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6th Vermont Infantry
Letter to the Editor
From the Third Regiment
Encampment Vt. 3d Reg., Near Yorktown, Va., April 18, 1862
FRIEND EARLE: This evening I grasp the pen to give you a short account of a skirmish in which we were engaged day before yesterday. We left our camp at about six A.M., proceeding westerly, in a direction towards the rebel fortifications which are on the west side of a creek running from Yorktown through Warwick into the James River. We soon arrived at our picket line, when ours and H company were deployed as skirmishers. We marched forward in front of the regiment, passing cautiously along through the woods until we came to the banks of the creek above mentioned, and upon the other shore, at a distance of about forty rods, could be seen their rifle pits, and a little in the rear of the pits a fort with some guns mounted, which soon opened fire upon us. At the same time skirmishing began between us and the rebels upon the other shore. About this time, companies A, C, G, and I, were deployed as skirmishers on our left, D, E, F, and K companies being held as reserve. The creek is dammed in several places, often enough to have the water set back from dam to dam. The ponds are about forty rods in width and in the deepest place about four feet deep. Our artillery came up and opened fire upon their fort with shell and solid shot, and soon their guns were silenced.
Here we remained upon the bank of the creek until nearly five P.M., when those companies which had been held as a reserve were ordered to cross the creek and drive the rebels from their fortifications if possible. Until this time we had whenever a rebel showed himself, done our best to send some minnie balls as close to him as possible, and they had shown the same kind of play towards us. Many balls came very near. And one of our company was wounded in the leg (Corporal Loren J. Flood) the same ball passing through the pants of A. B. Chamberlain before striking Flood. But this skirmishing was nothing compared with what followed.
The reserve came forward and entered the stream, crossing the skirmishers' line where our company were deployed. The moment they arrive at the water's edge the rebels from their rifle pits opened fire upon this little band, 193 in number, but on they go. Soon we see them in the middle of the stream, wading in the water full four feet deep, and advancing upon a foe of no doubt ten to one; but on they pass through the water and through a perfect shower of leaden hail which is fast thinning their ranks, but still on they go. The rebels run from their entrenchments as the little band approaches. Back, back, the rebels go, overtaken often by the minnies sent from the guns of this brave little band. They arrived at the first entrenchment and enter it, and here for a few moments they remain, the enemy charging on them every moment, and as often repulsed. Soon they fall back and are pursued by what remains of this noble little band to their fort, some of our men leaping upon it and yelling so as to drive out every rebel. At the same time the rebels were flanking our right and left. What was to be done? The ammunition was exhausted, and a number ten times as large as theirs was charging upon them. Retreat was the only thing left to them. They start to recross the stream. No sooner said than done; these rebels who had been driven rally and charge upon the now retreating little band. About the time they arrived upon the edge of the stream, the rebels poured into them a volley which told worse than anything before. Probably a thousand muskets were discharged at them in three seconds of time. Strange, very strange, that one of them remained. Had they not been on lower ground than the rebels were probably not one would have been left to tell the tale; but of the number 113 came back safe, 80 are killed, wounded, and missing.
I have seen it hail before, but never did I see it come any faster from the clouds than it did from their guns at the time our men were recrossing the creek. From the roar of the musketry no one supposed a man of them would return. I think they must be very poor marksmen. Of the 80 killed, wounded, and missing, 33 are killed and missing. Perhaps a few may be wounded and prisoners. One killed in company A, and two wounded; two wounded in company H, and one in company B. These last six were shot skirmishing.
Every one supposed that these companies were going to be reinforced as soon as the first attack was made by them, but no reinforcement was sent. Almost an hour later, a part of the 6th and 4th regiments were ordered over, but the result was the same as before. They were repulsed with a loss to the 6th of about the same number as ours and to the 4th of about twenty. The 2d and 5th were not ordered across, and have lost only a very few which have been killed and wounded skirmishing. Had the General ordered our whole regiment across together, and sent the remainder of the brigade to support us, we could have easily taken and held the fort until other brigades could have come to our assistance; but now another trial has yet to be made.
