Chapter Five

On the morning of May 7th, Barton's Brigade (ours) received orders to cut the Petersburgh and Richmond rail road at Port Walthall Junction.

We left camp early in the morning, leaving behind all who were unable to march. The brigade was in light fighting order, and marched over the dusty roads and through the hot sun quite rapidly.

After a great amount of marching and countermarching, we finally reached a point near the rail road.

The rebels held a strong position on the side of Chesterfield heights with their artillery planted on the crest of the hill. They were there to prevent us from tearing up the track, and under orders to hold their ground at all hazards.

At one o'clock our skirmishers advanced and encountered the enemy's picket. We then moved up, and as soon as the enemy caught sight of our column, they opened upon us with artillery. We passed forward and at last gained a position in a dense piece of woods on a hill fronting the rebels, suffering a slight loss. Our men took posts behind trees and stumps, and "peppered" the rebels pretty lively, and soon sent their skirmish line flying back to the main army.

As the rebel line was wavering, one of their generals, accompanied by his entire staff, dashed fearlessly in front of his men, and encouraged them to stand their ground. A few well directed shots from our side emptied three of the saddles, when the remainder of the party galloped away at full speed.

The 115th now received orders to engage the enemy at long range, while the remainder of the brigade proceeded to destroy the track.

For that purpose we moved out of the woods and formed line of battle in the open field. In an instant the rebels were sweeping down Chesterfield Heights on a charge. They came with their usual barbarous yell, and their dirty stars and bars led the advance.

The 115th coolly formed to resist the advancing host, and in a moment were all ready to meet the shock of battle. But the rebels were approaching the rail road, and their advance must be checked before they reach it. The 115th prepared to make a counter charge. "Forward--double quick! guide center--march!" was the order.

With deafening cheers the regiment dashed down the steep hill to meet the rebel column. The enemy were not prepared for such a bold movement on our part, and when they saw our splendid line rushing toward them with almost lighting speed and within pistol shot, they seemed thunderstruck, and began to waver and hesitate, and soon came to a dead halt. They evidently thought it would be a shock of steel to steel, so they dropped upon their knees to receive our furious onset. But they were mistaken and outwitted again, for we did not intend to use the bayonet unless they reached the track; so when we came to the ditch, every man in the regiment dropped flat upon the ground in an instant, the high rail road band serving as a breastwork.

The rebels now began to blaze away furiously, but the most of their balls went harmlessly over our heads, and but few were hit. Their artillery did some better execution.

Our boys loaded as they lay upon the ground and then rose up to fire. The bullets sped unerringly into the rebel ranks, and the slaughter among them was terrible. Their killed and wounded strewed the ground, and each moment our fire was more deadly; than before.

They could stand it no longer; so after twenty minutes of the bloody work had passed, they brought up reinforcements and soon had our little regiment of two hundred and fifty men flanked right and left. Here was a bad fix, and we hoped that reinforcements would come to us also, but none appeared.

It seemed utterly impossible for any of us to escape death or capture; but we moved quickly by the right flank, and with furious rush broke

though, suffering a loss of eighty men. Thus ended the battle.

Our forces had destroyed the track, burned the bridge, and accomplished all that was intended, so it was of course a victory for the Union army.

Our entire loss was 90 men, while the rebel loss was 250 in killed and wounded in front of the 115th alone; as many men as we had in the entire regiment.

A rebel captain, captured, asked what regiment it was that engaged them? (the 115th) When told, he said that they never encountered such a withering fire before.

Our heaviest loss took place while we were crossing a rail fence. The rebels got an oblique fire on the line, and as many as forty were hit in five minutes time. The staff was cut off from the stars and stripes, the glorious folds were riddled with balls, and one of the brave color sergeants fell wounded in the leg. "Hang on to the flag, boys, hang on to the flag," he shouted as he fell. They did hang on to it, and never suffered it to trail in the dust, but waved it in triumph while three color corporals were shot under its stars of freedom.

