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Henry F. Charles Memoirs: The Battle of Cold Harbor

Editor’s Note: Henry Fitzgerald Charles of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry (dismounted) wrote a short memoir based on his diary from the Siege of Petersburg in 1864/65. A transcription of this memoir was placed online in 2001 as a part of the web site The Civil War Diary of Henry Fitzgerald Charles, by the web site’s owner and Henry F. Charles descendant John Neitz. Mr. Neitz made the appearance of this memoir at The Siege of Petersburg Online possible, and I thank him greatly for his cooperation.  The transcription on this page is copyrighted by John Neitz as a part of his web site and may not be reproduced without his express written consent.  All rights reserved.

The Battle of Cold Harbor1

(BTC Editor’s Note: The following text describes the fighting at Cold Harbor in early June 1864.)

That evening we arrived at Cold Harbor; then it all began. There had been fighting there two days before and the dead and wounded still lay on the field. We charged the rebel works next morning. We were successful in the middle, but the right and left ends were repulsed and we could not get back, so we lay among the dead of the day before. Our batteries protected us as good as they could and we fell back that night and so did the rebs. Some of the dead were bloated so bad that the buttons tore off their coats. All of us that had blankets took them to cover the dead next day and shoveled a little dirt over them and that is all the burial they got. It was horrible for a human to behold and what we tell, human ears cannot understand.

We ran out of rations again and I offered a dollar for four hardtacks; the man gave me the tacks but would not take my dollar. It was so surprising how generous the people were; they would give of anything they had.

Next morning, I went out to where some men had drawn rations and picked up the crumbs of crackers that fell when the men cleaned out their haversacks. I got about a pint of crumbs, dirt and all, but the boys were very glad for them. I also found three pocketbooks; the contents of one was nothing, one had three postage stamps, two pennies, and a silver three cent piece. The other had three photo pictures and I wished I could return them to their owners or to the right families. J.G. Shaffer was lost here but turned up all right the next day. We were kept very busy fighting here second and third day of June at Bethesda Church; there was a graveyard here and we were lucky we did not end up in it. A little on from here we fought around a grain mill but in a little while the mill disappeared to its foundations. The next place was White Oak Bottom and we built a large breastworks here; that its, we cut down trees, piled them on top of each other from three to five feet high for miles in each direction. Then we piled earth against it. We layed here about eight days. While laying here I went out to forage; you might call it stealing. I got to a plantation and everything had been carried off except the grindstone. Since there was nothing usable but the grindstone I took it along and it came in handy for the fellows to use when they built breastworks. When we left there it was too heavy and we left it.


  1. The Civil War Diary of Henry Fitzgerald Charles. 2001. 17 May 2012 <http://www.dm.net/~neitz/charles/index.html>.  These memoirs are reproduced with the written permission of John Neitz, and may not be reproduced without his express written consent.  All rights reserved.
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