Night of May 31st
The Battle of Cold Harbor was the most severe action that the Twenty Third Pennsylvania Volunteers was in during the American Civil War. It is the place where they lost the most men and fought so bravely.
On the night of May 31st 1864, the 23rd PV started for Cold Harbor. They arrived there about noon on June 1st. The Regiment was formed on the left of the Richmond and Gaines Mills crossroads. The Twenty Third PA was selected to "Storm the enemies works with the 82nd Pennsylvania in support and after driving the enemy skirmishers through a strip of woods which the rebels set fire to, they fel back. The line emerged into a open field. About 500 yards away, on a little hill, were the enemy works. Preperations were made for the final charge. The 95th Pennsylvania was on the right ut the 23rd was unprotected on the right by Artillery or Infantry.
June 1st 1864 ; Noon
Here is a battle report from the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 1st 1864:
Cross tried to advance his brigade to protect the lower end of Penrose's line, selecting the 23rd Pennsylvania,a colorfully attired Zouave Regiment with little combat experience, to lead the attack suported by the 82nd Pennsylvania. Stepping out the two regiments from the Keystone State drove rebel skirmishers through a narrow strip of woods. Confederates set the trees on fire as a delaying tactic to slow the Pennsylvanians but they pressed into the clearing. There they reformed, with the 95th Pennsylvania and 12nd NY on the left of the line. At Cross's command the four regiments started forward at a run.
The results were predictable,"As we emerged from the woods the rebels opened fire on our men and they commenced dropping". Canister chewed into the line but the veterans pressed on. In a few moments the ground was covered with thier dead and wounded. A "Tar Heel" observed that the 23rd Pennsylvania was the first to reach Martin's Works fought bitterly and then retired, lacking strength to exploit its temporary gain. Retreating several hundered yards to the shelter of a small ravine, the 23rd PA followed the example of some NJ Soldiers and started digging.
About 5P.M. orders to advance were given and as soon as they were communicated, the line swept forward on the double quick, confronting a severe Artillery and Infantry fire. Dashing forward on the run, however, the thin linecrossed the enemy works and the left of the line being subject to a flanking fire of grape and cannister, but having only a handful of men, they were soon driven out. The 82nd however came bravely to the support of the 23d PV but after fighting for 25 minutes without reinforcement, they had to retire.
With spoons, knives and Bayonets the regiment erected temporary breastworks about 500 yards from the enemy line. Here the regimet stayed until they were relieved. The sixth Corps maintained this line during the entire 12 days that the position was assailed.
The Battle Continues.....
During the charge across the open field, under a terrific artillery and infantry fire of the enemy, and the close fighting before the enemy works, without reinforcements, the regiment lost eight officers and one hundred eighty one enlisted men killed or wounded. Five men captured and sent to Andersonville.
The right wing moved into the slight breastworks where they relieved a Maryland Regiment of Lockwood's Brigade, a portion of the regiment crossing the works and taking a few prisoners. For a while the 23rd PV was hotly engaged. When the fire subsided, the commanding officer issued a order detailing two men from each company to advance beyond the works as skirmishers.
Captain Henry Marchant, Lt's James Johnston, John Boyd,and James G. Williamson and Seventy men were killed and Captain James M. Craig, Lt's. Richard A. Griffiths, Frank Taylor and Frank A. Lynch and One Hundered Twenty one men were wounded. James Craig would die in 1899 as a result of his Cold Harbor wound. (See the Virtual Cemetery.) On June 3rd, Lt. Col. Wallace and ten men were wounded and three were killed. On the evening of the 3rd, one company was detailed to advance about ten yards and dig rifle pits. This was done under a very heavy fire and the company successfully bult the works, throwing up a safe cover. They remained there until June 5th, when relieved. They stayed under fire from 3 A.M til 8 P.M. on the 5th. On June 7th the 23rd PA was detailed to dig a covered way to the front and on June 8th it again went into trenches on the front line, where it remained under a heavy fire until the night of June 9th, when it was sent back to the second line. Finally on the night of the 12th, the attemp to break through the enemy's line having been abandoned, the Army withdrew.
Some of the Boys of the 23rd PV Killed at Cold Harbor
"Birney's Zouaves Civil War"
Marching and Countermarching, holding a line of Battle by day and entrenching by night, the 23rd PV finally reached the James River. On June 16th 1864, halting on the farm of ex-President Tyler, they embarked on the transport "Cauliflower" for Bermuda Hundreded, and immediately proceeded to the right of General Butler's Headquarters, and were immediatly ordered to the Battle Line.
5 Captured (Sent to Andersonville)
The information to put this write-up together was taken from the following sources:
“Life of the 23rd Pennsylvania “Birney’s Zouaves” ,William J. Wray 1904, 1999,2004
"Cold Harbor" Gordon Rhea
Research and Studies of Frank P. Marrone Jr.