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

Post image for “The hill upon which their guns were placed, the other side the stream, was ablaze with fire, and the air over my head filled with shot and shell, howling, screeching, and exploding amongst the guns and men on the ground above.” –Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

“The hill upon which their guns were placed, the other side the stream, was ablaze with fire, and the air over my head filled with shot and shell, howling, screeching, and exploding amongst the guns and men on the ground above.” –Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

June 30, 2012

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

June 30

About four o’clock we emerged from this miasmatic terra incognita, and came out into the open country. Across the river, the ground was high and open, and already covered with the guns of the Second corps in position. We marched rapidly across the bridge, and up the hill, where the rest of our division were lying asleep, in rear of the artillery. Forming the brigade in line of battle, three or four hundred yards in rear of the crest of the hill, parallel to the lines already established, and just in front of Caldwell’s brigade, the Seventh New York, lying immediately in rear of the Fifty-seventh. As soon as the brigade was formed, the colonel directed me to ride back to the bridge and stay there, until it was destroyed. The pioneer corps had been at work on it since the moment of our crossing, and when I returned I found it already impassable, with hundreds of men chopping it away. We picketed the front along the stream, connecting on the left with that part of the army which crossed at Glendale, and on the right as far into the heavy woods and swamp as was necessary to secure that flank, and then awaited developments. We marched across the swamp, left in front, so that upon facing about and confronting the foe, we were always right in front. It is necessary to explain this in order to understand the relative positions. Facing then to the front the new position seemed admirable. On the right was a heavy piece of timber, extending back from the river six or eight hundred yards; in front, say half a mile in width, the ground was open, high, and gradually sloping back to the woods nearly a mile in rear, through which the road to James river lay. On the left the woods were dense, reaching to Glendale, the next crossing on the left, and from thence our lines extended clear back to the James river at Malvern Hill, where Porter’s corps was already in position. McCall’s division was at Newmarket road, Slocum on the Charles City road, and Kearney between the two, with Hooker’s next, connecting with our division of the Second corps. The line of defense conformed to the peculiarity of the ground, generally following the swamp from the right to Glendale, thence crossing to the left, until resting on Malvern Hill. The success of the movement entirely depended upon our ability to hold this position till after nightfall, as the teams would occupy the roads the whole day, and render any movement of troops impossible. The ground we occupied, made historical by our defense, presented a very interesting appearance, when we went into position. We being the rear guard were of course the last troops to come up. In front, the crest of the hill was bristling with guns, Hazzard’s, Mott’s, Ayers’s. and Thomas’s batteries, commanding the bridge, road, and swamp. To the left and rear was parked a splendid pontoon train, apparently deserted, and in the rear, and on the right, between the heavy timber land, the ground was literally covered with wagons, their teams unhitched, going to and from the river, where they were taken to water by the teamsters, preparatory to an early start. All the troops were lying down, almost every one fast asleep, and with the exception of the braying of the mules, and the chopping of the pioneer corps, all was quiet, and peaceful. As I had to await the complete destruction of the bridge, I dismounted; passed the bridle over an arm and lay down, and in a moment was fast asleep. Suddenly I jumped to my feet, awakened by what seemed to be a most terrific earthquake shock. Looking about me, I saw across the river a little to the left twenty-four guns within easy range furiously shelling our position. The hill upon which their guns were placed, the other side the stream, was ablaze with fire, and the air over my head filled with shot and shell, howling, screeching, and exploding amongst the guns and men on the ground above. At the very opening, the mules took fright and galloped wildly about the field. Many of the teamsters, panic-stricken, leaped upon their backs, and galloped to the rear at full speed, overthrowing everybody and everything in their way. At the train, the stampede was complete; everybody, and every team galloped away as fast as possible, abandoning the wagons to find safety for themselves. The scene was so ridiculous, that for a moment the men forgot the enemy’s fire, to laugh at the misfortunes of the quartermaster’s department. It was not long however, before the officers in charge stopped the skeedaddle, brought their men and teams back again, and marched off their trains in good order. The bridge being destroyed I rode up the hill to the brigade; gave Seth my horse, and went to the center of the Fifty-seventh regiment, and lay down alongside the colonel and Captain McKay, just behind the men. We all lay flat on our bellies, eyes fixed on the rising ground in front, where most of the shells struck and then came ricocheting down the slope amongst us. We could do nothing but try and dodge them, the batteries alone being able to reply. Hazzard and the other batteries, replied vigorously, and for three hours sustained this iron storm, losing heavily in both men and horses. Some of Hazzard’s caissons were blown up, and Ayers lost a gun, dismounted. Finally Hazzard was obliged to withdraw, out of ammunition, and pretty well disabled. His place was taken by Captain Pettit, who came on the ground at a trot and as usual with him, got the enemy’s range the first shot. In a few minutes the tables were turned, and now it was the enemy’s caissons which blew up, and they were obliged to shift their position half a dozen times in half an hour, finally withdrawing out of range.

