Daily Archives: June 6, 2014

Cold Harbor

Another dawn assault. It was the last thing the veterans of the Fourteenth Connecticut wanted, but they rose and filed into line before first light. At his time in the war each member of the Fourteenth carried a Sharps Model 1858 breech loading rifle and those of Company D had the special Berdans Sharpshooter modifications. The men were told to secure all equipment, anything that would clink or clank, so that they could advance as quietly as possible.

The grand assault of the Second Corps on the morning of June 3rd was the most disastrous contest of arms for the Army of the Potomac since Fredericksburg. The toll was heaviest among those regiments that had been rushed forward from Washington and other points to replace the men lost at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Their crisp uniforms and smart marching branded them as “fresh fish” and no doubt they had heard the taunts of the grizzled veterans. They went forward as ordered. It was their duty, They would earn with their blood the respect of the regiments to their right and left. Casualties were horrendous. Thousands fell in less than an hour. (Click here for a Wikipedia map of the June 3rd assault. Note Gibbon’s division.)

By contrast, casualties to the Fourteenth Connecticut were few, one killed and about ten wounded. When they advanced, the rapid fire of their Sharps rifles took a heavy toll on the Rebel pickets. The men pressed toward the stout breastworks of the Confederate main line, and when they came under heavy musket and artillery fire, they dropped to the ground and made the best of a bad situation. The men lay behind the bodies of the Rebel pickets they had shot just moments before and used their bayonets, tin cups and plates to dig up the earth and mound it over the corpses to form their own low breast works.

The Fourteenth maintained its position throughout the remainder of June 3rd. Company D kept up a lively fire on a Rebel battery, and prevented the guns from being used against them. Directly opposite the Fourteenth was the Forty-Second North Carolina. Late in the afternoon of June 4th, Confederate troops were seen massing behind their works, and the men of the Fourteenth prepared for another fight. The charging line of Rebels closed to within fifty feet and were met with a hail of lead. The men of the Fourteenth poured shot after shot from their Sharps into their foes, three shots per man to every one of theirs. Some of the North Carolina men surrendered, including an officer who asked, “Where are your men? I thought the line at this point was at least four men deep, the fire came so fast and thick.”

A tenuous and almost friendly stalemate developed. A truce was called. The dead were buried, except those interred within the Fourteenth’s breastworks, and the wounded were taken to the rear for treatment. The combatants shook hands and traded goods and had a fine time, in spite of the circumstances. And then the truce was over and the men headed back to their lines.

“Hey Yanks,” a voice called over from the Forty-Second North Carolina, “if you’uns won’t fire, we’uns won’t.”

For several days this informal truce held until one morning the voice called again. “The Sixth Alabama is going to succeed us and they fire at sight. Now, Yanks, lie low.”