Number 196. Reports of Brigadier General John F. Hartranft, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade, of operations June 14-July 30

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

No. 196. Reports of Brigadier General John F. Hartranft, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade, of operations June 14-July 30.1

HDQRS. FIRST Brigadier, THIRD DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS, October 25, 1864.

CAPTAIN: *

FIFTH EPOCH.

Crossed the Chickahominy at Jones’ Bridge at 6.30 a.m. 14th [June] instant, crossing the James River at 11.30 p.m. 15th. After marching all night and most of the next day, June 16, I formed line, under the direction of Major Morton, on the extreme left of the army about 6 p.m. A regiment of cavalry was still farther to the left. About 7 o’clock same day received orders to report to Major-General Hancock. I moved forward and occupied works previously occupied by Barlow’s division, and remained in this position during the night. Early next morning moved by the left flank down to the ravine in front and filed to the left up the same until uncovered by the Second Corps, then halted and formed line under direction of Major Morton. Thisline was in front of Potter’s division. Afterward moved to the right about the length of the brigade line and formed in two lines, as well as the conformation of the ground would permit, on the hill beyond the ravine in the following order: First line, Second Michigan (the directing regiment), One hundred and ninth New York, Major Stilson, on the left; Thirty-seventh Wisconsin, Lieutenant-Colonel Doolittle, Thirty-eighth Wisconsin, Lieutenant-Colonel Pier, on the right. Second line, Twenty-seventh Michigan, Colonel Fox, on the right; Eight Michigan, Lieutenant-Colonel Ely, Fifty-first Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Major Bolton, on the left. The Second Michigan was formed perpendicular to the general direction of the advance about to be made. Just before

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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.947.

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the line advanced I went up to the Second Michigan with Major Morton to show him the formation. He said the regiment was formed at right angles to the line of direction. I immediately gave the command “Forward,” which was about 2 p.m. The line advanced under a most terrific fire of the enemy’s artillery from the left flank. The dust raised by the brigade passing over the plowed ground on the double-quick and the enemy’s shot plowing up the dust made it impossible to see the lines as they advanced. The extreme left companies of the regiment of my first line struck the enemy’s pits, and but 18 out of 95 in those companies made their escape. The remainder of the brigade passed on in front of the enemy’s lines, passed over the Second Corps line, and reformed. The attack was a failure. An hour afterward I had, by report of regimental commanders, 1,050 men in line out of 1,890. A few more men came in during the afternoon and evening.

Subsequent inspection of the ground satisfied me that the general direction of the advance was too much to the right by forty-five degrees; also that the troops advanced in the general direction which the formation of the Second Michigan indicated. Before this inspection I did think that the troops gave way from the heavy fire of the enemy’s artillery on the left and passed too far to the right. Christ’s brigade moved up in support. His general direction was more to the left, and after my troops had uncovered his line by passing to the right, he halted and held his position. Later in the day the First Division (Brigadier-General Ledlie commanding), and part of Christ’s brigade, advanced over the same ground and carried the enemy’s line of pits. I moved up at the same time in support on the bank of the ravine. Remained in this position until daylight next morning, when I moved forward in the following order: First line, in charge of Colonel Humphrey, Second Michigan (the directing regiment) with the Twentieth Michigan on the right; Fiftieth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers on the left. Second line, from right to left, Twenty-seventh Michigan, Captain Leadbeater commanding, One hundred and ninth New York, Fiftieth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Thirty-seventh Wisconsin, the remainder of the Second Brigade, Colonel Raulston commanding, in support; Crawford’s division, Fifth Corps, immediately on my left. The One hundred and ninth New York and Twenty-seventh Michigan I placed on the right of the first line to keep up connection with the Second Corps. I also placed Thirty-eighth Wisconsin and Fifty-first Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers in the first line. Advanced in good order to the Nortfolk railroad cut, followed by Raulston’s brigade, which also entered the cut. The enemy’s sharpshooters commanded this cut from the right. A traverse was at once built across the cut on the right of the line, by tearing up the track and ties. Between 3 and 4 p.m. an order was received to advance upon the enemy’s works without regard to the troops on our right or left. The enemy’s line was about 300 yards in advance. A little stream of water, forming a ravine, with trees on the opposite side of the bank, intervened. This railroad cut was about fifteen to twenty feet deep, and the sides almost perpendicular. Steps and holes had to be made in the same so as to enable the troops to climb up on the bank, which was commanded by the enemy from his mainline, but the trees intervening offered some cover from his view. Many, however, were killed and wounded here. The troops regiments scarcely averaged 100 men. The losses had been very heavy in killed and wounded during the day and the day before, and many stragglers were still back.

Between 5 and 6 p.m. the whole division was out of the cut and in the ravine in advance. I now ordered the troops forward to attack; also ordered Colonel Curtin, First Brigade of Potter’s division, to advance part of his brigade to the ravine. The division moved forward to attack, until reaching the summit of the opposite bank of the ravine, about 125 yards from the enemy’s line. At this point my line became exposed to the full view of the enemy, whose fire was too severe to attempt farther advance. This position was, however, held and intrenched during the night, and was the nearest point to the enemy’s line gained by the army on that day. It was from the rear of this line, as established, that the memorable mine was worked. During the night the entire division was relieved by pickets from General Griffin’s brigade, Potter’s division, except the Twenty-seventh Michigan, which remained on picket until the following night. The division was withdrawn about half a mile and placed in camp in the woods. Griffin’s brigade formed a line connecting with the Second Corps on the right and the Fifth Corps on the left. I remained in camp until the evening of the 20th, when I was moved to the right and relieved part of the Second Corps. Continued slashing and building abatis until the evening of the 23d, when I was relieved by part of the Tenth Corps. I moved to the left and relieved part of Crawford’s division, immediately on the left of the position occupied on the 18th.

