June 3, 1864
It was part of Grant's plan of the battle of Cold Harbor that Wilson's division should co-operate in the general assault of June 3d by moving out from its position on the extreme right and attacking the enemy's left, held by Early's division, in flank and rear. In order to get within striking distance, Wilson moved his division during the night previous from Hanover Court House across the Pamunkey and to within about two miles of Hawes's Shop, where he bivouacked till daylight. Moving forward in the morning of the 3d, he soon encountered Barringer's brigade of Fitzhugh Lee's division, occupying rifle-pits which had been dug by the infantry in some previous operations. In disposing his command for attack, the First Vermont was placed to the extreme left of the division. There was some skirmishing for an hour or two, when, about ten o'clock A. M., the men were dismounted and moved to the front through a piece of woods. They soon became engaged with the enemy, the skirmishers on each side firing from behind the trees, Indian fashion. Seeing a line of men in front at a point midway between the main lines, which he probably supposed to be Union troops, Preston went toward it on foot. Suddenly he was fired on and a ball passed through his body near the heart. Major Wells, in front of whose battalion he fell, at once advanced the line in order to secure his body. The advance was obstinately resisted, and two attempts to reach the spot were unsuccessful. In a third attempt the enemy's line was driven back long enough to enable Sergeant Ide and some men of company D, Preston's old company, to crawl forward and reach the colonel. He was found speechless, but still living, and was taken back a short distance and placed upon a horse to take him to the rear, but his brave spirit had left his body before a surgeon could reach him. One of the men who rescued him, H. P. Danforth, was wounded, receiving injuries from the effect of which he died two months after. Captain Cushman of company E was also killed nearly at the same time, and not far from the same place, as Colonel Preston.*1*
A little later the enemy was driven from the rifle pits, and withdrew on the road running east toward Enon Church. General Wilson then attacked the enemy's left rear on the road running south from Hawes's Shop, where he drove back an infantry brigade of three regiments. But failing to connect with Burnside's infantry, which was near Bethesda Church, Wilson withdrew to Hawes's Shop, where he received the general order suspending further offensive operations, in consequence of the bloody repulses of the Second, Sixth and Eighteenth Corps. A little church at the junction of the roads opposite Hawes's Shop, known as Salem Church, as given this engagement in some reports the title of "Salem Church." It's more frequent title in both Union and Confederate accounts is "Hawes's Shop." It was I fact part of the general battle of Cold Harbor.
The third day of June 1864, was a sad day to the regiment. The loss of two such officers as Colonel Preston and Captain Cushman was a serious blow to the command, and it is not too much to say that the loss of Preston was felt not only throughout the regiment and brigade, but throughout the Cavalry Corps. The loss of the regiment was three killed and five wounded.*2*
Upon the death of Colonel Preston the command of the regiment devolved upon Major Wells, who was soon promoted to the vacant colonelcy.*3*
Major Bennett was advanced to be lieutenant colonel and Captains Grover and Paige were commissioned as majors.*4*
The regiment remained in the vicinity of Hawes's Shop until the 6th, when it moved with the brigade (which about this time was strengthened by the addition of the First New Hampshire cavalry), to Bottom's Bridge, on the extreme right of the army, where on the 10th a slight picket skirmish took place in which one man was wounded. The regiment was engaged in picketing the north bank of the Chickahominy at that point and at Long Bridge, five miles below, for five days.
On the 12th of June began the preliminary movements of the march of the Army of the Potomac to the James river. The task of masking and covering the main movement was committed to Wilson's cavalry and the Fifth Corps. In the performance of its part of this duty, the regiment broke camp with the division in the evening of the 12th; crossed the Chickahominy on pontons at Long Bridge at one A. M. of the 13th, and marched to White Oak Swamp, reaching White Oak Bridge about daylight. Here the enemy was encountered in force, and a sharp skirmish took place. On the arrival of the infantry the enemy fell back and Wilson moved on with his main column toward Riddle's Shop, at the junctions of the Charles City road with the road to Malvern Hill. Here Chapman's brigade, in advance, encountered Barringer's brigade of cavalry, and an additional mounted force posted I the woods on the farther side of an open field. Into this field the First Vermont moved with Chapman's brigade, and the men were dismounted under a fire by which several men and horses were wounded. The Eighth New York then charged the enemy in flank while a battery shelled them, and after a short resistance, they were driven back with considerable loss. The brigade then advanced about half a mile, extemporized some breastworks of fence rails, and awaited an attack, which came at the end of an hour, when an infantry line advanced and drove Chapman back to the edge of the woods. The brigade then fell back to its horses and the regiment mounted and prepared to charge the enemy as soon as they should leave the cover. This, however, they did not do, and some desultory skirmishing and artillery firing occupied the afternoon till about sundown, when a portion of Crawford's division of Pennsylvania troops came up and took position to the right of the cavalry. At dark the enemy charge from the woods, scattering the infantry skirmishers, but were held in check by the First New Hampshire and First Vermont, till the guns of the battery were withdrawn, when they fell back t the infantry supports. The division soon started forward and at three A. M. of the 14th bivouacked near Saint Mary's Church, ten miles to the southeast. The First Vermont was on the skirmish line, dismounted most of the time, from eleven A. M. to eight P. M. of the 13th, and lost during the day one man killed, 11 wounded and three missing. This action appears in the official list of engagements, under an erroneous date, as 'Ridley's Shop, June 30th.*5*
On the 14th the regiment proceeded to Harrison's Landing, and toward night the First Vermont and Eighth New York with a section of a battery were sent out to reconnoitre toward Malvern Hill. After going two miles they halted for the night. Proceeding next morning, they met the enemy at Turkey Island Creek, which curves about the base of Malvern Hill. The Eighth New York, which was in advance, having been driven back, the First Vermont was dismounted and advanced to the creek. Here Lieutenant Williamson of company K, received a gunshot wound in the thigh from which he died five days later.*6* The position was held until dark, with a loss of three men wounded, when they returned to the division, which moved to Wilcox's Landing. There the regiment with the division and the Sixth Corps remained covering the crossing of the army, until the morning of the 17th, when it crossed the James river on the long ponton bridge, bringing up the rear of the army, and marched to Prince George Court House, where the regiment bivouacked at ten P. M. Half an hour later it was sent back to Wilcox's Landing to guard some cattle which were being taken across the river. The cattle, however, had already gone across when at daylight the regiment arrived at the river, and the bridge had been taken up. The regiment rested till four P. M., and then returned to the brigade, having marched sixty miles in twenty-four hours.
