Disaster at Cold Harbor: Connecticut’s Second Volunteer Heavy Artillery Regiment
October 26, 2019 • Civil War, Derby
Corporal Thomas Fox , Second Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, B Company with his regimental flag

Corporal Thomas Fox , Second Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, B Company with his regimental flag - Connecticut Historical Society


by Richard Malley 

Connecticut’s response to the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for three-month volunteer troops was immediate and significant. Throughout the state, men of military age enlisted for what most people thought was simply going to be a show of strength that would dissuade southerners from supporting secession.

Colonel Elisha S. Kellogg, Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery

Colonel Elisha S. Kellogg, Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery. Photograph by Bowdoin, Taylor & Co., Alexandria, VA, 1864 – Connecticut Historical Society and Connecticut History Online

In the months following the sobering Union defeat at the first battle of Bull Run in July 1861, additional units were recruited. In the summer of 1862, yet another infantry regiment was organized—the Nineteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. Some 815 men, drawn primarily from Litchfield County, trained for a few weeks under the stern guidance of Major Elisha S. Kellogg from Derby before the unit was whisked off to the Washington area for additional training and guard duty. In November 1863, the War Department ordered the Nineteenth to be reorganized as the Second Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery Regiment, and officers were sent back to Connecticut to recruit new members to bring the unit up to proper strength.

In May 1864 the regiment traveled to Fredericksburg, thence on to the area near Cold Harbor, Virginia, about 10 miles northeast of Richmond. There they encountered stiff opposition from General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates. With General Ulysses S. Grant now in command, a new, more aggressive Union strategy sought to crush Confederate forces in Virginia and capture Richmond. Though effective, Grant’s tactics resulted in higher casualty rates.

On June 1 the regiment, which thus far had seen little action, found itself on the front lines, facing seasoned Confederate forces that were well entrenched behind an elaborate complex of earthworks. In what Grant later admitted was a mistake, a full frontal assault of the Confederate line was made, and the Second Connecticut Heavies, once again operating as an infantry unit, found themselves in the thick of the fight. The physically imposing Elisha Kellogg, now commanding the unit, led the charge across open ground toward the enemy. A hurricane of lead cut down scores of the attackers and when the unit pulled back, Colonel Kellogg lay dead on the field, one of some 118 men killed in the assault. In all, 323 men from the regiment were killed or wounded. The survivors were stunned by this slaughter, but they continued to serve in the campaign.

By the fall of 1864 the Second found itself supporting Philip Sheridan’s operations in the Shenandoah Valley before rejoining Grant in the Petersburg campaign. In April 1865 the regiment marched north through the ruins of Richmond, and on September 5, 1865, the men of the Second mustered out. For many veterans of the Second, the assault at Cold Harbor would be the most terrible memory of the conflict.

Richard Malley is Head of Collections at the Connecticut Historical Society.

© Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and Connecticut Historical Society. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared on Connecticut History | WNPR News

Learn More

Websites

Connecticut. “Connecticut Men in the Civil War.” Connecticut Military Department, 2017. Link.
“Newspapers of Connecticut - Civil War.” Connecticut State Library Digital Collections, 2017. Link.
“Research Guide to Civil War Materials.” Connecticut State Library, 2017. Link.

Places

“Connecticut Historical Society,” 2017. Link.

Books

Connecticut. Adjutant-General’s Office. Catalogue of Connecticut Volunteer Organizations, with Additional Enlistments and Casualties to July 1, 1864. Hartford: Case,  Lockwood and Company, 1864. Link.
Hines, Blaikie. Civil War Volunteer Sons of Connecticut. Thomaston, ME: American Patriot Press, 2002.
Warshauer, Matthew. Connecticut in the American Civil War: Slavery, Sacrifice, and Survival. Middletown,  CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011.
Vaill, Dudley Landon. The County Regiment: A Sketch of the Second Regiment of Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, Originally the Nineteenth Volunteer Infantry, in the Civil War. Winsted, CT: Litchfield County University Club, 1908. Link.

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