Battery A, First Pennsylvania Light artillery saw its first combat actions in northern Virginia at Dranesville in December 1861. Commanded by Captain Hezekiah Easton, the battery supported Brigadier General George A. McCall’s division – the “Pennsylvania Reserves.” The battery used four 12-pdr Napoleon guns. Although participating in the spring 1862 campaigns, the battery had not seen any major actions until June 26 at Beaver Dam Creek. That evening, Easton, as part of a Federal withdrawal, moved his battery to high ground near Gaines Mill.
The next morning and most of the early afternoon, Easton’s battery remained in reserve. Around mid-afternoon on June 27, the battery moved up to a position just east of the Watt House…
… facing a dense woods, about 700 to 800 yards distant, wholly unsupported by infantry or cavalry, awaiting orders, as the wing of the army was and had been engaging the enemy during the afternoon, driving him out of the position he held in that quarter.
About 6 o’clock p.m. the enemy suddenly appeared in front and on our left flank, firing heavy volleys of musketry and charging up the hill on our battery, to which we replied with a brisk fire of shell and spherical case-shot, but without avail, as the dense masses of the enemy instantly closed the gap our fire made in their ranks and appeared to have little effect on them, although they were literally mowed down in heaps.
This continued for twenty minutes or a half hour, when they made a desperate charge, and we opened on them with double-shotted canister, which checked them for a time, but rallying again in overwhelming numbers they charged in on the battery, driving the cannoneers from their posts at the point of the bayonet, compelling them to leave their battery of four guns and two caissons in the enemy’s hands.
A few minutes previous to this occurrence a body of cavalry were sent to support us, but after making a feeble charge were driven off by a volley of the enemy’s musketry. Had the support consisted of infantry, the battery might probably have been saved.
It was at this period of the engagement that the brave Captain Easton was killed, receiving his death-wound from a musket-ball while gallantly cheering on his officers and men, who stood manfully and unflinchingly at their guns. His last words were, “The enemy shall never take this battery but over my dead body,” which was received by a corresponding reply from his men as they rapidly poured the canister into the enemy, when the fatal shot felled this soldier and patriot to the earth, and the battery was lost….
- Report of Lieutenant John G. Simpson, who assumed command after the death of Easton. (OR, Series I, Volume 11, Part II, Serial 13, page 408.)
Over at the Crossed Sabers blog, Don Caughey has several posts covering the cavalry actions at Gaines’ Mill. Good reading on the anniversary of the battle.