Thanksgiving dinner was on the 24th (of November, 1864) and started with religious services in a large shed. General Saxton reviewed the troops at noon, and a 100 foot flagstaff was raised. Sports such as foot races, sack races and wheelbarrow races were held by the companies in the afternoon. All had a big Thanksgiving dinner, as the Co. H purchases indicate. This menu was enjoyed by Co. A: stewed chicken, sweet potatoes, white potatoes turnips, boiled onions and pumpkin pie. All expected a move against the Charleston & Savannah Railroad, so no one was surprised when they received orders late on the 28th and left at 4 A.M. next day, taking only enough for a short trip.
Diagram of Honey Hill Action Nov. 30, 1864
General Hatch was in command of the 5,500 men in the upcoming Honey Hill and Deveaux Neck actions. The 127th, 56th, 144th and 157th New York; the 25th Ohio, the 32nd, 34th and 35th U.S.C.T made up the First Brigade under Brigadier General Potter. There was a Second Brigade under Colonel A.S. Hartwell; a Naval Brigade under Commander Preble; Batteries and Artillery under Colonel Ames; and a detachment of Cavalry under Captain George P. Hurlburt.
Fog delayed the arrival of some of the troops at Boyd's Landing. More time was consumed repairing the old dock sufficiently to land cavalry and artillery. Their presence was soon discovered by Rebel Cavalry whose quick action caused reinforcements to be immediately dispatched to protect the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.
After leaving the landing, the First Brigade took the wrong road twice, first toward Bee Creek, then past Bolan Church here they should have taken the road to Honey Hill. By the time they got back to Bolan Church it was 2 A.M. on the 30th and as the men had marched 15 or 20 miles and had not slept the previous night, they were ordered to bivouac.
No Confederate forces had been in the area, so the delays were fatal to the expedition. Three groups of Confederates were alerted in time to reach Grahamville very early on the 30th. At 8 A.M. the rebel general Colcock advanced from Grahamville toward the Union forces and selected the Honey Hill site to make a stand.
At the same time the 127th, followed by the Naval Brigade and the Artillery, marched up the Grahamville Road. Confederate infantry and artillery were spotted up ahead so the 127th was deployed in heavy woods on both sides of the road as Skirmishers, Co. H on the right. Firing started about 1½ miles beyond Bolan Church. Many of the men of the 32nd U.S.C.T. were killed after a charge to clear the causeway. The Confederates fell back twice, and the Union forces regrouped in line with the woods road leading off to the right from the Grahamville Road. The Union forces made a steady advance toward the stream and marsh which might, with difficulty, be crossed to a point under the guns of the Confederate earthworks. The planks of the bridge had been removed.
Lt. Col. Woodford, in charge of the 127th, "notified General Potter that, if he could be supported by a regiment on the right, he would charge the enemy's works with that portion of the 127th, (probably seven companies), then in the field." As a result, five companies of the 55th Mass. Colored charged up the road but were driven back twice by heavy fire and sustained a loss of about 100 killed and wounded. During this time the 127th crossed the stream and marsh to below the enemy's works. It was boggy ground, ten to eighteen inches deep with water, and the men fired from cover of a few trees and bushes. They held this line for about ten minutes until the 55th on their immediate right were repulsed. As the 55th withdrew, the Rebels advanced to a point between the extreme right Union line and the position of the 127th. As this exposed the 127th to fire from their own troops, they withdrew across the stream and were then ordered to the rear to support the artillery. The rest of the 127th, Companies H, B and G "had been left to guard against the turning of the right flank in the advance up the road."
Bolan Church Between Boyd's Landing and Honey Hill, S.C. as seen in 1914
According to Henry's diary, he had no idea why they "lay down until 2 P.M., then found the road and hastened to battlefield. Had been fighting nearly 2 hours" for at 2 P.M. these three companies were ordered to support two brass artillery. The right was withdrawn to the line of an old dam. The musket ammunition was running low, so orders were to use it sparingly so they would have some left in case of attack.
Prisoners and deserters coming into the Union on lines reported the rebels were getting reinforcements; and as General Hatch decided they could not take the position, he made preparations to withdraw after dark by posting the 25th Ohio and 157th N.Y. half a mile in the rear. Ambulances had arrived and two regiments were detailed to carry the wounded. The 127th, 103rd U.S. Colored Troops and one section of Naval Artillery remained at the front until the wounded were far in the rear, keeping up a slow fire until 7:30. They then withdrew and were in turn covered by the 25th Ohio and 157th N.Y. who then followed. The 127th withdrew to the Boyd's Neck Road below the Coosawatchie crossroad and camped there three nights. Many incidents of bravery and courage took place.