The brigade remained in this position until the 30th of July. In the meantime the works were strengthened and straightened, covered way built to the front line, abatis placed in front of the line, bomb-proofs built, &c.

It is with pleasure that I acknowledge the valuable services of my staff: Captain George Shorkley, Fifty-first Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general, who was badly wounded on 30th of July, losing his right hand; Captain Lane S. Hart, Fifty-first Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, inspector-general, who was badly wounded on the 19th of August while in command of his regiment; Lieutenant W. H. S. Bean, One hundred and ninth New York Volunteers, aide-de-camp, also wounded on the 19th of August; Lieutenant R. A. Watts, Seventeenth Michigan, wounded on the 17th of June; Captain Davis, Twenty-first Massachusetts, provost-marshal, absent sick since July -, and Captain J. D. Bertolette, assistant adjutant-general.

I am, captain, your most obedient servant,

J. F. HARTRANFT,

Late Colonel 51st Regiment Pa. Vet. Vols. and Brigadier General of Vols.

Captain JOHN D. BERTOLETTE,

Asst. Adjt. General, First Division, Ninth Army Corps.
HDQRS. FIRST Brigadier, THIRD DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Before Petersburg, Va., August 5, 1864.

CAPTAIN: In obedience to orders received from the general commanding the division, I moved forward at about 5 a.m. on the morning of the 30th of July – the Twenty-seventh Michigan, Thirty-eighth Wisconsin, and Thirteenth Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (dismounted), of my brigade, closely following the First Division-to the crater caused by the explosion of the mine. After passing into the crater, which was filled with the troops of the advance division, I pushed my troops to the left as

far as possible, occupying that part of the enemy’s work not blown up. The length of this part was about ninety feet, and contained two guns, which were partially covered with dirt by the explosion. I immediately ordered the dirt to be removed from the guns, which were afterward served by men from the Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery and men of my command, under the direction of Sergt. W. Stanley, of the Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery. The regimental organizations were more or less broken up by reason of the irregularity of the surface of the crater, the mass of troops, and the enfilading fire of the enemy from the right and left by artillery and infantry. Repeated and most determined efforts were made by the commanding officers and officers of my staff to form the troops for farther advance, but without success. The captured gun on the left was fired to the left along the line of the enemy’s pits with some effect. The colored troops now advanced through the crater, passing to the right, and formed line for advance, when the enemy charged the colored troops as well as the pits previously occupied by the white troops, and our troops on the right gave way. The enemy soon reoccupied his pits to the right of the crater. In this attack of the enemy he suffered severely from the right captured gun by Stanley, who gave them canister. Soon after the enemy made another assault in one line of about 500 strong, heading for the crater, and coming direct from the front. My men gallantly mounted the works and poured their shot into their line, which, together with the canister given them by Sergeant Stanley, almost annihilated the column, so that but few of the enemy came up, and they only for protection. The ammunition was now about expended, but the want was soon supplied upon reporting to the general commanding the division. The men were now fast becoming exhausted, and the wounded were suffering for want of water; but little was procured, the enemy’s sharpshooters having full command of the ground between the crater and our first line of works. At about 12.30 p.m. an order was received from General Burnside to retire as soon as practicable and prudent, the commanding officers on the line to counsel and determine as to the time of evacuation. The order was indorsed by Brigadier-Generals Bartlett, Griffin, and myself, and sent back to Major-General Burnside. It was thought impossible to withdraw the troops without great slaughter, the enemy enfilading the ground across which the troops would have to pass with artillery and infantry.

While we were awaiting further instructions the enemy made another attack, bearing immediately upon the work occupied by my men. As soon as I discovered this I passed the word to retire, but the men did not all have time to make their escape. Lieutenant Bean, one of my staff officers, communicated with General Bartlett in the crater, that the order was to retire, and that the left was then falling back.

It is with deep regret that I have to announce the death of Sergt. W. Stanley, Company D, Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery, who volunteered to work the captured guns, and performed his duty well to the last. I deem it my duty to make honorable mention of the Twenty-seventh Michigan Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Wright commanding; One hundred and ninth New York Volunteers, Colonel Catlin, commanding; Thirty-seventh Wisconsin Volunteers, Colonel Harriman commanding; Thirty-eighth Wisconsin Volunteers, Captain Ferris commanding; Thirteenth Ohio Volunteer Cavalry (dismounted), Lieutenant-Colonel Hixon commanding; Eighth Michigan Veteran Volunteers, Major Belcher commanding; and the Fifty-first Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Colonel Bolton commanding. My loss in regimental

commanders was severe-Colonel Catlin, Colonel Bolton, Lieutenant-Colonel Stilson, One hundred and ninth New York Volunteers, and Lieutenant-Colonel Wright were severely, and Captain Ferris mortally, wounded.

I cannot refrain from noticing especially the conduct of the officers of my staff-Captain Bertolette, assistant adjutant-general; Captain Shorkley, acting assistant inspector-general; Captain Doyle, provost-marshal; Lieutenant Bean and Watts, aides-de-camp-for their promptness and valor in pushing forward the troops as well as in holding the enemy’s work to the last moment. Captain Shorkley was severely wounded,and lost his right hand.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

J. F. HARTRANFT,

Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers, Commanding.

Captain ROBERT A. HUTCHINS,

Asst. Adjt. General, Third Division, 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 576-580

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