Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Diary of a Young Officer–Josiah Marshall Favill (57th New York Infantry)

[May 12th] It still rained, and just before daylight became quite foggy, so that we were slightly delayed. Everything being ready, however, as soon as the first streak of daylight appeared in the eastern skies, the command to move forward was given, and without noise the whole solid column stepped out, closely followed by the second line. Arms were carried at the right shoulder, and on we went, a solid mass, moving very rapidly; the rebel picket was soon encountered, but we ran right over it, and upon reaching the neighborhood of the Landron house, received the fire of the picket reserve, but pressed steadily forward, paying no attention to it. Soon the earthworks loomed into view close by, when with a prolonged cheer, at the double quick, the whole force charged over the intervening ground, swarmed over the parapet, and taking them entirely by surprise and unprepared, got behind them, and hustled them all over the works into the arms of our reserves. It was a complete success. The rebels fired only a very few shots, and were mostly asleep when we rushed into their works. The first piece of luck we have had for many a day. We captured Major-General Edward Johnson and Brigadier General George H. Stuart, together with four thousand men and eighteen guns. The whole angle and perhaps half a mile of their lines was in our hands, but when we attempted to move forward, found a second line, now fully on the alert and too strong to be carried; so our men promptly went to work to face the captured lines the other way; before they were completed, however, the enemy came forward in immense numbers and made the most desperate attempt to recover their lost ground. They seemed determined to gain back at any cost what had been lost, and the most severe close fighting of the war ensued. The enemy several times got close up to the parapet, and reaching over the men on opposite sides did their best to bayonet each other. Batteries were brought up, and firing over our heads into the masses of the enemy inflicted enormous losses: trees eighteen inches in diameter were cut down by the fire of musket balls but the enemy could not recover what they had lost, nor could we advance, and towards the middle of the night they withdrew to form a new line in rear of the one now covered with dead. It was a tremendous struggle, bravely maintained throughout the day, both sides showing the utmost gallantry and determination. General Hancock was much elated with his success. When the rebel General Stuart was marching to the rear Hancock came riding along, and recognizing him as an old army friend of days gone by, put out his hand, but the rebellious gentleman refused the proffered shake, and lost much in our estimation for so doing. One of the pleasant features of our fighting is that none of us consider it a personal affair and individually are as friendly to any of our captured antagonists as though no state of war existed. There is no personal animosity whatever, so far as I have seen.

The enemy withdrew during the night, and the army of the Potomac under the indomitable Grant, prepared immediately to follow them.

[Here ends Diary of a Young Officer–Josiah Marshall Favill]

May 11th. Everything quiet this morning. The enemy hug their entrenchments and are now around the Spottsylvania court house. In the afternoon Miles’s brigade was sent back to Todd’s tavern, but returned to camp in the evening, without finding any trace of the enemy. He never fired a shot, I think. Shortly after dark, we received orders to fall in and march, our division following Birney. The night was very dark and rainy, and the roads narrow and bad, but we stepped out briskly and very quietly. About midnight the column halted near a house, the “Brown house,” closed up and massed in close column of brigade, and was then informed it was to assault the enemy’s works in front, which at this point forms a salient angle. The success of this attack depended upon its secrecy, and so all were ordered to keep very quiet and commands were to be given in a whisper. The troops moved up near the enemy’s picket line, supposed to be twelve or fifteen hundred yards from the enemy’s works. Nobody knew exactly the position of the works or the nature of the ground, and so we had to take our chances, moving forward till we struck them. In front of our division the ground gradually ascended and was sparsely covered with trees, shrubs and bushes till near the rebel works, where it was entirely open. Birney’s division was on our right, also in brigade masses, with Mott in rear of him, while Gibbon’s division remained in reserve in rear of all. It took a long time to form the division in column of assault; each brigade was closely massed, all the mounted officers dismounted, and the orders were to advance without firing a shot, and by simple weight of numbers crush everything in front of us. Before starting, the engineer officers found the general direction of the rebel lines by compass and pointed it out to Barlow and the brigade commanders. There was another house in front, called the Landron house, which was supposed to be some four hundred yards from the rebel works, and this was to be our principal guide. The Fourth brigade was on the left, the Second brigade on the right, with Miles and Brooke in command. The Third brigade, now commanded by Brown, and Smyth’s Irish brigade formed the second line and were to advance close behind the first line.

