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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Note: the 18th Mass continued its search for Stonewall

In the dead of pre-dawn hours those who had dosed off during the night were prodded awake and once more assumed vigilance against the possible approach of Rebels. Fires were strictly prohibited and most wrapped woolen blankets around themselves to ward off the damp chill. Soon after first light, small parties set out in search of berries and stumbled across their fill of cherries, currants, raspberries, &c. While Stonemans force hadnt yet been discovered by Confederates, slaves from nearby plantations were fully aware of their presence and arrived loaded down with milk, hoe cakes, and butter for quick sale.

The column was in full motion by 10, headed toward Cold Harbor. A mile into their march there were confirmed sightings of a rapidly approaching enemy, an indicator to Stoneman that he was now being followed in force. He ordered Major Joseph Hayes and 200 men from the 18th, along with two squads of cavalry, to act as a rear guard in support of two artillery pieces which were planted in the middle of the road they were traversing. As the column moved off at the double quick and continued onward they were joined by ever increasing numbers of stragglers from McCalls Third Division. All the while voluminous musketry and cannonading, as well as heavy smoke, could be heard and seen coming from the Gaines Mills area.

Hayes and his small band backpedaled keeping a distance from Stonemans main column which ultimately slowed to a more leisurely pace. The march was performed in good order. Few straggled as there were occasional rests and time to get plenty of water. One mile shy of completing a marathon, the column was halted at Tunstalls Station just before sundown.

Once there initial reports told of near disaster for Fitz-John Porters Fifth Corps at Gaines Mills. 27,000, later reinforced to 34,000, had attempted a stand against nearly 60,000 Rebels. The first of the Confederate assaults had been launched at two in the afternoon and were, for the most part, conducted piece meal by Division and Brigade over a five hour period. But all that changed at 7. With James Longstreet's and Stonewall Jackson's Corps fully in place, Lee went at Porter full throttle. The latter's left wing, composed of troops from the First Division, crumbled under the weight of sheer numbers and the rout was on. Pushed back like a receding tide, only grim and resolute determination, and the mercy of a setting sun, saved the Fifth Corps from being completely rolled up and annihilated.

The bloodiest and most costly of the Seven Days battles, with it's 15,000 in dead, wounded, missing, or taken prisoner, would end with the night time evacuation of Porter's Corps to the south bank of the Chickahominy. So, too, would end George Brinton McClellan's dream of sipping tea in Jefferson Davis' parlor.

At Gaines Mills, unbeknownst to their comrades at Tunstall's Station, the camp of the 18th Mass. was now a smoldering ruins after having been completely overrun. Of those who had been left behind in the Regiment's hospital, eight were now prisoners and would soon be on their way to Belle Isle in Richmond with 2,500 others. Some distance away from the camp, 16-year-old Joseph Jordan, a Dedham, MA Cabinet Maker lay dead, the first from the Regiment to fall in battle. The full details of his death wouldn't be disclosed to his family until 1893 when a story by 18th Mass. veteran Erastus Everson was published in the Boston Journal.

According to Everson, who was detailed as part of Brig. General Charles H. Martindale's personal body guard at the time of the battle, Jordan left his sick bed when firing first erupted on the left of the Fifth Corps' line, found a musket, and fell in with the 22nd Massachusetts. But then conflicting stories emerge. Everson heard that Jordan was shot down before the 22nd fully positioned itself, while a nephew wrote in response to Everson's story that he fell during a bayonet charge. The nephew's version was backed by a July 14, 1862 letter published in the Dedham Gazette, except that letter stated Jordan was mixed in with the 9th Massachusetts. Everson himself may have fallen victim to supposition, as in a letter to his mother, written nine days after the battle, he disclosed he was "within a quarter mile" of Jordan. In the end the truth was there and the truth in all its uncertainty couldn't be denied. How or why, Jordan was dead and a father and mother were left to grieve his loss and the loss of another son two years later when he was flat lined by a sniper's bullet at Petersburg.

Joseph Madison Jordan (from an engraving of a Carte de Visite)


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