While we lay on our faces, dodging the shot and shell, McKay was struck in the heel, and yelled, like a Comanche Indian. He had to be carried off the field, and sent to the rear.

The regiment in rear of us, the Seventh New York, was particularly unfortunate; losing a file or two of men, every few minutes, they kept a pioneer party, constantly at work, burying their men as fast as they were killed, just in rear of the regiment. Shortly after the cannonade commenced, the rebels sent forward a line of skirmishers and made a dash for the bridge, but were easily repulsed by the picket line. They next attempted to cross further to the right, and brought on a lively affair, in which they were ultimately worsted. The serious attempt, however, was not on our front, but at Glendale, and still further to the left. Here the enemy concentrated his forces, and made the most heroic, and persistent efforts to break through. Throughout the entire morning the fight was continued, and severe deafening volleys of musketry came rolling through the woods, and were echoed back from hill to hill, until the earth seemed to shake from its foundation. About noon, Meagher’s Irish brigade, of our division, was sent to their assistance, followed a short time afterwards by Caldwell’s, leaving us alone to defend the swamp. The contest at Glendale was prolonged till evening, and we were greatly delighted to observe the position unchanged since morning, judging by the firing, which is generally a safe guide. If we could hold the enemy in check throughout the day, against his best efforts, we should have nothing to fear, for by the next morning we should be in position on the James, our rear secure, and in condition to fight and win. In our own front, Pettit gained complete control about noon, and kept the enemy’s batteries quiet. The captain is a charming, quiet, harmless person to his friends; but a terror to the enemies of his country. As soon as he gained control, he arranged for sighting his guns on the bridge after dark, by driving a series of sticks into the ground in front of his pieces, in such a manner that the gun trained on them would exactly command the bridge, and so we could hold our position as long as we choose. About dark firing ceased along the whole front and nothing but the minute guns fired by Pettit at the bridge and the chopping of the enemy’s pioneers broke the stillness of the summer evening. Towards eight o’clock, some one set fire to the pontoon train, which for some reason unknown to us, had been abandoned. There being no horses to haul it away, nothing could be done but destroy it. It probably cost fifty thousand dollars at the least, and ought never to have been abandoned. The enemy began chopping timber to repair the bridge as soon as it became dark, and the ring of their axes, the regular and monotonous discharge of the cannon, followed by the bursting of the shells in the swamp below, and the burning pontoons in rear, made the situation memorable, and extremely fascinating. The troops stacked arms after dark, and lounged in rear of them, doing what they pleased, which was a great relief from lying prone throughout the day.

General French resumed command at daybreak and Colonel Zook went to his regiment. After dark he ordered Zook to assume command again for the night, so we mounted our horses, and rode entirely around the brigade and down near the broken bridge to observe the shells explode, which generally happened exactly over it, effectually preventing the rebels from repairing it. At nine o’clock, an aide from General Richardson, reported the roads ahead free, and directed us to retire. The order was given, and with astonishing alacrity the column formed and resumed the march to the James; moving by the left flank again, we soon reached the main road running through heavy timber, and as the night was cool and the road superb, the men stepped out most astonishingly. Two of Pettit’s guns remained in position with a company of infantry until half an hour after the column was fully stretched out; then firing their last shot, both guns at once, limbered up, and joined the column at the trot, giving the infantry company a lively shaking up. The rebels were now at liberty to repair the bridge and follow as fast as they chose. With good roads, free of obstruction, and a two hours’ start, no infantry could overtake us and cavalry dare not, so we felt perfectly comfortable; when the column was well closed up and all in motion, I rode ahead and joined the colonel and staff, and again ate hard tack, drank more commissary, and smoked my pipe, our horses walking for dear life to keep out of the way of the men. Frequently during the night we fell asleep, but the horses kept their places in the column, without any effort on our part.

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