[May 10th] Early in the morning, Arnold’s Rhode Island battery joined us, and after much labor advanced on our right flank by cutting a roadway through the woods to the Shady Grove road. It seemed a dangerous thing to take guns through such a place, and eventually proved to be very much so. Shortly after daylight, and while the artillery men were chopping their way through the woods, Brooke was ordered to find a crossing between the road and Glady’s Run. Colonel Jack Hammil, formerly adjutant of the Sixty-sixth New York commanded the little party that made the attempt, and distinguished himself by the gallant manner in which he dashed across the stream and almost into the enemy’s rifle pits. He found the enemy in full force and was obliged to retire. Shortly after this little advance, the other two divisions of our corps were withdrawn, and we found ourselves alone on the south side of the river. It was not long before the rebels advanced in skirmishing order and opened fire; we could see their lines advancing, and as soon as they came within range, gave them a warm reception and expected to easily dispose of them, but the skirmish line was quickly followed by a line of battle, and it soon became clear we were in for a pitched fight. As the rebel line of battle advanced, Arnold’s guns opened on them, and for a while enfiladed some of their lines, firing shell and canister. Barlow and two or three of us sat looking on, watching the battle for a while, but soon had to retire, as the enemy came on in force, and the guns were obliged to move to the rear. As the battery limbered up, the rebels surrounded the position, and although pretty well held at bay, we unfortunately lost one of the guns, which got jammed between two trees, so that it could not be extricated. The center and left of the line held their position firmly, although furiously assailed; our men had hastily thrown up a loose breastwork of rails alongside the edge of the road, and for a time seemed to have but little difficulty in keeping the enemy in check. General Barlow, accompanied only by myself, rode in rear of the line and was examining the condition of things, when a body of officers from the Third brigade came up and asked the general to relieve Colonel from the command, stating that he was not in a fit condition to have charge of it, and asked the general to assign me to it, offering to waive their rank, if he would do so. The general hesitated a moment and looked at me, then refused, saying he would not make a change just then and told them they must get along as well as they could. How I hoped he would have consented; it seemed such an unheard-of opportunity, a captain to command his old brigade, but it was not to be. Subsequently I learned that Colonel had voluntarily retired and Colonel Brown took command. A moment afterwards, as the enemy were pressing us heavily all along the line, General Hancock rode up, entirely alone, not even an orderly with him, and directed Barlow to immediately withdraw across the river, then turning to me, without saying by your leave to Barlow, directed me to ride at full speed to the reserve artillery of the corps, encamped on open ground about a quarter of a mile in rear on the other side of the Po, and order Captain Hazzard with all his guns into position on the high bank of the river to protect the crossing. John Gilpin’s race was nothing to mine. I flew over the ground, and as I approached the bivouac of the artillery reserve, every one was on the alert, knowing their services were required. Captain Hazzard was standing in front of a tent fly, his flag stuck in the ground beside him, and instantly ordered the bugle to sound the assembly, and I think within a minute half a dozen batteries, some of them side by side, started off at a trot, presently breaking into a gallop. I rode at the head of the column with Hazzard, and never before experienced such exhilaration; the thundering guns dashed over the space and were in position in no time, promptly sending their shrapnel over the heads of our troops into the enemy. The engagement was fought in full view and dexterously managed, the object of our division being to retire in good order, and that of the enemy to try and capture them, and the tactics displayed and splendid bravery of both sides were admirable. The division moved to the rear in eschelon, frequently at the double quick, seventy-five to one hundred yards, faced about and lay down, opening fire on the rebel advance, whilst the ground between them was alive with bursting shrapnel from Hazzard’s guns. When one brigade had retired to a new position and opened fire, the other brigade made a similar movement, and so it continued clear across the open ground, till at last the enemy was obliged to retire under the murderous artillery fire and the infantry recrossed the river in good order, quite elated with their exploit.

When our batteries first opened they received the fire from some of the enemy’s guns in position away off to the left front, and the first shell landed in the battery where I was standing, killing several of the men serving the guns; amongst them a superb looking young sergeant, whose leg was entirely severed. He did not lose consciousness, but looked with melancholy interest at his severed limb, which lay close by. I was so sorry for him. I understood afterwards he died from the shock. Hazzard at once opened fire on these guns and soon blew up one of their caissons, after which they decamped. Our losses were not very serious and the whole affair intensely interesting. We found out from prisoners taken that Ewell’s entire corps had taken part in the attack and expected to capture us without much trouble. Frank’s brigade crossed just below the pontoon bridge through the woods and Brooke over it. By direction of General Barlow I rode down to the extreme left, to see the bridges destroyed, where the Irish brigade had crossed, but when I arrived the work was already done by the engineer corps, and the Irish brigade in a good position. Colonel Beaver, of the One Hundred and Forty-eighth Pennsylvania, was conspicuous in this day’s operation, and Brooke and Miles were as usual superb.

