Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Bryce Suderow and is included in a collection of articles from the Detroit Free Press. His transcription of this article is published here with his written permission.
FROM THE TWENTIETH INFANTRY
Before Petersburg, Va. Aug. 5
Being relieved from the trenches for a few days, we have now almost for the first time, an opportunity to look back over this memorable campaign and count up its results. And if you will allow me the space, I will give you a brief resume of the part which this regiment has borne in the great struggle. It is scarcely to say more than that we have borne our full share in its hardships, perils, losses and triumphs.
We marched from Warrenton Junction, Virginia May 4th, 1864, and on the 5th crossed the Rapidan, and took position on the right of the Army of the Potomac, then fighting in the Wilderness. That battle has passed into history, and I need not here repeat its story. In the first day’s fighting we had no share, but in the second day’s battle we had our part, though fortunately our loss was small. In the charge on the afternoon of the 6th of May, the 20th captured twenty prisoners, including one adjutant, and by a well-time attack, checked a flank movement of an entire rebel brigade. On the withdrawal of the army from the Wilderness, May 8th, the 20th was selected to cover the rear, which they did in good style, keeping their skirmishers well out to the rear, and checking the enemy’s advance. On the 9th of May the regiment led the advance across the river Ny, supporting the skirmishers. In this action the regiment bore itself with such coolness and bravery as to gain the commendation of the brigade and superior commanders. On the 10th we were again engaged in a charge upon the enemy’s works, in which the line advanced in magnificent style. The loss of the regiment was again small.
But on the 12th of May the 20th charged through an open field upon a rebel battery, advancing in good order to within a few rods of the guns. The regiments on the left being struck in flank, gave way, and the 20th was taken in flank and rear, and almost surrounded, but fought their way out with great loss. Up to this time the regiment had lost about 150 men, having been engaged four times in less than a week.
We now enjoyed a short respite from fighting. On the 21st of May we began the second great flank movement, and upon the 23rd arrived at the North Anna River. The next morning (24th) the 20th was selected to lead the charge of the 9th Corps across the river. The command was drawn up for the charge. On the opposite side frowned formidable rebel batteries and field works full of guns and veteran troops. It was ordered that the 20th should charge across a ford waist deep, deploy as skirmishers and take the works. Every man considered his death warrant sealed, but no man faltered.
“Each man looked to hill and sky and plain”
“As things they ne er might see again.”
But those ranks had never broken, and they were ready for the order to charge. But wiser counsels prevailed, and the order was countermanded, and if ever a load was lifted from brave hearts, it was that day. That night the regiment built breastworks and occupied them as sharpshooters until the 27th, during which time they kept the guns in the enemy’s works silent.
On the 27th of May began the third flanking movement, and marching rapidly day and night, the lines before Richmond were reached.
The regiment occupied a position near Bethesda Church. On the 2nd of June when the 9th Corps was withdrawn from the extreme right to take position near Coal Harbor, the 20th Michigan again covered the rear. The movement of the columns being delayed, the 20th was sent back to the forks of the road for picket. They had not reached their position, and were still marching by the flank when suddenly they were attacked by the enemy in force who had succeeded in turning our flank. The regiment was instantly thrown into line as skirmishers, and met the charge of the enemy with steadiness and success. For a long time, unassisted, they held the enemy at bay until the division could be formed, and the artillery put in position, thus saving the whole corps from surprise, and perhaps from disaster. In this action the regiment suffered heavily. On the next day, the command was again engaged, and with considerable loss.
When the fourth great flank movement (that across James River) began, the 20th was once more rear guard of the corps.
This was the most severe march of the season. For five nights the most of the regiment did not lie down to sleep. Three nights they were upon the march, and two nights they lay upon their arms. The end of these five days found them in front of Petersburg, on the evening of June 16. On the 17th they participated in a charge upon the rebel lines, in which they escaped with slight loss.
But the next day, June 18 they were not so fortunate. Charging half a mile across an open field, and across a deep railroad cut, thoroughly enfiladed by the enemy’s fire, they lost one-half their number, including Major Geo. B. Barnes, commanding, a very brave and efficient officer, and Capt. Dewey and Lt. Geo. B. Hicks, both valuable and experienced officers.
That night the regiment threw up breastworks, and during the night were withdrawn from the front line. On the 20th of June the command was again put in the trenches, where they remained without relief until the 25th of July.
After the battle of the 18th of June the regiment numbered 106 muskets, which numbered was increased by returned convalescents, etc. up to 128 on the 1st of July. . .
- “From the Twentieth Infantry,” Detroit Free Press, August 13, 1864, p. 1 col. 5 ↩