On the charge, a piece of shell killed Major Walrath's horse, tore one of Sergeant Bright's shoulders from his body, and cut a private soldier into halves.

Many of our boys fell with frightful wounds, but we knew that many more of the rebels were piled up on the field.

The most remarkable thing about the engagement was the fact that company H did not lose a single man. They carried the flags, and were as much exposed as any, still death did not visit them. Company A, on their right, lost nine men; and company G, on their left, lost thirteen; company H, none.

Some of the rebels were dressed in blue uniforms, and several times during the engagement we were startled with the cry, "We're firing into our own men! We're firing into our own men!" But we soon saw into their ruse, and treated them with a double dose of lead.

The heat during the day was intense, and as many as one fourth of the men were sun-struck. A great many were carried away in ambulances. We reached our camp at night and slept soundly.

A party that went to bury our dead the next day found them all stripped of their clothing and their bodies used in the most horrible manner by the rebels.

On the 9th of May the battle of Old Church was fought. A column of rebel troops, said to number 10,000, attacked a portion of the 10th Corps for the purpose of forcing their way through to Richmond. The battle raged with more or less fury during most of the day, but by far the hardest fighting took place in the morning. The rebels charged repeatedly, and were each time repulsed with loss. They attempted a flank movement, but were driven from the field at all points.

The enemy made a desperate charge on the 4th New Jersey Battery, and captured all but one gun.

The 13th Indiana and 6th Connecticut counter charged, and after severe fighting recaptured them.

To add to the horrors of the battle field, a great fire was sweeping like a dreadful tornado through the woods, and piles of rebel killed and wounded were burning up.

The rebel shell set our woods on fire, and for a long time the ravages of this new enemy could not be stayed.

The 115th was fighting the fire with all its might, and at last stopped its onward march. At one time it threatened to destroy our artillery and cut off a portion of our army from the main body, but the boys went to work with shovels, pine boughs, and water, and speedily changed its course.

The rebels could not contend against our army and the sea of fire any longer, so they sent a flag of truce requesting a cessation of hostilities for an hour, that they migt rescue their wounded from a terrible death. For the sake of humanity the request was granted, and an officer who visited the scenes, said he had visited many fields of carnage, but never before saw such sickening sights and so many horrors.

The very air was freighted with the awful perfume of roasted men.

The rebel officers told their men before the battle that they would have five miles of country from the Yankees before night, or loose their last man.

The evening's loss in killed, wounded and prisoners, was said be 2,000. Our loss was 123 in killed, wounded and missing.

Some prisoners captured were so hungry that they dug hard-tack from the dirt and ate it down ravenously.

On the morning of May 12th, the army of the James began a forward movement in the direction of Richmond. Heavy fighting took place during the entire day, and the rebels contested the ground inch by inch; by night they had been driven back a distance of three miles. It rained during the day and night, and the soldiers were wet to the skin.

The night was cold and stormy, and the regiment lay on their arms in the open field suffering considerably.

On the 13th the regiment advanced at daylight, and the rebels continued to fall back towards Fort Darling.

At 3 P.M., the regiment were in front of the powerful line of rebel works near Drury's Bluff, and more or less fighting took place during the afternoon and night.

The 18th Corps and the 2nd Division (ours) of the 10th formed in front of the rebel works, while General Terry with the other two divisions of the 10th Corps flanked the works on the left.

The 115th marched within pistol shot of the enemy's rifle pits, and formed line of battle under cover of the dense woods.

Companies H and K were thrown out as skirmishers, and moved within a few yards of the rifle pits, shooting down some of the sentinels on duty.

The men fortified temporarily with chips and logs, and after placing a heavy detachment in front to engage the enemy, the remainder of the regiment laid down until morning.

At daylight on the 14th of May, a detachment under Captain S. Smith entered the first line of the enemy's works, and were surprised to find the forts and rifle pits evacuated for two miles.

The entire rebel force now occupied two large forts near Proctor's Creek, and seemed resolved to hold them at all hazards. They threw out a very heavy skirmish line to hold our troops in check.