May 9th. Remained at Todd’s tavern till noon, when ascertaining that the enemy had left our front, we marched down the Spottsylvania road about a mile, then took a wood road to the right, which brought us into fine open ground, commanding the river Po. Here we found the bulk of the army, Warren holding the right, covering the Brock and other roads converging here, Sedgwick next, and Burnside on the extreme left; our corps formed in line of division, in rear of Warren, stacked arms, and prepared for dinner. What a tremendous relief it was to get out of the infernal Wilderness, where for three days we had been fighting for the most part an invisible foe. About ten o’clock our attention was attracted to the opposite side of the river, where a long train of army wagons was passing in full view along the Block House road to Spottsylvania. One of our batteries opened fire on them, which drove them into the woods for shelter. Soon afterwards our division was ordered to cross the river. Brooke took the advance, driving in the few rebel pickets that held the ford, and forming line of battle advanced across the open ground to the edge of the wood from half to three-quarters of a mile in front. Frank’s brigade followed, and then Miles’s. On the left, Brooke advanced and occupied the block house road, over which the rebel wagon train had so recently passed. Birney’s division crossed above us, Gibbon’s below. As soon as our division got over it was advanced to the Shady Grove road, with the intention of crossing the Po again at the block house, and establishing ourselves on Lee’s left flank, but it was dark by the time we got up, and the rebels held the crossing in front, so we bivouacked for the night where we lay. During the night the engineer corps built two or three bridges directly in rear of our position, so that in case of an emergency we could get across, without going back by the route we advanced over.

[May 8th] Warren did not get out of the way till early next morning, when our corps fell in, abandoned its position and stepped out in a very lively fashion, arriving at Todd’s tavern about nine o’clock. We immediately went into position, relieving Gregg’s division of cavalry, and commenced at once, as is usual now-a-days, to throw up a breastwork of logs and rails, and dug a ditch behind them. As soon as the connections were established, Miles’s brigade and a brigade of Greggs’s cavalry, with a battery of artillery were sent to Corbin’s Bridge, across the Po river, almost due south, where the enemy was discovered entrenched on the opposite shore and opened fire as soon as our party showed themselves, which was just what we desired to have them do. Line of battle was formed and our batteries replied, but made no further demonstration. I rode so much and so fast, traveling between Miles’s brigade and the rest of the division, that I ruptured my beautiful gray and was obliged to send him to the rear. The reconnoissance was very enjoyable, however. Derrickson and I rode out together in front of the skirmish line and cavalry videttes, and while exploring a narrow road running over a considerable hill caught sight of a rebel column hurrying along a wood road in front under cover of the wood. We dismounted, left our horses in rear of some bushes, and crept forward on the road until within a couple of hundred yards of them, then lay down and watched them passing for over half an hour. While we lay here a rebel battery suddenly pushed up on a hill to the right of the road, and getting sight of our horses fired several shots at them, so we quickly withdrew, galloped back, and reported what we had seen to Hancock.

This was the ride that broke the poor gray down. About 5 P. M. Miles was withdrawn, but was attacked while doing so, and had to do quite a little fighting before he reached the main body. Learned towards evening that the enemy had discovered our intentions and had got ahead of us and was in position near the court house. Nothing else of importance occurred during the day, and the night passed without disturbance.

Early May 7th we sent our a strong skirmish line to locate the enemy’s position and found that he had retired behind his entrenchments. During the day Custer’s cavalry division drove the rebel cavalry from Cartharpin furnace to Todd’s tavern, and Warren’s corps brought on a considerable picket engagement about noon in making a reconnoissance on his front, and so the battle of the Wilderness ended. Our losses are said to amount to at least fifteen thousand men, without other result then probably killing and wounding as many of the rebels. Grant has no idea of ceasing operations, however, but is said to be arranging for another move by the flank to get between Richmond and the rebel army. Hancock was ubiquitous, riding everywhere and sending staff officers in endless succession from one end to the other of the line to keep himself posted on the situation. Our division remained all day along the Brock road, but towards night were ordered to march to Todd’s tavern in the direction of Spottsylvania court house. As soon as it became dark Warren’s corps passed from the right, their original position, immediately in our rear on the Brock road, we remaining in position behind the works.

