Battlefield Guide Services

Monday, May 19, 2014

My Personal Spotsylvania - Pvt. Frederick Unger Wounded During Harris Farm Battle May 19, 1864

     Today marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the wounding of my triple great grandfather, Frederick Unger, during the fighting known as the Battle of Harris Farm. Five heavy artillery regiments, newly transferred to create a revised 4th Division for Hancock's 2nd Corps, arrived at Spotsylvania from the outer defenses of Washington, D.C. on May 17, 1864. These men, trained as infantry, but having manned large siege cannon in the ring of forts protecting the nation's capital, had not yet fired their weapons against enemy troops. This would all change in the early evening of May 19, as Confederate 2nd Corps troops under Ewell, made a bold effort to break the Union right wing on three farms north of the Courthouse Road. The battle, collectively known as the Battle of Harris Farm, would cover ground across the Harris, Alsop and Peyton properties. My ancestor was a private in Company "G" of the 7th New York Heavy Artillery, recruited from the Albany area. Unger was a cabinet maker before entering the service on August 13, 1862. At age 38, Unger was already suffering from rheumatism before this engagement, but this would not exclude him when the 7th left Fort Reno on the morning of May 15. 
     As evening came on May 17th, the regiment made its way along the dark road toward Spotsylvania. About three miles from the Courthouse, four companies at the end of the column, guided by Major Francis Pruyn, became separated from the rest  of the 7th, and turned left at a fork in the road where their now unseen predecessors had gone to the right. 
     Looking southeast where the wartime Courthouse Road (modern Foster Road), intersected with Smith Station Road turning to the right. The four lagging companies, having lost site of the head of the column, continued to the left in the darkness.
     The four companies, now lost with Major Pruyn, bivouacked in this field at center, just north of the Ni River, late in the evening of May 17, 1864. The property is part of the historic Gayle Farm on the east side of modern Route 208.
     The intersection of  modern Treemont Lane with Courthouse Road, looking northeast, with the modern Ni River Bridge in the slight valley at center. The wartime path of the Courthouse Road would have emerged from the edge of the trees at extreme right, then heading directly toward the camera position. On the morning of May 18, 1864, the 7th entered the woods near the location of Treemont Lane, cutting across country to the northwest, toward the sound of distant fighting. They would arrive to meet the rest of the regiment near the Landrum Farm, but too late to participate in the fighting against Lee's new line, south of the abandoned Mule Shoe Salient. Later that morning the 4th Division had been repositioned to bivouac for the rest of the day, in a large field across the Courthouse Road from where Major Pruyn had camped the four companies the night before.
     Looking northwest at the field where the "Heavies" bivouacked on May 18, 1864, in the taller, greener grass at center of the image. In the distant wood line, a small stream feeds into the Ni River, out of view to the extreme left.
     In the afternoon of May 19, the Heavies were relocated northeast, and were inserted into the right wing of the Federal line where they would have their first combat against an incursion by Rhodes's Division of Ewell's Second Corps. This view is looking west, across the ground that the 7th traversed to confront Ramseur's and Grimes' North Carolina Brigades near the site of the Widow Alsop's Farm House. Somewhere in this area, Frederick Unger would receive a bullet wound along the underside of his left arm, the ball entering above the wrist and exiting above the elbow. Apparently Unger was in the action of aiming his rifle, with an outstretched left arm, supporting the barrel of the gun, as the enemy projectile traced along the forearm, slightly gouging the bone as it went. The wound would be treated in the field, and Unger was later sent north to recuperate in several hospitals before he would eventually return to service. His daughter Louisa would become my great great grandmother, having married Chauncey Smith, the son of another Civil War veteran, Jerry Smith, also from Albany, New York, and serving in the 18th New York Cavalry. Frederick Unger would die on January 2, 1883, from a heart attack that struck him as he walked home from a GAR meeting. He was only 57. Sadly, there is currently no known image of Frederick Unger, but I do have a picture of the Assistant Surgeon that treated his wound at Harris Farm.
     A 7th NYHA reunion ribbon featuring Surgeon George Hopkins Newcomb, who, while Assistant Surgeon for the regiment, treated Frederick Unger at a field hospital in, or near, the Harris House.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Good stuff as usual John. Wish we could have been there for the 150th. We are hoping to get back to the area in the Fall and hope you will be available to serve as our guide. Thanks again for the tour last year at Spotsylvania.
Jody Fitts