Battle of Spotsylvania

The following excerpt from H. N. Minnigh’s “History of Company K. 1st (Inft,) Penn’a Reserves” (iBooks) will set the stage for this portion of Danner’s diary.

“The cavalry struck the rebel column, and skirmished until the advance troops (5th corps) arrived, and took their place.

It was with difficulty that our division was brought into line, owing to the shattered condition of our ranks, caused by the double-quick, but a critical moment had arrived, and with a cheer the men dashed forward, re-taking the ground lost by Robinson’s division. But in the charge, as usual, we advanced too far, and were in danger of being flanked, so we were ordered back to our line, where we lay on our arms till six o’clock.

The whole army had now arrived, and the order war given to advance. The enemy yielded, and the first line of entrenchments was carried, and they fell back to a strongly fortified position, from which they could not be driven. Soon after our brigade made a dash upon the enemy in our front, (unauthorized, it is said,) but there being no co-operation by other troops, we skerried back again, Col. Talley commanding the brigade, and several hundred men having been taken prisoners.

At 8 a. m. on the 9th, we moved to the right-centre of the line, and were ordered to throw up Rifle-pits, which Pensyl, in the emphatic language he generally used, said, were “d—d beautiful works for somebody-else to fight behind.” George uttered truthful words, if they were a little profane, for, while we built many defensive works of various kinds, I do not remember that we ever actually fought in such works.

Skirmishing, with an occasional undecisive struggle for the mastery, now continued for several days, during which we were called upon to charge on certain works in our front, but owing to the fact that every man understood that the charge was ordered as a mere feint to cover some other movement, it was not pressed.

On the 18th, we swung round to the left, and were sent forward on the skirmish line. Just in our front, possibly fifty yards off, the rebel skirmishers occupied an excellent line of rifle-pits, while we had no cover except that afforded by nature. An order was given to advance the line, which order was intended for other points on the line and not for us it seems, when John W. Shipley in the attempt to obey orders, was struck by a rebel ball, and was instantly killed. We had the satisfaction of knowing a moment later, that the same rebel was killed by Shipley’s especial friend Geo. W. Pensyl. We burried Shipley near where he fell.”

[May] 10th [1864] — Tuesday. Moved a mile to the right and built a rifle pit.

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Moved forward about fifty yards before daylight and built another rifle pit. Finished it by daylight and then moved out in an open field and laid there in the hot sun 2 hours. Then made two charges on the rebels rifle pits and was repulsed both times. Jim started out after some meat and brought in a large beef ____ & broke it apart and took out the ____. Jim [Rouzer] then fried a pan of crackers with it.

[May] 11th [1864] — Wednesday. Advanced forward to the same position that we made the charges and built another rifle pit and was under fire all day. Made another charge on their rifle pits but had to fall back in our pits.

[May] 12th [1864] — Thursday. Then rebels then made a charge on our breastworks and was repulsed in about twenty minutes by our regiment. I was slightly tapped with a minie ball on the right limb.

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[May] 13th [1864] — Friday. Remained in a rifle pit today and cleaned up our guns in good order. Marched to [S]pottsylvania through the night sometime in the mud and rain. Under fire today but no one hurt.

[May] 14th [1864] — Saturday. Laid quiet in line of battle today and dried our clothes and fixed our muskets in good order.

May 15th [1864] — Sunday. We are now lying in line of battle near [S]pottsylvania on the pike leading to Fredericksburg and are under fire of shot and shell all day but no one hurt out of the regiment.

[May] 16th [1864] — Monday. All quiet in line of battle today. Moved the line of battle and drawed three days rations. Laid down without blankets and had nothing but my cartridge box for a pillow.

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[May] 17th [1864] — Tuesday. Laid around in camp today and cleaned my gun. There is nothing going on in camp but there is some hard fighting on the left. Moved after dark to the left and marched all night.

[May] 18th [1864] — Wednesday. Went on picket this morning at daylight. Stood picketing about half hour and was then ordered out as skirmishers a mile and found the rebels. Brisk firing all day. John Shipley was killed on the skirmish line today. He was shot in the breast and died in about twenty minutes of [when] he was shot. Relieved from the skirmish line this evening by the 9th New York. We then marched to the rear of some rifle pits. Received three letters this evening.

This night is the only sleep I have had for 60 hours. Laid in the rear of a rifle pit in the leaves.

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[May] 19th [1864] — Thursday. Was in the rear of our rifle pits. Our boys exchanged papers with the rebels. Moved our line of battle and was just getting supper when we was ordered three mile to the right of the line. The rebs broke through our line but was repulsed back. [Battle of Harris Farm] They had to retreat after night fighting till near midnight. We laid down in the open air with our guns aside of us in three lines of battle.

[May] 20th [1864] — Friday. Advanced our line this morning about ½ mile. Remained there an hour and then returned to our old position. All quiet today. Only the skirmishers are firing and sending in prisoners.

[May] 21st [1864] — Saturday. Left camp near [S]pottsylvania Courthouse and marched to Guinea Station. Marched about 10 miles, then crossed the river and deployed as skirmishers. Took possession of the heights opposite the station. Camped on the heights. In the evening, after some firing on the rebel cavalry, [Jim] Rouzer and I laid down under an apple tree over might.


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