'Our Company ... is Gone'

MANCHESTER -- A special audio presentation describing the tragic ending to a locally recruited unit of soldiers deployed to Virginia in 1862 in the early stages of the Civil War will be the prelude to the traditional 4th of July fireworks display at the Dana Thompson Memorial Rec Park this Friday.

The unit, Company E of the 5th Vermont Regiment, and known as the Equinox Guards, mustered 59 soldiers the morning of June 29, 1862. The 5th Vermont was taking part in what historians later came to call the "Seven Days" battles - a series of engagements fought around Richmond Va., the capital city of the Confederacy. This series of battles were the turning point of the ill-fated "Peninsular Campaign," which aimed to outflank the rebels by an amphibious landing near Fort Monroe, Va., at the tip of a peninsula formed by the York and James rivers.

It also marked the emergence of Gen. Robert E. Lee as the Confederate Army's leading commander, when he replaced the ineffective Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. While strategically bold, the Union Army commander, Gen. George McClellan, hindered his progress by a slow and cautious tactical approach, which allowed the Confederates time to bring reinforcements to Richmond and counter the threat.

Following the "Seven Days" battles, the Union advance halted and they began a slow retreat back to their starting point. The 5th Vermont was called upon to protect the withdrawal and the engagement at Savage's Station was a part of that.

The firefight at Savage's Station decimated Company E. Only seven of its 59 members survived the engagement.

This is the account of the battle, which appeared in the issue of The Manchester Journal (Vol. 2, No. 8) published on July 15, 1862, and written by an unnamed correspondent who was either attached to or a member of the unit. Interestingly, from an editorial standpoint, it was published without a prominent headline on page 2 of that issue.

"From Company E, 5th Vermont reg. camp near James River July 6, 1862: It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to you. Our company, of which we were all so proud, is gone. Sunday last, the 29th, was a fearful day for us, as the list of killed, wounded and missing which I will send you will testify. I know with what anxiety and terrible suspense our friends at home are awaiting tidings from us, and I should have prepared this list sooner, if it had not been utterly impossible for me to do so. Reconnaissance, skirmishes, marches and other imperative duties have left me no opportunity to do so until today - one week since the fight."

The writer goes on to describe movements of the army and how on Sunday, June 29, 1862, they received orders to turn 'about face' and march toward the sound of gunfire at Savage's Station, three miles away.

"The almost maddening excitement, the whistling of the bullets, and the rush of grape and cannister is all I can remember, as our gallant boys charged bayonets nearly up to the enemy with a yell that still rings in my ears. We halted within short musket range of the Rebels, and piled our Northern lead into the for nearly an hour. When the order was given to cease firing we had silenced the fire of three times our number - they had broken and fled and the 5th Vermont had held the field.

"But at what a sacrifice to us! The field where we stood was black with the dead and wounded. We had been exposed nearly all the time to a murderous fire from three directions, and it told fearfully upon our ranks. Our company was exposed more than any other as we were in exact range of a gun that was pouring grape and cannister through us, cutting our men down like grass. It was dark when we stopped firing - no time to look after our suffering boys. Tired as we were, the little band that was left had to start on the March again immediately, and never halted until the next morning at three o'clock. It was necessary for the safety of us all, as the enemy was close upon our heels."

The article goes on to list the names of the dead and wounded. While only seven were officially declared dead initially, that number would grow as the others succumbed to wounds. Thirty-nine were listed as wounded and another 45 members of the regiment were described as missing in action.

One of the poignant aspects of the engagement was the deaths of four brothers of the Cummings Family. A fifth brother also died from wounds, as did a cousin and a brother-in-law. They are buried at Dellwood Cemetery in Manchester Village. It is believed to be the largest death toll suffered by any Union family which sent its sons to the Civil War battlefields.

The audio presentation will start at approximately at 9 p.m., prior to the fireworks display, which is scheduled to begin around 9:30 p.m.


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