Number 183. Reports of Brigadier General Robert B. Potter, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

No. 183. Reports of Brigadier General Robert B. Potter, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division.1

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS, August 1, 1864.

COLONEL: *

FIFTH.

On the evening of the 12th of June, soon after dark, we moved out of our intrenchments, leaving our picket-line in position, and marched to Tunstall’s Station, which we reached at an early hour on the morning of the 13th. Moved from there about 1 p.m., and bivouacked for the night within about three-quarters of a mile of the Chickahominy.

Crossed the Chickahominy early on the morning of the 14th, and moved to Jones’, within three miles of the pontoon bridge on the James River. Marched from here between 8 and 9 p.m. on the 15th, crossing the James on the pontoon bridge, and moving toward Petersburg.

About 10 a.m. on the 16th we reached the advance works on the City Point road, taken a day or two before by our troops. Placed in position on the left about 1 p.m., and threw out skirmishers and commenced intrenching. Received orders about 3.30 to send a brigade to support Barlow’s division, of the Second Corps, which corps was to attack at 4

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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.927.

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p.m., and at once moved Griffin’s brigade into position for that purpose, and subsequently put him for a time under Barlow’s command. Having received orders to renew the attack before daylight in the morning, I determined to attack near the Shands house. Griffin’s brigade was formed on the right, with the Seventeenth Vermont, Eleventh New Hampshire, and Thirty-second Maine in the first line, with the Sixth and Ninth New Hampshire, Thirty-first Maine, and Second Maryland in support. Curtin formed his brigade with the Forty-fifth and Forty-eight Pennsylvania and Thirty-sixth Massachusetts in front, supported by the Seventh Rhode Island, Second New York Mounted Rifles, and Fifty-eighth Massachusetts Regiments. Griffin moved directly on the house and orchard to the right, Curtin moved to the left of the house and toward the Redoubt No.-. Canteens and cups were packed in haversacks to prevent noise, and orders were given to rely upon the bayonet, and not fire a shot. The brigades moved promptly at 3 a.m., and rushed at once on the enemy’s works, carrying their lines, taking 4 pieces of cannon, 5 colors, some 600 prisoners, and about 1,500 stand of small-arms. We pursued the enemy some distance, but having no support, and finding the enemy in a new position, we took up a line in advance of the position we had carried, the left resting on a redoubt in that line, pushing our skirmishers as far to the front as practicable. We continued our skirmishing all day, and in the afternoon I placed a battery in position near my front at the Shands house, and other batteries were placed in position in the rear of the line at various points to cover the attack made by the First and Third Divisions, and I held my division in readiness to assist them.

On the morning of the 18th we advanced in support of the Third Division and the First Brigade took part in the attack, making a vigorous charge, driving the enemy across the railroad cut and ravine beyond, and getting within some forty or fifty yards of their intrenchments at the nearest point. In this charge Colonel Curtin, commanding the brigade, and Captain Mighels, his assistant adjutant-general, were both severely wounded. In the evening I relieved the Third Division and occupied the whole front connecting with the Second Corps on the right and the Fifth on the left, holding the advance as a skirmish line. I intrenched a line on this side of the railroad for a main line. During the next three or four days I strengthened this line as much as possible with traverses and abatis and built a covered way to the rear.

On the 25th I made the advance line continuous, traversed it, put down abatis in front, and continued the covered way to it.

On the 27th a gallery for a mine was commenced by Lieutenant-Colonel Pleasants, Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and his regiment, which was continued until July 18, when it was about completed. During this period I built two or three field-works for guns and was continually skirmishing with the enemy, my losses averaging some 14 or 15 officers and men killed and wounded per diem, and considerable artillery and mortar firing was going on.

On the 23rd of July arrangements were made for charging the mine, which was effected on the 26th with 8,000 pounds of powder, and on the 29th preparations were made for springing the mine and an assault the next morning. From the 19th of June to the 29th of July, both inclusive, nothing very marked occurred, each day being a repetition of the preceding.

During the fifth epoch my losses were 173 killed, 744 wounded, and 22 missing; total 939. During the entire period from the 5th of May to the 29th of July, 1864, inclusive, embraced in the foregoing report, the losses in action in the division were 542 killed, 2,505 wounded, and 384 missing, making a total of 3,431 killed, wounded, and missing.

I have the honor to be, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ROBERT B. POTTER,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant Colonel LEWIS RICHMOND,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth Army Corps.
HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS, July 30, 1864-2.30 p.m.

