The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Regiment at Cold Harbor
Cold Harbor is best remembered for the assault near Richmond, Virginia on June 3rd, 1864 that cost thousands of Union casualties and gained nothing during General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign. But there was another Federal assault on the Confederate lines two days earlier that resulted in heavy Union casualties.
This first assault on June 1st involved the Union 6th and 18th Corps. General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry had taken control of the crossroads on May 31st, and the 6th and 18th Corps were ordered there. Major General George Meade ordered an assault on the entrenched Confederate defenders, believing that by taking the Rebel positions, the Federals would be better positioned for a possible breakthrough after all the army was in place.
One of the regiments in Major General Horatio Wright’s 6th Corps was the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, now fighting as infantry. With the enormous casualty numbers piling up during the Overland Campaign fighting, Grant needed reinforcements, and he ordered many of the heavy artillery regiments serving in the defenses of Washington DC to the front to serve as infantry. These heavy artillery regiments were several hundred men larger than even a full strength infantry regiment, and provided several thousand immediate reinforcements, though they had only limited infantry tactic training. The heavy artillerymen would see much action in the final year of the war, and many regiments would suffer staggering losses.
The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery was originally organized as the 19th Connecticut Infantry in September 1862. It served in the Washington defenses as infantry until it was redesignated as heavy artillery in November of 1863. At the time it was called to the front, the regiment was under the command of Colonel Elisha S. Kellogg, who had combat experience as a major with the 1st Connecticut Artillery prior to joining the 2nd. in the 6th Corps, the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery was assigned to Brigadier General Emory Upton’s 2nd Brigade of Brigadier General David A. Russell’s 1st Division.
The large 2nd Connecticut, about 1800 men deployed in three lines; each battalion, consisting of four companies, would lead the assault by Upton’s brigade, with the other casualty depleted regiments in the brigade in a fourth line At about 5 p.m. the 6th Corps, and the 18th Corps to its right, marched forward, with 2nd Connecticut lines separated by about 100 paces. Colonel Kellogg placed himself in front of the first battalion and ordered the column to advance.
The men were able to advance to within 20 yards or so of the main Confederate rifle pits without serious opposition. There, the Rebels had cut down young pine trees and formed them into an abatis–a barrier with the branches interlocked and facing outward–that extended back to the rifle pits. They had left two open paths large enough for four men marching abreast to pass through. As the men of the 2nd Connecticut funneled into these openings, the North Carolinians of Brigadier General Thomas L. Clingman’s Brigade of Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Division opened fire.
The North Carolinians fired a volley, and took down some of the Connecticut men, but many of the shots missed high and hit the ground behind them.
The Federals dropped to the ground, and the next volley mostly went over their heads as well. The regimental historian wrote that “it is more than probable that if there had been no other than this front fire, the rebel breastworks would have been ours, notwithstanding the pine boughs”.
But there was more than just this fire from the front. The 2nd Connecticut had advanced farther forward than the regiments on its left and right. The Confederates began firing into the 2nd Connecticut’s left flank with deadly effect. The Rebels “having unobstructed range on the battalion, opened a fire which no human valor could withstand, and which no pen can adequately describe” wrote the regimental historian. “The air was filled with sulphurous smoke, and the shrieks and howls of more than two hundred and fifty mangled men rose above the yells of triumphant rebels and the roar of their musketry”.
Kellogg was in the process of ordering his men to withdraw when he was shot multiple times, his body caught on the abatis. “The men staggered in every direction, some of them falling upon the very top of the rebel parapet, where they were completely riddled with bullets,–others wandering off into the woods…to find their way to death by starvation at Andersonville, or never to be heard from again” recalled the regimental historian.
With Kellogg dead, Colonel Upton came in an personally took control, ordering the men to lie down and hold their position. “Men of Connecticut, stand by me! We MUST hold this line!”
The men of the 2nd did indeed hold the line, for the rest of the day and into the night. Upton’s brigade, plus the units on either side, had pushed far enough forward to capture the first line of Rebel works. This was the only gain of any significance for the costly assault by the 6th and 18th Corps.
In his report on his brigade’s action in the Overland Campaign from its beginning in May through Cold Harbor, Upton wrote this about the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery:
The Second Connecticut, anxious to prove its courage, moved to the assault in beautiful order. Crossing an open field it entered a pine wood, passed down a gentle declivity, and up a slight ascent. Here the charge was checked. For 70 feet in front of the works the trees had been felled, interlocking with each other and barring all farther advance. Two paths, several yards apart and wide enough for 4 men to march abreast, led through the obstructions. Up these to the foot of the works the brave men rushed, but were swept away by a converging fire. Unable to carry the intrenchments, I directed the men to lie down and not return the fire. Opposite the right of the regiment the works were carried, and several prisoners captured, among whom was Major McDonald, of a North Carolina regiment, who informed me that their flank had been turned. The regiment was then marched to the point gained, and, moving to the left, captured the point first attacked.
In this position, without support on either flank, the Second Connecticut fought till 3 a.m., when the enemy fell back to a second line of works. Colonel Kellogg, its brave and able commander, fell in the assault, at the head of his command. The loss of the Second Connecticut was 53 killed, 187 wounded, 146 missing; total, 386. June 3, another assault was ordered, but, being deemed impracticable along our front, was not made. From the 3d to the 12th of June the brigade lay behind intrenchments. Nearly a constant fire was kept up by sharpshooters; but few casualties occurred.
As Upton wrote, his brigade did not participate in the larger, more famous (or infamous) Union assault of June 3rd. But the 6th and 18th Corps had an estimated 2200 killed and wounded in the June 1st assault, so it was no small affair. “It has always seemed, however, to the survivors of the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery, (Upton’s Brigade, Russell’s Division, Wright’s Corps,) that the affair of June 1st was entitled to more than the two or three lines of bare mention which it is tossed off.”
The 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery Monument at Cold Harbor Battlefield
A portion of the Cold Harbor Battlefield is preserved as part of Richmond National Battlefield Park. There is a monument in the Cold Harbor unit of the park honoring the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery at the location of its assault of June 1st. The monument lists the names of all those of the regiment who were killed or mortally wounded at Cold Harbor. Earthworks of both armies are also preserved here, and the landscape of open pine woods is similar to what it was at the time of the battle.
Bloody Roads South: The Wilderness to Cold Harbor, May-June 1864 by Noah Andre Trudeau
Cold Harbor by Martin T. McMahon. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel.
The County Regiment: A Sketch of the Second Regiment of Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, Originally the Nineteenth Volunteer Infantry, In the Civil War by Dudley Landon Vaill
History of the Second Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, Originally the Nineteenth Connecticut Vols. by Theodore F. Vaill
Not War But Murder: Cold Harbor 1864 by Ernest B. Furgurson
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XXXVI, Part 1