Number 108. Petersburg Campaign Report of Captain George F. McKnight, Twelfth New York Battery

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

Numbers 108. Report of Captain George F. McKnight, Twelfth New York Battery.1

TWELFTH N. Y. BATTERY, ARTY. Brigadier, 2nd ARMY CORPS, August 11, 1864.

SIR: *

FIFTH EPOCH.

I reported on the evening of June 12 to Brigadier-General Gibbon, commanding Second Division, Second Army Corps, and marched out of the works at dusk, via Dispatch Station; crossed the Chickahominy at Long Bridge about noon of the 13th; thence to Wilcox’s Landing, on the James River, parking at 11 p. m. about two miles from the landing. Tuesday, 14th, hitched up and went down to the landing, and embarking the morning of the 15th, crossed the James on transports to Wind-Mill Point; marched at noon, still with the Second Division, and arrived at the fortifications east of Petersburg about 1 a. m. of the 16th, and went in position at daylight of the 16th; took position to the left of Battery Numbers 8; engaged in firing slowly during the day, and in the afternoon and evening engaged sharply with the enemy, both infantry and artillery, until 8 p. m. Engaged at intervals during the 17th and until the enemy’s line was forced back some distance on the morning of the

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*For portion of report (here omitted) covering operations from May 4 to June 12, 1864, see Vol. XXXVI, Part I, p. 530.

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18th. On the evening of the 20th marched to the left and parked in rear of the Fifth Corps. On the morning of the 21st marched out to the left onto the Jerusalem plank road and parked near the Jones house. I reported, by order of Major-General Gibbon, with whom I was then serving, to Brigadier-General Pierce, and placed the battery in position in the work prepared by the pioneers for it at 3 a. m. of the morning of the 22d. Finding the works incomplete and defective in several particulars, I ordered my own men to commence work at once to strengthen and improve them, which they did, and remained steadily at work until 2 p. m., at the time of opening fire. At about 12 m. the enemy opened upon my position from an earth-work and fort to the right from four guns, bursting their projectiles in the battery with great accuracy, and also to the right and left of my position, as if endeavoring to elicit a reply from a battery if one was posted there. I immediately commenced changing my embrasures to the right in order to bear upon the enemy’s guns. (These embrasures being made facing to the front before the battery was placed in position, and I being informed by officers on General Pierce’s staff that the enemy would open a battery in our front if at all.) As soon as I commenced altering the works I reported the same to General Pierce, who ordered me to continue the work and open on the enemy’s batteries as soon as possible. This order I complied with at about 2 p. m., and as soon as I opened the enemy replied with eight pieces of artillery and a very heavy musketry fire, their shot and shell falling and bursting with perfect accuracy in and about my works. After firing for the space of one hour the infantry support on our immediate left opened fire on the enemy, who were advancing in line of battle on our left front. The embrasure of the left gun was at once dug away in order to fire more to the left, and opened with canister, driving the enemy back with heavy loss. They fell back to their first line of battle, but rallied at once and again advanced full on our left flank. I was unable to open upon them to the left with more than one gun, as the embrasure for the remaining three guns faced the enemy’s works to the right. At this time infantrymen came running in from the left, crying, “We are flanked on the left; the left has broken.” I continued firing canister and case-shot without fuse until the entire left gave way and ran through the woods, leaving my left flank entirely unprotected; the enemy following immediately down the works from the left and planting their colors on the lunette of my left gun, ordered us to surrender. Up to this time none of my men had left their posts, nor did they do so until ordered by myself and officers. The order was given to fix prolonges, but the enemy poured into the works in such overwhelming numbers that it was apparent the further exertions to save the guns were useless, and my men fell back to the winding road running through the woods. My officers, First Lieutenant George K. Dauchy and First Lieutenant William S. Bull, nobly endeavored to rally the infantry to return and help draw off the pieces, and who, when asked by them, “Why do you fall back,” replied “We did not fall back until ordered by the major commanding the brigade and by our officers.” What few infantry remained in the road near the battery at this time were willing and desirous to return and help retake the guns, but not enough could be rallied at any one time to make an effective advance. During this time my chief of caissons, Second Lieutenant H. D. Brower, whom I had dispatched to the rear a few moments before, now came up and gallantly assisted Lieutenants Dauchy and Bull in endeavoring to rally the infantry. No infantry officers were seen at this point of the road by my officers. At

the time the enemy came in upon the left of the battery I was on the right flank of my battery with my first sergeant. The First Minnesota Regiment, of General Pierce’s brigade, which joined my battery on the right, broke on seeing the left give way, but were rallied by their officers and fired one volley at the enemy, but seeing them pouring in on our left fell back in confusion. One Lieutenant O’Brien, of the First Minnesota Regiment, rallied a few men and returned with me and some of my own men, who were falling back on the upper road, and endeavored to save the right piece. At this juncture the enemy poured in a heavy volley, killing my first sergeant and several men who were endeavoring to pull off the piece, and at the same time calling upon us to surrender. I then ordered the men near me to fall back, the enemy at this time occupying my entire position. I at once reported to General Pierce that my battery was lost. I with my officers and men remained with the first line of battle until after dark, ready to follow up any advantage that might be gained by the line in recapturing the position and pieces. I regained one limber, after our lines advanced this morning, nearly destroyed by shell, the axle and wheels having over twenty bullet holes in them. The loss of the command on the 22nd is as follows: First sergeant killed; 1 corporal wounded; 1 corporal missing since action; 2 corporals missing since action; 1 bugler missing since action; 4 privates missing since action; four 3-inch rifled guns, four ammunition chests, and three limbers lost.*

Thursday, the 23d, I parked near the Jerusalem plank road and made a requisition for four light 12-pounder guns, per order of Colonel Tidball, chief of artillery, Second Army Corps. Received them July 1.

On Monday, July 4, went into position on Brigadier-General Barlow’s line, relieving Battery K, Fourth United States, and remained there until July 6.

On the morning of July 9 went into position on Major-General Birney’s line, remaining until the morning of the 12th, when I marched with the reserve artillery of the corps toward the right, parking not far from the plank road, until the morning of the 13th, when I marched and parked with the artillery of the corps in rear of the Fifth Army Corps, remaining there until the evening of the 26th.

Marched at sundown July 26, with the reserve artillery of the corps, across the Appomattox to Jones’ Landing, on the James River; remained there in reserve until 11 p. m. of the 28th, when I marched back across the Appomattox River with the Third Division and parked near the Eighteenth Army Corps hospitals at daylight of the 29th, and at dark on the 30th I returned to my old camp in rear of the Fifth Army Corps, where I have since remained.

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

GEO. F. McKNIGHT,

Captain Twelfth New York Independent Battery.

Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General U. S. Army.

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*So much of this report as relates to the operations on June 22 was addressed to Major General John Gibbon, under date of June 23, 1864, and was indorsed, as follows:

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“HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, “June 24, 1864.

“Respectfully forwarded for the information of the major-general commanding the corps.

“No blame can possibly attach to Captain McKnight for the loss of his battery.

“JOHN GIBBON,

“Major-General of Volunteers, Commanding Division.”

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 435-437

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