Saturday, March 21, 2015

Seven Days, one man's ordeal: 'No doubt you have thought of me, perhaps wondering whether alive or dead'

Daniel K. Cross
Until now, Daniel K. Cross was best known to me as the 5th New Hampshire soldier who helped the wounded Col. Edward E. Cross (no relation) from the Fredericksburg battlefield in December 1862. A shell had exploded in Cross’s face, and he had lain on the field as his regiment went forward to slaughter. Dan Cross, a lieutenant in the 5th, found him at dusk and rounded up other men to carry him back to town.

Recently David Morin, my friend and a historian of New Hampshire in the Civil War, found a letter from Dan Cross on the web. It describes his ordeal in battles five months before Fredericksburg. These were the Seven Days battles – McClellan’s retreat across the Virginia Peninsula from June 25 through July 2.

Dan Cross was a 24-year-old from Hanover, N.H., when he joined the regiment at its inception in October of 1861. He was the sergeant major, suggesting that he had had military experience or education beforehand. He rose quickly to first lieutenant of Company G, the 5th’s ill-fated Claremont company. 

Camp near Turkey Bend
James River, Virginia
July 6th 1862

My Dear Father,

Through the intense excitement of the last ten days, no doubt you have thought of me, perhaps wondering whether living or dead. I have not tried to give the particulars of the retreat of the Army of the Potomac, and besides you get the details in the papers, but this much I will say: One might read the newspaper accounts of such an affair, day after day for twelve months and then not realize one fact in a hundred.

I will frankly say that I should prefer to camp before Richmond two years than have our army thrown into such an excitement again. There was no panic. No, not at all. But the immense amount of suffering by the sick and disabled soldiers, which have to leave their beds in hospitals and travel on foot in advance of the army to save their lives or being taken prisoners, say nothing of the immense amount of camp equipage, arms, and provisions destroyed (necessarily of course). Three hundred thousand (300,000) rations were burnt on the Peninsular. I thank God my life was spared and I am yet harmed.

Sunday last at daybreak our Division left the entrenchments before Richmond, marched back about three miles, where Sumner’s entire Corps halted, resting an hour. Richardson called on his “crack” regiment, the 5th New Hampshire, to go back towards the entrenchments and watch the sight of our old camp, saw a few rebels prowling about, and as those numbers increased to one or two hundred, our regiment retired a little into the woods. One company was sent out to watch the movements and skirmish. They were soon driven in, however, and we laying on the ground in line of battle, poured a volley at the advancing enemy. This brought a volley from them, of course. After firing a few rounds, we would about face and retire a few paces and then front the enemy and fight him again. This lasted for three quarters of an hour. When their advance was checked for the time being, light batteries were brought up on both sides and a few shells thrown, we mean time resting in the edge of the woods. We lay there, say an hour when orders came from the General to march to the rear double quick, which we did for a short distance, and then taking not a slow pace for about five miles. All this on one of the hottest days we have had.

Lt. Col. Samuel G. Langley
We lost in this little battle 2 killed and 13 wounded. Here let me mention that the night before (Saturday), I was cramped in my stomach, a sort of colic, and when we first left the trenches that morning, I felt worse than I had since we left Camp California. I was faint and weak, but I would not give up and went through all with my company until we halted about three o’clock p.m. Here I gave out entirely from exhaustion and had not lieutenant Colonel Langley loaned me his extra horse when we again started after seven hours rest, I should have been taken prisoner sure. I was not able to march from weakness.

At this “stopping place,” the enemy came up with us (Orchard Station) and Smith’s Division, with other commands fought him. All the Vermont troops were engaged. This was a hard fought battle. I was little back of our division (which was in reserve, not engaged) about ¼ of a mile from the field of action. The sight and sound was terribly grand and nine o’clock closed the strife. Many killed on both sides. When all was quiet, we again took up our line of retreat. We moved about seven miles that night, myself sleeping most of the way on the colonel’s horse. I was very weary and sick. 

Just before the break of day, we crossed White Oak Swamp Creek, where another battle was fought beginning at nine o’clock a.m. After resting an hour, I got into one of Dr. Knight’s ambulances, which started towards the James River with the sick on board. We had gone less than ¼ of a mile when shells began to explode all around us from the enemy’s batteries. One solid ball cut the top from a tree just over the ambulance I was in. No one in the train injured, however. 

During the day, however, a hard fought battle was the result of this shelling, called the battle of White Oak Swamp. Our regiment was exposed all day and lost about 20 killed and wounded. We lost in Company G the best man. Cannon ball struck him in the head. I arrived in the train at the James River, where all lame ducks encamped for two days on one of the largest and most beautiful farm or plantation imaginable. It was splendid. I would like to spend the season there. I wished you owned that plantation, Father. Lots of niggs there living in neat white cottages, but we could enjoy this but a short time, we invalids. The rebels were soon upon us and we had to move down the river double-quick.

We arrived at this place where the last battle was fought and here we shall probably remain for the present. Large bodies of troops are coming in daily. Quiet for a few weeks, probably.

For the present, the fighting is suspended. I think, Father, the army must be put in good condition again. Our regiment is in a crippled state, surely. We have only one field officer, Lieutenant Colonel Langley (a splendid officer too) and but ten company officers instead of thirty) for duty and 293 privates and non-commissioned officers is all we have able to do duty this morning. This is all there is out of our large regiments, to be sure, but our whole brigade has been broken down with extra fatigue duty and forced marches. We have lost in the “5th” since the 1st of June, 300 men in the several engagements, five in all, but not one officer killed as yet, and only seven wounded, none of them severely.

There is some chance of our having an easy time for a few weeks. Colonel Langley expects to be detailed (the regiment) for guard duty over the provisions at the landing here, where the stores for the army of the Peninsula are all landed. I hope we shall get this chance. Our men need rest. This would give them a chance to recruit.

I reported for duty yesterday, that is, unless the regiment was to march. I cannot do much traveling. My knees are not strong enough. But the Colonel has detailed me acting Adjutant for the present. Our adjutant has gone off in the sick boat and will be absent some time, probably. You see how it is Father. I am going the rounds. I told Dr. Knight today that I should be in his department next, on duty. The countersign was just handed me. This is strictly confidential now. It is sent in writing to the Adjutant of each regiment, who imparts to no one, unless by order of the Colonel.

No prospect of my getting a furlough this summer, Father, unless I should be wounded, then I should be sent home, probably. But I have written much more than I had any idea of at first and just close. I hope you are all well, and trust sometime I shall see you all. I shall. I suppose James and Lizzie are with you now or soon will be. Wished I could pop in, while they are there. My love to Mother and the children and regards to all inquiring friends. Write me soon. Direct Washington as before. I saw Bart last Thursday week. He was just starting for Vermont. Whether he got off before this stampede or not, I cannot tell. This in great haste was written.

Your affectionate son,


Another 5th New Hampshire account of the Seven Days is here.

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