Numbers 16. Report of Brigadier General Wiliam H. French,
U. S. Army, commanding Third Brigade.
HDQRS. FRENCH'S BRIGADE, RICHARDSON'S DIVISION,
Camp at Fair Oaks, Va., June 3, 1862.
CAPTAIN: When the heavy firing at about 1 p.m. on the 31st of May was heard in our front, whilst in camp near Cold Harbor, my brigade was at once placed under arms and in readiness to march as soon as orders were received from the general of division.
At about 2 o'clock p.m. after awaiting for the construction of a temporary bridge across a meadow flooded by the swollen Chickahominy, my brigade filed across through the waters in places waist-deep. This delay kept the brigade, which was the advance of the division, from participating in the action of the 31st of May. It was at 8 p.m. when I crossed the field of battle of that day, and under the immediate directions of the general of division my front was established. The regiments were permitted to stack arms, and the fatigued soldiers laid down behind them to rest.
At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 1st of June, Colonel Cross, commanding the Fifth New Hampshire (Howard's), who had been thrown out as the division advance guard, awaked me to point out that three regiments of the enemy had, unconscious of our presence, gone into bivouac in the woods about 100 yards on the right of my line. Communicating at once with the general of division, and receiving authority, I changed front to the right, placing my regiments en echelon until the break of day. I found that the enemy, under pressure of Dana, whose brigade was on my right, had deserted their position, when the line established the night before was resumed. As General Richardson had impressed upon me the importance of communicating during the night with Brigadier-General on my left, this was continually done, and he was kept informed of our relative positions.
Having drawn in the Fifty-second New York, which had been placed, so as to detach it, too far from the rest of the brigade, leaving an uncovered space of three-fourths of a mile on my left, at 5 o'clock a.m. I was authorized by General Richardson to move the length of the front of three regiments to the left. This movement covered the front of attack. In a few moments after the connection of the line had thus been established (with the addition of the Eighty-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, of Howard's brigade) the enemy made an attack upon my whole front. My troops (with the exsection of the Sixty-sixth New York), to form line of battle, had to cross the railroad through a dense thicket and swamp, which covered the approach of the enemy, who opened his first fire at about 50 yards distance. Although this attack was bold and sudden the line never swerved. The fire was returned coolly and deliberately. The first attack was at once repulsed.
After a few moments' pause the heads of several columns of the enemy threw themselves upon the intervals of the regiments on the right and left of the Fifty-second New York. For some time the most desperate efforts were made to break our line. The left of the Fifty-third Pennsylvania, consisting of seven companies, led on by the gallant Colonel Brooke, repulsed them again and again. The dashing Colonel Frank, of the Fifty-second New York, after holding them in his front and finding them turning his left flank, threw back three companies to receive and repulse the attack.