Battle of Mechanicsville

In this retrospective account of the Battle of Mechanicsville, Harry describes the first day’s fighting in the Seven Days Battle in which he was a participant. It appears that he also participated in the action at Gaines Mill the following day but then withdrew from the fighting “too sick to march.” We learn from Harry’s diary that he and James M. Rouzer (1822-1885) made their way to Harrison’s Landing by ambulance on the James River where they were reunited with the regiment on 1 July 1862.

The following excerpt is from: H. N. Minnigh. “History of Company K. 1st (Inft,) Penn’a Reserves.” iBooks.

“The 26th of June, found the command on the Picket line, from which we were hurriedly recalled, only to find our camp had disappeared and our private property gone “where the woodbine twineth,” but in time to take our place in line with other troops, who were ready to meet the confederates, who were reported as advancing in our immediate front. We were ordered by special detail with our Regiment, to support Cooper’s battery. I need not write up this battle in full detail, for those who were there, remember well, the onward rush of the enemy, how two whole divisions under Gen’l Lee, (a fact developed more recently,) at 3 p. m. threw themselves upon our line, only to be hurled back amid great slaughter, how amid the shriek of shell and flashing musketry they still advanced, how our 58 caliber elongated balls now for the first time were sent on missions of death, and with what execution, how Craig Wisotskey fell, and in few moments expired, one limb being literally torn from the body, when Hamilton and Siplinger were wounded and assisted from the field, how at length the shades of night fell, putting an end to the conflict.

There was no movement of troops in the Union lines, the men stood in their places and poured an uninterrupted fire upon the enemy, while the artillery, fifty pieces, rained solid shot, shells, canister and sharpnell, producing great slaughter. The total Union loss in this battle was eighty killed and two hundred wounded, while the Rebel loss was three thousand.

We slept on our arms that night, and at the early dawn we were withdrawn, contrary to the wishes of the Reserves who had held the ground against five times their number, but we did not then know that Jackson had come from the Shenandoah with 40,000 men, and was in our rear.

The forces north of the Chickahominy took up a new position at Gaines’ mill, sometimes called Gaines’ hill, and by the rebels, Coal Harbor. Gen’l Porter is in command with 40,000 men while Gen’l Lee is coming on with 70,000, he intends to make a grand onset and sweep Porter into the Chickahominy. Three o’clock of the 27th, has come and the attack is made, amid cannonry and the angry flashes of musketry, while the battle cloud becomes thick and heavy. It would take many pages to make a full record of the terrible battle.

At 4 o’clock we were ordered to the support of the Duryea Zouaves, which regiment had been almost annihilated. We checked the enemy and held the line until every cartridge is gone, when we were relieved. Just behind the front line we halted, when a charge by the enemy broke the Union line, and a mass of disorganized troops came rushing back. It was at this juncture Gen’l Porter said, “Col. Roberts, can’t you form a line and stop those flying troops?” to which our brave Colonel responded, “I can Gen’l, but send me ammunition to stop the enemy.” Steadily as if on dress parade, the regiment faced fleeing friends, halted the disorganized mass, rallied them under its colors, and then with fixed bayonet awaited the onset. But cheers are heard coming from our rear, the tramp of some body of troops hurrying forward, and the famous Irish Brigade push onward with long and steady step, they check the enemy and drive him back, the day is won, and quiet is restored again.

We crossed to the south side of the Chickahominy during the night, and joined the general retreat toward the James river, the Division having charge of all the ammunition and other trains. This consumed our time till the evening of the 29th, when the command is sent out on the road leading from Charles’ city to Richmond, west of our line of retreat, this being the most dangerous line of approach from the confederate side. All remember that terrible night while on picket duty, for it was soon discovered that a large force of the enemy were quietly concentrating in our front. At day light we fell back to the line of battle composed of the division of Penn’a Reserves, who were in advance of all other troops, and awaited the onset.”

Retrospective account of the Battle of Mechanicsville
Retrospective account of the Battle of Mechanicsville

On the 26th of June 1862, while our company was out a short distance from camp, and in sight of Mechanicksville, when we was attacked by the rebs. We soon got orders to fall into line. We then fell back into some breastworks that the bucktails [13th Pennsylvania] had erected. The adjutant of the bucktails ¹ soon came riding to us and told us one of their…

Battle of Mechanicsville (cont'd)
Battle of Mechanicsville (cont’d)

…companies (K) was all killed and not a man left to tell the tale. It was not long then till a twelve pound cannon ball struck in a pine tree close to our company, and in a few minutes we got orders to fall back to the regiment, it being in camp at the time. The regiment was lying on the ground in line of battle.

