The Historical Fifth

In October 1864, the enlistments of the original men were completed and many were mustered out and went home. Surgeon Child recorded that: “The Fifth having been reduced below the minimum number for a regiment by the discharge of the original three year’s men whose time had expired was now designated the Fifth New Hampshire Battalion. Captain Welcome A. Crafts was promoted to Lt. Col. and Captain Thomas L. Livermore to Major. The character and condition of the organization was in no matter changed and it was still the same hard working, reliable, fighting organization.”

The Fifth continued to perform reliable service for the rest of the war but it should be noted that during it’s recruiting duties the ranks were rebuilt to a strength of 800 with more than 400 recruits only 80 of which were volunteers. The balance were the nemesis of the Civil War army, the bounty man, a fate which many other regiments suffered. Scores of these bounty men deserted before the regiment reached the field and so many deserted from the Petersburg trenches that the Confederates opposite the regiment put up a sign reading “Recruits Wanted.”

During the Fall the famous Berdan Sharpshooters unit was broken up and the two New Hampshire companies were reassigned to the Fifth. After the siege of Petersburg was broken on April 1st, 1865, Lee’s army pulled out of the Petersburg trenches the night of April 2nd. Lee’s plan was to head west in an effort to unite Johnston’s Army in North Carolina.

There thus began a race between both armies. On April 7th, the Second Corps was in pursuit of General John B. Gordon’s Corps, which turned to oppose them in the small town of Cumberland Church, near Farmville Virginia. The Second Corps deployed for assault with the first brigade, first division opposite Mahone’s Division which outnumbered the assaulting party several times. The units comprising this brigade were the 26th Michigan, 140th Pennsylvania, 81st Pennsylvania, 2nd New York Heavy Artillery and six companies of the Fifth New Hampshire. The remaining companies of the Fifth were with Colonel Crafts as skirmishers.

The line moved forward and almost immediately came under a direct crossfire. The six companies of the Fifth were commanded by John S. Ricker. Two companies had to make a charge without ammunition and without bayonets. When the colors advanced to the enemy works the Confederates threw a force on either flank of the regiment, capturing the colors along with 52 men and 5 officers. The colors and men were recaptured on April 8th by the 91st Pennsylvania. In this rather inglorious but still honorable fashion, this was the Fifth’s last battle of the war. On April 9th, 1865, Lee surrendered his army and on May 23rd the Fifth participated in the Grand Review in Washington. By June they were back in New Hampshire. On the 28th, they turned over their shot-torn colors to the state and passed into history.