Number 194. Reports of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cummings, Seventeenth Vermont Infantry, of operations June 12-July 30

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

No. 194. Reports of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Cummings, Seventeenth Vermont Infantry, of operations June 12-July 30.1

IN THE FIELD,

Near Petersburg, June 20, 1864.

SIR: The Ninth Army Corps left their intrenchments near Cold Harbor at dark on the night of the 12th and with but four hours’ sleep arrived near James River on the night of the 14th. We here halted until 8 p.m. of the following day, when we moved toward the river, crossing at 11 p.m.

At noon of the 16th we reached the present battle-ground, after a march of twenty-two miles, during which our ranks were rapidly depleted from hard marching on very short rations. At 6 p.m. the Second Brigade, Second Division, was drawn up in line of battle in support of a portion of the Second Corps, then about to make a charge. This charge proving unsuccessful we were moved around on the right flank to hold ground wrested from the enemy by Birney’s division, of the same corps. In the night it was determined to assault the enemy’s position on the center, where a battery, supported by strong rifle-pits, was protected by a house and outbuildings and supported by a six-gun redoubt a little way toward our left, and at a point where the enemy’s line turned nearly a right angle. This assault was confided to the Second Division, Ninth Army Corps, and Frank’s (formerly Owen’s) brigade, of the Second Corps. When the time came for the assault, however, the Second Division alone had the work to do. Accordingly three regiments of the First Brigade, supported by the other three, were assigned to the easterly side of the angle and the same disposition of the Second Brigade was made on the northerly side.

The regiments selected to lead in the latter were the Seventeenth Vermont, Ninth New Hampshire, and Thirty-second Maine, the Seventeenth on the right, with instructions to take the battery. At 3 a.m. the line was put in motion, the Seventeenth leading off. Marching up a steep hill over Frank’s brigade and the earth-works protecting their skirmishers I reformed my line and gave the order to charge. The men (only numbering 135 guns) rushed impetuously forward, driving the enemy’s skirmishers, and carrying a strong line of earth-works fully manned. In less time than I can write this we had captured 2 cannon, a caisson, 6 horses, 70 prisoners, and the colors and adjutant of the Seventeenth Tennessee. The other 2 guns fell to the Ninth New Hampshire, their position having been changed during the night. Our casualties in this engagement were 5 killed and 16 wounded. Among the killed, I regret to record, was First Lieutenant Guy H. Guyer, one of the most gallant and faithful officers in the regiment. He fell early in the charge, shot through the left breast.

The gallantry of my officers and men in this charge would be worthy of especial mention were it not that on that occasion there was no deviation from their usual conduct before the enemy. I cannot refrain from noticing the coincidence that on the anniversary of the 17th of June, the Seventeenth Vermont captured the colors of the Seventh Tennessee, Colonel Fulton’s brigade, Bushrod Johnson’s division, Buckner’s (formerly of Hardee’s) corps, together with guns and prisoners numbering more than half their own men. To us the 17th of June will hereafter have a double significance. I understand that the First Brigade captured 2 guns (the others having been removed) and quite a number of prisoners. This charge by the Seventeenth was warmly complimented by our brigade and division commanders, and the entire assault has elicited a general order,* of which the following is a copy. As the regiment has been in advanced works and under a hot fire most of the time since the morning of the 17th, I append a list of casualties since last report till this morning.

I remain, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

CHARLES CUMMINGS,

Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Seventeenth Vermont.

PETER T. WASHBURN,

Adjutant and Inspector General.
HDQRS. SEVENTEENTH REGIMENT VERMONT VOLS.,
Near Petersburg, Va., August 1, 1864.

SIR: I have the honor to inform you that the Seventeenth Vermont Volunteers participated in an assault made by the Ninth Army Corps, under the enemy’s works in front of Petersburg, Va., on Saturday morning, July 30, losing very heavily both in officers and men. The blowing up of one of the enemy’s forts, previously mined for the purpose, was the signal for a terrific bombardment, under cover of which the assault was made. The first line of works in clearing the demolished fort was carried with but little loss, but the enemy’s batteries, instead of replying to our guns, reserved their fire for our advance, and now commenced pouring in a withering fire of case and canister that compelled our men to seek protection in the trenches and the ruins of the fort. Very soon our troops were thrown in confusion, and the enemy, advancing through

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*No. 24, headquarters Ninth Army Corps, June 18, 1864; see p.530.

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a protected way, attacked our men in the trenches and fort, both in front and flank, and succeeded in driving us back to our original position. The Seventeenth Vermont was commanded by Major William B. Reynolds, my health having been such for some weeks as to incapacitate me from field duty. He led the regiment on this occasion, as I am they did all that was in their power to insure success. While bravely fighting the enemy in their own trenches he was shot by a musket-ball in the left breast, and soon thereafter died. His loss is deeply felt and deplored by all the command. Lieutenant William E. Martin, of Company E, was shot through the head about the same time. He had joined the regiment for duty but the day before, since he was wounded at the Wilderness. He was a brave and valuable officer. Lieutenant John R. Converse, of Company H, was killed early in action. Of the eight commissioned officers who went into the engagement not one returned to the regiment. When the enemy regained possession of their works they took a large number of prisoners, which largely swells the total loss. As evidence of the severity of the action I may remark that the Second Division lost more than half its effective force, and the Second Brigade lost in killed, wounded, or prisoners, every regimental commander on the field.

I append a list of the casualties in the Seventeenth that occurred during this engagement; also a list from June 20, the date of the former report, to July 29, inclusive.

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

CHARLES CUMMINGS,

Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding.

PETER T. WASHBURN,

Adjutant and Inspector General.

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 568-570

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