Recollections of Myers Hill: Charles T. Bowen, 12th US Regulars

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Nathan Varnold.

The Central Virginia Battlefield Trust unveiled Myers Hill a month ago at their 2019 Annual Conference. This 73.3 acre tract of land became the focal point of the Union Army of the Potomac and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on May 14, 1864, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

Myers Hill, the tallest point near Spotsylvania, sat approximately one mile in front of the Union V Corps. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant and Major General George Gordon Meade knew the hill provided a strong position for Union artillery and a potential route to Massaponax Church Road – a way around Confederate commander Robert E. Lee’s right flank.  To achieve this objective Meade ordered Major General Gouverneur K. Warren to capture the position. Warren placed Lt. Colonel Elwell S. Otis of the 140th New York in command of the attack. He bolstered his force with the 91st Pennsylvania. Both regiments had already suffered dearly in the opening stages of the Overland Campaign – Saunders Field at the Wilderness and Laurel Hill near Spotsylvania Court House – and now numbered only 300 men total.

CVBT map by Edward Alexander

Newly-promoted Brigadier General Emory Upton supported Otis with an additional 800-900 men. The combined force of Upton and Otis quickly gained possession of the hill and pushed back the 9th Virginia Cavalry – the force holding the hill. The Virginians soon regrouped. From the base the Confederates attempted to recapture the hill, but Union artillery near the Beverly House opened fire and forced the cavalry to completely withdraw.

Robert E. Lee, knowing the importance of terrain and the high ground, ordered an attack to retake Myers Hill at 4:00 PM. Lee ordered Major General Jubal Early, Confederate III Corps commander, to dislodge the Union force. A combination of Georgians, Mississippians, and Virginians emerged from the nearby forested area and successfully enveloped Upton’s Brigade on Myers Hill. Those who were not captured or wounded fell back across the Ni river. At this moment, Meade was almost captured as he came forward to get a better look at the ground. When the commander reached safety, he ordered Brigadier General Romeyn B. Ayres’s First Brigade to recapture the position once and for all.[1]

An account from Charles T. Bowen of the 12th US Regulars follows:

Our regiment composed of about nine companies was yesterday consolidated into three companies of about 50 men each. The 2nd infantry has only 60 men in its ranks having been terribly cut up. At the rate we are being slaughtered it will only take a few more days to finish us off entirely.

General Ayres

At about noon a line of Pa. volunteers was advanced to drive the rebs from a hill in front in order that we might place artillery on it. Our Brigade Gen. (Gen. Ayers) offered to take the hill with his Brigade and was ordered to do it. We placed two sections of Artillery so as to shell the hill and opened on it. We then formed [a] line and advanced through a thick pine wood. At the farther edge of the wood we left everything but our arms, when all was ready the bugle sounded the charge and we broke from cover like quarter hoses and with a volley of cheers mounted the hill. The rebs were lying on the other side to avoid our shells which were hissing and exploding around the crest and when they heard out cheers supposed a might force was coming and so they ran like the devil. When we got on to the top of the hill we say the last of them going on the double about half a mile beyond. It was now dusk and our artillery men could not see us on the hill and so continued their fire. We had to get behind the hill to get out of our own fire, several men were killed before we could let them know their mistake. In a house on the hill we captured six rebs who had got down [in the] cellar to get out of the way of the shells and found a number of our men who had been wounded in the other charge – the dead bodies of the volunteers who were killed were stripped naked by the rebs. The prisoners said that Gen. Lee and staff were on the hill an hour before we took it. We left it about 9 P.M. in charge of Pa. troops who will work all night throwing up intrenchments.[2]

Guest Author Nathan Varnold received his MA from Colorado State University in 2016. He has worked with the National Park Service for three summers – internship with Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania in 2015, Petersburg in 2017, and a return to Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania in 2018. His true interests are political and social history, but he dabbles in military history periodically.


[1] Gordon Rhea, To the North Anna Rive: Grant and Lee, May 13-25, 1864, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), 77-89.

[2] Charles T. Bowen, 12 US Regulars; 5/14/64 diary; FSNMP bound manuscript collection.

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