Number 59. Petersburg Campaign Reports of Major General John Gibbon, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

No. 59. Reports of Major General John Gibbon, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division.1

HDQRS. SECOND DIVISION, SECOND ARMY CORPS, November 7, 1864.

SIR: *

On the night of the 12th [June] the division was withdrawn; marched all night; crossed the Chickahominy. The next day, after marching till late at night, took up a position near Charles City Court-House. The next day and night was occupied in crossing the James at Wind-Mill Point by steamers, and the day after (15th) ant 12 m. we took up our march toward Petersburg.

PETERSBURG, FROM JUNE 15 TO JULY 30.

The division reached the vicinity of General Smith’s line in front of Petersburg very late at night, and it was between 2 and 3 a. m. on the 16th before it was placed in position, relieving a portion of his troops extending from the ravine near the Friend house to the Prince George Court-House road, commenting on the left with Birney’s division. Skirmishing was going on all night and the next day.

On the 17th the enemy’s line was driven in whilst the attack by a portion of the corps was being made on our left, and a portion of the division advanced across the creek in our front.

On the morning of the 18th the division advanced to the assault at 4 o’clock in two lines, the first composed of the First Brigade, under command of Colonel (now Brigadier General) B. R. Pierce, and the Second Brigade, under command of Colonel John Frase, One hundred and fortieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers; the second line Smyth’s brigade, supported by Frank’s brigade, of the First Division, all on the right of the Prince George Court-House road. The enemy having fallen back the division was pushed ahead, but soon came upon a strong line of works, on which (Smyth’s brigade being deployed to the right) two ineffectual assaults were made with heavy loss, Brigadier General Pierce and Colonel Ramsey being wounded. Later in the day another assault was made by Mott’s division on the left of the road, Fraser’s brigade being sent to assist in it.

The line was intrenched during the 19th and 20th, and that night the division was withdrawn and moved to the left and rear, and the next morning moved to a position on the left of the Jerusalem plank road, connecting on the right with the Fifth Corps and on the left with Mott’s division, Barlow’s being on his left. The division was intrenched in two lines in front of the enemy’s works, Pierce’s and the Second Brigade, now under command of Major O’Brien, One hundred and fifty-second Regiment New York Volunteers, being in the front line, Pierce on the right, and Smyth and the Fourth Brigade, now under command of Colonel Blaisdell, Tenth [Eleventh] Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, in the second. During the night McKnight’s (Twelfth New Jersey [York]) battery was placed in position on the right of the Second Brigade.

About 3 p. m. on the 22nd the enemy made an attack on Barlow and Mott. The troops on my left gave way without much firing, and the first thing my Second Brigade knew of the approach of the enemy in

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* For portion of report (here omitted) covering operations from May 3 to June 12, 1864, see Vol. XXXVI, Part I, p. 429.

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force they received a fire from the rear. The brigade gave way in confusion. The enemy overran the left of my line, capturing McKnight’s battery in the confusion. It was rallied, and a portion of the Fourth Brigade sent to General Pierce to retake the line and the battery. General Pierce was so slow in making his dispositions that the enemy was enabled to gain a firm footing, and Colonel Blasdell, who was ordered to supersede him, found them too strong to be driven out. On advancing the next vacated it, and retired within his main works. In this attack of the enemy the division lost a large number of prisoners, and the next day the gallant Colonel Blaisdell was mortally wounded on the picket-line.

On the 24th my division was moved to the left of the Sixth Corps, where it remained until the 27th, when it was moved into position to protect the rear of the army.

On the 26th Second Brigade was broken up, distributed among the other brigades, and the Fourth Brigade became the Second.

On the 29th the division was moved back to the left of the Second Corps, taking the position vacated by the Sixth Corps. From this time until 25th [26th] of July the division occupied various positions of the left of the line, moving frequently from place to place, as circumstances required. At 4 p. m. on the 25th [26th] the division commenced the march to the right, crowding the Appomattox at Point of Rocks and the James at Deep Bottom, and got into position on the left of Barlow’s division after sunrise on the 26th [27th]. After the advance of Barlow’s line the division was thrown forward, and occupied a position near the Potteries, from which it was withdrawn the next day, and moved out to the support of the cavalry on the New Market road. In the afternoon it was withdrawn to a position near the river, which it occupied till the night of the 29th, when it commenced the march to the left again, reaching the vicinity of the right of our line in front of Petersburg at daylight on the 30th, where it remained in reserve during the operations of the day.

CONCLUSION.

