The March from Spotsylvania to Petersburg
Early in the morning of May 21, the 44th left the trenches near Spotsylvania Court House and marched to the rear. They did not retreat, however. Instead they marched around the Confederate right flank to get between Lee's army and Richmond. The movement began a series of battles and skirmishes that continued until the assault against Petersburg on June 18. Much of the history of Company E from this point is indistinguishable from that of the regiment. (1)
The 44th marched all through day and the evening of May 21, not halting until nearly midnight. They resumed marching early the next morning, and faced considerable resistance throughout the day, so strong that the Third Brigade had to form in line of battle to continue its advance. Part of Lee's army had gotten ahead of the Army of the Potomac. During the afternoon, the regiment came under the fire of a Confederate battery, which was quickly dispatched by the return fire of nearby Union cannons. The men went into a bivouac just after sunset, and the only movement made that evening was against a flock of sheep that strayed too close to the camp. (2)
On May 23, the march continued until the Jericho Ford of the North Anna River was reached. River crossings and crossroads became the most important grounds to occupy as the race to Richmond continued, and Jericho Ford was no exception. When the Fifth Corps reached the banks of the North Anna at 2:00 p.m., the First Division was sent across first, with the Second Brigade in the lead and Third Brigade close behind. The place where it was advantageous to cross was narrow and the riverbanks on both sides were steep. The two brigades crossed without difficulty, but as the pontoon bridge was being laid, the enemy opened up upon them, trying to pin the two brigades against the river. The Second Brigade maintained the advance, and the Third Brigade was split to guard the advancing brigade's flanks. Fighting continued until dark, when the Confederates retired to build fortifications. (3)
Preparations for battle were made for the following morning in anticipation of an enemy attack, but none occurred, as the Confederates found a more advantageous position a few miles to the south, where they built strong entrenchments. The Fifth Corps began to advance against these works, but rain put an end to the movement. The next morning, May 25, began a brief standoff, as both sides remained behind fortifications, which were separated by an open field. Skirmishing was kept up during the day by the pickets of both armies, the only men between the lines. The 44th spent the day in reserve, and went on picket between the lines that evening. Behind them, the 20th Maine was constructing new breastworks in advance of the old ones. Just before sunrise, the 44th was relieved from picket and spent the day occupying the new works. The regiment was relieved during the afternoon and went to the rear, in preparation of another move. Captain Wood returned to the regiment that day, along with 22 others who had been recaptured by Union cavalry the day after Laurel Hill. (4)
At 9:00 p.m. the Fifth Corps left the North Anna battlefield to begin another flank march around Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The regiment recrossed the North Anna, halted for two hours to draw rations, and then marched southeast for nearly 24 hours straight. They marched 35 miles under the hot sun, exhausting many of the men, and did not halt until sundown on May 27. The officers allowed the men a brief opportunity to rest after two straight nights of duty, but continued the march before the next daylight. On May 28, the regiment moved about ten miles, crossed the Pamunkey River (which the North Anna flowed into), and then stopped to protect the crossing of the rest of the army. When the march was resumed the next morning, the Confederates proved to be much more stubborn about giving up ground, as the Army of the Potomac was now within fifteen miles of the Confederate capital. Skirmishing became more intense, and a halt was made near the bank of the Totopotomoy Creek after a short march. (5)
As the 44th inched closer to Richmond, it became continuously engaged with the enemy. The Union Army periodically halted to reorganize and clear out the enemy sharpshooters ahead of the army. The 44th was assigned this duty near the town of Bethesda Church on May 30. It was ordered to hastily build breastworks to the left of the road they were on, and remove the enemy sharpshooters and skirmishers in their advance. After some brief firing, the regiment changed position, and during this move, Captain Eugene A. Nash, author of the regimental history, was wounded, along with three privates. None from Company E were injured. (6)
The immediate prize for the opposing forces became Cold Harbor, another important crossroad. Union cavalry arrived first but was overwhelmed by Confederate infantry. Lee built a strong defensive line. The 44th withstood charges on June 1 and June 2. The regiment was part of an attack on an enemy battery June 3, but the enemy was found to be too strong and the attack was quickly aborted, sparing the 44th the horrific losses of Hancock's Second Corps suffered that day. The regiment lost 5 killed and 24 wounded. Two were wounded in Company E on June 3. Charles Thorne, an undergraduate from the Normal School, was severely wounded in the head by a shell fragment, and spent the remainder of the war in hospitals. John Hocknell, of Schoharie County was slightly wounded, and returned to duty. (7)
Grant's assaults on Cold Harbor failed, so he ordered another flank movement. But it began to appear that the original objective, Richmond, was too strongly fortified to be taken. So he set his sights upon Petersburg, about 20 miles to the south of Richmond. Petersburg was an important railroad hub for the Confederacy, and most of the supplies imported by Richmond came through Petersburg.
The Fifth Corps withdrew from Cold Harbor on the night of June 5, but the 44th remained behind as the rear guard for several hours before leaving. To reach Petersburg, the regiment crossed the Chickahominy and James rivers. By the evening of June 16, the regiment was behind breastworks and within 2 miles of Petersburg, and awaiting the order to begin the assault. (8)
1. Nash, 193.
2. Nash, 193.
3. Nash, 193-4.
4. Nash, 194-5.
5. Nash, 195-6; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," in Nash, 286-290.
6. Nash, 196; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," 290.
7. Nash, 199-200; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," 290.
8. Nash, 200; Wood, "Service With the Forty-Fourth N.Y. Vols. in 1864," 291.
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