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After breakfast, the men of the 9th Massachusetts, along with the rest of their brigade, left their camp and marched in the direction of New Cold Harbor and halted a short distance from Gaines' Mill, once one of the finest grist mills in the state of Virginia. Prior to leaving camp each man in the "Irish 9th" Regiment had been issued three day's rations and 80 rounds of ammunition.
Leaving the 14th South Carolina on picket duty at the Chickahominy River, Gregg sent forward, on the right flank, the 1st South Carolina, with the 12th South Carolina on his left flank. Orr's Regiment of Rifles and the 13th South Carolina followed in support.
Just before noon, Griffin ordered the 9th's commander, Colonel Thomas Cass, to march his regiment in the direction of Gaines' Mill and to hold the bridge crossing over the Powhite Creek, just below the mill. Griffin also informed Cass that two additional regiments would be sent to support the 9th. (These two regiments never arrived and for which General Griffin later apologized.)
Advancing at the double-quick, in the noonday heat, the Confederate skirmish line was met by a volley of musket fire from the Irish 9th Massachusetts' Company I to their front and from Company F on their right flank. After several horrible and frantic minutes, the Rebels were driven back. Additional troops from Gregg's South Carolina Brigade moved onto the field in an attempt to drive the Irish 9th's skirmishes from their isolated and exposed position. Time and again, the brave South Carolinians charged against the 9th's Companies I and F, only to be met by withering musket fire from the determined Irishmen.
Confederate forces continued to take the field as Cass sent forward Companies A and D, under Major Patrick Hanley, to reinforce the bloodied I and F. Company I, being to the front, was taking a murderous beating, while gallantly holding its position. McCafferty and 1st Lieutenant Richard Nugent lay dead among the carnage, with 2nd Lieutenant Frank O'Dowd now in command of the Company. Hanley rode up and down his line of defenders shouting orders and giving encouragement.
Consolidating the remains of the company, and with his younger brother Connie at his side, Sergeant Deasy shouted the order to "Rally By Fours," and the men came together in groups of four. "Boys, stand firm! … Stand firm!" he shouted. "Commence firing." The remnants of Company I once again began firing volleys of musket fire into the advancing Confederates. Having gained control of the company and the confidence of the men, he gave the order to once again, "Deploy as skirmishers! … Retire in Order. Retire in Order," he commanded. He then ordered several of the walking wounded to gather up the ammunition boxes and canteens of their fallen comrades and to help to the rear those who could be moved as they fell back to their own lines.
The 9th Massachusetts formed on the right of the Brigade at the very center of the line of battle. The 62nd Pennsylvania formed in line directly behind the Irish 9th. To the left of the 9th stood four regiments of General Martindale's First Brigade, with the 22nd Massachusetts and 1st Berdan Sharpshooters in a line to their rear. To the 9th's immediate right, covering the road from New Cold Harbor, was the 3rd. Massachusetts Battery of Artillery, under the command of Captain A.P. Martin. To the right of Martin's Battery was positioned Colonel Governeur Kemble Warren's Third Brigade, Second Division.
At 2:30 p.m., amid sweltering heat, Hill ordered his Light Division to attack. The division's Sixth Brigade -- North Carolinians led by General William Dorsey Pender -- and General J.R. Anderson's Third Brigade advanced on the Federal center. During the advance, Gregg ordered Orr's Rifles, with Colonel J. Foster Marshall in command, to charge and capture the 3rd Massachusetts Artillery Battery.
Marshall formed his men in three lines of battle and, with bugles sounding and drums pounding, began his attack. For a distance of several hundred yards, in the face of murderous musket and cannon fire, the courageous troops of Orr's Rifles advanced across open ground. The 9th, supported by the 62nd Pennsylvania and Berdan's Sharpshooters, successfully repulsed the attack, inflicting heavy casualties upon the South Carolinians, but the battle was far from over. WGT
Copyright © 2011 by Robert J. Bateman and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2011, GAR Media.