THE IRON HEARTED REGIMENT
BATTLE OF CHESTERFIELD HEIGHTS.
On the morning of May 7th, Barton's Brigade (ours) received orders to cut the
Petersburgh and Richmond rail road at Port Walthall Junction.
We left camp early in the morning, leaving behind all who were unable to march.
The brigade was in light fighting order, and marched over the dusty roads and
through the hot sun quite rapidly.
After a great amount of marching and countermarching, we finally reached a point
near the rail road.
The rebels held a strong position on the side of Chesterfield heights with their
artillery planted on the crest of the hill. They were there to prevent us from
tearing up the track, and under orders to hold their ground at all hazards.
At one o'clock our skirmishers advanced and encountered the enemy's picket.
We then moved up, and as soon as the enemy caught sight of our column, they
opened upon us with artillery. We passed forward and at last gained a position
in a dense piece of woods on a hill fronting the rebels, suffering a slight
loss. Our men took posts behind trees and stumps, and "peppered" the
rebels pretty lively, and soon sent their skirmish line flying back to the main
As the rebel line was wavering, one of their generals, accompanied by his entire
staff, dashed fearlessly in front of his men, and encouraged them to stand their
ground. A few well directed shots from our side emptied three of the saddles,
when the remainder of the party galloped away at full speed.
The 115th now received orders to engage the enemy at long range, while the remainder
of the brigade proceeded to destroy the track.
For that purpose we moved out of the woods and formed line of battle in the
open field. In an instant the rebels were sweeping down Chesterfield Heights
on a charge. They came with their usual barbarous yell, and their dirty stars
and bars led the advance.
The 115th coolly formed to resist the advancing host, and in a moment were all
ready to meet the shock of battle. But the rebels were approaching the rail
road, and their advance must be checked before they reach it. The 115th prepared
to make a counter charge. "Forward--double quick! guide center--march!" was the order.
With deafening cheers the regiment dashed down the steep hill to meet the rebel
column. The enemy were not prepared for such a bold movement on our part, and
when they saw our splendid line rushing toward them with almost lighting speed
and within pistol shot, they seemed thunderstruck, and began to waver and hesitate,
and soon came to a dead halt. They evidently thought it would be a shock of
steel to steel, so they dropped upon their knees to receive our furious onset.
But they were mistaken and outwitted again, for we did not intend to use the
bayonet unless they reached the track; so when we came to the ditch, every man
in the regiment dropped flat upon the ground in an instant, the high rail road
band serving as a breastwork.
The rebels now began to blaze away furiously, but the most of their balls went
harmlessly over our heads, and but few were hit. Their artillery did some better
Our boys loaded as they lay upon the ground and then rose up to fire. The bullets
sped unerringly into the rebel ranks, and the slaughter among them was terrible.
Their killed and wounded strewed the ground, and each moment our fire was more
deadly; than before.
They could stand it no longer; so after twenty minutes of the bloody work had
passed, they brought up reinforcements and soon had our little regiment of two
hundred and fifty men flanked right and left. Here was a bad fix, and we hoped
that reinforcements would come to us also, but none appeared.
It seemed utterly impossible for any of us to escape death or capture; but we
moved quickly by the right flank, and with furious rush broke
though, suffering a loss of eighty men. Thus ended the battle.
Our forces had destroyed the track, burned the bridge, and accomplished all
that was intended, so it was of course a victory for the Union army.
INCIDENTS OF THE BATTLE.
Our entire loss was 90 men, while the rebel loss was 250 in killed and wounded
in front of the 115th alone; as many men as we had in the entire regiment.
A rebel captain, captured, asked what regiment it was that engaged them? (the
115th) When told, he said that they never encountered such a withering fire
Our heaviest loss took place while we were crossing a rail fence. The rebels
got an oblique fire on the line, and as many as forty were hit in five minutes
time. The staff was cut off from the stars and stripes, the glorious folds were
riddled with balls, and one of the brave color sergeants fell wounded in the
leg. "Hang on to the flag, boys, hang on to the flag," he shouted
as he fell. They did hang on to it, and never suffered it to trail in the dust,
but waved it in triumph while three color corporals were shot under its stars
On the charge, a piece of shell killed Major Walrath's horse, tore one of Sergeant
Bright's shoulders from his body, and cut a private soldier into halves.
