Von Kleiser's Position, 34th Massachusetts


Continue walking the 320 yards to the end of the lane and parking area. Pause inside the split-rail fence on the gravel path leading toward the artillery pieces. You are slightly forward of the western flank position of the 34th Massachusetts Infantry. The regiment took position in the slight hollow just to the north of this point. Von Kleiser's five guns were in position close to where the single piece stands today. Colonel George D. Wells and Lt. Col. William S. Lincoln, the 34th Massachusetts commander and second in command, described the regiment's experience in this area, according to Lincoln,

While the regiment was awaiting the advance of the enemy, the men of Moore's [sic] line came back "on the double quick, some of them running through and over our lines."

The advance of the Rebels, before which Moore's line had given way, was steady and continued. The air was filled with bullets and bursting shells; but, as yet, we had sustained no harm. Colonel Wells took his position at the left, sending Lieut. Colonel Lincoln up to the right of the Regiment. Now Company G, Capt. Leach, was detached, and sent forward as skirmishers to cover our front." It went forward, deploying about 200 yards in advance, with a precision and steadiness never surpassed on drill"; but, upon reaching the crest of the hill, was recalled, and, passing through our lines, formed in rear of their proper place in regimental line. Spent bullets were falling thickly among and around us, but inflicting no injury. Now, from some unexplained cause, the 12th Virginia opened fire, over the heads of our men, causing the first casualties of the day; and it was only by the most active efforts of Gen. Sigel, and our own Lieutenant Colonel, who rode among their lines to aid their own officers, that the seeming demoralization of this command was checked, and order restored.

And as Colonel Wells stated in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, The officers, in the line, were giving their orders in low tones; and every man stood, his gun at the ready, his finger on the trigger, waiting to see the face of his foe. It was a marvel to me then, and is now, how men, who almost never before had heard the Rebel yell, and the terrible din of the battlefield, could be so entirely calm and self-possessed. Soon, our men in front were, by the confusion, cleared away, the Rebel lines were plainly seen, and the battle began. Our front fire was heavy; and the Artillery had an
Map, New Market Battlefield,  Von Kleiser's Position, 34th Massachusetts

enfilading fire, under which their first line went down. They staggered, went back, and their whole advance halted. Their fire ceased to be effective. A cheer run along our line, and the first success was ours. I gave the order to "cease firing."

In a letter to the Reverend Mr. James H. Smith, 10 March 1888, published in the Richmond State, Lincoln remembered, I well recollect even now our own position, the field of battle, and the appearance of each army. We were upon the right of the infantry line; to our right, upon ground slightly elevated, a six-gun battery. The Sixty-second Virginia, which formed the extreme left of the attacking force, advanced directly against us. To the right of the Sixty-second were the cadets. The line of advance was a little diagonal to that of our formation, and as it was continued the Sixty-second passed beyond and the cadets came directly to our front. Our fire, both that of artillery and infantry, was rapid and continuous, and, when the battery opened with canister, was destructive. As the advance was continued, it was apparent that the cadets were in advance of the general line of the attacking force. Here their forward movement ceased, and for a moment it seemed as if their advance was checked. But what seemed a check was in reality a halt, during which "those boys" marked time, dressed their ranks, and when again aligned on the left, came forward in most admirable form. The whole thing was done with as much precision and steadiness as if on parade, and this while all the time subjected to a destructive fire. No one who saw it will ever forget it. No command but one most admirably drilled and disciplined could have done it. The two Bay State officers further recalled the Federal charge and withdrawal. Said Wells, Just then, Colonel Thoburn, Brigade Commander, rode along the lines, telling the men to "prepare to charge." He rode by me, shouting some order I could not catch, and went to the regiment on my left, which immediately charged. I supposed this to be his order to me, and commanded to fix bayonets, and charge. The men fairly sprang forward. As we neared the crest of the hill, the regiment on my left, which first met the fire, turned and went back, leaving the 34th rushing alone into the enemy's line. I shouted to them to halt, but could not make a single man hear or heed me; and it was not until they had climbed an intervening fence, and were rushing ahead on the other side, that I was able to run along the lines, and, seizing the color bearer by the shoulder, hold him fast, as the only way of stopping the regiment. The wings surged ahead, but losing sight of the colors, halted. The alignment rectified, we faced about, and marched back to our position, in common time. And to continue, Colonel Lincoln rendered in his account of the battle, A charge of the whole line was now ordered. Our men sprang forward with a cheer. Our dogs, of whom we had a small army, ran frolicking and barking before us, as they had so often done, on drill. Receiving the fire of both lines, they were nearly all killed. Here, at the very front of our advance, fell Lieut. R. W. Walker, of A, as was then supposed, mortally wounded. We poured a rapid and well directed fire into the enemy; which, aided by the heavy enfilading fire from our artillery, checked his advance. For a moment he staggered, appeared to give way, and the day seemed ours. The rain was falling in torrents; and this, with the smoke, which settled down thick upon us, hid the field from observation. Gallant as was our own charge, the order had met with feeble response on our left, where the troops, turning, went back, suffering little loss, and inflicting less upon the enemy. While Breckinridge was moving his main force against our front . . . opened his artillery within point blank range. Exposed to this flank fire, the 54th Pennsylvania, after a short but stout resistance, was led from the field by its brave commander, upon his own responsibility.

An order to retreat came up to us from the left. We fell back slowly, and in good order; the men, as well as the officers, crying out, "Steady! Keep your line! Don't run, 34th! " It was impossible to see to any considerable distance, so thick was the smoke and rain. Suddenly, [Cpt] Bacon's voice was heard, calling upon his men to ' stand by the colors; and in response to what was supposed to be a general movement of the line, the right companies were halted, faced about, and became again warmly engaged. A determined charge upon our front, and a withering fire poured into our left flank, and rear; from the now contracting lines of the Rebels, was too much. The Color Company turned; its gallant Captain received his death wound, and the companies of the right wing followed their comrades to the left in retreat. Just at this moment our Lieutenant Colonel [Lincoln] fell, severely hit by shot, and shell, and, unable to continue in retreat, was left in the hands of the enemy. Our troops kept on in slow and sullen retreat till they reached Rhude's [sic] Hill.

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