A Letter from the Front

John Gibbon (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
John Gibbon (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

On June 4, 1864, Brig. Gen. John Gibbon, a division commander in the II Corps of the Army of the Potomac, wrote home of the previous day’s assault on the Confederate lines at Cold Harbor.

“Yesterday morning at 4:30 we made an assault on the enemy’s entrenchments, and although we got into them in several places we did not succeed in holding them and after heavy losses we simply held the advanced positions we gained. I lost two brigade commanders, Gen. Tyler and Col. McKeen and several valuable officers, among them being my poor friend Haskell, who was shot through the head and died a few hours afterwards. I feel his loss very much and was just about to give him command of a brigade. The enemy fight with great determination and the whole country is one continuous line of entrenchments, both ours and the enemy’s. Last night I took a prisoner a lieutenant, who proved to be from Charlotte and knew my father. Today we are tolerably quiet, although at one time the enemy opened a heavy artillery fire to which I was exposed when showing some half dozen civilians our lines. You never saw such a demoralized set  in your life as they were, nor a more gratified one when, during a lull in the fire, I proposed we should leave our advanced position”.

Of particular interest in the letter is the reference to Gibbon’s “poor friend Haskell”. He is referring to Col. Frank Haskell, who commanded the 36th Wisconsin Infantry. Haskell had served on Gibbon’s staff earlier in the war, dating back to when Gibbon was a brigade commander.


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