Headquarters Eleventh Corps
Near Brook’s Station, Va.,
My dear brother,
You must be aware that for the past week I have had no opportunity to write. Since the furious attack upon our Corps which began about 5 o’clock on Saturday neither my outward circumstances nor my feelings were favorable to letter writing. Sunday, Monday, & Tuesday we were more or less under fire. On Tuesday the Rebels showed a special design upon Otis. Finally shot Col Meysenburg’s horse under him as he was by the General’s side. After that Otis consented to go on foot when on the front and in certain range of the enemy’s rifles.
Sunday, Monday & Tuesday until 3 o’clock Wed. morning we held the left with Gen. Slocum who was upon the extreme left. We were behind rifle pits but all the time expecting an attack and several times during night & day our Pickets were driven in.Of course Otis felt the greatest anxiety for fear the troops would not stand even behind the impervious logs and earth which formed the “Rifle pit” so called and whenever firing commenced he would mount his horse & we would gallop to the point of attack in the greatest haste. I believe I will not attempt to give you a full account of the four days fighting today. I never experienced a more uncomfortable night than that of Tuesday May 5th. It began to rain in torrents in the afternoon. I was riding to find out a route by which to withdraw our Corps through the woods to U.S. Ford which was to be undertaken that night. I got thoroughly drenched. My feet as wet as if I had been wading a river. It continued to rain all night. We had been notified that our Corps which was to have been the next to the last (but in the event was the last to leave the front line) would march at 8 P.M. The rain, however, so raised the river as to break up the pontoon bridges of which we had these laid at U.S. Ford. Gen. Hooker had passed over & was therefore cut off from his army. Couch was in command and we rec’d word while we stood shivering over our meager fire (or sat upon wet cracker boxes) that the crossing would be delayed two or three hours. Then I was sure we would meet with disaster because it would be light long before the army could get over. And the enemy could easily create the greatest disorder & destruction. I said to General Schurz that nothing except a kind Providence could save us. At 2 A.M. we got word that two bridges had been reconstructed. We must wait for all the Corps on our right & it was three before I led out Gen Schurz. Our pickets were left out and a kind Providence did save us in the face of all probabilities to the contrary. Gen. Slocum with the 12th Corps started and marched off to the Ford before us, leaving the left which was strongly fortified & rested on the river completely exposed. [...]
Charles Henry Howard to his brother, Rowland Bailey Howard [Charles Henry Howard Collection]