We then marched up to support a battery [Cooper’s Battery] and as soon as we arrived we commenced to fire on the rebs. We give them all our ammunition that afternoon losing several men out of the regiment and one out of our company — Craig Wisotzkey. ² A solid ball took his limb off and he bled to death the following night. We laid down on the ground that night…

Battle of Mechanicsville (con't)
Battle of Mechanicsville (con’t)

…and could hear the rebels groaning all night. They was busy all night hunting up their wounded with a lantern.

The next morning we got orders to fall back to Gaines Mill where we lost our poor unfortunate Captain [John F.] Bailey ³ and several out of the company. The next morning I was ordered to an ambulance, too sick to march. I was then absent from the regiment till we got to Harrison’s Landing. Three men out of the regiment was with me at the time. We had nothing to eat for four days of any account except a few potatoes that we dug up out of a garden near the road. We camped in a clover field and slept under the ambulances.

Enroute to Harrison's Landing
Enroute to Harrison’s Landing

I had one blanket then that I picked up along the road.

The next morning we left for the landing and raining all the time. It was a long time before I could find the company as the troops was mixed up all together. We had one box of crackers for the company that day. Each man got three crackers apiece. We had plenty of rations in the wagons but they didn’t get into camp till the next day. That night James [Madison] Rouzer † and I went a short distance from camp and built a large fire to dry our clothes but it rained all night and we had no tent for shelter. Rough area. I then slept under a pontoon wagon a week and then…

At Harrison's Landing on the James River
At Harrison’s Landing on the James River

…we was ordered to return to the company in a few days. I was sent to the hospital and from there to York Hospital.

W. Ross Hartshorn
W. Ross Hartshorn

¹ The adjutant to Major Stone, Commander of the 13th Pennsylvania (“Bucktails”), was Lt. William Ross Hartshorn. He received a head wound in the fighting at Mechanicsville and was later taken at prisoner while in a Union field hospital at Savage Station.

² Craig Fennimore Wisotzkey (1838-1862) was a lace weaver from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He bled to death after a cannon ball tore off his left leg at the hip at the Battle of Mechanicsville on 26 June 1862.

³ Capt. John F. Bailey of Co. K, 30th Pennsylvania, was killed at in action on 30 June 1862 at Charles City Cross Roads on 30 June 1862. This engagement is known variously as Charles City Cross Roads, New Market Cross Roads, Glendale and Nelson’s Farm.

John R. Rouzer
John R. Rouzer

† James (“Jim”) Madison Rouzer was born in Augusta County, Virginia, the son of Peter & Rachel Hope Martin Rouzer. He married Mary Jane Geiselman June 2, 1846, in Thurmont, Maryland. In 1860, he lived next door to the Johnston Skelly family in Gettysburg. A carpenter/cabinet maker by trade, he stood 5′ 9″ tall and had black hair and blue eyes. He also worked as a detective. He enlisted as a private in Co. K, 30th Pennsylvania in June 1861 but spent a good deal of 1863 sick — either at home on furlough or in hospitals. He was with the regiment during the Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864 and was slightly injured during the fighting on 9 May 1864 before Spotsylvania. According to Danner’s diary, Jim was struck in the mouth by buckshot and lost two of his teeth as a result. The wound was not disabling, however, as he is mentioned several times by Danner in the days following until they mustered out in June 1864. He is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg. [Note: H. N. Minnigh refers to this same incident in his book on page 138, “Snap” was a peculiar sort of a soldier, but the strangest thing he did, and perhaps the only occurrence of the kind on record, took place at the battle of the Wilderness, when he actually caught a minnie ball in his mouth, after it had knocked out two of his front teeth.”]

Jim’s younger brother, John R. Rouzer served in Co. D, 6th Maryland Infantry. He rose to the rank of captain of his company, and was breveted major for gallant conduct at the Battle of Mine Run. He was wounded on 5 May during the Battle of the Wilderness and spent four months as a prisoner of war.


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