The Union army formed double lines of battle extending from Proctor's Creek on the right, to Drury's Bluff on the left, and threw out an immense skirmish line of 5,000 men.

That was the loud signal for the battle, and from sunrise to sunset there was one continued rattle of musketry and thunder of cannon.

Full twenty times during the day the heavy Union line swept like an avalanche up to the enemy's batteries, driving the rebels before them like chaff before the wind, and twenty times they retired drawing overwhelming numbers after them.

The boys in the 115th fought with spirit, and inflicted severe loss among the rebels. At the close of the day's work one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition had been fired on an average. The boys' faces were black with power, and their gun locks blue with heat. Several times in the tangled wilderness a hand to hand fight took place, our men always holding their ground.

At one time a portion of the 115th got mixed up with a Georgia rebel regiment, when a rebel officer addressed Lieutenant Olney, commanding our detachment as follows:
"Are you the 61st Georgia, sir?"
"Not by a great sight. Give it to them, boys!" said Lieut. Olney waving his sword.
"Surrender!" shouted the rebel officer with fury.
"Never!" responded the Lieutenant firmly.

The boys obeyed the command of their gallant Lieutenant and soon drove the rebels from the field.

"Now for a bully charge right up to the teeth of Johnnie Reb's fort," shout all the men. "Forward--double quick--march!" Pop! pop! bang! bang! bang! and the rebels are falling.

Three of the doomed men fall before the withering fire of the 115th, and lay in one common pile.

One is on his knees, but not praying or suplicating for mercy; he is too proud for that. Southern blood runs in his veins.

John Lappions, impulsive boy, seizes him by the hair of his head and jerks him over backward to the ground.

"For God's sake don't murder me," shrieked the wounded man.

"We don't intend to, and I should not have touched you, did I know that you were hurt. Here comes some of our boys to carry you from the field," said John.

"I'll never go," gasped the dying rebel. "Sooner than be carried to your Yankee lines, I will die where I lay."

"If you wont help yourself we will help you;, and we're carrying you from the field at the risk of our own lives," remarked several of the boys as they bore him from the field through the storm of bullets.

He saw the stars and stripes, and closed his eyes in death.

Yonder lies another rebel, and he is stone dead, poor fellow.

See where the bullet tore through his head, and look at the blood trickling down his cheek. He has a watch in his vest pocket, and a pocket-book in another, and a piece of pork carefully wrapped up is all it contains.

A third rebel is wounded in the leg, and asks to be taken to the hospital.

A brave corporal of company A is shot in the breast, and something tells him that he must die. The stretcher corps rush amid the dangers of the field, and soon carry him to the rear. On the way he observes some members of his own company, and raising up on an elbow said: "Good bye, boys, good bye." It was his last farewell, for he soon died.

Our loss during the day in killed and wounded was nearly forty men.

There were but few killed, owing to the fact that our boys fired mostly from behind trees.

The entire Union and rebel losses must have been quite heavy.

We were relieved from the front at 8 P.M., and moved a short distance to the rear to rest.

May15.--It is Sunday, and we are having a little rest for our weary bones.

A great deal of firing along the lines, and very little respect shown for the sacred day.

We tore down some rebel barracks, and built pasteboard shanties to protect us from the rain. At noon the chaplain took a position in the centre of our camp, made a few remarks, and offered a prayer to heaven, asking God's blessing upon us. All listened attentively, and the hour was one of great solemnity.

A few shell went hissing over our heads, and the bullets passed us pretty often. None of us were hit. We had a very large prayer meeting at night, the best one I ever attended. Nearly every Christian in the regiment was present. About forty of our best soldiers testified that they were ready to die for their country. Many of them soon went to their long home. The songs of praise must have struck the ears of our enemies; they were working with all their might. Cars came day and night with reinforcements. They had to drive us from that place or lose their capital.

Our generals said that they would attack us in the morning. All the Union army were in line awaiting the onset.

May 16th adds another to the already fearfully long list of bloody battles. It adds a fresh river to the vast ocean of blood.