Many of our boys fell with frightful wounds, but we knew that many more of the
rebels were piled up on the field.
The most remarkable thing about the engagement was the fact that company H did
not lose a single man. They carried the flags, and were as much exposed as any,
still death did not visit them. Company A, on their right, lost nine men; and
company G, on their left, lost thirteen; company H, none.
Some of the rebels were dressed in blue uniforms, and several times during the
engagement we were startled with the cry, "We're firing into our own men!
We're firing into our own men!" But we soon saw into their ruse, and treated
them with a double dose of lead.
The heat during the day was intense, and as many as one fourth of the men were
sun-struck. A great many were carried away in ambulances. We reached our camp
at night and slept soundly.
A party that went to bury our dead the next day found them all stripped of their
clothing and their bodies used in the most horrible manner by the rebels.
BATTLE OF OLD CHURCH.
On the 9th of May the battle of Old Church was fought. A column of rebel troops,
said to number 10,000, attacked a portion of the 10th Corps for the purpose
of forcing their way through to Richmond. The battle raged with more or less
fury during most of the day, but by far the hardest fighting took place in the
morning. The rebels charged repeatedly, and were each time repulsed with loss.
They attempted a flank movement, but were driven from the field at all points.
The enemy made a desperate charge on the 4th New Jersey Battery, and captured
all but one gun.
The 13th Indiana and 6th Connecticut counter charged, and after severe fighting
THE WOODS ON FIRE.
To add to the horrors of the battle field, a great fire was sweeping like a
dreadful tornado through the woods, and piles of rebel killed and wounded were
The rebel shell set our woods on fire, and for a long time the ravages of this
new enemy could not be stayed.
The 115th was fighting the fire with all its might, and at last stopped its
onward march. At one time it threatened to destroy our artillery and cut off
a portion of our army from the main body, but the boys went to work with shovels,
pine boughs, and water, and speedily changed its course.
The rebels could not contend against our army and the sea of fire any longer,
so they sent a flag of truce requesting a cessation of hostilities for an hour,
that they migt rescue their wounded from a terrible death. For the sake of humanity
the request was granted, and an officer who visited the scenes, said he had
visited many fields of carnage, but never before saw such sickening sights and
so many horrors.
The very air was freighted with the awful perfume of roasted men.
The rebel officers told their men before the battle that they would have five
miles of country from the Yankees before night, or loose their last man.
The evening's loss in killed, wounded and prisoners, was said be 2,000. Our
loss was 123 in killed, wounded and missing.
Some prisoners captured were so hungry that they dug hard-tack from the dirt
and ate it down ravenously.
BATTLE OF WEIR BOTTOM CHURCH.
On the morning of May 12th, the army of the James began a forward movement in
the direction of Richmond. Heavy fighting took place during the entire day,
and the rebels contested the ground inch by inch; by night they had been driven
back a distance of three miles. It rained during the day and night, and the
soldiers were wet to the skin.
The night was cold and stormy, and the regiment lay on their arms in the open
field suffering considerably.
On the 13th the regiment advanced at daylight, and the rebels continued to fall
back towards Fort Darling.
At 3 P.M., the regiment were in front of the powerful line of rebel works near
Drury's Bluff, and more or less fighting took place during the afternoon and
The 18th Corps and the 2nd Division (ours) of the 10th formed in front of the
rebel works, while General Terry with the other two divisions of the 10th Corps
flanked the works on the left.
The 115th marched within pistol shot of the enemy's rifle pits, and formed line
of battle under cover of the dense woods.
Companies H and K were thrown out as skirmishers, and moved within a few yards
of the rifle pits, shooting down some of the sentinels on duty.
The men fortified temporarily with chips and logs, and after placing a heavy
detachment in front to engage the enemy, the remainder of the regiment laid
down until morning.
BATTLE OF DRURY'S BLUFF.
At daylight on the 14th of May, a detachment under Captain S. Smith entered
the first line of the enemy's works, and were surprised to find the forts and
rifle pits evacuated for two miles.
The entire rebel force now occupied two large forts near Proctor's Creek, and
seemed resolved to hold them at all hazards. They threw out a very heavy skirmish
line to hold our troops in check.
