The Peninsula

Cordello Collins of Kinzua writes home about first experience in combat during Civil?War

Photo from pacivilwarflags.org/Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Above, the remnants of the battle flag of the Bucktails, 13th Pennsylvania Reserves.

The regiment remained in Maryland as part of a reserve division when Collins wrote home in January 1862.

Jan. the 26 1862

[Camp Pierpont]

Dear Perrants

I now take my pen in hand to inform that I am a live and midlin well. I have got a small cold and my head akes a little but I dont think it will last long. I just sent 20 dollars by express to Mrs Dolly Collins at Kinzua. It will be left at Warren with Judge R. Brown. That will be besides the 12 that the govament send. 12 dollars more is to be sent there now. 20 I sent you by express. Look out for that mony. I think that is a nuf to pay for loozing a day for. (He notes that he sent a total of $44 home). I expect mother you will have to give pap an order to git it for I sent it in your name so no one would take it for debt. Git it soon as you can for you dont know how I feel about it. Because you hant got that 12 dollars that has been there so long and I want you to try to git that mony rite off. And let me know if you can git it or not, for if you cant I want to know it so I can try and stop it. But I dont expect I can. But if you cant git it Ishall try to stop it if I git cortmarchal for it.

The monument to the regiment on the southern end of the Gettysburg battlefield.

Write soon and let me know all a bout it for I feel uneazy a bout it. We expect to move from heare soon and I dont know where we will go but I expect it will be to South Carlina. It is re ported that we shall march from hear within 10 Days but I dont know how true it is.

Sylvester he is at Baltimore in the Genral hospitle. Fletcher is in the Hospitle at Gorgetown. I got a letter from Sylvester night be fore last. He says he is no better than he was when he left Camp. No more.

Truly yours

Cordello

John Collins

Dolly Collins

Dolly Cordello Collins

Dolly union forever

After Union defeat at Bull Run in August 1861 – Collins’ regiment wasn’t there – a young, dashing general – George Brinton McClellan – was given command of the Army of the Potomac and spent many months whipping it into shape and developing it into one of the best fighting forces in the world.

In the summer of 1862, McClellan transported his entire army by boat to the Virginia peninsula between the James and York rivers with the Confederate capital of Richmond squarely in his sights.

McClellan is often criticized for being able to train and equip an army… but then being unable to use it.

His counterpart in the fighting in late June and early July knew just how to use it. His name was Robert E. Lee.

According to the American Battlefield Trust, heavy fighting broke out on June 26 and became what we now know as the Seven Days Battles.

The result was Union retreat.

Union troops remained on the tip of the Peninsula while Lee shifted his focus to a different Union army to the north.

That’s when we find Collins writing about the experience of conflict on the campaign.

Camp of the Bucktails. 1st Rifles,

Harrison’s Landing [Va.]

July 19, ’62

Dear Parents :–I received a letter from you yesterday, dated July the 8th. It gave me the greatest of pleasure to hear that you were all well. My health is as good as usual and my shoulder almost well. We are camped on land that formerly belonged to President Harrison, on James River. I suppose that you have heard in Kenzua that the rebels were mowing us down right and left, but we gave them as good as they gave us, you had better believe. We killed three or four of them to where they killed one of us, although they outnumbered us three to one — they were so drunk they shot over us. But let me tell you it was a hot place; I don’t fancy the place at all; it seemed impossible for anybody to live a minute, but thank the Lord we were able to pay them in their own coin. Our Regiment fought four days in the seven days fight.

On Thursday, when the fighting commenced, our company had the first shot at the enemy made by our infantry. We were in the edge of the woods behind a fence — the rebels out in the field about ten or fifteen rods off in four ranks marching broadside. We took a rest from the fence and trees and fired. Oh! you ought to have seen them jump up and fall; they did not see us at all, altho’ they were on three sides of us. We had now to fall back to our rifle pits and then there was war in the camp in earnest; the fight had actually begun.

I laid in our rifle pits right under the mouth of one of our own cannons. Sometimes I thought I should go entirely deaf. Four shells came into our pits where our company was; three of them we flung out before they bursted; the other went into the bank behind us and exploded, though fortunately nobody was injured.

The enemy charged bayonets on us three times, but we cut them down with such a galling fire that they ran back much faster than they came. I fired until my gun got so hot that I could hardly hold it in my hands, and I had to stop to let it cool. On the first day one of our companies, Co. K, was surrounded and taken prisoners before they could get to their rifle pits. The night of the first day we slept in our pits. The next morning the battle was renewed and old Stonewall Jackson was flanking us, and we had to leave the pits and fallback and take a new position. When this order was given, Company E, and the greater part of our company [D] did not hear the order and were left and the rebels got them.

That afternoon they came on us again. We laid in the open fields and the rebels mostly in the woods; this was a hard fight; we slaughtered them big, and they killed a great many of us; the ground was spotted with dead rebels. Here I was wounded with a piece of shell, and it seems like a miracle that I got out alive. It was just a buzz, whizz, and all kinds of noise from grape and canister balls and slam bang of bursting shells all around and over our heads, killing men on all sides. Saturday and Monday…. Monday was equal to Friday, but I was not engaged for I could not use my left arm. Thursday night after the firing had ceased, we could hear the wounded rebels cry for help and asking for some one to bring them a drink of water and calling on the Maker to help them. It seemed the most pityful of anything I ever heard or seen to hear the different sounds and moans over the ground. — Some seemed to be in awful agony; but they had to lay there without any one near to give them water or help in the least.

I will now close by observing that it was through the help of the Lord that I escaped so well, and I devoutly thank him for it. Please write soon.

From your affectionate son,

Cordello Collins

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