COLONEL: The troops have been driven from their advanced position back into the old line. The Ninth and Eleventh New Hampshire, Seventeenth Vermont, and Thirty-first and Thirty-second Maine, are reported to be captured almost entire. Also the Fifty-eighth Massachusetts and Second New York Mounted Rifles, and Second Maryland Volunteers, are almost entirely captured, besides several hundred of killed and wounded left upon the field. The line from which we advanced this morning is so weak that it is in great danger. I beg leave to call the attention of the commanding general to the fact that my division is reported as nearly annihilated and cannot therefore possibly reoccupy the position from which it advanced this morning.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
ROBERT B. POTTER,

Brigadier-General.

Lieutenant Colonel LEWIS RICHMOND,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth Army Corps.

P. S.-General Griffin sends me word that General Bartlett fell into the enemy’s hands. My brigade commanders report but that a very small proportion of the wounded were removed from the field.

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS, Before Petersburg, Va., August 1, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my division in the assault on the enemy’s position on the 30th ultimo:

The mine which had been constructed under the charge of Lieutenant-Colonel Pleasants by his regiment [the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry, of the First Brigade of this division] was charged and ready to be fired. In accordance with orders received from the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac and this corps, on the night of the 29th ultimo, I issued orders to Colonel Pleasants to spring his mine at 3.30 on the morning of the 30th and prepared my division to move forward to the right of General Ledlie as soon as practicable after the mine was sprung, without its interfering with the movements of the

First and Third Divisions, for the purpose of protecting Ledlie’s right flank from attack and to establish a line on the crest of a ravine running nearly at right angles to the enemy’s line, and I ordered that if possible the advance should be to the right of the explosion. Owing to the fuse becoming damp and going out and having to be renewed, a delay of about an hour occurred in springing the mine; its final explosion, however, was entirely successful and the enemy’s work destroyed for some distance. The leading regiments began to move almost at once, passing into and through a portion of the line from which the enemy were driven and moving to the right. The smoke and dust were so great at this time that nothing could be seen, and the leading regiments got farther to the left than was intended, coming thus in contact with some troops of the First Division and causing some confusion, which was aggravated by the commanding officer of the left regiment being mortally wounded, as it entered the lines of the enemy’s works. The movement was further somewhat embarrassed by some of the troops of the First Division moving to the right instead of forward. The rest of my division continued moving forward, but found it impossible to proceed on account of the troops of the preceding division having halted in the crater of the mine and to the right of it. The ground to the right of the mined work in rear of the enemy’s intrenchments was found to be much cut up with small pits and traverses, which were filled by the enemy, as well as a line of pits on the ravine. After the troops in advance had moved some distance to the right and were driving the enemy, Colonel White, who had charge of the advance-wounded and a prisoner-finding that he was meeting a good deal of opposition, and that the troops of the other divisions did not advance, halted for further orders. Finding that my leading brigade was being thrown into confusion by being mixed with the troops of the other divisions, and that the enemy, who at first seemed somewhat stunned, was rapidly rallying and beginning to open a brisk fire, I ordered General Griffin, commanding the leading brigade, to move forward without any reference to the other troops and attack the enemy in front. He then passed the rest of his command over and in front of the other troops, which were in confusion, and his troops became very much broken up. The fire having become by this time very hot, it was impossible to properly reform his ranks. Several charges were undertaken, however, and some ground gained.

I had ordered Colonel Bliss to move with such portion of his brigade [the First] as I had for duty closely in support of the Second Brigade, and to cover the right flank. Finding, however, that he could not get on in consequence of the stoppage of the troops in front and the great confusion arising from the great crowd of troops into such a limited space, I ordered him to move a portion of his force to the right, down the enemy’s line of works, and also to attack the enemy’s line at the ravine. Colonel Bliss disposed three small regiments on the right of the ground held by Griffin to charge down the enemy’s line to the right, and disposed two regiments to attack on the right near the ravine, which last attack was to follow instantly that the first commenced. After the troops were all formed, owing to a peremptory order from General Burnside to attack the crest, the direction of the regiments on Griffin’s right had to be changed, and they charged nearly directly up the hill, the Forty-fifth Pennsylvania reaching nearly to the house on the top of the hill; but not being supported they were unable to maintain their position, and fell back to a ditch or covered way leading to the work we had taken, which they held in conjunction with some

