Monday, September 16, 2013

What came next for Sturtevant and the Fighting Fifth

After Maj. William W. Cook was
wounded at Fair Oaks and left the
5th, Sturtevant succeeded him.
At the Battle of Fair Oaks on the Virginia Peninsula on June 1, 1862, the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers lost 41 dead and 129 wounded, including 53 wounded men who did not return to the regiment. In his letter in the previous post, Edward E. Sturtevant, captain of Company A, wrote about the sad experience of burying the dead and the hard times the regiment still faced as it camped opposite the enemy near the battlefield.

The 5th’s colonel, Edward E. Cross, was among the wounded. He had been shot through the thigh and returned to his home in Lancaster, N.H., to recover. The lieutenant colonel, Samuel G. Langley of Manchester, was ill. The major, William W. Cook of Derry, had been wounded and would not be back. Sturtevant, the ranking captain in the regiment, was second in command to Langley.

The regiment had lost its brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, at Fair Oaks. As Cross had written in his journal, two balls struck Howard’s right arm as he led his men to battle, and one of them “shattered the bone in a shocking manner.” The arm was amputated.

The 5th’s new brigade commander after the battle was John C. Caldwell, like Howard a Mainer. The division commander was Brig. Gen. Israel B. Richardson, the corps commander Edwin “Bull” Sumner.

Four weeks after the battle, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, who had led the Army of the Potomac to the Peninsula, ordered a “change of base,” a euphemism for retreat from the gates of Richmond. The Confederate army chased McClellan’s forces across the Peninsula in a series of clashes known as the Seven Days battles. On July 1, the two sides fought a particularly bloody one on Malvern Hill. With about 55,000 men engaged on both sides there, the Confederate army suffered 5,650 casualties, the Union army 2,150.

The 37-year-old Lt. Col. Samuel Langley
took over the 5th after Col. Cross was
wounded. He fell ill during the Seven
Days battles and resigned from the
regiment in late 1862. He died in 1869.  
The story of the 5th’s role in this retreat to the James River was told in two reports, both now in the Official Records of the war. One was written by Langley, the second by Sturtevant, both from Harrison’s Landing on July 3, 1862. Here they are:      

Langley’s report on his regiment’s engagement at the Peach Orchard, at Savage Station, at White Oak Swamp Bridge and at Glendale, or Nelson’s Farm (Fraser's Farm).

I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers in the late actions:

Sunday, June 29, after the division had fallen back and formed a new line, I was ordered by General Richardson to establish a picket on the old line in front of our earthworks. Moved the regiment into the clearing near Fair Oaks Station; saw large number of the enemy inside the works; reported to General Richardson, and received orders to remain where I was. I threw out skirmishers and fell back gradually into the woods in front of the main force. I was attacked in this position, and a sharp fire was kept up for some time, the enemy falling back. I remained in the woods until ordered by General Sumner to join our brigade. Our loss in the above affair was 2 killed, 11 wounded, 1 second lieutenant and several men missing. In the afternoon the regiment acted only as support. It was under heavy artillery fire, but sustained no loss, and retired with the brigade.

Monday, June 30, the regiment was formed as support to battery, and was under a very heavy artillery fire nearly all day, during which time we had 5 killed and 9 wounded. At about 7 p.m. went with the brigade to support General Kearny, and then engaged about 2 miles to our left. On our arrival we formed line of battle on the left of the Seventh New York Volunteers in the road. We remained in this position subject to a musketry fire, but were unable to return it on account of a regiment of our men being in our front. Sometime after the firing had ceased the regiment was ordered forward about 100 yards as picket. At about 2 a.m. I was ordered by General Caldwell to retire and join the brigade. In retiring I lost one first lieutenant and several men, who must have remained on the ground asleep and been taken prisoners.

Tuesday, July 1, after forming the regiment in column, I was unwell and retired, and did not join it until Wednesday, at this camp. Herewith I forward a report of Captain Sturtevant, who was in command during my absence. A large number of the sick and wounded were left behind, and have probably fallen into the hands of the enemy. A day or two more and we can tell nearer how we stand.

Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Fifth New Hampshire Vols.


Sturtevant’s report on the battle of Malvern Hill:

I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken in action by the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers on Tuesday, July 1, 1862:

The regiment moved forward with the brigade, and deployed in line of battle to support the batteries in our front, where it remained six hours. During nearly all the time the regiment remained in the line the enemy kept up a heavy fire from artillery. After the enemy ceased his fire in this direction the line of battle was changed, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, to a fence, where it remained about one hour, and was then changed again to a road leading near the enemy’s fire on the left, where it remained in reserve a short time, receiving a severe fire from the enemy's artillery, and then the line of battle was moved to the front, where I was ordered to report for orders to General Howe, which I did. His orders were to move my regiment to the right of a battery which was near us and assist in supporting it. I did as ordered, and the enemy kept up for an hour a heavy fire from his artillery.

Another of our batteries then came up and advanced toward the enemy’s lines. I then moved my regiment forward to support this battery. The enemy formed in line of battle several times and attempted to advance, but were repulsed by the heavy fire from our battery, which kept up a constant fire until near 10 o’clock at night, when the battery withdrew. It being then understood by me, from what I could learn from two other regiments who were also engaged in supporting this battery, that another battery was to return and take its place, and failing to receive any orders I concluded to remain on the ground with my regiment and assist the other two regiments in keeping guard in front. No other battery returned, and I found that most of our troops had been drawn off during the night, and not being able to find our brigade I concluded to retire to the rear, which I did at about 5 o’clock in the morning of July 2, 1862. I found on going to the rear that most of the army had left for City Point [Harrison's Landing], Va. I remained in the rear some two hours, when I learned from our cavalry and provost-marshal (as I was informed) that our brigade and division had gone to City Point. I then started on the march with my command for this camp, where I arrived with my command and joined this brigade at about 11 o’clock in the forenoon of July 2, 1862.

During the action of the day 2 lieutenants and 5 enlisted men were wounded and 21 enlisted men were missing.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Captain, Commanding Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Vols.

[My thanks to my friend Dave Morin, who reminded me of these reports after my last two posts on Sturtevant.]

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