First Battle of Deep Bottom – Part V

July 27 (0800-2400)
Once across the river Hancock assembled his forces behind “a belt of timber “in Strawberry Plains. At dawn First and Third Divisions threw out skirmishers across the Malvern Hill road. On the right MG Greshom Mott deployed the 99th and 110th Pennsylvania with the 40th New York extending the line as flankers on the right. The line advanced to “feel the woods in the front.” The enemy was quickly found and the Pennsylvania regiments became “hotly engaged”. The 73rd New York was hustled to their assistance while the remainder of the brigade took a position at a “large house on the right”. Mott’s Third Brigade was brought up to fill the resulting gap between them and the First Division troops. The additional strength forced the Confederates back with “heavy skirmishing” until they reached the Long Bridge Road where they came under a “sharp artillery fire.”

On the left Miles’ (filling in for the departed Barlow) First Division sent out a skirmish line of three regiments; 28th Massachusetts, 26th Michigan, and 183rd Pennsylvania. The line advanced at 6:00 a.m. “without indication of the enemy “until it neared the Long Bridge Road. There they came under fire from a “force partially entrenched in the road”. The enemy battery consisted of four 20-pound Parrotts. Col. James Lynch maneuvered his line of skirmishers using terrain to mask his movements and by “a vigorous push” gained a position on the flank of the battery. At the right hand end of the line the 28th Massachusetts executed a left half wheel that allowed them to throw “an enfilading fire into the battery.” The surprised Confederate gunners fled leaving their pieces, complete with caissons, to be captured. Francis Walker chronicled the capture in his history of the Second Corps this way:

“Never, I think did men of the Second Corps so greatly enjoy riding Confederate cannon into camp. Ten-pound Parrotts our fellows knew; knew them subjectively and knew them objectively; knew them by shelling and new them by being shelled; but twenty-pound Parrotts seemed altogether a different thing, and as the great engines were one after another hauled out of the works and brought down the road on the run, they were greeted with loud cheers…”

This promising start was followed by a pursuit. Gibbon’s Second Division was thrown forward and began pushing the retreating Confederates down the Long Bridge Road toward Bailey’s Creek. Another battery was driven off and by the afternoon Hancock’s Corps found themselves on the east bank of the creek. It was now that they realized the folly of placing this obstacle in their path. Gazing across the stream they found a position “of great natural strength” the passage of the creek alone by a line of battle was declared impossible. On the far side of the creek the situation was even more severe. Approximately a half mile of open ground fronted the Confederate line that bristled with cannon and muskets. Hancock decided “after careful examination of the position” that a direct assault would be too costly and declined to attempt it.

Instead he embarked on a reconnaissance to determine to the limits of the Confederate works. The 26th Michigan was detached from 1st Brigade, 1st Division to explore north along the edge of the stream to find the limits of the enemy position. They moved in the direction of the Charles City Road occasionally skirmishing with Confederate pickets but were unable to locate any weakness in the Confederate works that would offer the chance of success. The day’s activities cost the regiment five casualties (2 killed, 3 wounded). By nightfall Second Corps troops were fortifying their position along the road. The 28th Massachusetts reported that by 7 p.m. they had returned to the works captured in the morning “felling trees and building earth-works.”Sheridan’s cavalry was up and formed at the extreme right of the Federal line.

The afternoon also saw a visit by General Grant. The commander was unable to locate Hancock but left a 3:30 p.m. message regarding his observations of the situation.

“I do not see that much is likely to be done (about crossing the creek). If, however , you can push past the enemy’s flank and double him back on Chaffin’s Bluff , so as to let the cavalry out to perform their part of the expedition , do so.”

In response Hancock exaggerated his efforts at reconnaissance claiming that two full divisions were “feeling for the enemy’s left.” Other than that Hancock informed Grant that anything not done before nightfall could not be accomplished because his troops were too tired. The arrival of BG Henry Birge’s brigade of XIX Corps as reinforcement and the administrative movement of some regiments to new brigades concluded the day’s activities.

The First Battle of Deep Bottom (Campaign Series)


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