Plate 96. Extreme Line of Confederate Works, Cold Harbor

Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by John Reekie, text and positive by Alexander Gardner.
This rude obstruction illustrates the anxiety which possesses the soldier to provide a protection from the fire of his enemy. With such material as a few hastily collected rails, or fallen timber, it was often possible to hold a point, totally untenable without such defence. At Cold Harbor the rebels had three or four lines of battle behind as many lines of rifle pits. Along much of the front the two lines were so close that the intervening space resembled a road, fearfully encumbered with dead and wounded. So intense was the animosity exhibited here, by the Confederate army, that if one of our wounded men was observed to move, for the purpose of crawling back to his comrades, it was certain to draw upon him a severe fire. At other points, the space appeared entirely deserted between the hostile rifle pits, neither party daring to rise and look over. There were only the banners, scarred and torn, and the hum of many voices, to give evidence of what might be expected if either party should attack. Occasionally the Union soldiers would arrange their muskets so as to command the top of the opposing earthworks, and then setting up a great shout, would impress the enemy with the idea that an attack was about to be made. The Confederates would spring up to repel it, and before they discovered the ruse a well directed volley would thin their ranks. It was almost impossible to guard against this manoeuvre, as the lines were so near each other that a charge not promptly met would prove successful in the capture of the works.
This extraordinary proximity kept all upon the alert, more particularly after dark, when the nervousness of the troops could not be controlled. The quiet movements of small parties, outside the line, searching for friends among the wounded, was sufficient to raise an alarm. Sometimes the night alarm was altogether a matter of imagination. A few scattered shots was generally the prelude to a heavy and continuous fire of musketry and artillery along the front. It is impossible to describe the sensations experienced on hearing, for the first time, one of these midnight engagements. But even these became common-place in time, and scarcely disturbed the slumber of those in the camps at the rear.
Currently not on view
Object Name
albumen photograph
date made
Gardner, Alexander
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 6 3/4 in x 8 15/16 in; 17.145 cm x 22.64842 cm
place made
United States: Virginia, Cold Harbor
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Gardner's Sketchbook
Civil War
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Gardner's Sketchbook
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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