Monday, June 18, 2012
Daylight brought a good view of the Regiment's new surroundings. Although there were "some very fine plantations, the land seems nearly worn out." Those who resided in the area, including in the village of Mechanicsville itself, which consisted of "four or five dwelling houses, a meetinghouse, court house, blacksmith shop, cabinet manufactory, lathes for iron & wood, flour mill," had apparently fled from homes that were "more or less mutilated by shot and shell." Wheat and oat fields stood ready for the scythe, but with no one around to swing one it was readily apparent the entire crop would go to rot.
The view changed later in the morning when the 18th received orders to relieve a New Jersey regiment posted on picket seven miles from camp. The latter felt snubbed when the 18th simply took their posts without exchanging greetings, newspapers, or drank coffee with them, but that was all in keeping with the day's strict order prohibiting fraternization. Once posted the Regiment's pickets engaged in a starting contest with their Rebel counterparts some of whom were not more than 500 feet away. In spite of their close proximity to one another, the situation was fairly relaxed and no one felt compelled to keep their finger on the trigger or target anyone dressed in blue or gray. "The men had some conversation with the Rebels and swung their hats at them, lay their rifles down, walked about, looked at one another, at the same time keeping their eyes open as they had a battery about 600 yds to front of us. We also have one behind our pickets."
A moccasin snake, however, decided the flesh between Joseph Lapham's trigger finger and thumb was an inviting target. There was almost a biblical parable at work here, as the snake lashed out while Lapham was picking up apples he had knocked out of a tree. Though his arm quickly ballooned in size, quick action by Surgeon William Holbrook, who also administered whiskey over a 12 hour period, helped the 19-year-old Quincy, Mass. butcher to pull through and ultimately live another 61 years.
That snake bite also saved Lapham from having to march on foot back to Gaines Mills when the Regiment was relieved from picket duty by the 4th New Jersey at five in the afternoon. Whatever the alarm bell or intended strategy had been the night before, the Regiment only knew they were biding Mechanicsville adieu and under orders to return to their former digs near Gaines Mills. Needless to say that march was conducted in the midst of a rain storm that seemed to match the Regiment step for step until they reached the Mills at 10 p.m.