Friday, August 8, 2014

May 30, 1864

May 30, 1864

---Battle of Bethesda Church, Virginia:  Fighting continues along the Totopotomoy River.  Grant begins to look for ways to break the deadlock.  Gen. Lee is also looking for a break, and sends Jubal Early (now commanding Ewell’s Second Corps), in an assault on the Union left flank, where Gen. Warren’s V Corps has just taken up position on the south bank of the Totopotomoy.  Gen. Rodes’ division of graybacks plows into Crawford’s Federals, and a few new regiments panic and retreat before the onslaught.  Early’s choices are limited at this point, as Rodes’ column is disorganized from the attack, and reinforcements have not come up yet.  Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur, a new division commander, urges Early to let him attack—to which Early reluctantly agrees--but he does so without supports on either flank.  In the lull, Warren has strengthened his line.  As Ramseur advances at 6:30 PM, Toon’s brigade finds itself pinned down by flanking fire from the bluecoats, and so only Pegram’s brigade is in the advance.  As they dashed forward, the Federals open fire.  One Confederate officer writes, “Our line melted away as if by magic: every brigade, staff and field officer was cut down, mostly killed outright in an incredibly short time.”  Point-blank range rifle fire and artillery canister cut down the advancing Rebels.  The slaughter is so severe that a Union officer begs the survivors to surrender—and they do so in large numbers.  This disastrous attack results in 90% killed, wounded, and captured to Pegram’s brigade. 
Losses:          U.S. 731
                         C.S. 1,593

In the evening, orders to Gen. Butler’s Army of the James detach Maj. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith and two corps to move by boat to join Grant’s army.  Lee learns of this, and demands reinforcements from Beauregard’s tiny force at Richmond.

---Captain Augustus C. Brown, of the 4th New York Heavy Artillery Regiment, writes in his journal of the fighting along the Topopotomoy that day as his regiment is sent in to fortify a line, and of this tragicomical incident:

Between our works and the house, which stood with its rear towards us, was a semi-circle of negro quarters, and in front of these little frame and log houses the artillerymen had backed up their caissons and ammunition wagons to conceal them as much as possible from the enemy. At the door of one of these cabins was a large pile of ashes, where the old “mammy” who lived there had emptied the contents of her stove for years, and as the men took out the ammunition from the chest on a limber, considerable powder was sprinkled on this dumping ground. Not long after the rebels had commenced firing, and after they had sent several rifled projectiles through the main house and its roof, and had split some of the great trees standing close by, the old darkey woman came to her door, cool as a cucumber, and apparently oblivious of the danger of her act, threw a shovel full of hot ashes and coals just out of her stove squarely under the limber, and instantly the front of that shanty was taken off as cleanly as if cut down by a monster hay-knife. Two men were killed and several wounded, but the negress is said to have escaped unhurt. A tremendous cheer at once rang out from the rebel line, the occupants of which no doubt supposed that the explosion of the limber chest had been caused by one of their shells.

---Kate Cummings, a Southern woman serving as a nurse in a Confederate Army hospital with the Army of Tennessee, writes in her journal of the lackluster service of the Georgia Militia (state troops) in guarding the hospital areas,, and thus addressing the hardcore States Rights politics of Gov. Joe Brown of Georgia, and his tendency to hold back men and material from the Confederacy:

There are many tales related of the Georgia militia. It seems that there was but one man in the whole place who could be prevailed on to go out as a scout. But the poor militia are constantly having some tales told on them. I think the governor is to blame for the contempt in which the Georgia militia are held. He holds to the doctrine of state rights with a greater tenacity than is at all needed at present. According to his views, Georgia had not only a right to secede in the beginning, but she can secede from the Confederacy any time she pleases. Many of the Georgians fairly worship both him and Stephens. I think that both have done our cause a vast deal of harm, at home and abroad. They have denounced the administration time and again, because it has not done exactly as they thought right. Whatever may be their views on that subject, I think they had better, for the present, keep them to themselves, as they will be productive of nothing but harm. If the present administration can not guide our affairs, why no one else can, and it is the duty of every man to give it his hearty support. “My country right, my country wrong, but still my country.”

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