The Union army formed double lines of battle extending from Proctor's Creek
on the right, to Drury's Bluff on the left, and threw out an immense skirmish
line of 5,000 men.
That was the loud signal for the battle, and from sunrise to sunset there was
one continued rattle of musketry and thunder of cannon.
Full twenty times during the day the heavy Union line swept like an avalanche
up to the enemy's batteries, driving the rebels before them like chaff before
the wind, and twenty times they retired drawing overwhelming numbers after them.
The boys in the 115th fought with spirit, and inflicted severe loss among the
rebels. At the close of the day's work one hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition
had been fired on an average. The boys' faces were black with power, and their
gun locks blue with heat. Several times in the tangled wilderness a hand to
hand fight took place, our men always holding their ground.
MIXED UP WITH A REBEL REGIMENT.
At one time a portion of the 115th got mixed up with a Georgia rebel regiment,
when a rebel officer addressed Lieutenant Olney, commanding our detachment as
"Are you the 61st Georgia, sir?"
"Not by a great sight. Give it to them, boys!" said Lieut. Olney waving
"Surrender!" shouted the rebel officer with fury.
"Never!" responded the Lieutenant firmly.
The boys obeyed the command of their gallant Lieutenant and soon drove the rebels
from the field.
THE BOYS CHARGE ON THEIR OWN HOOKS.
"Now for a bully charge right up to the teeth of Johnnie Reb's fort,"
shout all the men. "Forward--double quick--march!" Pop! pop! bang!
bang! bang! and the rebels are falling.
Three of the doomed men fall before the withering fire of the 115th, and lay
in one common pile.
One is on his knees, but not praying or suplicating for mercy; he is too proud
for that. Southern blood runs in his veins.
John Lappions, impulsive boy, seizes him by the hair of his head and jerks him
over backward to the ground.
"For God's sake don't murder me," shrieked the wounded man.
"We don't intend to, and I should not have touched you, did I know that
you were hurt. Here comes some of our boys to carry you from the field," said John.
"I'll never go," gasped the dying rebel. "Sooner than be carried
to your Yankee lines, I will die where I lay."
"If you wont help yourself we will help you;, and we're carrying you from
the field at the risk of our own lives," remarked several of the boys as
they bore him from the field through the storm of bullets.
He saw the stars and stripes, and closed his eyes in death.
Yonder lies another rebel, and he is stone dead, poor fellow.
See where the bullet tore through his head, and look at the blood trickling
down his cheek. He has a watch in his vest pocket, and a pocket-book in another,
and a piece of pork carefully wrapped up is all it contains.
A third rebel is wounded in the leg, and asks to be taken to the hospital.
A brave corporal of company A is shot in the breast, and something tells him
that he must die. The stretcher corps rush amid the dangers of the field, and
soon carry him to the rear. On the way he observes some members of his own company,
and raising up on an elbow said: "Good bye, boys, good bye." It was
his last farewell, for he soon died.
Our loss during the day in killed and wounded was nearly forty men.
There were but few killed, owing to the fact that our boys fired mostly from
The entire Union and rebel losses must have been quite heavy.
We were relieved from the front at 8 P.M., and moved a short distance to the
rear to rest.
SUNDAY AT DRURY'S BLUFF.
May15.--It is Sunday, and we are having a little rest for our weary bones.
A great deal of firing along the lines, and very little respect shown for the
We tore down some rebel barracks, and built pasteboard shanties to protect us
from the rain. At noon the chaplain took a position in the centre of our camp,
made a few remarks, and offered a prayer to heaven, asking God's blessing upon
us. All listened attentively, and the hour was one of great solemnity.
A few shell went hissing over our heads, and the bullets passed us pretty
often. None of us were hit. We had a very large prayer meeting at night, the
best one I ever attended. Nearly every Christian in the regiment was present.
About forty of our best soldiers testified that they were ready to die for their
country. Many of them soon went to their long home. The songs of praise must
have struck the ears of our enemies; they were working with all their might.
Cars came day and night with reinforcements. They had to drive us from that
place or lose their capital.
Our generals said that they would attack us in the morning. All the Union army
were in line awaiting the onset.
BATTLE OF PROCTOR'S CREEK.