During the past twenty-four hours the rebels have received many thousands of reinforcements from Richmond and Lee's army, and as expected, attacked us about daylight. The dawn of day appeared, and with it a dense fog which hung like a black funeral pall over our army. That was the signal of our defeat. It told us we could not hold our position, it battled against us as it did against the rebels at Spottsylvania. We could not use a piece of our splendid artillery, or get sight of the foe until they were at arms length.

The rebels formed in eight and sixteen lines of battle, and crazy with gunpowder and whiskey, charged our line desperately and repeatedly at all points, and at last succeeded in breaking through, forcing our troops to retreat.

The Union loss was about 3,000 in killed wounded and missing, and the rebel loss amounted to several thousand. The exact loss of the rebels will never be known, but it is said to have been from five to seven thousand men.

The 118th New York had strung a telegraph wire in front of their position, for the purpose of having the rebels stumble over it, should they attack. The rebel column came up with fearful yells and with mighty power, when all at once their front rank stumbled and fell over the invisible wire, and their comrades in the rear soon came piling on top of them.

The 118th instantly poured a deadly fire of musketry into their prostrated and broken ranks, and heaps of dead and wounded rebels lay before them, while those who escaped staggered with terror back to their own line to tell the terrible story.

The rebels took General Heckman and a portion of his brigade prisoners, and we took several hundred rebels, including a colonel, major, and several captains and lieutenants.

The battle had barely commenced at Drury's Bluff when a large force of rebel infantry and eighteen pieces of artillery appeared at port Walthall Junction, for the purpose of attacking Butler in the rear and to cut off his communications.

Having but few troops there, Gen. Smith decided to send the 115th to reinforce them. We received orders to report to Gen. Smith, in rear of the Eighteenth Corps line.

To reach there we were obliged to march a long distance through a severe fire which was enough to try the metal of the oldest veterans. We moved by the flank as steadily and coolly as possible, suffering a loss of but five men.

While moving through a piece of woods we suddenly tramped upon a Wisconsin regiment lying in a ditch. At first they supposed we were retreating and were about to follow suite, when our boys informed them that we were only going to report to General Smith. They remained in their position.

We finally reached the place where General Smith and several other generals were looking toward the battle-field. A bullet struck General Brooks's house and he rolled over dead. The rebels sent plenty of shells after us, but none did any execution. We reported to General Smith, and he placed us under command of General Ames, who told us to follow him. He rode fast, and we followed at a double quick for seven miles, when we reached the scene of operations at Port Walthall Junction. Here we saw a beautiful sight. The rebel lines of battle were formed on a side hill, with an abundance of artillery and a long skirmish line thrown out in front, as if all was ready to advance. To meet this formidable force, we had but four small regiments of infantry. The 115th and 169th N. Y., the 13th Indiana and 58th Pennsylvania.

For the purpose of making a good show of strength and of deceiving the rebels, General Ames ordered the entire force to deploy as skirmishers. Our lines extended through the valley and over the hills, presenting a front long enough to cover 10,000 troops. As we had hoped, the rebels took the bait; they concluded we had a large army, and dared not attack. They shelled us pretty lively for some time, but finally drew in their skirmish line and retreated.

Thus Butler's army was saved from an attack in the rear.

At night we marched back to the entrenchments and laid down on the ground entirely exhausted. It seemed as though every bone in our bodies would break.

The bands all played, and the man all cheered as though an empire had been conquered.

At 10 o'clock on the 18th, the rebels charged the 1st Virginia Colored

Cavalry, and sent them flying inside our works. Heavy skirmishing raged along the lines the entire day, and the losses on both sides were quite heavy. Our brigade lay massed near the works during the day, and labored all night with the shovel, pick and axe. Rebel deserters who came in during the day said that orders were issued by the rebel generals to storm our works at sundown. For some reason best known to themselves, they wisely concluded to let out the bloody job.

