3rd Vermont Infantry
LAMOILLE NEWSDEALER: APRIL 25, 1862
THE VERMONTERS AT YORKTOWN (Actually, Lee's Mill)
We have been shown a private letter from one of the Lamoille County Boys engaged in the fight at Yorktown, on Wednesday of last week, written the day after the fight, which gives us a very minute account of the part taken by the 3d, to which writer belongs. After relating the circumstances connected with the approach, he shows the position taken in front of the enemy, between whom and our forces was Warwick Creek, and says:
From our position to the enemy's rifle pits was about 30 rods. Our support consisting of the 5th, 2d, and 6th Vermont, were over one hundred rods in the rear. Our line of pickets was within twenty rods of the enemy pits. Their pits were filled with nearly twenty-one of the best shots the enemy had. The rebels, by building dams have made a mill-dam overflowing a lot of fallen timber, almost impassable before being submerged. The creek itself at this point is small and of little consequence when not dammed up. The woods are of small growth of timber and underbrush, concealing everything at a distance of ten to fifteen rods. Between two or three P.M. yesterday, the Colonel received the starting order to send two companies (of about ninety men all told) across the creek to take possession of the fort in rear of the bridge. He succeeded in obtaining permission to send two remaining companies to support them. He gave the order to advance at about 3 o'clock(having given very minute instructions to Capt. Harrington) He followed the brave fellows to the water's edge, the enemy raining their lead upon us. Co. D., Capt. Harrington, was deployed somewhat to the right, and Co. F. Capt, Pingree, deployed the same way to the left; Co. K (Capt. Bennett) covered a few rods to the rear; Co. F. and Co. E. (1st Lieut. Whittermore covered Co. D, both Co. K and E. being in close order; Captain Harrington commanding the whole, lead and attack; while the colonel remained in the rear to direct reinforcements. The attacking party advanced under a terrible fire, without flinching, though the killed and wounded were plenty, falling into the water, the latter to be drowned. Our men did not fire a gun till across the creek, when they opened in a telling fire. The enemy deserted their rifle pits, running for safety to a rear work; but no peace for the wicked; our men, shouting, reached the rising ground and shot them down in heaps. Our brave men, in crossing the creek had to wade through water up to their arm-oits, some up to their chins, and some fairly under water. Some of course more or less their ammunition was wet and rendered useless Some of the guns were filled with water. But as it was, they drove the enemy into the rear fort, and out of that and into the woods, and then began to pick off the men and horses of the battery to the right. We received no reinforcements, the men could fire no longer, and the enemy in the meantime had rallied, and advanced three full regiments, trying to overwhelm us with their steady fire. There was no chance, under the circumstances, against such odds, and seeing we could get no reinforcements, the Col. Reluctantly gave the order to retreat. The order he had to give three times, before the men would retire. As it was, after receiving the order, ten of them made a charge against the enemy, trying to flank our right, and fairly stopped their advance, till a large share had got safely back to our first position.
The men setting their arms against the tree, went back through the creek, and brought back all the wounded on the enemy's side, and all the guns dropped there, the enemy firing all the time. The dead had to be left. We got all of our wounded over and formed in line of battle before any attempt was made to assist us. The time occupied in the whole transaction was nearly two hours. We had in this engagement less than one-hundred and eighty enlisted men, seventy-five of them were either, killed, wounded, or missing.
Of them, twenty-two were killed outright; five were supposed wounded and drowned, and five mortally wounded.
During the day, our whole line of pickets were in constant exchange of shots with the rifle pits. We had seven of our pickets wounded, making the total number of causalities for the 16th of April about eighty-two men.!
All of the military men speak of this affair as one of the unparalleled incidents of the war. Such courage, such determination, such steadiness, such devotion, under such circumstances, when nearly one half were disabled, and nearly two thirds with clothes perforated with balls, may well excite admiration and pride. We are congratulated on all sides, for our " splendid fight", and sympathized with for the loss of so many brave, noble men. The enemy lost over a hundred men from our fire, after we gained possession of their rifle pits!
