By Scott Valentine
Fate had been unkind to the 6th New Hampshire Infantry during the 1864 Overland Campaign. In The Wilderness on May 6, it suffered 48 casualties. By the end of the Battle of Spotsylvania, the regiment had lost another 73 of its number.
The year wouldn’t get any better.
May 26th found the Granite State men in frontline trenches waiting to move with the rest of the Army of the Potomac toward Totopotomoy Creek and Cold Harbor. About 4 p.m., Lt. Col. Henry H. Pearson had just finished writing to his folks back home and looked up to watch clouds scudding along when 1st Lt. George E. Upton approached him holding binoculars. Upton pointed toward distant Confederate lines and said, “They are putting in a battery over there.”
Pearson grabbed the binoculars and stepped up on a tree stump to look over the trench works toward the spot in the distance where Upton had pointed and brought the binoculars up to his eyes. Just then, the sun shone through the clouds and its rays fell directly on Pearson’s face and reflected off the front lens of the binoculars.
In the distance, a small puff of smoke rose from the rebel battery. Seconds later Pearson’s head snapped back. The regimental historian, 1st Lt. Lyman Jackman, described what happened next: “He fell backwards, and was caught in the arms of the lieutenant [Upton] and the writer, and laid upon the ground.” Much to Upton’s and Jackman’s surprise, “a sharpshooter’s bullet struck him very near the right temple, and passed through his head. A stretcher was procured at once and he was taken to the field hospital in the rear, but we all knew as soon as we saw the wound that he was beyond help, for the ball had passed directly through the brain. He never spoke, and was unconscious till he died at eight o’clock in the evening.”
The next in command, Maj. Phineas P. Bixby, ordered the captain of Company F, Josiah N. Jones, “to go to the rear and see if means could not be found for transporting the body to Washington, whence it might be sent home to his friends.” But Jones failed in his mission and instead detailed men to bury the remains. A suitable box found in an abandoned house served as a coffin. “The grave was dug just deep enough to admit the box, and, as it was raining and the rear of the army had just passed us in changing its base, I ordered the men to hurry away and join the regiment. The chaplain and myself, who had horses, remained and covered the grave. Putting up a piece of a hard-bread box as a head-board, with the dead hero’s name and that of his regiment inscribed thereon, we ‘left him alone in his glory.’”
Today, Pearson’s remains rest in Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
References: Jackman, History of the Sixth New Hampshire Regiment in the War for the Union; Jackman, Register of the Sixth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry; Krick, Civil War Weather in Virginia.
Scott Valentine is a MI Contributing Editor.
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