The Historical Fifth

The regiment was relatively inactive until McClellan’s Peninsula campaign during May and June of 1862. The failure of the campaign required the army to fall back from a Confederate entrapment. One avenue of escape was across the Chickihominy River which was swollen by several days of rain. Orders came from headquarters to have the washed away bridges rebuilt with the Fifth being was selected to build one of them. At dawn on May 28, the Fifth stacked arms, took up axes and began felling trees and dragging them throughout the swamp.  On the morning of the 29th they were joined by a contingent from the 64th N.Y. As a final step they lashed timbers together by grapevines that flourished in the area.  After the build was completed, the rain began again, washing away all other bridges except for the “Grapevine Bridge”. It was thus the only bridge available to a major portion of the army to effect a safe withdrawal.

The first major engagement for the Fifth was the battle of Fair Oaks, June 1, 1862. Losses were 30 killed, 170 wounded, including Colonel Cross. Additional engagements at Savage Station, White Oak Swamp, and Malvern Hill, completed their involvement in the Peninsula Campaign. Following the Peninsular disaster, McClellan settled the army into camp at Falmouth.

In September of 1862, Lee initiated his Maryland invasion which resulted in the battle of Antietam on September 17th. Here, the Fifth was involved in the heavy fighting of “the sunken road” or “bloody lane”. The losses for this day were 7 killed and 120 wounded out of 319 present for duty. Following Antietam, the Fifth with the rest of the army was involved in McClellan’s ponderous pursuit of Lee.

On the morning of Dec. 13, 1862 the Fifth New Hampshire formed with the remainder of the Second Corps on the streets of Fredericksburg. Fate had placed the assault for the Fifth and the Irish Brigade directly facing the infamous “stone wall” on the Marye’s Height’s. By the time the regiment reached the “brick house”, a prominent landmark on the battlefield one hundred yards from the “stone wall”, all the officers had been killed or wounded; including Cross. The Fifth was one of three units to make it the closest to the “stone wall”. On the morning of Dec. 14, 1862, seventy men answered the roll.

Following Fredericksburg the regiment went into winter quarters at Falmouth. It and the entire Second Corps were spared the misery of Burnside’s “mud march”. Here at Falmouth they slowly renewed their numbers through returned convalescents and recruits.

Journals and accounts reveal a monotonous routine of drill and mundane camp life activities from January well into April. It was during this time that Cross was promoted to Brigade commander and the Fifth came under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Hapgood. At the battle of Chancellorsville the Fifth was held in reserve through most of the engagement and was given, along with the 81st and 88th New York, the task of digging in to stop the Confederate troops who had routed the Eleventh Corps. After Hooker’s defeat at Chancellorsville the army withdrew back to its camp at Falmouth.