I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season, even if the Pandemic has put a damper on travels and family visits. With some time off from work this week, I have been tweaking a chapter of what I have been calling “Book #2.” The working title is “Following the Chasseurs: My Life with the 65th NY Volunteers.” Part of the need for tweaking is that a nice gentleman who is completing a book on The Battle of Fair Oaks shared some of his work with me, as well as a letter from 65th Captain William Halsted, of Company D, about his experience of the fighting. The letter, part of the Calvin Packard Civil War Battlefield Letter Collection, is currently for sale by Heritage Auctions for $1500. It also contains a hand drawn map of Fair Oaks. Though the price is far too rich for me, the letter has been partly transcribed, and it is an excellent source on the battle and especially the role of Company D of the 1st U.S. Chasseurs. Part of my first chapter concerns the trip I took up the Peninsula in 2012, in researching for “No Flinching From Fire,” and a visit to the Fair Oaks and Seven Pines area, now mostly lost to development. Adding in some excerpts from the letter will definitely enliven the description of the battle. So I am working on that project this week. Here is a brief excerpt, along with a map of Fair Oaks which Confederate General Gustavus Smith drew after the war, and a photo I took of Capt. Halsted’s grave a few weeks ago. Thanks to Vic Vignola for alerting me to both the map and the letter.
“On our march a musket ball knocked a small splinter against my nose. Soon after a shell burst a few feet over my head on a tree & showered leaves & wood over me & my Co… Our Regt. was immediately ordered into line on the edge of a wood. We had just taken our position when a terrific fire was opened upon us. Someone knocked me head foremost in the mud to my elbows. We loaded & laid low… I lost in killed & wounded more than 1/5 of my Co. Our Regt. lost in killed & wounded 32 [31 in fact, 9 killed and 22 wounded]. My men have covered themselves with glory. Not a man flinched in the field…. We held our post for nearly two hours under a terrific fire. Not a cartridge was wasted. We went to work with 60 cartridges & my Co. averaged 40 left at night. They picked their men… One of my boys took the colors from the woods last night. It is white with blue stripes across with stars in them. The S. C. Hampton Legion fought us… Not one of our officers are hurt. Capt. Higgenbotham’s Co. and mine took the worst of the fight. Lt. Ellis was hit in the breast by a spent ball, but not hurt. Lt. Cozzens had the ring of his watch shot away & a five cent piece doubled up in his pocket. Too much praise cannot be given our boys. They did admirably.”
I particularly like Halsted’s reference to Capt. Higgenbotham, who would later command the regiment and be killed leading it at the Battle of Cedar Creek on Oct. 19, 1864, as well as the claim that “not a man flinched in the field,” which of course reminds me of the title of my history of the regiment, “No Flinching From Fire.”