May 6th. At five o’clock this morning, the battle opened vigorously on the right, and soon heavy musketry firing rolled sonorously along the entire line. Hill’s corps attacked Sedgwick, and a fierce and bloody encounter took place. Getty, Mott, and Birney, of our corps, were soon involved, and heavy fighting raged on all sides except our own front. We were on the lookout for Longstreet, who was reported by prisoners taken as moving down the Cartharpin road and forming on the unfinished railroad in our front. At six o’clock Hancock ordered the line to advance to the Orange plank road and a desperate fight commenced. Wadsworth, with a division, was to the right of the road, and our three divisions to the left, and so they moved forward at right angles to it. For over an hour the fighting was about even; then Hill’s troops gave way and we advanced, capturing several hundred prisoners. From this time until nearly three o’clock, there was a lull in the fighting, our division closely watching for the advance of Longstreet’s men. All of a sudden, while Barlow followed by his staff was riding slowly along the Brock road towards the plank road, a tremendous fire opened all along our front and shortly afterwards some of our troops gave way and came rushing through the woods over the slight breastworks into the road. Mott’s troops behaved rather badly, and there was great confusion, but Brooke’s men stood firm in the woods and repelled all efforts to drive them back. I was with Brooke at the opening fire, which was something fearful. The horses plunged and reared; the balls whistled around our ears, and the noise was simply too terrible to describe, but the gallant Fourth brigade, standing firm, opened fire and never a rebel passed their line. On Birney’s front the enemy drove all before them, and for a few moments it looked as though we were in serious difficulty. The enemy came rushing up to our breastworks, some climbing over them. I saw a rebel officer mount the rampart with a flag in his hand, waving it over the heads of his men. The woods had taken fire in front and now spread to the log breastworks, which added renewed terrors and excitement to the situation. As the rebel flag was flaunting over the burning ramparts, Carrol’s brigade came sweeping up at the double quick, and with a wild hurrah drove the rebels back into the mass of flames and smoke and recovered everything that had been temporarily lost. This ended the day’s serious fighting, no further attempts being made by either side. Again the losses were heavy. General Wadsworth was killed on our side and General Longstreet badly wounded on the rebel side; besides many other officers killed, so we learned from the many prisoners we took. As soon as the enemy was driven back we devoted ourselves to saving the wounded from roasting to death in the woods in front.

This is one of the horrors of fighting in dense woods, where the bursting shells invariably in dry weather set fire to the dead leaves and branches.

Early on the morning of the 5th we fell in and marched towards Todd’s tavern, halting in a clearing about nine o’clock, the enemy close at hand on the Wilderness pike. Very hot, and both men and animals suffered much. While halted here, the head of our column was in contact with a strong cavalry force skirmishing with the enemy, in the effort to locate his position. All was excitement and vastly interesting. Very soon after halting we were ordered to countermarch and take position on the Brock road, our right resting near the Orange Court House plank road. Shortly after forming on this road, Frank’s brigade was advanced on our extreme left to watch a road leading into the Cartharpin road, over which the enemy were reported to be advancing. The Brock road runs through a dense wilderness slightly elevated above the ground to the southwest. In rear of our left, the ground was open, and the whole artillery of the corps took position on it. Our line connected on the right with Gibbon, and he with Birney. The right swung back, making a northward curve from the Orange plank road and was prolonged by Warren and Sedgwick.

As soon as the division was in position it began building breastworks alongside the road with logs, etc., and made some slight slashings. In front of us to the southwest was a dense woods, through which at a considerable distance ran an unfinished railroad, almost parallel to the Brock road, where the enemy were supposed to be in position. Frank was directed to march forward, inclining slightly to the right, so as to look up this road and form across it, but for some reason did not go far enough, and so the rebels had a fine place for forming their troops. Hancock, Barlow, and Gibbon, each had their headquarters on the road, which was lined with troops, and for several hours we did nothing but ride up and down this road, awaiting orders to advance. About four o’clock the fighting opened on the right, and immediately the silence of the woods was changed into an uproar indescribable; tremendous volleys of musketry followed each other with such extraordinary rapidity, it seemed that one or another of the armies must be annihilated. Presently we were ordered to move forward and attack through the woods, with two of our brigades, Brooke and Smith. They were soon across the breastworks, struggling with the interminable undergrowth, where it seemed impossible to keep any kind of alignment, yet we did, especially Brooke, who advanced nearly six hundred yards and immediately became engaged with the rebels who lay hid from view in front.

