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2nd Vermont Infantry

Correspondence
Francis Finnegan

LAMOILLE NEWSDEALER; MAY 2, 1862

CAMP IN THE WOODS NEAR YORKTOWN: APRIL 20

DEAR FRIEND: --- It is likely that before this reaches you, you will have heard of the sharp little engagement that the Vt. Brigade had with the Rebels. On Wednesday morning our brigade left our temporary camp and advanced on a point of their lines where they seemed to be at work on their fortifications. The 3d regiment seemed to have the lead, and went to the left of an open field that fronted the works of the enemy; the 4th took position in the woods on the right of the same field, while our regiment with the 6th were posted in an open field to the rear, in position to support either flank if it should become too closely pressed. Two pieces of cannon were placed within range of a little fort under cover of the woods, and opened fire on the rebels. They replied smartly and sent more shell over into the field where we were posted, but at a safe distance from us. Two more guns were ordered up, and still two more. Four guns now seemed to open, holding a couple brass pieces in reserve. Soon the practice of our artilleries became so good that the rebels had to cease working their guns, not, however, till they killed three of our cannoneers, and wounded some others. Then there was a lull in the noise of battle for 2 or 3 hours. Gen. McClellan came up and went to the front to look things over. As he passed our boys he had to motion to them to be silent, or he would have been greeted with the usual deafening cheer with which he is met wherever he shows himself to the army of the Potomac. Things were such a serene appearance that our regiment was sent back to camp to bring up our knapsacks and other traps. We had little more than a mile to go. We packed up as quick as we could and started back.

When we got back the cannonading had commenced again with double fury, and our regiment was marched into the woods where we left our knapsacks. The musketry began to open with quite a rattle. We were told to cap our pieces, "left face," and take double quick. We passed into the open field in front of the fort, in which two batteries were placed and were firing briskly. The fort was replying briskly, apparently with two pieces. For a short distance we were exposed to the shells, but that was considered a small matter by those who had run a similar gauntlet, five times its length; yet one poor fellow was struck by a piece of shell, and killed immediately. His name was Fuller, of Co. F. Our regiment formed to the left of the artillery and marched to a position to support it, where we remained without firing a shaot.

In front of the fortifications of the enemy, is a wide and shallow creek over which 4 companies of the 3d crossed in the face of a murderous fire. They drove the rebels out of their rifle pits, and took posscession of them, but not being supported they had to fall back to save themselves from being surrounded. They were forced to turn their backs to the rebels, and exposed to all, the horrors of a retreat in the face of the enemy. At this juncture the slaughter was terrible; out of 192 that went over, 84 were hit. About 30, I believe have died. It is said that 4 of the wounded have fallen into the hands of the enemy. The rest were brought over on the shoulders of their brave companions. After the repulse of the 3d the 6th made an unsuccessful attempt to take the rifle pits, but they met with such a sharp reception that they soon gave it up, having 11 killed and nearly 50 wounded. The rebels brought our dead over yesterday under a flag of truce. They kept the wounded and are taking care of them.

While the 6th regiment was engaging the enemy on the left, the 4th ran out on double quick, led by their Colonel and engaged them in front. The little fort and rifle pits were swarming with rebels. Our artillery was in good range, but durst not fire lest they should cut down their own men, but soon the 4th fell flat on the ground; then the roar of artillery, the bursting of shells, and whistling of grape shot fairly made the earth shake beneath us. Our regiment saw the 4th when they made the dash and saw them dropping down. That was a painful moment to us, and many soldiers in our ranks ached for a chance to assist those brave soldiers; who was making such a bold move, but we were much relieved when we saw them jump up and discharge their pieces. But we were posted to protect this artillery, and we must not move out of our tracks, so long as that artillery kept its ground.

We hold possession of all the ground on this side of the creek, and have thrown up batteries sufficient to protect 20 guns. All this is done in the darkness of night. Our works are within deadly range of theirs; but we having once gained the mastery, our artillerists and sharp shooters keep them quiet while we do as we please. Their men in the rifle pits amuse themselves in firing at our pickets. They pour in such broadsides that it makes one think that a battle has commenced for certain. They waste their powder and disturb our rest but don't frighten us much. The first time they so braverly appeared from the rife pits, in the darkness, was on Tuesday night, just at mid-night. Our company was out on picket and had just been relieved from the outposts, and went down behind a little rise of ground and were inoffensively going into "the land of dreams," when, crack, crack crack!, went about twenty-five or thirty guns, followed by a whole volley, heavier than I ever heard before. Let me tell you that volley brought us to our feet in short order. "Take Arms, Left Face, forward!" was the command of our captain. We marched some ten rods, faced into the line close to a four gun battery. All this time there was a continued roar of musketry, and some few "plumbs" flying over our heads. When we got close to the battery, a rifled gun and two brass pieces were discharged in among the rascals. Then their fire dried up unceremoniously as it commenced. The outer line of pickets held their ground and replied to the firing. The balance of our regiment was only about 40 rods from the picket reserve, and came out to support the battery, in a very few minutes. Capt. Ayers, chief of the ordinance, came down to the battery and shook out Lieut. Colonel by the hand, saying, "I was afraid my right battery was a goner." We all staid by the battery a short time and then went back to our post and rested until after 3 a.m., when we were waked up by another salute that again brought us to our feet. Thr battery feeling sure of our support, opened at once, and stopped the firing before it gained much headway. The "yello-pups" are the best thing to keep order at night. Next morning one of the cooks in Co. B., in our regiment, brought coffee out to the men on picket. While the men were sipping their coffee, the cook went out towards the picket line; a stray bullet came and passed through his breast. Lieut. Whittemore, of Co. E., 3d regiment, came near being drowned, in returning over the creek. He could not swim, and had to hang to a tree in the water, till dark, when he escaped.

Yours as ever,

Francis

Submitted by Deanna French.

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