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Civil War Trust

"Terrible discharges of grape and canister..."

Battle of New Hope Church - May 25, 1864
Col. George A. Cobham, Jr.

In his official report, Col. George A. Cobham, Jr. describes the actions taken by his brigade during the Battle of New Hope Church.

HDQRS. THIRD BRIG., SECOND DIV., 20TH ARMY CORPS,
Camp in Field, near Marietta, Ga., June 8, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to transmit the following report of the part taken by this brigade in the engagements of the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st of May and 1st of June:

George A. Cobham, Jr.
Col. George A. Cobham, Jr., 111th Pennsylvania Volunteers. (Wikimedia)

On the morning of the 25th of May, the Third Brigade left camp near Burnt Hickory, or Huntsville, and marched to Pumpkin Vine Creek, which we reached about 10 a.m. Soon after crossing this stream, the advance of the division, under General Geary encountered the enemy, and a sharp fight commenced. My brigade was ordered to take position on the ridge parallel to the road and at right angles to the line of battle of the First Brigade, which was then engaged with the enemy. One regiment of the brigade (the Seventy-eighth New York Volunteers) was left in the morning to guard the ammunition train. The One hundred and eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, and One hundred and forty-ninth New York Volunteers were detached to guard the approach by the cross-roads, and part of the One hundred and thirty-seventh New York Volunteers, was sent to reconnoiter the enemy's position on the left.

In this position we remained until about 5 p.m; the fighting in the front continued quite sharp, when I was ordered by General Geary to change front and advance in two lines to attack the enemy in front, who was now heavily engaged by the First and Third Divisions of the Twentieth Corps. I immediately ordered all detached regiments to be recalled (with the exception of the Seventy-eighth New York, which was left with the train as guard), formed line and advanced rapidly about one mile and a half through a thick wood to the front line of battle, where we relieved some troops of the First Division, and advancing on the enemy's lines, opened fire on them, receiving in return a severe and destructive fire of musketry and a heavy artillery fire of shell, grape, and canister from a battery in front of the right of our brigade front. Two regiments of the brigade (the One hundred and eleventh Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and One hundred an forty-ninth New York Volunteers) advanced on the battery in front until within a short distance of the guns, pouring in a deadly and destructive fire on the gunners and their infantry supports. The terrible discharges of grape and canister from the battery, which literally swept our men away, added to the severe fire from the enemy's infantry, prevented the capture of their guns; we, however held the position to which we had advanced against such determined resistance until darkness put and to the conflict and left us in possession of all the ground over which we had advanced during the day.

At 3 a.m. of the 26th ultimo I extended my brigade line slightly to the right and relieved the line of skirmishers on the right (commanded by Colonel Carman, Thirteenth New Jersey Volunteers), and commenced although accomplished under a very annoying fire from the enemy's sharpshooters, which was returned with good interest. During the whole of this day the sharpshooters of the Sixtieth New York Volunteers held in check the enemy's battery, picking off the cannoneers, and effectually preventing the loading or using of the guns. My brigade now held the extreme right of the line immediately in front of Colonel Harrison's command, of the Third Division. The sharpshooters on both sides kept up a severe and destructive fire during the day, the brigade being drawn up in one line and occupying the breast-works.

At 3 p.m., by direction of General Geary, my brigade moved to the left and formed connection with the Second Brigade, relieving a brigade of the Third Division (Coburn's), and formed in two lines, having a front of three regiments in the breast-works, and three in the rear line. Every precaution was immediately taken to strengthen the breast-works in our front. I also caused small rifle-pits to be dug in front of the breast-works in such positions as to command the rebel works, and in these the sharpshooters were stationed and enabled to inflict a severe loss on the enemy while comparatively safe themselves.

May 27, skirmishing commenced at daybreak along our front and continued incessantly until dark. Our sharpshooters were heavily re-enforced and drove the enemy's sharpshooters within their first line of works with heavy loss. All the batteries along our front also opened fire on the enemy's works. The One hundred and eleventh Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers was placed in the front line, on our left, to relieve the One hundred and second Illinois, of the Third Division; strengthened our breast-works and dug small rifle-pits in front of this part of the line also, for sharpshooters. The loss on our part was quite heavy, but not near so great as that of the enemy during this day's fighting. On the morning of the 28th the enemy's batteries opened fire on our works with shell, grape, and canister-shot, which was kept up for about one hour with great rapidity. Our sharpshooters soon silenced their fire, however by picking off the cannoneers while loading their guns. Sharp firing continued on both sides until about 10 a.m. when the enemy made a charge on our front line, but was speedily repulsed with loss and driven within their first line of works, our sharpshooters annoying them severely during the afternoon.

Hell Hole
Men from the Twentieth Corps charged into this deep chasm in front of the Confederate works at New Hope Church. Those trapped in the ravine later called it the "Hell Hole." (Douglas Ullman, Jr.)

On the morning of the 29th skirmishing again commenced along our front and continued with out interruption until dark, a;so during the whole of the 30th and 31st days of May and until 12.30 p.m. of June 1, when my brigade was relieved by a brigade of General Harrow's division, of the Fifteenth Army Corps, and retired from the trenches after eight days and nights of most severe duty, the men being constantly under fire, and engaged during a great part of each night in severe fatigue duty, building breast-works, and digging rifle-pits with but little opportunity for rest and poor facilities for cooking, which had to be done at all times amidst a shower of the enemy's balls and sometimes shells. The behavior of the whole command during the operations of these eight days was all that I could wish; all did their duty faithfully and well. Our position during the whole time was one of extreme difficulty and danger, requiring all, both officers and men, to be constantly on the alert to resist any attack during the day or to guard against surprise by night, which the extreme proximity of our lines to the enemy's works (consisting of two lines of strong breast-works defended by both artillery and infantry and a space of but about 100 yards intervening) rendered extremely probable.

Trenches at New Hope Church
In the days following the fighting on May 25, 1864, both sides worked to strengthen their position with elaborate earthworks like the ones seen here. (National Archives)

To the regimental commanders—Colonel Godard, Sixtieth New York; Colonel Rickards, Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers; Colonel Lane, One hundred and second New York Volunteers; Lieutenant-Colonel Randall, One hundred and forty-ninth New York Volunteers; Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, One hundred and eleventh Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers; Lieutenant-Colonel Van Voorhis, One hundred and thirty-seventh New York Volunteers, and Lieutenant-Colonel Chatfield, of the Seventy-eighth New York Veteran Volun-teers—my thanks are due for their cordial assistance and strict attention to orders during the whole time. I would also mention as worthy of notice Captains Wheelock and Alexander and Lieutenant Scofield, of the brigade staff for the very efficient aid rendered by them during the engagement of the 25th, and subsequent operations. I annex a list of casualties.

I have the honor, captain, to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. A. COBHAM, JR.,

Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. XXXVIII, Part 2.

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