In the rain and mud
150 years ago today the Battle of Williamsburg was fought. Here’s how the lieutenant colonel of the 33rd New York wrote home about the regiment’s role in the fight. The 33rd was in Smith’s division of Keyes’ corps.
From a Seneca Falls, New York newspaper in 1862:
Letter from Lieut. Col. Corning
The Palmyra Courier of last week publishes the following letter from Lieut. Col. CORNING, of the gallant Thirty-Third, concerning the fight at Williamsburg on the 5th. inst. the letter will be read with interest by our readers:
FORT MCGRUDER, Va.
May 6th, 1862.
***** We have had another hard fight through rain and mud, and, Southerners would say, a right smart fight. We engaged the enemy on the right flank, and after hours of hard fighting, drove them panic-stricken from the field. It gives me much pleasure to say that the Thirty-Third came out ahead of any Regiment engaged at this point. Three of our Companies were not engaged in this action, having been left in one of the rebel forts, as guard, about a quarter of a mile in the rear of the scene of action. Col. TAYLOR was with four companies, a little to the right and front, in the woods, as skirmishers. I had command of three other companies on the field, with the exception of some thirty men back on the road, guarding and helping our division train-wagons through. So you can see that the Thirty-Third was not in a very good condition to make a big fight;but for all that they did most nobly. The companies under my command stood the fire of the rebels well. The enemy came upon us rather unexpectedly, and our artillery were obliged to retire to secure a better position, as also two regiments of infantry. There was one regiment on our right that retired a short distance and halted. I brought my companies back a few rods, halted, came to the front and continued the fire. The regiment on our right fell back again, the enemy coming up at a double quick. They were now within 25 rods of us, when Col. TAYLOR came up, and after a brief consultation ordered our regiment to charge. The boys with terrific yells, rushed to the front, discharging their pieces with terrible effect, carrying terror and dismay to the opposing lines, resulting in the final discomfiture and defeat of the enemy.
Night and drizzling rain were now upon us; but as the smoke lifted, we could see that the ground was thickly strewn with the rebel killed and wounded, presenting a ghastly and sickening sight. One Colonel, a Lieutenant Colonel, and a Major of the general staff, were among the killed. We took three captains, two Lieutenants, and 150 prisoners; from 60 to 70 killed, and many more wounded. The 33d took nearly all the prisoners. Our part of the fight was of short duration, but most gloriously done. Gen. MCCLELLAN sent his compliments to our regiment this morning, for the bravery and heroic conduct displayed on the occasion. We had one Captain and 28 men missing; 18 wounded, two of whom will most likely die. It appears almost remarkable that our regiment had so few casualties.
***** But what a day and what a time to march and fight; every man wet to the skin, our clothes covered with mud throughout. Mud-mud-mud!- Even the field where the fight occurred was ankle-deep with mud. But night was upon us – a cold, dark, cheerless night. – Around us lay the dead and wounded – friend and foe, who had fallen fighting together. But wrapping our blankets around us to protect us from ceaseless rain, we lay down to obtain that rest which we all so much needed. To some it proved a long and tedious night, while others slept as calmly as though reposing on a bed of down. As for myself I did not expect to sleep, and was surprised when at last I fell into a short but undisturbed slumber. – Very few there were who did not joyfully hail the morning’s dawn. Few can realize what we have passed through during the past 48 hours; and yet to-day our men feel very cheerful. We have pitched our tents, and if we get a good night’s rest, we shall feel as good as new again. L.W.C.