Saturday, September 5, 2015

9. At Malvern Hill, 'Kind friends alone prevented me falling into the hands of the Enemy’ – Eldad Rhodes

After the Battle of Fair Oaks, many men of the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers were confident they would soon be marching through the streets of Richmond. Gen. George B. McClellan, their army’s commander, had boasted as much. And the Confederate capital now lay just six miles away.

Pvt. Charles Phelps: 'Richmond will have to fall soon.'
Corporal Charles Phelps and Private Theron Farr of the 5th each wrote to their sisters from Fair Oaks. “Richmond will have to fall soon,” Phelps predicted. “We are expecting a new battle here any minute,” wrote Farr.

The battle came – several battles – but while McClellan chose the direction of the move – away from Richmond – the rebels dictated the pace and timing.

Bugler Cutler Edson and Sgt. Eldad Rhodes of the 5th tracked these battles in their diaries and letters. On June 25, 1862, the regiment had endured more than three weeks of anxiety and peril before the enemy. In his letter to friends at his church in a small western New Hampshire town, Rhodes summed up the offensive spirit of McClellan in a single sentence: “We are expecting there will be something done here soon as we have bin making great preparation for a siege.” A siege, not an advance.

In their diaries the next day, both Edson and Rhodes noted the sounds of the battle of Mechanicsville. McClellan’s retreat across the Peninsula to the James River was about to begin. That week became known as the Seven Days, and the 5th New Hampshire was in the thick of the fighting.

Cutler Edson letter

Dateline: In camp near Fair Oaks, Va., June 25 ’62. To Sister Folsom, wife of Edson’s pastor in Enfield, N.H.

I recvd yours of the 19th yesterday and it afforded me great pleasure and satisfaction to peruse its lovely pages. There is no one but a soldier far away from his quiet and peaceful home in the midst of strife and battle that is better capable of estimating the value of a kind letter from his old friends. Was glad to here of the prosperity of Zion. it seems as though the Lord was about to work mightily in your midst. My prayer to God is that the Church may be fully ready & prepared to work with him & that there may be a glorious reformation in that vicinity. Your camp meeting strikes me very favorably. I shall endeavor to be there with you.

8 months experience has taught me some useful lessons in camp life and I am just foolish enough to think that I could set up housekeeping and live in the woods about as well as they will arrange. Havent seen Osker Collins for 2 or 3 days. then he was out round not very sick. Bugler Ingolls is well and pretty stedy. We have had no playing to do since our last battle [June 1] but have to stand in readiness every moment for we know not when we shal be needed.*

I suppose you get as much war news at home as we get here. We are expecting there will be something done here soon as we have bin making great preparation for a siege.

Tell my good wife not to worry about me in the least for I am getting along nicely. My health is very good, my mind clear, my trust firm in God, but try & take care of her self & children a little while longer. then I expect to go home and help do my part. Tell Bro Folsom I shal expect to here the particulars about the camp meeting. which way from the village is it. My love to you and family and all enquiring friends.

[*Oscar Collins, 20, of Enfield was a private in Company C of the 5th. He served out his three-year enlistment. Melvin L. Ingalls of Hanover, N.H., was a 26-year-old bugler in the 5th.]

Edson’s diary, Wednesday 25: Wrote home to day and likewise to Sister Folsom sent by mr Liscom. Went over and saw the Drummer. found him not quite as well. wrote a letter for him and put in 25 dollars for his sister.*

We have advanced our pickets on the right & left to day which caused conciderable fighting and we have bin shelling most all the after noon. recd a letter from wife No 31 with her picture. it is a good one and words cannot express my joy to behold it. Oh! how much reason I have to thank the good lord for all the privaleges I enjoy from time to time.

[*Elisha P. Liscomb was the allotment commissioner for New Hampshire. He delivered letters and soldier pay to families of the state’s soldiers. “The Drummer” was E. Woodbury Young, a sick soldier of the regiment. His father had recently murdered his best friend back home In Lisbon, N.H. (see previous post).]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday 25: We were up by times and under the Breastworks. at 7 Hookers & Sedgwicks Divisions began an advance on the Rebs. soon a brisk fight began. Rebs run. the fight continued during the day. our Batteries opened in the afternoon a brisk cannonade; sun down all quiet. thus ended the battle.

Thursday 26: We were aroused last by an attack from the Rebs, soon were in line, remained under the bank all night –  in the fore noon Freedom came wounded through his arm in yesterdays fight*; – all is quiet thus far, 4 OC heavy cannonade is now going on on our right.

[*Eldad’s brother, a sergeant in the 2nd New Hampshire, in Gen. Joseph B. Hooker’s division. The June 25 clash at Oak Grove began the battles of the Seven Days – the retreat across the Peninsula of McClellan and his Army of the Potomac.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Thursday 26: a quiet time till about 4 oc when we heard heavy cannonaidig which appears to be beyond Richmond. it is now dark and it is still going on powerfully. drew my first pants since I left home. the firing to day was on our right under Porter who succeded in driving the rebels and licking them badley.*

[*The battle of Mechanicsville. McClellan, under the false impression that his army was outnumbered 2-1, withdrew his troops after this encounter.]

