CV: V19N5: Fight at Reams Station

   

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in Siege of Petersburg

Editor’s Note: Base transcription is from the CD-ROM version of The Confederate Veteran at Eastern Digital.  Minor corrections were made by Brett Schulte.

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Fight at Reams Station.1

Col. J[ames]. E. Larkin, of the 5th New Hampshire Regiment, wrote a letter from Everett, Mass., on December 5, 1910, to Lieut. Gen. Nelson A. Miles which is not complimentary to his superior officer. He wrote:

“My dear old comrade of years long gone when we marched, fought, camped, sang our Army songs, played games, etc. In those days I enjoyed your comradeship, was pleased at your rapid promotion, and when you were promoted to the command of the army, I felt in it a personal pride, for it reflected honor on the volunteer service. Had I then known you were capable of unjustly claiming an honor such as is reported2 in General [Francis A.] Walker’s history of the 2d Corps in regard to the battle of Reams Station, which I read for the first time forty-three years after the close of the war, my belief in your integrity would have been shattered.

“I am impressed with the belief that you dictated that report of placing yourself at the head of two hundred men of the 61st New York Infantry, striking the enemy in flank, and by fierce fighting capturing a portion of the works, recapturing a battery, and driving the enemy back into the railroad cut. General Walker, being a prisoner at the time, could not have been a witness. Capt W. E. Kyle, belonging to General Heth’s division, writes me from Fayetteville, N. C., February 21, 1910: ‘I captured Gen. Francis A. Walker in your front line of works between five and six o’clock.’ He also certified that there was no fighting on that field after the Union troops were driven out of their works. John E. Brown, of Lee, S. C., who was in the battle, certifies to the same. The facts are that the victorious Confederates did not pass over the railroad cut on the left of the 1st Brigade. Some fifteen or twenty daring Confederates, seeing the deserted guns of the 12th New York Battery, rushed to take them off, and were around one gun when the force that I had rallied ran back and then disappeared. There was no firing on either side. Thus the mole hill was made a mountain by your report of a fierce fight.

“Your champion, [Rudolph R.] Riddell [Secretary of the 61st New York Association], in a letter to the Washington [National] Tribune October 20, 1910, quotes reports made by men who were not eyewitnesses, and most of them not even on the field, and reports therefore from hearsay. He failed to quote Colonel [James C.] Lynch, who commanded the regiments, in dispute3. Colonel Lynch says: ‘For a few minutes McKnight’s 12th New York guns were in the hands of the enemy, but several colors being halted, men were rallied around them without organization, and by a prompt advance recaptured three of the guns and nearly all of the rifle pits previously occupied by this brigade. These guns were hauled off the field by volunteers from the 5th New Hampshire, 81st Pennsylvania, and 61st New York.’ Nothing is said in Lynch’s report about General Miles in this connection. If your claim was true, certainly the commander of the brigade would have recognized it.

“I quote from a letter written me by Capt. George S. Gove, of Boone, Iowa, August 21, 1907: ‘Maj. J. E. Larkin, your surprise at the statement in “Walker’s History of the 2d Corps” about General Miles leading in person two hundred men of the 61st New York was no greater than mine when I read it some years ago. It is not true! You were the only field officer I saw anywhere after the first rout of our men. Your small force was the only one I saw facing the Rebels, and I fully believe the credit of saving those guns belongs to you and the men, mostly 5th New Hampshire that you had rallied.’ Captain Gove was senior officer who helped haul off the guns and turned them over to the provost guard.

“At the reunion of the 5th New Hampshire Regiment held last August resolutions were passed indorsing my claim of rallying a small force and recapturing three guns and a portion of the line of works. In Riddell’s letter he passes upon these resolutions as immaterial to the controversy, but credits me with leading back ‘a small band of stampeded men along the abandoned breastworks and remaining there under safe and close cover while their comrades of the first brigade were fighting a quarter of a mile in front and holding the enemy back and protecting the guns and the retreating troops from further danger.’ Why does he not specify two hundred men of the 61st New York? Those men with whom you claim to have performed such a prodigious feat of valor and to have turned the tide of that battle, and all this performed with the fearful (?) loss of one man killed, one wounded, and sixteen missing during the entire day were from the 61st New York Regiment, according to official report. But it was not the fault of the brave 61st that their losses were no greater, for they were placed at the extreme right of the brigade farthest removed from the enemy’s fire.

“I pray you do not insult those brave men who gave us such a thrashing that day with such chaff. The tide of that battle was an ebb tide, a grand rush to the rear.

“General, this is the last appeal I shall make to you for justice. I do not wish to think any brave and honorable man will filch an honor, however small. You may deceive others, yourself you cannot deceive. If you can be at peace with yourself in this matter, you are welcome to all the happiness it brings you. If during your command of the brigade or division you ever gave the 5th New Hampshire credit for anything, I do not know it. Yet in my opinion when a true history of the war is written the old fighting 5th New Hampshire will have at least an honorable mention.

“I assure you, General, this controversy has caused me much unhappiness, and I sometimes regret that my attention was ever called to that report. I have no personal ambition to gratify, but those few brave men who rallied around their colors and saved those guns should not be forgotten. I cannot allow your claim to go down in history uncontradicted.”

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COLONEL LARKIN’S LETTER TO NATIONAL TRIBUNE.

Riddell outdoes the General, for the latter does not claim that he drove the enemy beyond the railroad cut, while Riddell says one quarter of a mile beyond the guns, and that would mean far beyond the cut. He reiterates the same falsehood as his chief. The veterans of that gallant old 61st New York (for whom I have nothing but admiration) must feel humiliated, knowing that one of their number has lent himself to bolster up the falsehood even of their former commander.

Will any old soldier believe such a story that two hundred men of the 61st New York, if they were led by such a fighter as General Miles, drove a brigade of Confederates such a distance, recapturing earthworks and a battery by such fierce fighting as he claims, turning the tide of a battle when we had received such a whipping with the loss of one man killed, one wounded and sixteen missing, according to the official report, in the 61st New York during the day’s battle, and it was one of the largest regiments in the brigade that day? We may call our opponents Secesh, Rebs, Johnnies, Butternuts, or any other names we please, but no self-respecting Union soldier will have the audacity to call them cowards. If General Miles and his man Friday tell the truth, they were cowards.

In sending the foregoing to the VETERAN Colonel Larkin states: “I am not seeking honor or notoriety in this controversy. I believe the truth should be told in history, let it cut where it may. Lieutenant General Miles is not too big a man to be called down when he falsifies. To make such a falsehood against a brave and honorable foe is disgraceful. I am surprised that the CONFEDERATE VETERAN does not condemn him. There are many of your boys now living who were in that battle and can testify to the truth.”

Source:

  1. Larkin, James E. “Fight at Reams Station.” Confederate Veteran, Volume 19, Number 5, pp. 231-232
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: on page 595
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: Colonel James C. Lynch of the 183rd Pennsylvania commanded the First Brigade, First Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac at Second Reams Station on August 25, 1864.

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