The 5th NH Attacks the Sunken Road -- A Tactical Description

Andy Cardinal

1st Lieutenant
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Feb 27, 2017
Location
Ohio
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For those of you interested and knowledgeable about tactical maneuvering, I found this interesting description in Thomas Livermore's Days and Events. The Irish Brigade has already attacked, and now the 5th New Hampshire is moving forward to replace them in front of the road. Here is Livermore's account of the approach to the battlefield.

The Irish Brigade led the advance, “strewing the ground with its dead and wounded.” They engaged the enemy on the south edge of a cornfield. “At about this time my regiment was marching by the right flank by fours under the hill on which the Irish Brigade were and toward the haystack,” Livermore recalled. Colonel Cross was at the rear of the regiment, ordering the men to “close up.” Someone at the front of the regiment ordered the me to move forward at the double quick. “At about this moment one of the bullets which were flying from the field over our heads and among us struck Private Card of my company, who was marching almost directly at my left elbow,” Livermore wrote. “I heard the bullet strike, and turning quickly saw the blood, as I though, spurt out of Card’s neck under his right ear. He fell like an axe, and I said, ‘There goes poor Card,’ and never slackened my trot, supposing that to be the last of him.” [James C. Card was 38 years old from Woolwich, Maine.] As this was happening, an irate Cross ran to the front of the column, swearing at whoever ordered the regiment to advance at the double quick. “So we took a more sensible ‘quick step,’ and filing to the right, just before we reached the haystack, came into line right in front and a little to the left of the enemy’s fire, and halted and lay down.”

Cross was pacing back and forth in front of the prone men “in his nervous way.” “Men,” Cross called out, “you are about to engage in battle. You have never disgraced your State; I hope you won’t this time. If any man runs I want the file closers to shoot him; if they don’t, I shall myself. That’s all I have to say.”

Before we moved,” Livermore wrote, “Card came up and joined the company, brave fellow! It was only a spent bullet which had hit him under the ear. It had not broken the skin, but had raised a swelling as large as an egg. It did not prevent Card from doing as well as any one in the fight, however, but he said it prevented his eating much for some days.”

After lying prone for about ten minutes, Cross ordered the men to get up and move “by the right flank” for a distance, and then face to the front again. The men then advanced directly ahead up a slope, and went over a rail fence which Cross had earlier ordered to be taken down. “As we moved up this slope, the bullets flew thick around our heads,” Livermore recalled, “and our line passed over a number of dead and wounded who had fallen from the Irish Brigade, which had preceded us, and a regiment of which we now relieved.” Livermore then described the maneuver which allowed the New Hampshire men to replace the Irish in line: “We moved up behind them in an unwavering line of battle, and just before we reached them, at the command, we ‘broke by right of companies to the front,’ while they broke to the rear by companies and we passed through them, and then came ‘by companies into line,’ when we again found ourselves advancing in a well-ordered line of battle.” “The maneuver,” Livermore added, “performed in the face of the enemy within a few yards of his line and under fire of infantry (and artillery, I think) in such exact order, in my opinion was the highest proof of the discipline and intrepidity of our regiment and of our colonel’s confidence in us.”

As we passed through the ranks of the Irish regiment, they cheered us loudly, and in a twinkling of an eye we found ourselves opposed to the enemy and under a severe fire,” Livermore recalled. “I shall never forget the scene.”

Livermore then went into a more detailed description of the maneuver, and he included some sketches. I took a screenshot of the page and will include it here for anyone who might be interested:

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Andy Cardinal

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 27, 2017
Location
Ohio
As I'm trying to better understand battlefield tactics I find it fascinating too. I don't recall reading anything about a movement similar to this in other battles I've read about, but I'm finding the more I pay attention to tactics, the more specific examples I find in the accounts.

No wonder they spent so much time in drill!
 
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