“At any cost”: Prominent officer from York recalled Cold Harbor: Part 2
In Part 1, we began looking at an article that former U.S. congressman and Civil War field officer James A. Stahle wrote for the local York Gazette newspaper in which he described the attack of his old regiment, the 87th Pennsylvania, on June 1, 1864, at Cold Harbor in Northern Virginia.
The 87th, raised in York and Adams counties, successfully carried a line of Confederate breastworks and reportedly captured more enemy soldiers than the regiment took into action, at least according to Stahle. Other regiments would receive the formal recognition for many of the seized prisoners because the 87th, in its push to continue forward, sent the Rebels back to be processed by reserve units. No, they hunkered down for the night well in advance of their comrades in arms.
Stahle continued his narrative with the 87th’s subsequent activities as they remained isolated.
Negative: John Reekie, Positive: Alexander Gardner – File from The Photographic History of The Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Three, The Decisive Battles. The Review of Reviews Co., New York. 1911. p. 85.
“It was now very nearly dark,” Stahle recalled, “the firing on the left was heavy and continuous — charges and countercharges were made — on our own right the 18th corps had all they could do to hold their position. We had gone too far to the front, so that on [the] right and left we had lost our support. We at once commenced to build some defensive works by gathering logs, stones, etc., and in a short while our men lay down behind them, while now and then the zip zip of the sharpshooters’ bullets would be heard and then a dull thud as they struck some poor fellow or buried themselves in the trees.
“At 2 a.m., Major N[oah]. G. Ruhl, a brave, gentlemanly, and gallant soldier, asked permission to go and see if he could find any part of the ‘Army of the Potomac’ and give them fair notice that we were on the road to Richmond, and if they desired to go with us to come on at once.
“After being gone some time and we had about concluded he was captured, as silent as a fox he came and reported that the line was forming again about half a mile to the rear, and if didn’t get out of that before daylight our friends, the enemy, would see that we had quarters in the Rebel capital.
“How vivid the remembrance of how we got back safe that June night! The writer was on his back resting between Billy Ziegler, of Gettysburg, now a member of the House of Representatives, and Corporal Sheads, of Company F, now taking a long rest under the sod of the home of his childhood — (Peace to all the ashes of all the comrades who went down in the seven days’ carnage at Cold Harbor.) How quietly Maj. Ruhl laid his hand on the writer’s shoulder and said, ‘Are you sleeping, Colonel?’
“‘No sir, just resting a little.’
“‘Well, the orders are that you withdraw the men very quietly and fall back to the new line, but the enemy is all around you and as soon as you stir they will get to firing.’
“And then in a whisper the word passed from one to the other to face about and march directly to the rear, taking the touch from the centre and to make no noise; to hold canteen and bayonet scabbard in hand, and no talking. These instructions were strictly obeyed and we joined our brigade without a fight. Our division and part of the other two had been fighting against [Confederate Gen. Robert F.] Hoke’s North Carolina division and part of [Gen. Joseph B.] Kershaw’s, as the prisoners stated when captured.”
Stay tuned for Part 3!