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

Post image for Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.–“I rode at the head of the column with Hazzard, and never before experienced such exhilaration…”–Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.–“I rode at the head of the column with Hazzard, and never before experienced such exhilaration…”–Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

May 10, 2014

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

[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 Shortly after this little advance, the other two divisions of our corps were withdrawn, and we found ourselves alone on the south side of the river.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.

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