Number 258. Reports of Brigadier General John W. Turner, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations June 23-July 1 and July 30

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

Numbers 258. Reports of Brigadier General John W. Turner, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations June 23-July 1 and July 30.1

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, TENTH ARMY CORPS,
Near Petersburg, Va. July 1, 1864.

COLONEL: In compliance with instructions of the major-general commanding, I have the honor to make the following report of the part this division has taken in the operations before Petersburg up to this date:

In obedience to instructions received from Major-General Butler, commanding Department of Virginia and North Carolina, “to report

with my division to Major General W. F. Smith, before Petersburg,” and move from Point of Rocks on the night of the 23rd of June, 1864, and reach my position in line of battle, relieving General O. B. Willcox’s division, Ninth Corps, about 1 a.m. on the 24th on the left of the Eighteenth Corps. The right center of my position rested immediately in front the locality known as the Hare house, my right retiring a little, connected with General Martindale’s division, of the Eighteenth Corps, while my center and left wing, passing over the eminence on which the Hare house is situated, extended down the slope of this hill and over a small creek at its foot, connected with the Ninth Corps in a piece of woods a short distance beyond, having a general direction to the west of north. The exact position of the enemy before my left wing was undetermined, being concealed by a considerable growth of timber, but passing along my front his line appeared to be advanced and occupied a strong entrenched position on a commanding hill, beyond which the ground seemed to fall off rapidly to what is supposed to be the creek bottom, through which the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad passes. This position he had connected with his right and left by rifle-pits, upon which he was at work night and day increasing their strength, and which soon became parapets of considerable relief. The salient of this advanced position was at a distance of from 30 to 400 yards from my advanced position was at a distance of from 300 to 400 yards from my front. Both of my lines were entrenched, and the troops were kept continually at work strengthening their position.

On the afternoon of the 24th I received an order from major-general commanding to assault the enemy’s advanced position in my front. Two assaulting columns were immediately formed, composed of 200 men from Colonel Curtis’ brigade and 200 men from Colonel Barton’s brigade these columns to be followed by the balance of these two brigade as supports. The assault was ordered to take place at 7.30 p.m., but on intimation from the major-general received during the afternoon not to move to the assault till I should hear further from him, a delay in the preparation, through misunderstanding, occurred, and the columns commenced moving at 7 o’clock. Colonel Curtis, however, with his column, was in position at the time appointed, but the other brigade being considerably behind time and darkness coming on it was thought that the artillery would not be able to give the assistance necessary, and the attack was postponed till the following evening. On the succeeding day the order for the assault was indefinitely postponed.

On the night of the 25th and 26th rifle-pits were dug in front of my center from 75 to 100 yards in advance, and a battery of four 8-inch siege mortars put in position in my first line.

During the night of the 29th Colonel Bell dislodged the enemy’s pickets in a point of timber some 100 yards in front of my left, and secured a position for forty sharpshooters, which partly enfiladed and with considerable command over the enemy’s line. These men did good execution during the following day.

On the 30th I received instructions to again endeavor to carry the enemy’s position in my front. Colonel Barton’s brigade was selected as the principal assaulting column. His instructions were to move out of the point of woods in front of his position and charge the enemy’s works immediately before him. It was to have been supported on the right by a smaller column, two regiments, under command of Colonel Curtis, who was to charge directly for the salient of the enemy’s works, issuing for this purpose from the trenches in front of his position, which were within 200 or 250 yards of the enemy’s line. The balance of Colonel Curtis’ brigade was to remain in the first line, ready

to move forward in support, if necessity required. On the left Colonel Bell was to have supported the principal assaulting column by engaging the enemy from the advantageous position he occupied on the ridge at the point of woods, which enabled him to deliver a plunging fire upon nearly the entire front upon which Colonel Barton was to approach. The principal element in this attack, and upon which was based the great anticipation of success, was a surprise. This was, unfortunately, frustrated by a lamentable error in judgment of the commander of the assaulting column, who, in filing out of the intrenchments near the woods in his front, for the purpose of forming his lines, so misjudged as to select a point for crossing the intrenchments within full view of the enemy’s line. This disclosure of our project drew upon Colonel Barton’s half-formed lines a sharp fire from the enemy in front, and put a stop for a time to the formation of the troops for assault. Upon the enemy opening upon Colonel Barton I immediately ordered Colonel Bell to commence his attack, hoping to divert the enemy from Colonel Barton, and enable him to form his troops. Colonel Bell promptly responded and pushed his troops in, which had the desired effect of relieving Colonel Barton, but at 5.20 Colonel Barton’s troops still not being in order for moving forward, and the enemy at this time having been apprised some thirty-five minutes of our movement, and attracted by the spirited engagement of Colonel Bell, had advanced some troops upon this officer, and it being reported to me that he had sent some men into his lines in front of Colonel Barton, I saw that all hopes of a sunrise was over, and it being the principal element of success, I acted upon the discretion left me by the major-general commanding, and withdrew from the attack. Colonel Bell gained some ground, which we now hold. Colonel Bell and Colonel Curtis both carried out their instructions fully and promptly. I inclose these officers’ reports. Colonel Barton has not sent his in yet. My casualties since my arrival on the morning of the 24th have been 12 officers, 262 non-commissioned officers and privates; in the affair of yesterday, loss included in the above figures, was 185.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JNumbers W. TURNER,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant Colonel N. BOWEN,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Eighteenth Army Corps.
HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, TENTH ARMY CORPS,
In the Field, Va., August 5, 1864.

MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part the Second Division, Tenth Army Corps, took in the engagement of the 30th instant [ultimo] before Petersburg:

In obedience to orders from Major-General Ord and instructions received from Major-General Burnside, I moved my division during the night of the 29th of July to a point on the front of the Ninth Corps, where the covered way leading to the advanced line commences. I was here to hold my division in hand till I received further orders, which I might expect as soon as the mine was sprung and the assault made. A few minutes after this event happened, feeling the importance of being close at hand, I moved the head of my column a short distance down the covered way, where I halted for orders and the de-

velopment of the attack. From this point, after some little delay, I again moved forward, but receiving no orders I halted for the second time. I then learned, to my surprise, that Potter’s division, of the Ninth Corps, was in my rear. I immediately made way for it to pass. Shortly after I received an order, dated 6 a.m., “to follow Potter, cover his right, and prevent it being flanked.” His rear had just passed me. I followed it closely with my troops. On reaching our advanced front I found a portion of Potter’s troops manning our line; a regiment of it was intrenching itself a few paces just in front, while the head of the division had passed over into the crater produced by the explosion. A few minutes after I arrived at the front in person, and before any number of my troops had come up, I received an order, dated 6.30 a.m., “to move forward on crest of hill to the right of Potter, near or on Jerusalem plank road.” This order evidently anticipated that the troops of the Ninth Corps had advanced sufficiently to let me out, the point for my egress being the point at which the assaulting column debouched, but this was not the case. The enemy at this period held his line up to within seventy-five yards on the right of the crater, and any attempt to get out of our lines, except immediately opposite it, would have been futile, and all the Ninth Corps which had previously passed out were massed in confusion in and in the immediate vicinity of the crater. Unless an advance of these troops was made it was only adding to the confusion and loss of life to put more troops out. To ascertain, however, whether I could not render assistance to our forces already in the enemy’s lines, or be able to prolong myself along it, I passed over to the crater and examined in person the portion of the enemy’s line held by the Ninth Corps. The enemy had a most destructive cross-fire of artillery and musketry on this front, and our men, crowded in great numbers within a narrow limit, were suffering severely. At this moment the troops of the colored division of the Ninth Corps commenced to arrive. I then expected a forward movement would immediately take place, and therefore hurried back and ordered Colonel Bell, commanding Third Brigade of my division, to charge to the right, agreeably to instructions, in order to cover this flank. This brigade advanced very handsomely over the parapet and into the enemy’s line to right of crater, securing about 100 yards of it, but the Ninth Corps not advancing this brigade halted. At the same moment Colonel Coan, commanding Second Brigade of my division, advanced over the parapet farther to the right, but was unable to reach the enemy’s works. He, however, attained a position in the undergrowth at a short distance in front of it, from which he kept up a sharp fire on the enemy. This position I directed him to hold, as it would greatly tend to divert the fire of the enemy from Bell’s brigade, which I had ordered to charge again to the right along the enemy’s line. This latter order Colonel Bell prepared to carry out; one regiment of his brigade started on the charge in excellent order along the enemy’s line to the right. At this juncture, for some unaccountable reason, the colored troops in the vicinity of the crater and to the right among Bell’s troops were seized with a panic and came rushing back to our lines, carrying with them the most of Bell’s brigade, and checked the charge, which the enemy seeing advanced in turn, when the most of our troops abandoned the possession of the greatest portion of the enemy’s lines which they had held, and came back in great confusion and passed to the rear. Colonel Bell and Colonel Coan succeeded in stopping the most of their men, and my provost-marshal soon brought up the balance. My division

then remained on our lines till, by order of Major-General Ord, I retired during the afternoon, having been relieved by troops of Carr’s division, Eighteenth Army Corps, with the exception of five companies of the One hundred and fifteenth New York Volunteers, who remained for twenty-four hours longer, there being no troops to relieve them.

My brigade commanders performed their duties to my entire satisfaction. I forward herewith their reports and a recapitulation of my losses.* Captain Keeler, my aide-de-camp,was wounded while with me in the enemy’s lines.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JNumbers W. TURNER,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Major WILLIAM RUSSELL, Jr.,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Eighteenth Army Corps.

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*Embodied in table, pp. 248, 249.

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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 696-700

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