A party of men were sent by rebels to erect a battery a short distance from our lines they began operations when our men discovered them, and one of our pieces opened with solid shot, making the spot so hot that they could not stand it or get away. The whole squad, numbering fourteen, hoisted a white flag and surrendered without further ceremony.

Some of the rebel bullets came more than a mile, killing and wounding soldiers in their tents.

At midnight on the 20th, the rebels made a furious onset on our lines and were gallantly repulsed.

We were trying to get asleep when the alarm sounded, but were soon under arms and on a double quick for the front.

At daylight the battle opened again with great fury, and lasted the entire day. The rebels seemed determined to break our lines, and made several desperate charges for that purpose.

They came down with their dismal "yi, yi,ya, ya," but were always repulsed with loss. Our artillery fire was most furious and effective. Shell and solid shot fell among the rebels like rain drops as our boys drove them back. Our army also make several charges on the enemy's works, but were repulsed with some loss.

Col. Barton received orders to send his best regiment to do a desperate piece of work. As usual, he selected the 115th, and we moved outside the works to make a bayonet charge. The bullets flew around us pretty fast, and we lay flat on the ground to avoid them while our Lieut. Col. examined the position we were expected to assault. He rode up to our skirmish line and was intently observing the rebels, when a bullet struck his horse in the breast killing him almost instantly. Gen. Ames now reached the field to direct the movement. He turned toward us and said.

"What regiment is that?"

"The one hundred and fifteenth New York," replied several of the men.

"Why," said the general in surprise, "you are only a good sized color guard; such a small body of men as that going to make this charge?"

We were then ordered on the skirmish line, and the 97th Pennsylvania were brought up to the work. They started, and when half-way across an open field a masked battery of fourteen guns was brought to bear upon them, sweeping out the centre of the regiment like so much chaff.

They still pressed on, but were finally compelled to fall back, suffering a loss of over one hundred men.

The 115th was exposed to a severe fire while we lay in the woods, but fortunately the bullets went about a foot above our heads, cutting off limbs and splintering trees.

Had they fired six inches lower the most of us would have been hit.

On the right, Howell's brigade was forming for a charge, when a strange officer suddenly appeared among them, and waving his sword as though he was a Union officer, said hurriedly: "Hold on, don't move 'till I bring you reinforcements!" and then dashed off towards the rebel line.

Howell's veterans had seen too many officers to be fooled by a rebel, so they raised their guns and fired a whole volley after the retreating horseman, and horse and rider both fell.

Upon going to the spot the stranger was found to be no less a personage than General Walder, of the rebel army.

He had been examining our position with a view to attack, when he ran across our men.

He took the above method to escape, but got out-Yankeed. His right leg was shattered, and his boot was full of blood, while a couple of balls had pierced his arms. I walked along with the Ambulance Corps who were carrying him to the hospital. At one a train of ambulances passed by, filled with wounded men. As soon as they saw the rebel general they began to sing out "Kill the rebel!" "Throw him off the stretcher!" "They're the chaps who keep up the war; if he was a private we'd have sympathy for him, but he is a leader!"

The general kept his eyes shut, and said not a word; not even a groan escaped his lips.

May 21.--The rebels charged our first line of works at midnight. Our infantry allowed them to come up very close, and suddenly greeted them with a heavy volley of musketry. The artillery on both sides instantly began to thunder, and for half an hour the most terrific cannonading shook the earth. Hot shot, bursting shells, rockets, and rebel caissons blown up by our fire, illuminated the heavens, and the music of bugles and drums rolled along from the James to the Appomattox. The rebels were disastrously repulsed.

May 22.--One of our heavy parrots paid its compliments to the rebels today. The Johnnies call the shells Yankee camp kettles.

May 24.--The rebels have platforms erected in trees, and to day picked several of our men off who were working on the breastworks. The regiment moved up to the front.

May 25.--For the first in a long time the pickets did not try to kill each other. The rebels left their guns standing against trees and leisurely read newspapers in full view of the Yankees.

May 26.--The regiment is temporarily attached to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 18th Corps.

May 28.--Broke camp at 4 P.M. and took up the line of march at dark, reaching City Point at daylight on the 29th.

