It was in November, 1863, that the War Department orders were issued changing the Nineteenth Infantry to a regiment of heavy artillery, which Governor Buckingham denominated the Second Connecticut. Artillery drill had for some time been part of its work, and the general efficiency and good record of the regiment in all particulars was responsible for the change, which was a welcome one, as the artillery was considered a very desirable branch of the service, and the increase in size gave prospects of speedier promotions.
Recruiting had been necessary almost all the time to keep the regiment up to the numerical standard; death and the discharge for disability had been operating from the first. It was now needful to fill it up to the artillery standard of eighteen hundred men, and this was successfully accomplished. Officers and men were despatched to Connecticut to gather recruits, and their advertisements set forth enticingly the advantage of joining a command so comfortably situated as “this famous regiment” in the Defenses of Washington, where, it was permissible to infer, it was permanently stationed, a belief which had come to be generally held. The effort, however, was not confined by geographical limits, and a large part of the men secured were strangers to Litchfield County. Before the 1st of March, 1864, over eleven hundred recruits were received, and with the nucleus of the old regiment quickly formed into an efficient command.
At first, and perhaps to some extent always, there was a mental distinction made by the men between those who had originally enlisted in the “old Nineteenth,” and the large body which was now joined to that organization, many of whom had never seen the Litchfield hills. But there was enough character in the original body to give its distinct tone to the enlarged regiment; its officers were all of the first enlistment, and the common sufferings and successes which soon fell to their lot quickly deprived this distinction of any invidiousness. The Second Artillery was always known, and proudly known, as the Litchfield County Regiment.
There came to the Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery, on May 17, 1864, the summons which, after such long immunity, it had almost ceased to expect.
The preceding two weeks had been among the most eventful of the war. They had seen the crossing of the Rapidan by Grant on the 4th, and the terrible battles for days following in the Wilderness and at Spottsylvania, depleting the army by such enormous losses as even this war had hardly seen before. Heavy reinforcements were demanded and sent forward from all branches of the service; in the emergency this artillery regiment was summoned to fight as infantry, and so served until the end of the conflict, though for a long time with a hope, which survived many disappointments, of being assigned to its proper work with the heavy guns.
It started for the front on May 18th (1864), and on the 20th reached the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, and was assigned to the Second Brigade, First Division, of the Sixth Corps, now under Major-General Horatio G. Wright, another leader of Connecticut origin, who had succeeded to the command of the Corps on the death a few days before of Litchfield County’s most noted soldier, John Sedgwick.
The famous series of movements “by the left flank” was in progress, and the regiment was in active motion at once. For more than a week following its arrival at the front it was on the march practically all the time while Grant pushed southward. To troops unaccustomed to anything more arduous than drilling in the Defenses at Washington, it was almost beyond the limits of endurance. At the start, without experience in campaigning, the men had overburdened themselves with impedimenta which it was very soon necessary to dispense with. “The amount of personal effects then thrown away,” wrote the chaplain, Rev. Winthrop H. Phelps, “has been estimated by officers who witnessed and have carefully calculated it, to be from twenty to thirty thousand dollars. To this amount must be added the loss to the Government in the rations and ammunition left on the way.” On some of the marches days were passed with scarcely anything to eat, and it is recorded that raw corn was eagerly gathered, kernel by kernel, in empty granaries, and eaten with a relish. Heat, dust, rain, mud, and a rate of movement which taxed to the utmost the powers of the strongest, gave to these untried troops a savage hint of the hardships of campaigning, into which they had been plunged without any gradual steps of breaking in, and much more terrible experiences were close at hand. Of these there came a slight foretaste in a skirmish with the enemy on the 24th near Jericho Ford on the North Anna River, resulting in the death of one man and the wounding of three others, the first of what was soon to be a portentous list of casualties.