Monday, June 30, 1862
General Robert E. Lee pressed his pursuit of the Union Army as they retreated toward the James River. He ordered General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson to pursue the rear flank of the Union forces at White Oak Swamp and ordered the main body of his army, led by General James Longstreet, to attack the Union center at Glendale. Lee hoped to sever the Union line and crush the Union army in mid-retreat.
Once again, Lee's orders were not executed as planned. Jackson was late to arrive at White Oak Swamp and did not pose a severe threat to the Union rear flank. Longstreet executed his orders faithfully, attacking the Union line with heavy fighting at Glendale. The Pennsylvania Reserves division of General Fitz-John Porter's Fifth Corps took the brunt of the assault.
The Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment had advanced two and one-half miles beyond the White Oak Swamp Bridge, reaching Glendale by mid-morning. At 11:00 A.M. the regiment heard artillery fire from the direction of White Oak Swamp Bridge. General William Franklin, positioned to protect the rear of the retreat at the bridge, requested reinforcements from General Bull Sumner's Second Corps. Sumner sent General Napoleon Dana's Third Brigade, including the Twentieth Massachusetts, to reinforce Franklin's position. The Twentieth Massachusetts formed a column and marched at the double-quick toward White Oak Swamp Bridge. The day was exceedingly hot, and as the Twentieth advanced, they suffered from smoke inhalation from trees smoldering from Jackson's artillery fire. The Twentieth needed to slow their pace under the heat and smoke, and soon the artillery fire from White Oak Bridge ceased.
At 3:00 P.M. the Twentieth heard gunfire from Glendale, and soon received messages from General Bull Sumner to march toward Glendale at the double-quick. The heat and the smoke had taken its toll, and many soldiers dropped from their ranks during the march from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. As the Twentieth returned to Glendale, they were ordered into position across an open field at Nelson's Farm. As General Dana had not yet returned to Glendale, General Sumner appointed Colonel William Lee of the Twentieth Massachusetts as temporary brigade commander. Colonel Lee ordered four regiments, the Nineteenth Massachusetts, the Tammany Regiment, the Seventh Michigan, and his own Twentieth Massachusetts into battle formation. Lee ordered Major Paul Revere and Charles Whittier to assist with the brigade charge, and designated Colonel Francis Palfrey to take charge of the Twentieth. Colonel Lee gave the order to advance the brigade across the sloping field into battle. As they advanced Lee's brigade were exposed to musket fire and artillery, and the brigade began to suffer heavy casualties. It became extremely difficult to keep their battle lines straight under heavy fire, and they needed to halt several times to reform their lines.
As they approached the woods at the far side of the field Colonel Lee was knocked senseless from a collision with a panicked artillery horse. Major Paul Revere took command of the brigade as they advanced into the woods up an ascending slope. As they reached the crest they realized the desperate nature of the fight. Their brigade needed to plug the hole left in the line from the casualties suffered by the Pennsylvania Reserves. Colonel Palfrey galvanized the charge for the Twentieth by grabbing a fallen Rebel flag, waving it for all to see, then throwing it to the ground and stomping on it. As they continued their advance, the Twentieth found themselves in front alone, with both flanks open. Exposed to a withering fire, the Twentieth realized that they needed to withdraw in order to prevent annihilation. As they retreated in good order to the woods they were reinforced by additional regiments. As nightfall approached the battle ceased and the Union line held.
The Battle of Glendale was also known as the Battle of Nelson’s Farm and the Battle of Frayser’s Farm
The Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment reported fourteen killed, seventy-one wounded, three captured, and five missing from the Seven Days Battles. Most of these casualties were incurred at Glendale. Among the killed was First Lieutenant James Jackson Lowell, who died tragically of a gunshot wound to the stomach in a field hospital at Glendale under Confederate control after the Twentieth Massachusetts continued their retreat to Harrison's Landing through Malvern Hill. Colonels William Lee and Francis Palfrey, Captain Norwood Hallowell, First Lieutenant Henry Abbott, and Second Lieutenant Henry Patten were among the officers reported injured at Glendale.1
1George A. Bruce, The Twentieth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry 1861 - 1865 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Riverside Press, 1906), 123-32, 136-37. Richard F. Miller, Harvard's Civil War: A History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Lebanon, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2005), 147-52.