1. Addison Webster Preston was born in the town of Burke, Vt., but removed in early childhood with his parents to Danville, which was thenceforward his home. He fitted for college, entered Brown University at the age of 21, and took high rank as a scholar; but after a years and a half, was obliged to leave college by the condition of his health, and as his physician advised a sea voyage, he sailed to Australia, where after a stay full of adventure, he sailed for California, where he spent several years. He had returned to Danville and was engaged in business there when the war broke out. He enlisted in September, 1861, in the First Vermont Cavalry, was chosen captain of company D, which he had been active in recruiting, and from that day gave all his energy of mined and body to the duties of a soldier. He had had the command of the regiment for much of the time during the twenty months preceding his death. He was one of the best disciplinarians that ever commanded the regiment. He took good care of his men and was popular with them. As a man he was frank, hearty, genial, quick of thought and action. As a fighter he was brave to a fault, impetuous, eager to strike, ready to go himself wherever he sent his men, and unwilling to leave any place of danger as long as there was anything to be done. He was twice wounded, at Hagerstown in the Gettysburg campaign and at Culpeper Court House two months later. His commission as colonel was delayed in transit by the exigencies of the campaign and reached the headquarters of the regiment the day after his death. Had he lived a few days longer he would have been promoted to a brigadier generalship; for he stood very high with his superiors, and they were only waiting for his appointment as colonel, to give him high rank and more responsible duties. General Custer voiced the opinion of many, when, as he turned away from his corpse, he said: "There lies the best fighting colonel in the Cavalry Corps."
Colonel Preston's remains were taken to White House and thence to Vermont, where his funeral took place at Danville, with extraordinary demonstrations of honor and respect on the part of his townsmen and of the citizens of the surrounding towns and of a large portion of Caledonia county. He left a widow, an estimable lady, whose maiden name was Juliette Hall, of Lowell, Mass., and two children.
Captain Oliver T. Cushman was one of the noble boys who entered the service from the highest motives. He was a student in Dartmouth College when the cavalry regiment was organized and left college at the age of 20 years to enlist in its ranks. He went out as a sergeant of company E, and was advanced through the intervening grades to the captaincy of his company. He was recognized as one of the finest young men and best soldiers in the regiment-gallant, patriotic, high-spirited and faithful to every duty. He was severely wounded at Gettysburg, receiving injuries which would have justified him in resigning; but instead he hastened back to his regiment almost before his wound was healed, and served till he met his death. His body was brought off by his men, and taken to Vermont and received an honored burial at his home in Hartland.
2. Killed-George McIvor of company H.
3. Colonel wells was a native of Waterbury and one of the seven sons of the late William W. Wells of that town, four of whom served in the Union army. He was in business with his father when, at the age of 23, he enlisted in the First Vermont cavalry. He was elected first lieutenant when the company organized and went out as captain of company C. He made his mark as an officer, was promoted to be major in October, 1862, and distinguished himself at Gettysburg, Hagerstown, Boonsboro, Culpeper Court house and other engagements, and was twice wounded. He was modest, brave, faithful, and equal to every position in which he was placed. He had the unanimous recommendation of the officers for the office of colonel, and in the trying experiences of the regiment while under his command he fully justified their choice. He was promoted to the command of a brigade before the close of the year, became a full brigadier general and brevet major general; and before he left the service was the ranking general and the last commander of the Cavalry Corps.
4. Captain Paige however, was never mustered as major.
5. Killed-Sergeant Martin Heath of company C.
6. Lieutenant John Williamson was a deserving young officer, who left Middlebury College to enter the army, was chosen second lieutenant of his company upon its organization, and was subsequently promoted to the first lieutenancy. During the winter of 1863-4 he was provost marshal of the Third cavalry division, on the staff of General Kilpatrick, and proved himself as capable, as he was brave in battle. He was taken to Chesapeake General Hospital at Fortress Monroe, where he died.
Source George G. Benedict, "Vermont in the Civil War, 1861-5," (Free Press Association, Burlington, 1888), pp. 644-49.