May 29.--The 115th and 47th N. Y., and 76th Pa., embarked on the fine steamer DeMolay, of Boston. The entire 18th Corps sailed for Fortress Monroe.

May 30.--Sailed up the York river to West Point, thence up the Pamunkey to White Horse Landing, where we landed, forming a junction with the left wing of the army of the Potomac.

May 31.--After obtaining a supply of hard-tack and a little sleep we moved in the direction of Coal Harbor. We marched at a rapid rate until two hours before daylight on the 1st of June, when we halted for a short time in a plowed field. The road was strewn with Sheridan's dead cavalry horses, and the stench was almost beyond endurance.

At sunrise on the morning of June 1st, although hungry and worn out, we got under motion again and marched rapidly until 4 P.M. At noon some of the men went a quarter of a mile for water, and on returning proceeded to make coffee, but before it was ready the bugle sounded the advance and we moved on sorrowfully without it. For some reason we got on the wrong road and marched twelve miles for nothing.

Upon reaching Coal Harbor we found the army of the Potomac in line of battle, awaiting the arrival of the 18th Corps to aid them in storming the enemy's works.

The 115th were badly used up, and a large number of the men lay along the dusty road and under the burning rays of the southern sun, utterly unable to move; yet in that condition they took a glorious part in one of our great battles.

They formed in the third line of battle and were considered as on the reserve, but as usual, had to take a hand in before the affair was ended.

At about 5 o'clock the troops were all in position, and the 6th and 18th Corps attacked with considerable desperation.

Drake's brigade which led the attack in our immediate front were repulsed with heavy loss, and their commander killed. Instead of the second line rushing into the breach as they ought to have done, the 115th with Barton's brigade were ordered to advance. Without waiting to unsling knapsacks, or fix bayonets, we started forward with a long, loud cheer, on the charge.

The boys felt ugly and were determined to make a big fight, and to reach the enemy's works. With flags in the advance, we rushed through a piece of woods and over an open plowed field three quarters of a mile wide, tramped upon the second line who lay in a ditch, allowed the broken ranks of Drake's brigade to pass through, and with a prolonged cheer of victory, without firing a gun, broke the rebel line, scaled their works, planted our colors on their heights, and with only one hundred and twenty-five muskets, captured two hundred and fifty prisoners.

The remainder of the brigade were unable to break through, and all the Union assaults on our front were repulsed excepting that made by the little remnant of the 115th, and the gallant 14th New Jersey. The rebels finding their line broken, and not being aware of the small body of men who did it, evacuated the whole line, and the 115th N.Y. and 14th N.J. won the victory for the Union army.

General Deveris who saw the charge, declared openly and on the spot that the 115th covered themselves with glory, and won the day.

The rebels captured, said they thought the whole Yankee army were charging their front, and they were sure we carried seven shooters because our bayonets were not fixed.

They were sorry that they surrendered when they found out our real force.

The following extract from the New York will give the reader some idea of the charge:
"General Smith ordered the charge to be made by Colonel Drake's brigade, supported by Colonel Barton's (ours), both of Devin's division. The order was gallantly obeyed. Drake urged his troops across at double quick, and they did not waver, although shocking gaps were made in their line by the heavy cross fire of the enemy's artillery. Upon gaining the edge of the woods, the rebel infantry were found to have fallen back a hundred yards to their rifle pits, which were strongly protected by slashings and entanglements. The survivors of this desperate charge found themselves unable to cope with the force in front of them. Barton's brigade here threw itself into the breach. Emerging from the woods on our side of the field, in as straight a line as though formed for dress parade, the word was given to charge at double quick.

"The men went forward splendidly, preserving their alignment perfectly, as they skipped over the furrowed ground, closing up the vacancies made by the sweeping cross fire, gaining the woods, opening their ranks for the partially exhausted fellows of Drake's brigade to pass rearward, and with a fierce hurrah, dashed unshrinkingly into the rifle pits, taking two hundred and fifty prisoners."