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Corps arrived and took post on Hancock's right, along the west face of the Salient.
The contest had become beyond all comparison the closest and fiercest of the war. The Confederates were determined to recover their intrenchments at whatever cost. For the distance of a mile, in a cold drenching rain, the combatants were literally struggling across the breastworks. They fired directly into each other's faces; bayonet thrusts were given over the intrenchments; men even grappled their antagonists across the piles of logs. Hancock had brought some of his guns up to within three hundred yards of the captured works, and these were firing solid shot and shell over the heads of our troops into the space now crowded with Confederate brigades. Two sections were even run up to the very breastworks; and, though the muzzles protruded into the faces of the charging Confederates, the begrimed cannoneers continued to pour canister into the woods and over the open ground upon the west of the McCool House.
The contest had settled down to a struggle for the recovery of the apex of the Salient. On our part, the battle assumed a less tumultuous character. The brigades that had suffered most severely or had exhausted their ammunition were relieved by others and drawn to the rear, to be reformed and to replenish their cartridge boxes. Never since the discovery of gunpowder had such a mass of lead been hurled into a space so narrow as that which now embraced the scene of combat. Large standing trees were literally cut off and brought to the ground by infantry fire alone.* On either side a long ghastly procession of the wounded went limping or crawling to the rear; on either side fast rose the mounds of the dead, intermingled with those who were too severely hurt to extricate themselves from their hideous environment.
At ten Hancock received this dispatch from Meade to Grant, sent for his information: "Warren seems reluctant to assault. I have ordered him at all hazards to do so; and if his attack should be repulsed, to draw in his right and send his troops as fast as possible to Hancock and Wright. Tell Hancock to hold on." And Hancock held on, with his men four ranks deep, keeping the furious assailants at bay across the captured intrenchments. Warren's attack failed, as that judicious officer had anticipated; and in the afternoon Cutler's division of the Fifth Corps marched upon the field, where the contest was still raging with unabated fury. The trenches had more than once to be cleared of the dead to give the living a place to stand. Over that desperate and protracted contest Hancock presided, stern, strong, and masterful, withdrawing the shattered brigades as their ammunition became exhausted, supplying their places with fresh troops, feeding the fires of battle all day long and far into the night. It was not until twelve o'clock—twenty hours after the command "Forward!" had been given to the column at the Brown House—that the firing ceased; and the Confederates, relinquishing their purpose to retake the captured works, began in the darkness to construct a new line, to cut off the Salient, which for them had much better never have been built.
* The Confederate General McGowan states that an oak tree twenty-two inches in diameter, in rear of his brigade, was cut down by musket balls, falling during the fight and killing or wounding several soldiers. This is drawing it rather strong, but there is in Washington a tree eight to ten inches in diameter which was so cut down on the line of Miles's brigade.
General Humphreys estimates Lee's losses on the 12th of May, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, at between nine and ten thousand, making a hideous gap in his army. It was the first, and it was to remain the only important engagement of the campaign in which the losses of the Confederates exceeded those of the Northern army—in which, indeed, the Union losses were not largely in excess. The casualties among general officers on the Confederate side had been excessive, owing to the ferocity of the contest within the Salient. Two had been killed, two captured, and four severely wounded.
The same authority estimates Grant's losses for the day at sixty-eight hundred men. Of these, the Second Corps lost about twenty-six hundred. General Alexander S. Webb, while leading his brigade into action at the east angle with his customary gallantry, received a wound in the head which long disabled him. The officer of highest rank killed was Colonel John Coons, of Indiana, who fell while giving his men an example of heroic courage. Another officer deeply lamented was LieutenantColonel Waldo Merriam, of Massachusetts. As field officer of the day for Mott's division, he had rendered valuable service in forming the corps for assault and in directing the movement of the column. The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Strieker from the fire of the Confederate picket reserves at the Landron House has already been mentioned. In addition to these, sixty-three commissioned officers were killed or mortally wounded—a fact which speaks volumes for the manner in which the officers of the corps discharged their duties on this memorable day. Of Hancock's staff, Major Harry H. Bingham, judge advocate, an officer rarely equaled in courage, energy, and intelligence, since distinguished in the national Congress, was severely wounded.
When day broke on the 13th it was found that the Confederates had retired wholly from the Salient. In order to develop the enemy's new position, General Gibbon sent two brigades forward toward the Harrison House. The enemy's skirmishers were driven into their works; but Colonel S. Sprigg Carroll was severely wounded in what proved to be his last action. During the remainder of the day nothing occurred beyond an affair in which Miles succeeded in getting out two guns which had been left between the lines on the 12th, thus swelling the captures to twenty pieces.
The heavy losses which had been sustained by Mott's Fourth Division during the campaign, together with the expiry of the terms of several of the old regiments of 1861, rendered necessary a discontinuance of this division. Its two brigades, one of which General Mott was assigned to command, became attached to Birney's Third Division. Several changes in the position of the corps were made in the interval between the 13th and the 17th of May, but no fighting resulted. On the 16th the corps received very important re-enforcements, consisting of Tyler's division of heavy artillery, fresh from the defenses of Washington, embracing the First Massachusetts, First Maine, and the Second, Seventh, and Eighth New York; and the Corcoran (Irish) Legion, embracing the One Hundred and Fifty-fifth, One Hundred and Sixty-fourth, One Hundred and Seventieth, and One Hundred and Eighty-second New York regiments of infantry. The heavy artillery regiments mustered, when full, eighteen hundred men; and even then, so late in the war, were of the size of brigades which had been continuously in the field. The material was of the best. Yet all this could not make good the losses which the corps had sustained in the first fortnight