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6th Vermont Infantry
Letter to the Editor
From the Sixth Regiment
CAMP NEAR HARRISON'S LANDING, VA., July 12, 1862
EDITOR STANDARD:-Amid the numerous changes to which every vocation in the whole catalogue of the employments of man are subject, we find that that of military affairs is not exempt.-But a few days ago the army of the Potomac were holding, as we then supposed, an almost impenetrable front, though fifteen miles in extent, and bearing down hard upon the rebel capital. Now, this same army is twenty-five miles below, concentrated upon the banks of James river, with but three miles of front. This, with the aid of gunboats, gives us a much stronger position. The result of this movement remains to be told, and the reputation of Gen. McClellan as a military commander hangs upon it. The movement was no less sudden, strange and unexpected to us than it was to you, yet it was expected and provided for, and I believe no army ever made a retreat, under similar circumstances, with less loss of army equipages and supplies; and much of that loss might have been avoided had not a panic got among the wagoners. This is no place for men, who, because a shell may chance to pass over their heads, will cut clear their mules from the teams, and put spurs to the jaded beasts, as though their very life depended on going three miles a minute. From the time Gen. McCall was ordered to fall back, after successfully engaging the enemy all day, up near Mechanicksville, June 26th, until our final arrival at this landing July 3d, there was one continual scene of fighting, and such duty as not only tested hard the physical strength, but the courage, pride and patriotism of which our army is composed. The enemy tried with all their power to turn our flank, but were not quite smart enough; yet our escape was almost miraculous. Often they made a savage attack upon the retreating army, and as often were they repulsed with heavy loss. Their loss during those seven days of fighting was more than thirty thousand. This is their own acknowledgement. Our army, too, suffered a severe loss, yet not half that of the enemy. The rebels fought with that spirit which only desperation can command, yet so often as the retiring foe faced about and engaged them, they were sent, like a pack of hounds upon the track of a pursued tiger, howling back. This would retard them, while it would be improved by their adversaries in forwarding the trains and troops. Thus we contended until our arrival at Harrison's Landing, jaded and fatigue, yet not a disheartened, but a determined soldiery.
The rebels claim a glorious victory, yet we will acknowledge no defeat; and two more such would entirely demolish their army. They may look upon us as but the vestige of an army, hovering upon the banks of James river, upon the very point of expiring, yet a few months will teach them differently, if the North will but keep step with the spirit of the federal army, and send to our aid volunteer reinforcements, for it is them we need. I trust the time will never come when freemen of the North will have to be compelled to defend their homes and sacred rights against a horde of lawless and shameless men. Let them rise to arms and ere the autumn's frosts, this unholy rebellion may be known as a thing that was. Delay will only prolong the war and give the enemy strength. I am proud to learn that Orleans County is doing so well in responding to our country's call, and may she ever be ready to do her utmost in crushing treason and rebellion.
I hope that the historians will never have to record that men had to be drafted from the Green Mountain State, to defend and protect their country and its rights against rebellion or foreign invasion.