May 16th adds another to the already fearfully long list of bloody battles.
It adds a fresh river to the vast ocean of blood.
During the past twenty-four hours the rebels have received many thousands of
reinforcements from Richmond and Lee's army, and as expected, attacked us about
daylight. The dawn of day appeared, and with it a dense fog which hung like
a black funeral pall over our army. That was the signal of our defeat. It told
us we could not hold our position, it battled against us as it did against the
rebels at Spottsylvania. We could not use a piece of our splendid artillery,
or get sight of the foe until they were at arms length.
The rebels formed in eight and sixteen lines of battle, and crazy with gunpowder
and whiskey, charged our line desperately and repeatedly at all points, and
at last succeeded in breaking through, forcing our troops to retreat.
The Union loss was about 3,000 in killed wounded and missing, and the rebel
loss amounted to several thousand. The exact loss of the rebels will never be
known, but it is said to have been from five to seven thousand men.
INCIDENTS OF THE BATTLE.
The 118th New York had strung a telegraph wire in front of their position, for
the purpose of having the rebels stumble over it, should they attack. The rebel
column came up with fearful yells and with mighty power, when all at once their
front rank stumbled and fell over the invisible wire, and their comrades in
the rear soon came piling on top of them.
The 118th instantly poured a deadly fire of musketry into their prostrated and
broken ranks, and heaps of dead and wounded rebels lay before them, while those
who escaped staggered with terror back to their own line to tell the terrible
The rebels took General Heckman and a portion of his brigade prisoners, and
we took several hundred rebels, including a colonel, major, and several captains
FIGHT AT PORT WALTHALL JUNCTION.
The battle had barely commenced at Drury's Bluff when a large force of rebel
infantry and eighteen pieces of artillery appeared at port Walthall Junction,
for the purpose of attacking Butler in the rear and to cut off his communications.
Having but few troops there, Gen. Smith decided to send the 115th to reinforce
them. We received orders to report to Gen. Smith, in rear of the Eighteenth
To reach there we were obliged to march a long distance through a severe fire
which was enough to try the metal of the oldest veterans. We moved by the flank
as steadily and coolly as possible, suffering a loss of but five men.
While moving through a piece of woods we suddenly tramped upon a Wisconsin regiment
lying in a ditch. At first they supposed we were retreating and were about to
follow suite, when our boys informed them that we were only going to report
to General Smith. They remained in their position.
We finally reached the place where General Smith and several other generals
were looking toward the battle-field. A bullet struck General Brooks's house
and he rolled over dead. The rebels sent plenty of shells after us, but none
did any execution. We reported to General Smith, and he placed us under command
of General Ames, who told us to follow him. He rode fast, and we followed at
a double quick for seven miles, when we reached the scene of operations at Port
Walthall Junction. Here we saw a beautiful sight. The rebel lines of battle
were formed on a side hill, with an abundance of artillery and a long skirmish
line thrown out in front, as if all was ready to advance. To meet this formidable
force, we had but four small regiments of infantry. The 115th and 169th N. Y.,
the 13th Indiana and 58th Pennsylvania.
For the purpose of making a good show of strength and of deceiving the rebels,
General Ames ordered the entire force to deploy as skirmishers. Our lines extended
through the valley and over the hills, presenting a front long enough to cover
10,000 troops. As we had hoped, the rebels took the bait; they concluded we
had a large army, and dared not attack. They shelled us pretty lively for some
time, but finally drew in their skirmish line and retreated.
Thus Butler's army was saved from an attack in the rear.
At night we marched back to the entrenchments and laid down on the ground entirely
exhausted. It seemed as though every bone in our bodies would break.
The bands all played, and the man all cheered as though an empire had been conquered.
THE REBELS CHARGE--DESERTERS AND PRISONERS.
At 10 o'clock on the 18th, the rebels charged the 1st Virginia Colored
Cavalry, and sent them flying inside our works. Heavy skirmishing raged along
the lines the entire day, and the losses on both sides were quite heavy. Our
brigade lay massed near the works during the day, and labored all night with
the shovel, pick and axe. Rebel deserters who came in during the day said that
orders were issued by the rebel generals to storm our works at sundown. For
some reason best known to themselves, they wisely concluded to let out the bloody
A party of men were sent by rebels to erect a battery a short distance from
our lines they began operations when our men discovered them, and one of our
pieces opened with solid shot, making the spot so hot that they could not stand
it or get away. The whole squad, numbering fourteen, hoisted a white flag and
surrendered without further ceremony.
