The Federal commander had withdrawn his troops from their positions west of the Powhite, a small tributary of the Chickahominy, and had concentrated them in strong positions near Cold Harbor and east of that creek. The ground which had been selected to receive our attack had natural advantages for defenses and was strengthened by artificial works. His forces were posted upon an elevated ridge running nearly parallel to the Chickahominy, his right resting near McGehee's house, and his left upon an abrupt bluff, surmounted by artillery and protected by a deep ravine and a double line of breastworks for infantry. This position on the ridge was further favored on his right by points still more elevated rising in his rear, well adapted for batteries, from which a destructive fire could be maintained against an advancing line over the heads of his own infantry. In his front was a wood of deep and tangled undergrowth, through which a sluggish stream passed, converting into swamp or marsh the adjacent soil. This natural obstruction was further increased by felled timber, designed to retard the advance of our troops and to keep them as long as possible exposed to fire.
In advancing to the attack General D. H. Hill had to cross this swamp, densely covered with tangled undergrowth and young timber. This caused some confusion and a separation of regiments. On the farther edge of the swamp he encountered the enemy. The conflict was fierce and bloody. The Federals fell back from the wood under the protection of a fence, ditch, and hill. Separated now from them by an open field some 400 yards wide, he promptly determined to press forward. Before doing so, however, it was necessary to capture a battery on his left which could enfilade his line upon its advance. To effect this he sent two regiments of Elzey's brigade, which had become separated from their command, to go in rear of the battery, and ordered Colonel [Alfred] Iverson, with the Twentieth North Carolina and the First and Third North Carolina Regiments, to make the attack in front. The order was promptly and gallantly obeyed and carried into execution by Colonel Iverson with the Twentieth North Carolina. He was severely wounded in the advance. The battery was captured with severe loss and held for a short time-sufficiently long, however, to enable the division to move on free from its terrific fire, when it was retaken by the enemy. Again pressing forward, the Federals again fell back, but only to select a position for a more obstinate defense, when at dark-under the pressure of our batteries, which had then begun to play with marked effect upon the left, of the other concurring events of the field, and of the bold and dashing charge of General Hill's infantry, in which the troops of General C. S. Winder joined-the enemy yielded the field and fled in disorder.
In the mean time General Ewell, on general D. H. Hill's right, had moved the Fourth Brigade, General Elzey, to the left of the road passing from Gaines' house to McGehee's, and a portion of the Seventh, General Trimble, and the Eighth Brigade into the wood on the right of that road. Having crossed the swamp and commenced the ascent of the hill, his division became warmly engaged with the enemy. For two hours assailed in front and flank by superior numbers, without re-enforcement, Colonel Seymour, then commanding, having fallen, the Eighth Brigade was drawn from the field, but the line was still held by a portion of General Trimble's. The Fifth Texas and a part of the Hampton Legion now came to his support, and rendered important service in holding the enemy in check until the arrival of General Lawton, of Jackson's division, enabled him to assume the offensive.