The fighting on the right was severe, and several times reinforcements were sent from our part of the line to assist. Whilst the fighting in the woods in front was in progress, the staff were kept riding between them and the main road, a most difficult, dangerous, and disagreeable duty; not only was it almost impossible to ride a horse through the labyrinth of undergrowth, but one could only keep his direction by the sound of the firing. The woods were full of smoke, in many places on fire, and nothing could be seen twenty yards ahead. On one occasion I should have ridden directly into the enemy’s lines but for Colonel Striker, of the Second Delaware, who saw me in front of his line just in time to call me back. I supposed I was riding in exactly the opposite direction to what I really was. Boots and clothes were torn to pieces and the horses became frantic. Colonel Chapman, of my regiment, happened to be division field officer of the day, and as his duties only commenced with the establishment of the picket line at night, he as was usual rode with the division staff, conspicuous by his sash worn across his shoulder. Riding along the road together in rear of the general, the colonel appeared to me to be unusually depressed and I asked him what was the matter. He said he felt a presentiment that he was going to be killed and could not get over it. I said what I could to dispel his low spirits, but apparently without result. Soon afterwards a tremendous fire opened on Brooke, and Barlow turned to ask some one to ride to the lines and see what was going on, when Chapman instantly volunteered and immediately rode into the woods. In a very few moments some one came out and reported him killed, when Barlow ordered me to go to Brooke, and in the confusion and amidst the terrible firing I forgot all about Chapman, but as soon as I reached the road again, I found the report only too true, and at that time he was dead and had been carried out of the woods. It completely upset me for the time being; we had chatted together constantly during the day, and his low spirits and unhappy appearance made me feel very sorry for him. He was so conspicuously brave and gallant that I have no doubt he felt certain of his death, and yet in face of such forebodings, he instantly proposed to go himself, when it was some one else’s duty and now “he sleeps an iron sleep, slain, fighting for his country.”

Brooke and Smyth succeeded in driving the enemy before them, getting within range of the plank road on ground a little higher than that in rear, and thus improved their position. The staff was never worked harder; both Barlow and Hancock kept the main road, while we were incessantly struggling back and forth through the woods to the fighting lines. Under ordinary circumstances no one would have dreamed of riding a horse into such a place, but now we rode right into it, never thinking of the consequences in the excitement. The rolling of musketry was continuous, the woods retained the sound, and echoed back from line to line the repeated volleys and continuous file firing. An occasional shell tore through the woods, clearing a passage for itself, as neatly as though cut by an axe, and in many places the dry undergrowth was on fire. Fighting continued till dark when it generally ceased, and the dead and wounded were gathered up in front. The losses were heavy, and the result about an even thing. We could not see much of anything, and consequently generally directed our fire by that of the enemy, guessing results by the slackening or increasing of the enemy’s fire. A great many officers fell, amongst them General Alex Hayes, a popular and excellent officer, commanding a brigade in our Second division.

Preparations were made for renewing the attack at four o’clock next morning, and after serving out ammunition, the troops prepared their coffee and ate their first meal for the day. Then slept in their ranks.

At 10 P. M., May 3, 1864, the Second corps broke camp and preceded by Gregg’s division of cavalry and followed by the artillery of the corps, crossed the Rapidan at Ely’s ford and marched easterly over the familiar route to Chancellorsville, arriving there about 10 A. M. the next morning, Warren and Sedgwick, the Fifth and Sixth corps, crossed at the Germania ford, some six or seven miles above, and formed the right wing of the army, while our corps formed the left. Burnside’s corps is at Warrenton with orders to hold the Bull Run line of communication until we are successfully established on the southern side of the Rapidan. Lee’s army is entrenched on the southern side of the Rapidan, some ten or twelve miles above the Germania ford, and Grant’s object is to cross below and turn his right flank.

The movements were promptly executed during the night and were completely successful. Warren and Sedgwick’s corps marched out to the Wilderness tavern, while we remained all day at Chancellorsville.

May 2d. The army is ready to march with eight days’ cooked rations; camp followers have been sent to the rear, and everything is in readiness for an immediate start.