Every preparation is being made to attack them again. Batteries are being put into position to give them a little shell and shot, doubtless quite as much as they will be able to stand. The fort must and will be ours; and when that is taken their line of fortifications from York to James River is broken, and the hardest work done towards capturing Yorktown.
Probably there are but very few cases on record where so few men charged on a number so large, and never did men show more bravery than this little band of 3d Vermont. Full three fourths of an hour they were under the fire of a force of ten times their number, and still they drove them back until the last cartridge was gone.
Yesterday afternoon a flag of truce was sent over from the rebel fort. It was sent over for the purpose of having the firing cease so they could bury their dead, and likewise give us the same chance. They brought over 30 dead bodies, and report four wounded; and in their hospitals is Sweatland of company D, whom I reported dead, and three others. Of the others they had not obtained names. They reported the 2d Louisiana regiment very badly cut up by the charge of our regiment. I was one who went down to help get these bodies-saw and talked with any amount of secesh. All who spoke of the charge of our men called it the most desperate they ever saw. They are poorly clothed, and by no means as intelligent a lot of soldiers as ours-generally young. All with whom I spoke seemed to have a strong desire to have the war close. No doubt they are, the greater part of them at least, sick of the job they have undertaken. They were of the 7th Va., 5th Ga, 2d La., and a Kentucky regiment-the same troops that fought the Bull Run battle.
We have a company of sharpshooters here, who lay upon this side of the creek secreted, and who as soon as a secesh makes his appearance cause him to"drap." Many of them will pick a man every time a mile off. This causes the enemy to keep well hid in the woods. They said a large number had been killed by the sharpshooters.
I must close now, hoping soon to be able to give you an account of the capture of Yorktown. I have obtained a list of killed and wounded of our regiment which I think is correct and which I send you.
Company D. Killed W. P. Vance, " F. J. Thomas, " Samuel Thompson, " John Rowe, " Charles Wells, " John Backum, Wounded Charles Turner, " Calvin Fuller, " C. K. Hill, " Ephraim Brown " David Ellis, " Carlos Lunge, " Serg't. C.H. Holmes, " Company D. Killed S. Danforth, " D. Elliott, " L. E. Briggs, " D. Campbell, " J. Cookman, " S. Sweatland, " J. Neil, " O. Stevens, " A. Taylor, " J. LeRoy, " Cor. A. Hutchinson, " H. Hill, " J. Bishop, Wounded W. Davis, " J. E. Morse, " J. D. Niles, " T. Vance, " G. Washburn, " A. H. Wilson, " J. Blanchard, " J. Maranville, " T. Reynolds, " Company K. Killed E. D. Waterman, " A. F. Willey, " Patrick Divine, " F. Centerville, " William Scott, " Serg't. J. Ferris, Wounded Cor. W. H. Green, " A. J. Hoyt, " T. Conner, " W. H. Emmons, " W. J. McMannis, " Samuel Wale, " N. L. Wilson, " D. Ellis, " J. McCarty, " Captain Bennett, of this company,
had eight balls pass through his
clothes, two just grazing his skin.
Company H. Wounded S. J. Bush, " F. S. Dana, " Company F. Killed Serg't. J. F. Perry, " Cor. D. C. Willis, " A. L. Boynton, " W. B. Downer, " M. George, " J. Eldridge, " W. C. Hurd, " George Kibby, " F. Morrill, " D. M. Morse, " Richard Wilson, " Capt. E. S. Pingree, Wounded 1st Lt. E. A. Chandler," Charles Burnham, " J. Butterfield, " C Dike, " E. Perry, " C. Boyce, " R. Rowell, " John Smith, " J. Smalley, " E. Wright, " Cor. Metcalf, " Cor. L. B. Fairbanks, " Charles Page, " A. Reed, " Willis Whitcomb, " Company A. Killed A. A. Bailey, " A. H. Patch, Wounded Company B. L. J. Flood, "
I remain as ever,
T. ABEL CHASE.