Some of the rebel bullets came more than a mile, killing and wounding soldiers
in their tents.
UNION AND REBEL CHARGES.
At midnight on the 20th, the rebels made a furious onset on our lines and were
We were trying to get asleep when the alarm sounded, but were soon under arms
and on a double quick for the front.
At daylight the battle opened again with great fury, and lasted the entire day.
The rebels seemed determined to break our lines, and made several desperate
charges for that purpose.
They came down with their dismal "yi, yi,ya, ya," but were always
repulsed with loss. Our artillery fire was most furious and effective. Shell
and solid shot fell among the rebels like rain drops as our boys drove them
back. Our army also make several charges on the enemy's works, but were repulsed
with some loss.
THE 115TH SELECTED TO STORM A BATTERY.
Col. Barton received orders to send his best regiment to do a desperate piece
of work. As usual, he selected the 115th, and we moved outside the works to
make a bayonet charge. The bullets flew around us pretty fast, and we lay flat
on the ground to avoid them while our Lieut. Col. examined the position we were
expected to assault. He rode up to our skirmish line and was intently observing
the rebels, when a bullet struck his horse in the breast killing him almost
instantly. Gen. Ames now reached the field to direct the movement. He turned
toward us and said.
"What regiment is that?"
"The one hundred and fifteenth New York," replied several of the men.
"Why," said the general in surprise, "you are only a good sized
color guard; such a small body of men as that going to make this charge?"
We were then ordered on the skirmish line, and the 97th Pennsylvania were brought
up to the work. They started, and when half-way across an open field a masked
battery of fourteen guns was brought to bear upon them, sweeping out the centre
of the regiment like so much chaff.
They still pressed on, but were finally compelled to fall back, suffering a
loss of over one hundred men.
The 115th was exposed to a severe fire while we lay in the woods, but fortunately
the bullets went about a foot above our heads, cutting off limbs and splintering
Had they fired six inches lower the most of us would have been hit.
On the right, Howell's brigade was forming for a charge, when a strange officer
suddenly appeared among them, and waving his sword as though he was a Union
officer, said hurriedly: "Hold on, don't move 'till I bring you reinforcements!" and then dashed off towards the rebel line.
Howell's veterans had seen too many officers to be fooled by a rebel, so they
raised their guns and fired a whole volley after the retreating horseman, and
horse and rider both fell.
Upon going to the spot the stranger was found to be no less a personage than
General Walder, of the rebel army.
He had been examining our position with a view to attack, when he ran across
He took the above method to escape, but got out-Yankeed. His right leg was shattered,
and his boot was full of blood, while a couple of balls had pierced his arms.
I walked along with the Ambulance Corps who were carrying him to the hospital.
At one a train of ambulances passed by, filled with wounded men. As soon as
they saw the rebel general they began to sing out "Kill the rebel!"
"Throw him off the stretcher!" "They're the chaps who keep up
the war; if he was a private we'd have sympathy for him, but he is a leader!"
The general kept his eyes shut, and said not a word; not even a groan escaped
May 21.--The rebels charged our first line of works at midnight. Our infantry
allowed them to come up very close, and suddenly greeted them with a heavy volley
of musketry. The artillery on both sides instantly began to thunder, and for
half an hour the most terrific cannonading shook the earth. Hot shot, bursting
shells, rockets, and rebel caissons blown up by our fire, illuminated the heavens,
and the music of bugles and drums rolled along from the James to the Appomattox.
The rebels were disastrously repulsed.
May 22.--One of our heavy parrots paid its compliments to the rebels today.
The Johnnies call the shells Yankee camp kettles.
May 24.--The rebels have platforms erected in trees, and to day picked several
of our men off who were working on the breastworks. The regiment moved up to
May 25.--For the first in a long time the pickets did not try to kill each other.
The rebels left their guns standing against trees and leisurely read newspapers
in full view of the Yankees.