two or three regiments of the Second Brigade. At the same time the Fifty-first New York Infantry and Second New York Mounted Rifles charged on the enemy’s line near the ravine and carried it, taking a few prisoners, one regiment being on each side of the ravine, and a considerable distance intervening between their left and the rest of the division, which should have been filled by the regiments ordered to charge down the line to the right, but subsequently sent against the hill. At this time Griffin was slowly advancing up the hill a step at a time, and as his advance gave him room, extricating such of his men as had got mixed with the troops of the other divisions and getting them into good shape, the whole of my command being at this time beyond the enemy’s lines, and beyond and to the right of the fort. Everything in the fort or crater was in great confusion, and owing the failure to advance the space was overcrowded with troops to such an extent as to render the great majority useless, and it seemed apparent that we could not hope to do much more at this point.

Anticipating that an attack would be made on the right or left, which would relieve us enough to enable us to advance, reform, and charge the hill, I was about arranging for reforming and connecting my lines, when the Fourth Division unexpectedly advanced and attempted to pass over the men in the crater and charge the enemy’s line through our troops. In this they were but partially successful, the largest number halting in the crater or anywhere that they could find space amongst our troops, thus greatly aggravating the difficulty of overcrowding and confusion. The right of this division nearly connected with the Fifty-first New York Volunteers near the ravine, and partly covered the troops of my division, who had charged up the hill and fallen back into the covered way or ditch. Shortly after the arrival of the colored troops the enemy made an assault on us, when these troops fled in confusion, sweeping a portion of my line back into the crater and pits in its vicinity. On the left of my line, held by the Second Brigade, my troops repulsed the enemy’s assault and the troops of the First Brigade held their position. The assault was quickly renewed and the fighting was hand-to-hand and desperate. One regiment lost its colors, the color bearer being wounded and taken prisoner; the colors of two regiments were entirely torn to pieces and the staves broken. My division had thus far suffered severely. All the regimental commanders of the Second Brigade, 7 in number, were disabled; 3 killed, and 4 mortally or severely wounded, and 1 of the latter a prisoner. No regiment had an officer left of higher rank than a captain, and scarcely 400 effective men were left in the brigade, who were now forced back into the crater and into the pits on the right. At the same time the regiments of the First Brigade nearest the crater lost very heavily, including upward of 100 prisoners. Some 200 men in the division were also entirely prostrated by the heat and exertion. The major portion of the division had now been hotly engaged for some five hours. A very hot fire was opened by the enemy, more particularly from the flanks, the fire of their guns sweeping the rear of our line, but in front they were mostly too close to fire. The fire from our line now became quite slack. Most of the men were so exhausted that it was physically impossible to get any work out of them, and their suffering from thirst was very great, it being impossible to get any water at all. The enemy had been so roughly handled in their last assault, after the colored troops had fallen back, that they did not seem disposed to renew it, but kept up a hot fire. I now commenced making preparations to connect the line and intrench it.

About midday an order was received to withdraw and preparations were made to do so, the principal difficulty in doing so being in relation to the disorganized mass from the different divisions in the crater. After some time, however, and while the withdrawal was but partially made, the enemy renewed the assault with fresh troops and with great vigor. That portion of the line about the crater, together with the troops in it, speedily gave way and fell back; the rest of the line was withdrawn in good order with little or no loss. The last regiment withdrawn was the Second New York Mounted Rifles, serving as infantry, lying on the right of the ravine and within some twenty yards of the guns of the enemy’s batteries. The loss in the division was 89 killed, 404 wounded, and 410 missing [of the last probably 25 or 30 per cent. may have been killed or wounded], total 903, including 77 commissioned officers. I had nearly 3,000 rank and file engaged, including my artillery, Rogers’ [Nineteenth New York] and Jones’ [Eleventh Massachusetts] batteries, which were most efficiently served.

All the officers of my staff as well as my aides were most active and zealous, conveying orders and bringing reports and intelligence from all parts of the line. Lieutenant-Colonel Pleasants, who had charge of the mine and whose regiment was doing provost and guard duty, after its explosion volunteered on my staff and rendered most important service. My brigade commanders, Brigadier General S. G. Griffin and Colonel Z. R. Bliss, made every possible exertion to carry out my orders and secure our success, and all the officers and men of the command fought with the greatest courage and determination.

ROBERT B. POTTER,

Brigadier-General.

Lieutenant Colonel LEWIS RICHMOND,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth Army 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 544-549

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