Number 213. Report of Colonel Henry G. Thomas, Nineteenth U. S. Colored Troops, commanding Second Brigade, of operations July 30

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

No. 213. Report of Colonel Henry G. Thomas, Nineteenth U. S. Colored Troops, commanding Second Brigade, of operations July 30.1

HDQRS. SECOND Brigadier, FOURTH DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS, August 2, 1864.

SIR: With regard to the fight of July 30, 1864, I have the honor to state that soon after daylight in the morning this brigade entered the covered way leading to the front of that part of the line occupied by the Ninth Corps, following the First Brigade of our division. We were held about half an hour in this way, and then went at double-quick into the exploded fort and into the rifle-pits on our right. Here I lost Lieutenant-Colonel Ross, commanding the leading regiment, and the two officers of his regiment next him in rank. The loss here was heavy in getting into position. There was a white division in the pits into which we were ordered. The instant I reached the First Brigade I attempted to charge, but the Thirty-first was disheartened at its loss of officers and could not be gotten out promptly. Captain Dempcy and Lieutenant Pennell and myself then attempted to lead them, but the fire was so hot that half the few who came out of the works were shot. Here Lieutenant Pennell was killed and riddled through and through. He died with the flag in his hand, doing everything an officer could do to lead on the men. His appearance and actions were splendid-I might say heroic, sacrificing deliberately and knowingly his life in the hope of rendering his country some service. A partially successful attempt was then made to separate the Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Regiments U. S. Colored Troops from the white troops of one of the brigades of the First Division, Ninth Corps, previous to attempting another charge. I then sent word that unless the enfilading fire on my right was stopped, by the moving of a force in that direction at the moment in which I moved, that no men could live to reach the crest. Immediately after this I was ordered by Brigadier-General Ferrero to advance in concert with Colonel Sigfried and take the crest. I ordered the Twenty-ninth this time to lead, which it did gallantly, closely followed by the Twenty-eighth and a few of the Twenty-third, when it was at once engaged by a heavy charging column of the enemy, and after a struggle driven

back over our rifle-pits. At this moment a panic commenced. The black and white troops came pouring back together. A few, more gallant than the rest, without organization, but guided by a soldier’s instinct, remained on the side of the pits nearest our line and held the enemy at bay some ten or fifteen minutes, until they were nearly all shot away. The Nineteenth U. S. Colored Troops being in rear was unable to enter the line, but moved up until it rested. The left and right flanks of the right and left wings rested on the line, and its own line ran to the right of the exploded fort. They remained there unable to strike a blow, but received heavy losses. About 100 of the men of this regiment, with some of the officers, went into the crater and remained there for hours, expending all their own ammunition and all they could take from the cartridge-boxes of the wounded and dead men that lay thick together in the bottom of this pit. After the repulse the brigade was reformed just in rear of our (now) front line and lay there until 2.30 p.m. It was then filed around to the right by a little hill, and there lay until sunset, when we marched to an reoccupied the ground we had left in the morning.

Whether we fought well or not, the scores of our dead lying as thick as if moved down by the hand of some mighty reaper and the terrible loss of officers can best attest. Nearly all the officers who came under my eye were fighting with bravery and coolness. My staff did good service. Captain Dempcy, acting assistant adjutant-general, was conspicuous, brave, and hard at work throughout the whole affair. It would be invidious to mention individual cases of regimental commanders when all, so far as I could see, behaved admirably. I desire, however, to pay a passing tribute to Lieutenant-Colonel Bross, Twenty-ninth U. S. Colored Troops, who led the charge of this brigade. He was the first man to leap over the works, and bearing his colors in his own hands he fell never to rise again. I would also speak of the gallant and genial Major Theodore H. Rockwood, Nineteenth U. S. Colored Troops, who, when the regiment was ordered forward, sprang upon the parapet, the first man, and fell cheering his regiment on. Such men cannot easily be replaced, nor the void they leave in our hearts readily filled.

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

H. G. THOMAS,

Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Captain HICKS,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Fourth Division, Ninth 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 598-599

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