The 127th's blankets and knapsacks were not found where they had been ordered to leave them before the battle, so some slept for three nights with only grass over and under them. The total officers and men killed and wounded was 746, with 508 of them from General Potter's brigade. The 127th had 57 killed and wounded and two missing. Co. H lost three.
December lst, Companies A and K and some Cavalry went to Bolan Church and burned some abandoned property and two bridges. As the church had been used as a field hospital, they buried the amputated limbs. They found and returned with 30 head of cattle and 15 sheep that had been lying behind an old dyke. That night they lay by their arms and were called up twice.
December 2nd the regiment threw up entrenchments at the Boyd's Neck and Coosawhatchie crossroad. Two companies went on picket after dark and weren't relieved until 3 P.M. of the 3rd. Cattle and sheep crossing the picket line caused a bit of shooting during the night.
Two regiments advanced and burned some plantation buildings to the front, and when attacked by the enemy, fell back with ten wounded. The 127th opened fire on the church and woods with their rifle gun.
On December 4th rebel skirmishers were forced to retreat by a reconnaissance force of several other regiments. The 25th Ohio, going by boat, captured rebel earthworks and guns on the Beaufort Road. Four regiments moved on the battery at Newhall Church one-and-a-half miles this side of the Bee Creek Battery.
Diagram of Deveaux's Neck
December 5th the 127th left the front at 1 A.M., marched to Boyd's Landing and went on the steamer Charles Houghton to Gregory Plantation's upper landing on the Tulfinney River, arriving at daylight. Co. H with Co's C and F went north toward the Coosawhatchie and Beaufort Pike, Col. Gurney and Lt. Col. Woodford in command. When rebel pickets were encountered, a line of battle was quickly extended across the road, the four companies of the 127th holding the center of the road. The rebels attacked. Col. Gurney was wounded and left the field. Woodford led companies D, C, F and H in a charge on the rebel line which broke and ran, their colors captured, back to their entrenchments near the railroad. The four companies held the turnpike and bivouacked in the angle of the dirt road and the turnpike. They had lost 4 killed and 24 wounded.
At 8 A.M. on the 7th, the rebels tried to capture the battery but were driven back. The day was spent making rifle pits and felling timber one-fourth mile away toward the railroad. General Foster now notified the War Department that he had been compelled to put citizens on guard at Hilton Head and Beaufort; that he had lost about 1000 men and requested more troops be sent to him. (pp. 118-135)
During their spare moments the men had been writing letters on any scrap of paper they had with them or could acquire from another. This letter of Henry's was written on the back of a pass and placed in a folded piece of brown paper for an envelope. On the lower corner was written, "PM (Post Master) will please forward this. It is sent from the field."
Doubtless you are very anxious about me. We have had another battle & lost a number of men but singular to say, none of Co. H hurt although we were in the hottest of the battle. It was a terrible but glorious victory. We captured a flag & killed a good many. If my life is spared to return to Beaufort I will write you all particulars in detail. Thanks to Divine Providence that I am alive this morning. Our Col. is wounded & 2 captains, not seriously. Col Woodford is a brave man. He is with us. I have no paper so I take this old pass to write on.
We took steamers Monday & next morning landed farther up Broad River. We soon come upon the Rebel Pickets. They fled in contusion, throwing away guns & clothing. We killed a number. We chased them 12 miles I judge. They then made a stand & fought us but we whipped them. Yet they fought desperately, bullets whistled furiously. We are row entrenched within about 1/4 of a mile from the Savannah & Charleston R.R. We can go no farther. Will probably leave here in a few days. I hope this will go direct for you will probably hear of the fighting & be worried.
I went into the fight cheerfully, trusting in God. I wish I was a better man. Religion is worth
living for. Without it there is not much happiness in this world. Give much love to each one of
the family. Mother, do not worry. I trust we shall meet again. Give my love to all my friends. For
want of paper I must close. Good morning, from your Son,
p. 2 (on front of pass) It is very mild, & well it is for we lost our overcoats in the first fight. We were ordered to leave them to the rear. When we returned they were gone. Some of us have found others. Much is cast away in Battle. The ground is wet. Rained yesterday. I recd yours Mother & Aunt Martha's letter dated Nov. 14. We are expecting another mail today. It arrived at H. Head over a week ago. (This pass is reproduced on page 161.)