Now for some little circumstances that show so plainly the true nobility of our brave men. Little Julian Scott, of Johnson, (fifer), and Thomas, (drummer) of Co. E, crossed and re-crossed the creek during the fight, and after, under the worst fire I ever dreamed of, in order to bring over the wounded. They were without fear, and, let me add, as was said of a knight of old, without reproach. One poor fellow, with his thigh broken in the water, leaned on his gun and distributed his ammunition to those who needed it. Another shot and mortally wounded, told his comrades to let him lie where he was, and go and take the fort. All the wounded able to help themselves at all, invariably stuck to their rifles, and brought them back. One fellow in Co. D, having wet his gun, (loaded), drew the charge, cleaned it, and then opened on the rebels with telling effect, doing all this fully exposed to their fire.One man, shot in the scalp, with his face all covered with blood, went to the Col. And asked for another rifle, so he could go back and kill "four" more! 1st Sergeant Thompson, of Plainfield, fired twenty-six shots, drawing his man nearly every time. He is one of the best shots in the regiment. To Corporal Hutchinson, Co. D., the Colonel gave his silk handkerchief, to wave as a signal to stop our artillery firing into us. When half way across the creek, he was mortally wounded, and exclaimed, "I shall not wave the flag after all." The shot that hit him, went through the handkerchief making several holes.
Capt. Pingree, Co. F. was the first man the other side. Drawing up his revolver to shoot, he had his right thumb shot away, and immediately afterward received a bad wound to his thigh. His 1st Lieut. (Chandler) at the same time received shot which passed through his hand, and thigh. Capt. Bennett, Co.K., received a dozen shots in his clothing, only one touched his body, and that blistering his neck after cutting away a part of his coat. !st. Lieut. Whittemore, commanding Co. E., or the Lamoille County, was a perfect tiger, fighting with terrible effect all before him. His 1st Lieut. (Anstin) of Johnson behaved splendidly. The 1st Sergeant of Co. E. C. H. Holmes of Waterville, had a little bit shot off his left ear; he acted bravely. Of course Carolus Reed and Vaness Lilley were in the fight, and did the part of heroes. Corp. Earle remained about ten rods to the rear, but where the enemy's fire was most terrible and effective, and behaved well. Lieuts. Smith and Pierce, Co, K. showed themselves to be the old pure Vermont stock. Lieuts. Kennison and Buck, Co. D. excited the admiration of even those who did the best. I will give a list of the killed in all companies engaged.
Company F.: Sergeant Perry; Corporal Wilson; Privates, Morrill, Morse, Boynton, R. Willson, Downer
Company D.: Corporal Hutchinson; Privates, Briggs, Cormody, Cookman, Danforth, Elliot, Libby, Neil (killed) or mortally wounded), Stevens, Taylor
Company K.: Privates, Waterman, Batten, Devine, Cenneville, Scott (mortally wounded, and died the next morning; this is the Scott who was sentenced to be shot for sleeping at his post), Willey
Company E. Privates Vance, Thompson, Thomas (not the drummer), Rowe (mortally wounded and left for dead, but we are in hopes of hearing from him yet.
This list may not be absolutely correct, as it is not impossible that some supposed to have been killed in the creek may turn up alive yet,
Had we been properly supported, the loss would not have been in vain.
The whole of the 6th, Col. Lord's Regiment, went down where we crossed, met the same force, and engaged them, but could not get across the creek, and was at last obliged to retire, with the loss of nearly seventy killed, wounded and missing---some eighteen killed, I think.
The 4th, Col. Stoughton's Reg. came down to aid, in concert, with Col. Lord's and tried to cross the bridge and enter the enemy's works, but was repulsed, luckily with small loss, having about eleven killed and wounded. His regiment behaved gallantly.
Mott's Battery lost three or four killed, three mortally wounded, and six badly hurt. He also lost four horses.
The whole day's work cost us nearly two hundred men killed, wounded, and missing. Our men are in good spirits, and confident of " licking the whole thing out of sight."<
Courtesy of Deanna French.
Source: The Union Army: A history of military Affairs in the loyal States 1861-65, (Federal Publishing Company, Madison, WI, 1908), i:109-110.