May 26.--The regiment is temporarily attached to the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division,
May 28.--Broke camp at 4 P.M. and took up the line of march at dark, reaching
City Point at daylight on the 29th.
May 29.--The 115th and 47th N. Y., and 76th Pa., embarked on the fine steamer
DeMolay, of Boston. The entire 18th Corps sailed for Fortress Monroe.
May 30.--Sailed up the York river to West Point, thence up the Pamunkey to White
Horse Landing, where we landed, forming a junction with the left wing of the
army of the Potomac.
May 31.--After obtaining a supply of hard-tack and a little sleep we moved in
the direction of Coal Harbor. We marched at a rapid rate until two hours before
daylight on the 1st of June, when we halted for a short time in a plowed field.
The road was strewn with Sheridan's dead cavalry horses, and the stench was
almost beyond endurance.
BATTLE OF COAL HARBOR.
At sunrise on the morning of June 1st, although hungry and worn out, we got
under motion again and marched rapidly until 4 P.M. At noon some of the men
went a quarter of a mile for water, and on returning proceeded to make coffee,
but before it was ready the bugle sounded the advance and we moved on sorrowfully
without it. For some reason we got on the wrong road and marched twelve miles
Upon reaching Coal Harbor we found the army of the Potomac in line of battle,
awaiting the arrival of the 18th Corps to aid them in storming the enemy's works.
The 115th were badly used up, and a large number of the men lay along the
dusty road and under the burning rays of the southern sun, utterly unable to
move; yet in that condition they took a glorious part in one of our great battles.
They formed in the third line of battle and were considered as on the reserve,
but as usual, had to take a hand in before the affair was ended.
At about 5 o'clock the troops were all in position, and the 6th and 18th Corps
attacked with considerable desperation.
Drake's brigade which led the attack in our immediate front were repulsed with
heavy loss, and their commander killed. Instead of the second line rushing into
the breach as they ought to have done, the 115th with Barton's brigade were
ordered to advance. Without waiting to unsling knapsacks, or fix bayonets, we
started forward with a long, loud cheer, on the charge.
The boys felt ugly and were determined to make a big fight, and to reach the
enemy's works. With flags in the advance, we rushed through a piece of woods
and over an open plowed field three quarters of a mile wide, tramped upon the
second line who lay in a ditch, allowed the broken ranks of Drake's brigade
to pass through, and with a prolonged cheer of victory, without firing a gun,
broke the rebel line, scaled their works, planted our colors on their heights,
and with only one hundred and twenty-five muskets, captured two hundred and
The remainder of the brigade were unable to break through, and all the Union
assaults on our front were repulsed excepting that made by the little remnant
of the 115th, and the gallant 14th New Jersey. The rebels finding their line
broken, and not being aware of the small body of men who did it, evacuated the
whole line, and the 115th N.Y. and 14th N.J. won the victory for the Union army.
General Deveris who saw the charge, declared openly and on the spot that the
115th covered themselves with glory, and won the day.
The rebels captured, said they thought the whole Yankee army were charging their
front, and they were sure we carried seven shooters because our bayonets were
They were sorry that they surrendered when they found out our real force.
The following extract from the New York will give the reader some idea of
"General Smith ordered the charge to be made by Colonel Drake's brigade,
supported by Colonel Barton's (ours), both of Devin's division. The order was
gallantly obeyed. Drake urged his troops across at double quick, and they did
not waver, although shocking gaps were made in their line by the heavy cross
fire of the enemy's artillery. Upon gaining the edge of the woods, the rebel
infantry were found to have fallen back a hundred yards to their rifle pits,
which were strongly protected by slashings and entanglements. The survivors
of this desperate charge found themselves unable to cope with the force in front
of them. Barton's brigade here threw itself into the breach. Emerging from the
woods on our side of the field, in as straight a line as though formed for dress
parade, the word was given to charge at double quick.
"The men went forward splendidly, preserving their alignment perfectly,
as they skipped over the furrowed ground, closing up the vacancies made by the
sweeping cross fire, gaining the woods, opening their ranks for the partially
exhausted fellows of Drake's brigade to pass rearward, and with a fierce hurrah,
dashed unshrinkingly into the rifle pits, taking two hundred and fifty prisoners."
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New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs: Military
March 19, 2006