a raw regiment, enlisted only six weeks before and this was their first fight. The distance to the Confederate works in their front was less by a hundred rods than in front of Colonel Drake’s Brigade, but that Regiment quailed before the fire and could not be pushed up. This left the Brigade in a very unfortunate position and the Confederate rifle pits on the flank of the 112th were able to pour in a severe enfilading fire. In addition the men of the 112th were exposed to the frontal fire of the advance line of works..... at this point the carnage was terrible, the 112th New York from its position suffering the most severely, its casualties nearly equal to the sum of those in the rest of the Brigade.
The Battle of Cold Harbor, VA June 1st 1864 - THE EIGHTEENTH CORPS DRIVING LONGSTREETS FORCES FROM THEIR FIRST LINE OF RIFLE PITS - From a sketch by Edwin Forbes
Here is the casualty list published in the JAMESTOWN JOURNAL from June 3, 1864
General William F. Smith to General George Meade
"General... My troops are very much cut up, and have no hope of being able to carry the works in my front unless a movement of the sixth corps on my left may relieve at least one of my flanks from this galling fire."
The news to reach Chautauqua County was devastating. 40 men were reported killed. 16 more later died from their wounds. 121 men were able to recover from horrible wounds…..some to return to duty with the 112th, many too severely wounded to ever return. Many men were reported as missing or captured.
Brigade casualties June 1st., :
112th New York - 153
169th New York - 94
9th Maine - 62
13th Indiana - 11
With darkness the battle ceased and the Union Army having lost 2000 men bivouacked on the battlefield and in the rifle pits taken in the first assault. During the night the Confederate army made desperate attempts to retake these rifle pits, but were unsuccessful.
General Grant ordered the redisposition of his army and this occurred through the day on the 2nd. At 4:30 am on the 3rd General Grant ordered a general assault along the entire line, there was a severe struggle, General Winfield Scott Hancock lost nearly 3000 men, and other divisions of the army were hotly engaged at the same time. The battle was sharp, quick and decisive….The Union Army was repulsed at nearly every point with great slaughter. It is estimated that in the space of 20 minutes 10,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded, while the Confederate forces had been sheltered behind their works suffered about 1500 casualties. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon of June 3rd the Battle of Cold Harbor was over, the Union loss of 13,153 was reported. General Grant in his personal memoirs, (Volume II, page 276), “I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made….No advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained. Indeed the advantages other than those of relative losses, were on the Confederate side.”
Men killed like my Uncle Corporal Robert Coe, and many thousands wounded, lay under the hot Virginia sun for three days before General Grant would consent to ask permission under a flag of truce to bury the dead and treat the wounded. By that time most of the wounded were beyond the need of medical care, and the dead had to be interned nearly where they fell.
Corporal Robert Coe is not listed on the Cold Harbor National Cemetery rolls, but the records state he was shot through the head, and "buried on the field."
THE LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Rest in Peace
Confederate General Evander Law, on recollecting the acres of Union dead on the battlefield:
“I had seen nothing to exceed this; It was not war, it was murder.”
JUNE 1, 1864
Union Army roll call "Present for Duty" at Cold Harbor: 113,875
(Best guess) Confederate "Present for Duty": 58,000
Collecting the dead from Cold Harbor April 1865. (Library of Congress)
To see a map of the march from "Old Church Tavern" (Hotel) starting upper right on map, and battle visit: http://www.johnsmilitaryhistory.com/cold6-1.html
*Hyde- History of the One Hundred Twelfth Regiment.
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