Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The 48th/150th: "A Regular Inferno:" More Accounts of the 48th Pennsylvania at Cold Harbor, June 3-4, 1864

 
Currier & Ives Depiction of the Battle of Cold Harbor. . .

 
 "A heavy rain storm during the night made every one most uncomfortable," wrote regimental historian Oliver Bosbyshell of the night of June 2-3, 1864. By the morning, the rain had ended and the soldiers, before forming up into line, attempted to dry their clothing and blankets by their wood fires. Then, the orders came. . .Colonel John Curtin was to lead his brigade into the fight and storm the Confederate lines to his front. The soldiers of the 48th, many with damp clothes and hurriedly swallowing whatever pieces of hardtack may have been left in their haversacks, fell into line of battle, on the far right of Curtin's line; indeed, the regiment was on the extreme right flank of the entire Union army. The attack, boasted Bosbyshell, "was made with great vigor, and the enemy' skirmishers were driven across the creek, and some prisoners were captured. The advance continued over the creek--the enemy was routed out of houses and outbuildings, as well as some breastworks that were within a few yards of the road running to Shady Grove and Cold Harbor." This, as the soldiers of the 48th were about to discover, was the main line of the Confederate army. Harry Heth's Confederates lay to their front and a "rebel battery" that was, said Bosbyshell, "exceedingly annoying." The soldiers readied themselves for the general advance. . .
 
Captain William Winlack
Company E
. . . .It began at 7:00 a.m. Company E--Captain William Winlack's company--led the way as skirmishers. Swiftly the company swept across a cleared field, with the main body of the regiment following closely behind. "The skirmishers pushed rapidly on through a deep gully, with the regiment in close touch, and as the high ground was reached, the enemy's skirmishers were encountered. Company E's boys went at them with a will, and savagely drove them back on their entrenched lines." Then, the Confederates let loose a staggering volley; a "destructive fire" and many Company E men fell to the ground. They fell back behind the rest of the regiment, still advancing, and this is when "the engagement became general and severe." Advancing to within 80 yards of the Confederate position, the men hastily threw up some entrenchments while continuing to keep up a continuous fire. All the way, the Confederate battery belched forth its shot and shell. "The howling and shrieking of the grape and canister poured into the regiment made up a regular 'inferno,' causing the very flesh to creep with horror!"
 
The Confederate line was too strong and the casualties too heavy to continue the assault. Orders went out, suspending further offensive operations. The soldiers held on, as best they could, in their new line of defensive works.
 
Corporal Alexander Govan
Company G
Killed at Cold Harbor
 
The following morning, June 4, Colonel Pleasants directed Companies G and F to advance. Creeping forward over the scarred landscape, the soldiers of these two companies reached the Confederate earthworks, only to find them deserted. "A number of new-made graves, eight or ten dead battery horses, and a limber chest marked the abandoned line. The advance was continued for a mile beyond--a straggling Johnny was found in a farm house and brought back to the regiment a prisoner. The appearance inside of, and around the position occupied by the rebels, indicated a severe drubbing and evidenced great loss."
 
Yet the 48th sustained a heavy drubbing as well, particularly in the ranks of Company E, and 150 years ago, as the survivors dug in yet again and secured yet another position, some began burying their dead comrades.

Others wrote letters home, including Lt. Curtis Pollock, of Company G, who wrote the following to his mother, Emily Pollock, in far-away Pottsville. . .

 
 
 
  
  
On the Skirmish Lin about 10
miles from Richmond
June 4 1864
 
 
 My Dear Ma
 
          I was very much pleased to receive your letters, the one of the 20th a few days ago and the one of the 27th yesterday. We had another severe engagement yesterday and lost pretty heavily. Alex Govan and James Alison were killed. Both were hit in the head and killed almost instantly. Sergt. C.F. Kuentzler was wounded severely in the arm. John Hutton was struck on the back of the fingers and cut a little. He will be back to the Company today. William Martin was struck in the ankle and bruised pretty badly. The loss in the Regt. is 10 killed and 42 wounded I do not know anything new and have no idea what is going on. The Rebs we 
 
were fighting yesterday left again last night and we are now out as skirmishers but there are no Rebels in front of us. John Hodgson is well and quite anxious to hear from home. He has not had a letter for some time. [Edward] Flanagan and [John] Humble are all right. I had a ball cut a piece out of the top of my hat yesterday and knocked it about ten feet from me. It is the nearest I have ever had a ball come to me. Hoping you are all well, I remain
 
Your Affectionate Son
C.C.P.
 
With Much Love To All
 
 
 
Sadly, Pollock's luck would soon run out. Thirteen days later, he would be struck down and mortally wounded outside Petersburg. 

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