Diagram of Deveaux's Neck Action December 9th, 1864 by J.J. Abercrombie
Their position at Deveaux Neck was well fortified with heavy guns. From here they hoped to fire on and cut the Charleston & Savannah Railroad three-fourths mile away. To do this it would be necessary to chop down trees to make an opening 60 feet wide through the intervening woods.
At dawn on December 9th a skirmish line was formed behind the outer breastworks where they ate breakfast and passed the newly arrived mail along to each recipient. On the right was the 157th N.Y. and some Marines, with the 127th on the left. They were covered by heavy artillery fire and supported by other regiments. The 25th Ohio, armed with axes to cut down the trees was to follow, supported by three U.S. Colored Troops.
The skirmish line formed south of the Pike. They advanced through the woods nearly to the rebel skirmish line several hundred yards from the railroad. When the 127th reached the open tall grass area, the rebels kept them under continual deadly fire from the woods on the left, causing companies K and G of the 127th to sustain the most casualties, five killed and twenty-eight wounded, including the top officers. Lt. Col. Woodford was eventually in command of the action. The line pressed on to within 200 yards of the railroad.
"The position was a hot one." The men were ordered to lie in the tall grass and hold their fire so as not to show their positions. Beside the rebels firing from the woods on the left, there were shells, shot, grape and musket balls fired from the rebel fort in front falling on them.
The whole skirmish line held their positions until a sixty foot swath of trees were cut down behind them. Then at 2:30 P.M. after the reserves had fallen back they were ordered to retire, and after burying their dead, they began falling back, Wounded that day, in Co. H, were Henry Gaffga and William P. McManus.
Excerpts from a letter written by a Co. H man describe their forward position: "... it was enough to terrify one, if he depended on luck. Prince had a bullet through his blanket and haversack, but there we lay still in the grass . . . The ground was wet and the air cold, and we lay there (some sleeping) a matter of four-or five hours, and then fell back a distance, when we again lay down for about an hour. . . The writer continued to say that upon returning Co. H had to go on picket without food so that they were ravenously hungry when they came in.
Bridge over the Coosawhatchie at Coosawhatchie, S C., 1914
These are the brief entries in Henry's diary for two days: (Dec 9) "Another fight near the R.R. Loss of 127th, 55 killed and wounded. Advanced 9 A.M., returned at dark. Lay under artillery fire 2 hours. Co. H, one wounded, Henry Gaffga. Two bullets passed through my clothes. (Note 1) (Dec 10) On picket last night. Off 1 P.M." We may assume Henry was one of those who went without food for over 24 hours.
(1) One leg of the drawers Henry was wearing when shot at is neatly folded and labeled as such in his daughter Edith's attic, along with his "painted blanket, haversack, gun taken from a Confederate soldier, (a Kentucky long rifle made in Penn., possibly once a flintlock, military stock but no issue number. Information from Richard Tessitor.) and other Civil War mementos.
By December 11th the 30-pounder Parrott guns were set up and a new line of breastworks was ready, so artillery fire commenced on the railroad. The Confederates were now unable to run a train by although they kept trying. A week later three small guns placed 900 yards distant were able to damage the railroad bridge over the Coosawhatchie so no trains could pass. A skirmish on the 29th pushed the rebels back to the railroad.
The men were glad to be issued shelter tents, for the nights were cold. Some of them received food boxes from home in time for New Year's Day. Deserters came in.
Much fighting and feinting continued in the area for weeks. Men were killed or wounded every few days. Cutting the railroad was strangling Savannah, so the Rebel troops left the city. The Union lines were extended to Pocotaligo and the rebels withdrew, leaving their defenses at Tulfinny, Coosa, Dawson's Bluff and Bee Creek. But they stayed entrenched along the railroad and constantly shelled the Union camp. Some of the Union regiments were being sent away a few at a time.
During this period, rations were in short supply, in fact they "were so scarce that some of the squad picked up grains of corn from where the cavalry horses had been fed, and washed and boiled and ate it for want of better food." (p. 153) So the men welcomed the foraging parties when they brought back chickens, cattle and a pair of horses.
At the end of January the 127th moved out to Pocotaligo where General Sherman had his Headquarters. He and his staff stood on the piazza, and the men cheered him as they went by. (pp. 135-147)
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