Sunday, July 15, 2012

July 1862:Andrew Neal Letter - Death of Thomas Knox at Frazier's Farm

In July 1862, Corporal Andrew Neal, of Belvidere, serving in the 4th Pennsylvania Veteran Reserve Infantry Regiment, wrote to The Belvidere Intelligencer to report on the June 26 battles at Mechanicsville and Gaines' Heights,  Virginia and the death of his boyhood friend Thomas A. H. Knox, of Belvidere, at Frazier's Farm.

Neal wrote, "We remained at Oak Grove until the 18th [of June] when we marched for the Chickahominy and camped a short distance from New Bridge.  On our arrival, the rebels greeted us with a few shells.  Their pickets were on the opposite side of the river, their lines being about a half mile to the rear in a thick woods.  On Friday following, they shelled our camp pretty well from a long ranged gun they had mounted on an earthwork.  Our camps were moved a bit further to the rear, where we remained picketing every four days and forming a line of battle at or before daylight every morning and living under arms most of the time day and night, until the 26th, in the afternoon of which we struck tents and packed up everything and moved towards Mechanicsville, where the 1st and 3rd Brigades of our Division were engaged with the enemy.   Our knapsacks were piled up a short distance from the scene of action, and our Brigade, with the exception of our Regiment, immediately took part in the engagement; our Regiment being held in reserve during the balance of the engagement, which lasted until 10 o'clock in the evening, the enemy pouring shot and shell at us from their batteries like hail, but which we avoided by laying flat on the ground, their missiles passing harmlessly in our rear. 

"The enemy, about dusk, attempted to flank us on the right, but a few well directed charges of grape and canister from our batteries sent them off, and they did not attempt it a second time.  We lay in the same position until near daylight on Friday morning, when we were ordered to fall back; we then fell back to Gaines' Hill, where a hasty breakfast was eaten, after which a line of battle was formed - the other two Brigades of [Brigadier General George] McCall's Division and the balance of [Major General Fitz John] Porter's Army Corps, of which our Division is a part, fell back to the same line on the right.  Reinforcements arrived from across the Chickahominy, and the rebels came down with overwhelming numbers, and by noon the whole line was one continuous roar of musketry and roar of artillery, the rebels fighting under the cover of a thick woods; their batteries on the opposite side of the river also opened fire with shell on our lines.  The battle raged with increased fury, the rebels being strongly reinforced during the whole time until sundown. 

"Our Regiment was sent into the woods, under the heavy fire from the enemy, to try and dislodge them, the men reserving their fire until they could take deliberate aim at the enemy wherever he showed himself.  Two hours were spent in this way, the men being nearly drowned   with perspiration and covered with dirt, when they were relieved, but the enemy, having such overpowering numbers, threw them, about this time, on our whole line for the purpose of forcing us toward the Chickahominy, they succeeding in forcing our lines.  About this time, the Regiments on our right and left broke and left; our battery opened on the rebels with double charges of grape and canister, mowed them down like grass, but they were so superior in numbers, we were compelled to abandon one of our batteries and retreat; the cannoniers of the battery, before they left their guns, fired their ramrods at the enemy.

"After falling back 3/4 of a mile, the Irish Brigade came up and went at them beyond the woods, and held the ground until the Army fell back over the Chickahominy and blew up the bridges to prevent the advance of the rebels.  We lost in this retreat all our knapsacks and contents, small tents and everything but what we had on our backs.  Our company [Company F] lost in this battle four wounded and three missing.  We remained under arms all day Saturday, the 28th, and until near daylight on Sunday, the 29th, and then, with immense Army trains, fell back toward White Oak Swamp, crossing it about noon, and resting in a woods about a mile south of it.  During the afternoon, we again took up our line of march for Charles City Cross Roads, which we reached at 10 p.m., when the whole of our Division were thrown out as pickets.  A little after daylight on Monday, we fell back in an open field [Frazier's Farm] and breakfasted on what little we could raise, and we thought we were going to have a little rest, but soon we found ourselves mistaken, for the rebels were again at us, having driven in our pickets.  Hastily a line of battle was formed and soon the scenes of the previous Friday were re-enacted, the enemy pouring shot and shell at us, and their infantry keeping the air filled with leaden hail."

Neal sadly reported, "Our company lost 14 in killed, wounded and missing - among the number, Corporal [Thomas A. H.] Knox, who sent you a letter last fall, and who has relatives in Belvidere.  During this, as well as the previous battles, the officers and men, with few exceptions, behaved with great coolness and bravery."

During the battle at Gaines' Heights, Lieutenant Colonel Robert McAllister's 1st NJ Regiment suffered heavy losses.  Major David Hatfield was wounded early in the battle and later died of his wounds.  Warren County's Captain Ephraim G. Brewster, of Company C, was killed in action.  The 1st NJ Regiment's losses were 34 killed, 136 wounded, and 60 missing. 

Adjutant William Henry, Jr., of Oxford Furnace, wrote to the Belvidere Intelligencer, "You will confer a favor upon the friends of Capt. E. G. Brewster, of whom he had many at Oxford Furnace and in Belvidere and vicinity, by giving the enclosed an insertion in your valuable journal."  Enclosed with the letter was a resolution honoring Brewster, which was signed by McAllister, Henry, Capt. S. VanSickell of Company B, and 1st Lieutenant William Tantum of Company B.  Henry noted, "At present, all is quiet in the Army of the Potomac. We do not apprehend an attack from the enemy though he outnumbers us and his case is desperate; but we are ready for him, and will whip him if he comes."   

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards

No comments:

Post a Comment