Capt. James B. Perry
Friday 27: fireing commenced this morning at an early hour on our right and continued till late at knight runing the whole length of the line. it seemed as though they were determined to break thru our lines. the rebs fought desperately but they found more than there match.* havent learned the particulars of yesterday nor to day. to knight finds me at the hospital watching over 2 sick men, Adjt Charles Dodd & Capt Perry of Co. C. he is a sick man, has the Colary Morbus. he is some better. hope he will get well soon.**

[*The battle of Gaines’s Mill, a Confederate victory.]

[**Charles Dodd, a 26-year-old Bostonian, was the 5th’s adjutant, or administrative officer. He was wounded at Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, and left the regiment shortly afterward. James B. Perry, 28, of Lebanon, N.H., recovered from his illness on the Peninsula but was killed at Fredericksburg.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday, June 27, 1862: Weather very warm. heavy firing renewed on our right. the Rebels advanced on our front but we repeled them with our artillery. had an exciting time all day. went on picket in the evening, out all night.

Saturday 28: Had orders to march, packed, moved a short distance, halted & pitched tents; – Struck tents in the afternoon ready to march, laid on the ground until morning.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday 28: packed up and moved around a little to the right and pitched tents. remained here till about midle of the after noon, then packed up every thing ready for a general moove by the whole division. things look rather misterius but think it will come out right.

Sunday 29: Laid on our arms threw the knight without tents and started as soon as light towards James river. the enemy following hard after. we had several skirmishes with them threw the day and at knight     we had a sharp engagement which succeded in licking them nicely. we burnt and distroyed all our comisary stores wich was a great distruction. our Brigade was the rear guard and had to bear the brunt of the battle yet we lost but few. thus has passed another Sunday in the army.*

[*On June 27, though in good position with a superior force, McClellan ordered the Army of the Potomac to withdraw to the James River. As part of the rear guard, the 5th engaged the pursuing rebels at Orchard Station and Savage’s Station on June 29. Large supply stores were burned at both stations.]

Wounded men on platform cars. Savage's Station, Va., June 29, 1862,
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Sunday 29: We were on the march at day light – halted in about an hour. The 5th NH were ordered back as skirmishers. went back & had a smart fight with the Rebs. retreated 5 miles in the after noon. had a general Battle at dark.

Monday, June 30, 1862: Found us across white oak swamp with Bridge Burnt. very tired; – Had a severe fight in the after noon. The 5th were on picket before the Enemy untill 1 in the morning when our whole force retreated in good order.*

[*On the morning of June 30, on an open hillside above the bridge they had destroyed, the 5th New Hampshire withstood heavy artillery fire.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Monday 30: the rebs followed us up with there artillery and aranged it threw the knight so that they opened on us in the morning with a deadly fire, ours returning fire, and after a hard struggle we suceeded in silencing theres. about this time they opened on us on our left – I think on Hookers division. this was a hard fight which lasted till between 8 and 9 oclock. we succeeded in bruising them back although there forces ware much larger than ours. there was great loss on both sides. the 5th lost in killed 3 or 4 and several wounded.

In the woods near James river, July 1st 1862, Tuesday: this has bin another day of excitement being the third day we have bin fighting. commenced this morning by Shelling from Burnsides gun boats. then the rebs shelled us powerfully. we answering them as powerful. we succeded in driving them, Porter following them up with his flying artillery til we could hardely here there cannonading. this has bin a glorius victory. thank God for our success. amen & amen.*

[*The battle of Malvern Hill was a huge tactical defeat for Robert E. Lee’s pursuing army. Because McClellan’s strategy was retreat, there was no thought of counterattack.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Tuesday, July 1: Caught an hours sleep. With the Enemy advancing we were ordered forward in line of Battle; – were under fire of the Enemies Artillery all day. I was wounded By a Shell toward night; – was helped off the field by 2 men.

Wednesday 2: The Army still in retreat. I was very lame. it began to rain in the morning; – I walked between 2 men all day to City point 8 miles through mud and rain. kind friends alone prevented me from falling into the hands of the Enemy.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Wednesday 2nd: The army all started this morning at a very early hour and marched nearly all day    raining most of the time very hard, makeing it very muddy. we took our wounded along with us. we halted near Citty point where we got a part of our wounded on board boats and sent them off. others were stowed away in barns old sheds & houses where the most of there wounds were dressed. I took charge of a wounded man in our regt. a shell struck his foot so that it took 2 of us to get him along. he leaning up on our sholders. thus we marched several miles threw woods over hedges and ditches mud and water till came here to a barn where I am assisting in taking care of the wounded.*

[*Rhodes’s  diary does not identify the two men who helped him, and Edson does not name the man he helped. But years later, Rhodes’s daughter wrote that it was Edson. In his diary Edson later corrected the destination to Harrison’s Landing, not City Point.]

Thursday 3: rained most all knight which made it very bad for thos that ware camped on the open field,  many of them without blankets or tents, yet I am very comfortable here in the barn for which I feele very grateful. the rebs followed us up last knight and began to shell us this morning. we thought they ment us, so we soon emptyed the barn. those that ware able to walk started on foot for the landing. the others we loded into Amberlances and then skedaddled our selves. the Regt got to gather in the coarse of the day and camped in a wheet field near citty point. it is not certinly known how many is lost out of the Regt yet.

