Report of Major General Winfield S. Hancock

[Passages of the report omitted from this transcrption are noted with "...."]

Headquarters Middle Military Department
Baltimore, Md., September 21, 1865


I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the Second Army Corps, from May 28, 1864, until June 12, 1864, inclusive, embracing the time designated by Major-General Meade as the fourth epoch of the campaign of the Army of the Potomac:


Early on the morning of the 1st of June Wright's corps was withdrawn to Cold Harbor, and I therefore drew Birney's division back from the south side of the run, his pickets remaining in the advanced line. Later in the day the enemy were reported moving around my right, and dispositions were made to meet them, but it proved to be only a party following the stragglers of Wright's corps. Shortly before noon I received an order to be in readiness to attack, to relieve Warren and Wright, who were expected to become engaged soon. I immediately gave orders for a careful examination of the enemy's position in my front with a view to an assault. The reports from division commanders were quite unfavorable, the enemy's position being, as heretofore mentioned, one of great natural strength, and his works fully manned. My skirmish line was sharply engaged during the day, and about 2 o'clock the enemy, apparently anticipating an attack, was discovered re-enforcing his line, and no further attempt was made to force the position. Early on the night of the 1st, I commenced withdrawing my corps in obedience to instructions from the major general commanding. My orders required me to mass near army headquarters, but were afterward changed, and I was ordered to Cold Harbor.

Captain Paine, topographical engineer, was directed to report to me to guide my column, and I was instructed to make every effort to reach Cold Harbor as early as possible to re-enforce Wright's left. Every exertion was made, but the night was dark, the heat and dust oppressive, and the roads unknown. Still we should have reached Cold Harbor in good season had not Captain Paine unfortunately taken one of my divisions by a short cut where artillery could not follow, and so thrown my command to great confusion. My staff officers are entitled to great credit for reuniting the column and repairing the unfortunate mistake. The head of my column reached Cold Harbor at 6.30 a.m., June 2, but in such an exhausted condition that a little time was required to allow the men to collect and to cook their rations.

The attack ordered for this morning was postponed until 5 p.m. At 7.30 a.m. the corps was placed in position on the left of Wright's corps, Gibbon's division crossing the Mechanicsville road, with Barlow on his left. General Birney was left to aid General Smith (Eighteenth Corps), in front of Woody's house. Brisk skirmishing ensued during and subsequent to the formation. Birney's division was sent to me at 2 p.m. At 2.40 p.m. I received an order further postponing the assault until 4.30 a.m., June 3, and immediately gave the directions for the necessary examinations and arrangements.


The first report of casualties after the action, which was unusually short, hardly an hour in duration, showed a loss of 3,024. Among officers the loss had been without precedent. I had to mourn the loss of those who had hitherto been foremost and most daring and brilliant in action. Among the killed were Colonels McKeen, Haskell, and McMahon, already mentioned, three most promising young officers, who had never failed to distinguish themselves in battle; Colonel Byrnes, of the Twenth-eighth Massachusetts Volunteers; Colonel Porter, of the Eighth New York; Colonel Morris, of the Sixty-sixth New York; all tried and excellent officers. To this list was added, unfortunately, on the following day, Col. L.O. Morris, Seventh New York, killed in the trenches by a sharpshooter. When it is remembered that I had only my two smallest divisions actually engaged, it will be seen that the loss in commanders was unusually severe. It was a blow to the corps from which it did not soon recover.

Soon after the failure of the assault, I was ordered to send Birney's division to support General Warren, where it remained until the 5th. We occupied this position until the 11th, there being no material change except the extending of my line to the left as far as the Chickahominy. Siege operations were conducted for several days, our lines being advanced by regular approaches, and a mine commenced. Before any practical result was reached the siege operations were abandoned. The daily skirmishing was sharp and caused us some loss. The nights were characterized by heavy artillery firing and sometimes heavy musketry, the close proximity of our lines causing unusual nervousness. On the 12th, a new and shorter line, covering Cold Harbor, was built, and roads opened to the rear of the old line, and immediately after dark the troops, except the pickets, were drawn out of the first line and assembled in the second, from which they moved about 11 p.m. to Lond Bridge. The picket-line was drawn in at 3 a.m. on the 13th without molestation. This terminates the operations of my command during the fourth epoch of the campaign.

The bearing of the troops under my command on the march and during the operations on the Totopotomoy, and especially at the bloody battle of Cold Harbor, was distinguished for bravery and good conduct. My subordinate commanders deserve high commendation for their faithful performance of duty. My staff behaved with their usual zeal and gallantry. Capt. Alexander M. McCune, acting assistant provost-marshal, Second Corps, a valuable officer, was mortally wounded on the evening of the 5th by a shot thrown from the enemy's batteries.


I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General of Volunteers
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Army of the Potomac

[Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Series I, Volume XXXVI, pages 342-346]