May 31 – June 2, 1862
53rd PVI Casualties
From the Official Records:
MAY 31- JUNE 1, 1862– Battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines, Va. No. 2. — Return of Casualties in the Army of the Potomac at the battle of Fair Oaks, or Seven Pines, Va., May 31-June 1, 1862.
HDQRS. FIFTY-THIRD REGIMENT PENNSYLVANIA VOLS.,
June 2, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to make the following report of my regiment for the 31st of May and 1st of June, 1862: My regiment being in front, by order of General French left camp near Cold Harbor at 2.30 p.m. Found great difficulty in crossing the Chickahominy, owing to the sudden rise in the stream. Arrived on the other side at 5.15 p.m., when I was halted by General French until the other regiments had crossed, then was marched forward with the general in front. Marched about 3 miles, when General French halted me in the road, and shortly afterward directed me to form line of battle in an open field on my right, which was but finished when he again ordered me forward on the road. After moving a short distance heavy firing was heard to the right of us. We now moved out of the road into an open field, which we crossed in the direction of the firing, passing on our way through a stream. Led by General French we came upon the field of battle.
By this time it had become very dark. We were formed on the left of the Fifty-seventh New York by General French in person, our right resting near the left of the Fifty-seventh and our left extending into the woods to within a short distance of the railroad. General French ordered me to send two companies upon the railroad as pickets to connect with General Birney’s right, which was instantly done. About daybreak General French came to me personally and ordered me to change front, as there was a large body of rebel troops on our right. In about an hour he ordered me to resume my former position, which I immediately did. At the same time he ordered my two companies (the pickets) to be withdrawn.
Shortly after the general ordered me to move by the left flank and follow the Fifty-second New York (which had in the mean time been placed on my left) into the woods beyond the railroad. We had moved forward until our right had passed the railroad some 50 yards, when the Fifty-second halted. I also halted. After some time it became apparent that the Fifty-second was about be attacked. I immediately faced my regiment to the front. The firing commenced (from the enemy) on my left, they being but a short distance from us. I passed down the line toward the right, when I found that about 100 of the right wing had fallen back, caused by the following circumstance: An aide-de-camp rode down the front of the left wing as the firing commenced, and when he reached the colors found it necessary to pass my lines. He then ordered the men to Fall back; give way,” which they obeyed, and misinterpreting the command fell back beyond the railroad, where they rallied and were brought back in good order. The error was corrected in a very few minutes.
About this time I met General French in rear of the left wing of my regiment. After standing with him some time he asked me if my ammunition was nearly gone. I told him it was, from the upper part of the boxes. He told me to stand fast until he returned, and passed back toward the railroad. In a few moments he returned, leading the Sixty-first New York, when he ordered me to have my men lie down and to let the Sixty-first New York pass my line, which was accordingly done. The men were then ordered to fill the upper parts of their boxes from the box magazine, when the general immediately ordered us forward to the right, where we continued fighting until the fire of the enemy had ceased, when we held the position we then occupied until an order came to Colonel Barlow, of the Sixty-first New York, to move out of the woods by the right flank, said orders coming from General Richardson, with instructions to communicate them to me also. I then followed the Sixty-first New York out of the woods into the field occupied by the brigade the night previous, where I again met General French, who ordered me to the position I now occupy; also directing me to replenish my exhausted cartridge boxes.
The firing during the engagement was very heavy. The time during which we were under fire was nearly four hours. The regiments opposed to us during this action were the Forty-first Virginia, Third Alabama, Fifty-third Virginia, and a regiment supposed to be the Twenty-third Alabama. Also a regiment with black slouch hats, supposed to be Mississippians.
My loss is as follows: Killed, 13; wounded, 64; missing, 17; making a total of 94.
Among the killed was Maj. Thomas Yeager, who behaved with great gallantry up to the moment of his death, which occurred during the advance of the regiment to the right. Among the wounded are Captains Church, Moody, and Eichholtz, and First Lieut. William Mintzer, which embrace all the casualties among my commissioned officers. I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of both officers and men of my regiment. All did well. The presence of General French during the thickest of the fight had a most inspiriting effect on all, and caused them to act with greater steadiness and bravery, if possible, than before. I have to mention that I was ably assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel McMichael, whose coolness and steadiness are deserving great praise, as also Adjt. Charles P. Hatch (who was taken prisoner, but subsequently succeeded in making his escape), whose coolness and steadiness during the fight rendered his assistance invaluable. My horse was shot under me.
I have the honor to remain, your obedient servant,
JOHN R. BROOKE,
Colonel, Fifty-third Pennsylvania.
compiled by Scott Kunkle & Joel Peterson, 1999