To give some idea in regard to the losses and services of the division during this eventful campaign it becomes necessary to refer to certain facts:

The division left its camp May 3 with three brigades, numbering in the aggregate 6,799. At Spotsylvania Court-House, May 16, it was joined by the Corcoran Legion, 1,521, and the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, Colonel F. A. Haskell, 765. On the next day by the Eighth New York Heavy Artillery, Colonel P. A. Porter, 1,654, and during the first two weeks in June was further increased by 323. Total, 11,062.

Its losses up to July 30 were: Killed, 77 officers and 971 men – 1,048; wounded, 202 officers and 3,825 men – 4,027. Total, 5,075, or 46 per cent. of the whole strength in killed and wounded alone.

The Corcoran Legion and Eighth New York Heavy Artillery were formed into a fourth brigade. The brigades have had 17 different commanders, of whom 3 have been killed and 6 wounded.

Of the 279 officers killed and wounded 40 were regimental commanders. Of course, the bravest and most efficient officers and men were those who fell; it is always so. These facts serve to demonstrate the

wear and tear on the division, and to show why it is that troops, which at the commencement of the campaign were equal to almost any under-taking, became toward the end of it unfit for almost any. The effect upon the troops of the loss of such leaders ad Tyler, Webb, Carroll, Baxter, Connor, McKeen, Ramsey, Blaisdell, Coons, Haskell, Porter, Murphy, McMahon, Macy, Curry, Pierce, Abbott, Davis, Curtis, and a host of others, can be truly estimated only by one who has witnessed their conduct in the different battles.

This report, whiten in the midst of active operations, is scarcely more than a general sketch, and must necessarily be very defective from the absence of so many sub-reports and the loss of so many commanders whose information would have served as a guide in awarding credit by special mention to many gallant officers and men, both of those who fell and those who gave survived through this eventful and unexampled campaign. All the sub-reports received are inclosed herewith.

I have to thank the members of my staff for uniform and energetic attention to their duties, and gallant conduct in conveying orders on the field. They are Major J. M. Norvell, assistant adjutant-general; Captain A. H. Embler, Eighty-second New York Volunteers, assistant commissary of musters and aide-de-camp; Captain W. L. Palmer, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, ordnance officer (wounded); Captain William P. Seville, First Delaware Volunteers, assistant topographical engineer; Captain W. Gale, Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, judge-advocate; Lieutenant Edward Moale Nineteenth U. S. Infantry, aide-de-camp.

It these is any one pre-eminently entitled to special mention, it is Captain Embler, Eighty-second New York, who has repeatedly demonstrated his gallantry and soldierly conduct on the field, and as repeatedly been recommended for promotion, but without effect. Surg. J. F. Dyer, Nineteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, medical director of the division; Captain G. A. Shallenberger, assistant quartermaster, and Captain T. S. Crombargar, commissary of subsistence, were unremitting in their attention to the duties of their several positions, and the sick, wounded, and well wanted for nothing which their zeal and energy could supply. Captain M. Black, Second Company Minnesota Sharpshooters, provost-marshall, was untiring in the duties of his office on the march and in camp, as well as on the field, where his command lost heavily.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN GIBBON,

Major-General of Volunteers, Commanding Division.

Major S. CARNCROSS,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Second Army Corps.

HDQRS. SECOND DIVISION, SECOND ARMY CORPS, June 25, 1864.

COLONEL: In conformity with orders of yesterday from corps headquarters I have the honor to submit the following statement in regard to the large loss of prisoners in my division on the 22nd instant:

The troops of the Third Division gave way in considerable confusion, exposing the left flank of my Second Brigade. The enemy came on in considerable force on its left and a heavy skirmish line in front. As

soon as the Second Brigade found the enemy in its rear on the left it gave way in a good deal of confusion, there being apparently no regimental officer present of sufficient coolness to make any disposition to resist the attack. The retreat of this brigade left McKnight’s battery unprotected on its left, and the first thing the troops on its right knew of the disaster they received a volley from the rear and a summons to surrender, which appears to have been obeyed in several cases by whole regiments. I am satisfied that but for the loss of so many of my best regimental and company officers this wholesale surrender could not have taken place in the division in spite of the disadvantageous way in which the attack was made. The enemy was finally checked at a turn in the breast-works on the left of the Twentieth Massachusetts, where its commander, Captain Patten, made arrangements for resistance.

Respectfully,

JOHN GIBBON,

Major-General of Volunteers, Commanding Division.

Lieutenant Colonel F. A. WALKER,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Second Corps.

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pages 366-369

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