SOESMAN, Flavius A.  Died of Wounds  30 Jun 1864

SLUCEMAN, Flavius (name as engraved in G.A.R. Monument on Main Street; however the military record spelling is  SOESMAN,Flavius A.)

He was born in 1839 in Kenebunkport, Maine and enlisted 9 May 1861, he also shows a second enlistment date of  1 Jun 1861 at age 21 as a Private in Company B, 2nd Infantry out of Dover.   He mustered into service 8 Jun 1861 and left Portsmouth 20 June 1861.  He was wounded 25 Jun 1862 at Fair Oaks, VA.  He re-enlisted with D Company in the 2nd Infantry and mustered in from Dover 19 Feb 1864.  He fought at and was fatally wounded  3 June 1864 at the Battle of Cold Harbor.  He  died of his wound 27 days later on 30 Jun 1864 at Philadelphia.   At the time of his enlistment he resided in Dover.  The 1850 Kennebunkport, ME census lists his father as Eleazer J. (age 35) a mariner, and his mother Elisabeth B (age 32).  The 1891 Newmarket Advertiser lists him as from Newmarket.  He served with 6 Newmarket men in the same B Company: Joseph Chapman, George Demeritt, Patrick Henaghan (KIA), Sewell Mitchell, and Ed and Horace Tuttle.

Battle of Cold Harbor, VA    June 1864

In a war that had seen more than its share of slaughter, Cold Harbor set a new and terrible standard. The Union forces advanced under a storm of rifle and artillery fire, and men went down in large groups under sweeping volleys.   The overwhelming fire from Lee’s entrenchments slowed, stopped and eventually pinned down the Federals.  The embattled troops simply dug in where they were and tried to survive.

Command communications were so extremely confused that there was no control over the attack.  Meade and his staff were oddly disconnected from the battle because the woods filtered the noise of battle, making it more difficult for them to get a feel for what was happening.  The reports that came into Meade’s headquarters conveyed a confusing picture, and the lack of planning and coordination soon became apparent. Each of the three corps commanders on the Union left complained to Meade that the corps on his right or left had failed to protect him.  Meade’s curious response was to send copies of each corps commander’s complaint to the others. He kept trying to urge his commanders forward, but they became increasingly insistent that, from their particular viewpoint, nothing could be done.  At 7 a.m., with attacks failing up and down the line, Meade sent Grant a message advising him, ‘I should be glad to have your views as to the continuance of these attacks, if unsuccessful.’  Grant quickly replied, ‘The moment it becomes certain that an assault cannot succeed, suspend the offensive, but when one does succeed push it vigorously, and if necessary pile in troops at the successful point from wherever they can be taken.’ With that dispatch sent, Grant moved to Meade’s headquarters and, for all intents and purposes, once again took tactical control of the Army of the Potomac.

Grant had been nearby at his headquarters and was apparently receiving the same reports as Meade.  In addition, his staff went out to ride the lines and gather information, which they funneled back to the general-in-chief. However, things were happening faster than they could report them. Grant decided to ride out to the lines himself and consult directly with the corps commanders. That action could leave no doubt as to who was now in command. Grant returned to Meade’s headquarters, and at 12:30 p.m. he issued an order suspending the assault.

Later that afternoon an order was sent out to try another assault, but the reaction it received varied.  There were some isolated moves forward, but they apparently amounted to nothing more than brief exchanges of rifle fire. For his part, Baldy Smith flatly refused to obey the order.  Interestingly, he was never sanctioned for that move.  Finally, while some senior officers would deny it ever happened, there were units that simply refused to advance.  One soldier who witnessed that phenomenon later wrote: ‘The army to a man refused to obey the order, presumably from General Grant, to renew the assault.  I heard the order given, and I saw it disobeyed.’ The common soldier had put in his vote, and the battle for the crossing at Cold Harbor was over.

Grant’s initial report to General Halleck, sent at 2 p.m., was shocking in its understatement. He reported, ‘Our loss was not severe, nor do I suppose the enemy to have lost heavily.’ The magnitude of what had happened and the ghastly cost of this command blunder would soon become apparent, however.                                                                (Painting glorifying the Battle of Cold Harbor)

While the exact number of casualties has become an item of debate, no matter their total, Cold Harbor had been an unmitigated Federal disaster.

(Photo of Burial Detail from the battlefield)

That night Grant finally made his feelings known to his staff: ‘I regret this assault more than any one I have ever ordered. I regarded it as a stern necessity, and believed it would bring compensating results; but, as it has proved, no advantages have been gained sufficient to justify the heavy losses suffered.’  Grant then focused his energies on planning his next moves. He seldom spoke of Cold Harbor again.

The tragedy of Cold Harbor was that it was avoidable. Its leadership failed, and failed miserably. Cold Harbor was a horrible example of what happens when command cohesion breaks down under the weight of an unworkable system, when the stress of battle overcomes professionalism and when otherwise good officers forget the basics of command and their responsibilities as commanders.  In the end, their men, average soldiers, paid the ultimate and terrible price.

SOURCE:  This article was written by Civil War historian Robert N. Thompson and originally published in the November 2006 issue of Military History magazine.