Fortress Monroe on the tip of the Virginia Peninsula
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Thursday 3: I was taken from the Gen Hospital in an ambulance to the Boat and put on board the Commodore with 500 others. am very lame. got under way in the evening down the River.

Friday 4: A fine day. arrived at Fort Munroe in the morning. took on coal and steemed up the Bay at a good rate. got into the River at dark. everything goes well.

Cutler Edson’s diary

In camp near Citty Point [Harrison’s Landing]. July 4 62: A pleasant day but not very warm for the 4th. wrote home and sent my diary up to this date. it has bin quiet and seamed much like Sunday except when our gun boats gave us a few salutes and our field peices like wise.

Saturday 5: another peacible day. no particular excitement. had a good time washing. this has bin a warm day but cold knight.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Saturday 5: Beautiful weather, cool and refreshing breezes accompanied to Washington, where we arrived about noon and were carried in Ambulances to various Hospitals. I am at Union hospital.

Sunday, July 6, 1862: it seemed strange to hear once more the Musical Chime of the Sabath Bell; t – And to hear the rumble not of artillery, but of carriages going to the hous of God.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday 6: our troops are fortifying about 2 miles from here and our detail went out this morning as usual. we have no Sundays in the army in time of war. this is deplorable but it is even so; Oh may God grant that this unholey rebellion may soon come to an end. have just recd a letter from my dear Wife. how grateful I feele for it. it is No. 33. No 32 have not recd. think it is lost. moved our camp about 20 rods to give us more room. wrote home.

Monday 7: recd another letter from wife concerning a lot in the cemetery. No 34 and answered it.

Louisa May Alcott
Sarah Low

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Monday 7: we are very well cared for here by Kind Women Nurses*; my foot is improving.

[*Among the nurses who worked at Union Hospital in Georgetown were Louisa May Alcott, who would later write Little Women, and Sarah Low, a young woman from Dover, N.H.]

Tuesday 8: Hot Hotter Hottest. every thing quiet. my foot slowly improving. Am able to hobble about without a cain.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Tuesday 8: recd the lost letter No 32 with Bro Strongs notes. have had the Neuralgia in my head most of the day but not very severe. no detail went out to day but are to drill 2 hours a day 1 in the morning and 1 at knight. this has bin another very warm day. Seargeant Sanbern returned to us to day. has bin at Anapilus sick several weeks. President Lincoln and Gen. McClealon passed threw our camp to day. he was recd by a national Salute from 1 of our bateryes and 3 hearty chears from each of our Regts.*

Augustus Sanborn 
[*Bro Strong was Lewis J. Strong, a private from Enfield, Edson’s hometown. Augustus B. Sanborn was a 19-year-old sergeant from Franklin, N.H., who later rose to captain.

[During the president’s visit, McClellan gave Lincoln a letter about the war and its aims. The war, he wrote, “should not be, at all, a War upon population; but against armed forces and political organizations. Neither confiscation of property, political executions of persons, territorial organization of states or forcible abolition of slavery should be contemplated for a moment. . . . Military power should not be allowed to interfere with the relations of servitude. . . . A declaration of radical views, especially upon slavery, will rapidly disintegrate our present Armies.” Already disgusted with the general’s military performance, Lincoln did not welcome this political advice.]

Wednesday 9: extreemely warm. laid in my tent the most of the day. Bought 1 pound of cheese for which I paid 50 cts & 8 little Ginger cakes for 25. this is dear living, but it will answer once in a while when a fellow has no appetite for any thing else that he can get. a flag of truice came  down the river to day requesting us to go and get our Sick & wounded prisoners for which we dispatched 3 gun boats towards Richmond. this looks as though they had about as many of there own as they could well attend to.

Thursday 10: Paid  Lieut. Cross for Bro Strong and took his recpt $8.00. got his discriptive list of Capt Perry. laid in my tent this fore noon but this after noon am feeling much better. hope the Neuralgia has left me for the present. very warm again till middle of the after noon when it began to rain which cooled the air nicely. Lieut Colonel Langley left to day for home on furlow. this leaves us with out any field officer.*

Lt. Col. Samuel Langley
[*Lt. Daniel K. Cross of Hanover, N.H., was no relation to Col. Edward E. Cross. Lt. Col. Samuel G. Langley of Manchester left the regiment for good later in 1862. Edward E. Sturtevant, the senior captain of the 5th, would be promoted to major on July 30.]

Friday 11: pain in my head the fore part of the day but wears off after noon. recd a letter from my old mother and sent it home with 1 I wrote to my good wife. Sent Bro Strongs discriptive list, and a recpt from Lieut. Cross of 8 dollars.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday 11: The same old round and that is all. foot still improving.

Saturday, July 12, 1862: Went out on the street to day. saw no grate sights or wonders. every thing in Georgetown is old and decaying. no new buildings are going up. every thing bares the mark of age.

No comments:

Post a Comment