North Anna Diary

The Soldier's View
By Andrew D. Jackson, 6th Michigan Cavalry

Andrew D. Jackson was a member of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, Company G. At the time of the Battle of North Anna, he was temporarily assigned to the 9th New York Cavalry after ending a nine month parole in Annapolis. He rejoined the 6th Michigan Cavalry on May 30, 1864. Here, he describes the engagement at Jericho Mill on May 23, 1864.

Andrew Jackson
Andrew D. Jackson, member of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, Company G.

Arriving at Mt. Carmel Church, we took the road leading to Jericho Mills where we arrived about the middle of the afternoon....Could hear fighting down toward Chesterfield Bridge, where Hancock was. As we neared the river again we found the 5th Corps in line and getting their supper....I also at once set about to cook some sliced potatoes which were well under way when in the woods close to the line of infantry, two or three shots were fired. The men sprang for their arms; but before they could seize them and get into line – like a thunderbolt out from a clear sky came one tremendous volley, instantly followed by the “Rebel yell” and the mass of grey burst out of the pines with bayonet and clubbed musket right into the midst of our men. If I ever saddled a horse quick, it was right there. The infantry, taken by surprise, recoiled under this terrible assault and the fields were blue with fleeing stragglers....

Batteries from both sides were booming in full play and the engagement was assuming immense proportions...

As we were now in danger of being enveloped by the...6th Corps, we mounted and as the Colonel gave the order, “Right forward. Fours Right. March”, we lost all semblance of an organization and assumed the appearance of a mob. The zip and whiz of bullets shrieking and bursting of shell with the booming of cannon, the sweeping, terrific volleys of musketry as it rolled from right to left of the line was too much for the nerves of our recruits and seeing an immense throng of skedaddlers rushing for the river, they at once came to the conclusion that the whole army was beaten....

So with the poet they thought as they fled:

“He who fights and runs away,
May live to fight some other day.
But he who fights and is slain,
Will surely never fight again.”

Of our “gallant 300”, probably 150 put spurs to their horses and never halted until safe on the north side of the river....

Col. Pope called for the “veterans” to ride out. About 75 of us rode out of the line and forming in, we at once proceeded to recross the stream where we were deployed with orders to let no one pass but the wounded, members of the hospital corps and dispatch bearers.

It was now near sunset and the roar of battle was tremendous. Our line in the open field, about 40 rods in my front, was completely hidden from my sight by clouds of smoke. Fifteen rods to my left and about the same distance on my right each, was a battery firing as rapid as the pieces could be charged, and just across the river in my rear, two more batteries were bellowing from their brazen lips....I could not distinguish the report of a bursting shell in that awful roar and crash.

General Grant's 15th New York Cavalry crosses the Chesterfield Bridge at North Anna, under heavy fire.
15th New York Cavalry crosses the Chesterfield Bridge at North Anna, under heavy fire. (Library of Congress)

As I sat there upon my horse, I wondered how anything could live under that terrible musketry....Hundreds of men were huddled together along the stream. I saw one “gallant” fellow jump into the water nearly up to his armpits and begin to lunge for the other shore. An officer rode to the bank and hailing him, bid him come back. But heedless of the call, he splashed ahead. The officer drew his revolver and fired. The ball striking the water just in front of the affrighted skedaddler, brought him to and he countermarched back to shore quicker than he left it.

Union Troops occupying breastworks along the north bank of the North Anna.
Union soldiers occupying breastworks along the north bank of the North Anna. (Library of Congress)

Just at the top of the high bank near my post, a fellow had flattened himself to his least dimensions, writhing and twisting as the shell screamed by. The rebels now opened a new battery from down the river sending its shells up the valley, plowing its banks and in other ways making it unpleasant for these poor fellows. One of them struck the bank near this fellow, throwing the dirt into the air at a fearful rate. I thought the poor sinner was blown to atoms, but as I looked he sprang to his feet looking like a maniac and at the risk of breaking his worthless neck, fled in terror down the bank...

The brave fellows on the line were heroically struggling to push the enemy back and regain their first position. Night was fast settling over the field, all of the 5th and a portion of the 6th Corps were now engaged, Cutler’s and Griffin’s divisions sustaining the brunt of the fight....Cheers and yells announced the success of our charging troops, and as night wrapped the struggling foemen in its mantle of black, the roar and roll of battle dies away like the distant mutterings of a departing storm. That night Warren established and entrenched his lines with but little resistance.

The battle had lasted but about two hours; our men captured about 1,000 prisoners with a loss of 350. At night we camped near Warren’s lines.

This passage is part of an original manuscript written by Andrew D. Jackson 25 years after his participation in the Civil War.  The original manuscript is in possession of Walt Pomeroy.  Not to be shared electronically or published without permission from waltpomeroy at gmail dot com.

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