The remainder of this sheet I will use in speaking of the experience, trials and condition of the Vermont brigade, the 6th regiment, and Co. D. Our camp was first disturbed on Friday, June 27th. The enemy had got our position, and opened a battery upon us. This made some scattering of the boys, yet it did not last long. One shell, as we were in line of battle, in our street, struck the ground but a few feet behind the rear rank man, and had we not been lying on the ground, or had it burst, it would doubtless have mowed our ranks; but it bounded and passed harmlessly away. Anther passed through Captain Hale's tent, and thus they came among us.-Soon, however, we left camp, for the rebels had made a charge upon our pickets, and we hastened at double quick to their support-drove them back, and held the ground until we retired the next day. While we were preparing dinner that day, the rebels again opened their batteries upon us, and the shells burst over our heads and fell among us thicker and faster than ever. This made our situation not very pleasant. We broke up camp in a hurry, and there was some skedaddling. Going about two miles to the rear, we encamped for the night. Early the next morning we were again on the march, our division being rear guard. This was Sunday, the 29th, and an eventful day to the Vermont brigade. After marching till towards night, we halted for a time near Savage Station, in a pine wood, sheltered from the scorching sun, to rest, and wait for trains and other troops to pass; then setting fire to some ammunition and supplies at the station, which could not be removed, we again took up our line of march, but not going scarce three mile when the rebels opened a heavy fire upon the batteries which covered our retreat. Facing about, we marched at quick time to their support. Forming line of battle, we double quicked it through a thick wood for nearly a mile. There meeting the rebels, we fought and drove them back. The engagement lasted till after night had taken the place of day. Our brigade suffered much. The 5th regiment, being in an open field, while the others were screened somewhat by woods, suffered the heaviest loss. Of one company of 65, which entered the fight, but 12 are now left. The other companies suffered much-yet none so heavily as this one. They fought bravely, and nobly held their ground. But I have not room to comment. The other regiments lost nearly equal, save the 4th, which being held in the rear, was not engaged. The loss in the 2d, 3d and 6th was considerable.-The total loss in the brigade I have not learned. In our company we know of none killed, yet two have not been seen since we entered the fight. They were recruits. Five were wounded; Corp. Davis of Glover, Pete Courser of Troy, Erastus Spencer of Brownington, Hiram Hunter of Albany, and Lawerence O'Connell, and Irishman. There were none of the wounds severe, save that of O'Connell; is being in the abdomen, I think was fatal. All of them except Hunter, are now, probably prisoners at Richmond, together with Corp. Stiles of Albany, and his brother-he was sick, and had to fall out before we entered the fight, and the brother stopped to care for him. One other left the ranks that night nad has not been heard from since. This makes a loss of ten in our Co. Gen. Brooks received a light wound.
After leaving the battle-field we marched until 3 A. M., through a white oak swamp, then moving into a field halted to rest, and scarcely were our arms stacked before we were in the embrace of morpheus. After resting a few hours, we were again roused, and moved upon an elevation near by, and there, in suspense and anxiety, resting upon our arms, waited for the trains to move on, and to keep the enemy back. Our stay there was a little too long-so long that we courted the attention of the rebels. Following closely upon our track, they had got our position from a hill about 2 miles distant, planted-as we have since learned by deserters-thirty guns, and opened a terrific fire upon our camp.-The shells poured among us thick and fast, which created some skedaddling for the woods in the rear; but fortunate for us, very many of their shells did not burst. Had they, doubtless many would have been killed; but as it was, few were injured. At this time my knapsack, with part of its contents, was taken prisoner, (it has many companions.) After passing into the woods, we formed line of battle, moved to the front edge, sent out skirmishers, and laid in wait for the approaching enemy. During this time Captains Mott and Ayer responded to the rebels with their batteries. This drew the fire of the enemy upon them, and a savage duel followed. Our batteries suffered much, but not more than the enemy; for many of their men and horses were killed, and guns disabled. Our skirmishers exchanged shots, but no force of the rebels ventured to meet us. Had they, our position was such that we should have cut them down fearfully.
About a mile upon our left, however, they did come up, and were severely punished for their filly. Holding our position and keeping the enemy at bay until probably 9 P.M., we again marched, and the king of day was high above the eastern horizon before we halted to take rest. In a few hours we were moved back into a thick growth of pine, and were there kept that day and night, to cover the retreat, and prevent flanking. The next day, Wednesday, July 2d, we marched through drenching rain, and about six inches of mud, to Harrison's Landing, probably a distance of 6 miles. Thus our army arrived, jaded and fatigued, yet with firm confidence in Gen. McClellan and the final success of our arms. Since then we have remained encamped here, and have built a large fort, which is now nearly completed, and this, with the aid of gunboats gives us a strong position. The rebels have fallen back toward Richmond. Our army now only needs reinforcements, and reinforcements we must soon have. Let not my native State and County be slow in furnishing their share-rather give a double number, and let the word know that Vermont is still true to her ancestral fame, and let not those who have "played out," who are now wandering over the State, and who deserve to be branded as cowards, hinder you for a moment in your noble purposes, but rather put them to shame by your example, and hasten to join your brethren already in the field.
F. M. K.