Number 43. Report of Lieutenant Colonel William Wilson, Eighty-first Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding Consolidated Brigade, of operations August 22-26

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

Numbers 43. Report of Lieutenant Colonel William Wilson, Eighty-first Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding Consolidated Brigade, of operations August 22-26.1

HDQRS. CONSOLIDATED Brigadier, FIRST DIV., SECOND CORPS,
August 30, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report the operations of this brigade from August 22 up to the morning of the 26th:

On the morning of the 23rd this brigade fell in and marched down the Weldon railroad and stacked arms hear the Church road. The brigade then proceeded to tear up the track. Colonel Crandell posted pickets in his front to cover the brigade. About 4 o’clock Colonel

Crandell received orders to fall in his command, withdraw his pickets, and march down to Reams’ Station. The brigade, led by Captain Marlin, division inspector, reached Reams’ Station at dusk. At that time there was sharp skirmishing on the right-hand sid of the road. The brigade formed in the old works of the Sixth Corps, and were ready for any emergency. On the 24th Colonel Crandell received orders to move the brigade beyond Reams’ Station and proceed to destroy the railroad, which was done. After destroying about 800 yards of the road the brigade was moved oppose Smart’s house and set to work on the left of the Fourth New York Heavy Artillery. About 5.30 p.m. Colonel Crandell received orders to withdraw his pickets and move the brigade back to Reams’ Stations and bivouac for the night. Before reaching the station Colonel Crandell received orders from General Miles to take charge of the picket-line, and was in consequence separated from his brigade during the action of the 25th. The brigade, under the command of Captain Penfield, of the One hundred and twenty-fifth New York Volunteers, was placed in the works running parallel to the railroad on the left of the First Brigade, its right resting near the gap in the works through which the railroad passes. There were no works on the railroad between the First and Third Brigades. In front of the right and center of the brigade was a belt of timber and underbrush which was slashed to the depth of about thirty feet for the purpose of forming an abatis. The works on the left of the brigade reached into an open field, there being a gap in the works of ten yards between the left of the Third and the right of the Fourth Brigades. About 1 p.m. the pickets of the First Brigade fell back in confusion over the works of the brigade, although at the time but few shots came over the works. A detail of twenty-five men was immediately deployed in front of the works to give notice of the enemy’s approach. At this time Lieutenant-Colonel Broady, commanding Fourth Brigade, had assumed command of the Third Brigade, although no official notice was received at brigade headquarters of the change in brigade commanders. Colonel Broady immediately ordered Lieutenant Mitchell, aide-de-camp, Third Brigade, to deploy as skirmishers the three right regiments of the brigade, the One hundred and eleventh, the One hundred and twenty-fifth, and One hundred and twenty-sixth New York Volunteers, under command of Captain Penfield, and advance them into the woods as far as possible, connecting with the One hundred and forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers on the left and the First Brigade skirmish line on the right. The line advanced with loud cheers in accordance with orders from Colonel Broady. The One hundred and forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers soon broke in pieces, leaving the left of Captain Penfield exposed. The pickets of the First Brigade also retired, leaving the line exposed on both flanks. Lieutenant Mitchell then received an order to immediately detail another picket to cover the front of the brigade, to replace the line which had fallen back. The skirmishers found a strong line in front. They captured a few of the enemy’s pickets while swinging around to the left. About 2 o’clock the enemy charged in front of the works occupied by the right of the Fourth Brigade and the left of the Third, but was driven back by the determined front of both brigades. Again at 3 he attempted to charge in the same place, but getting an oblique fie on him from the left center of the brigade,he fled, leaving his dead and wounded on the field. Some of his dead were within twenty feet of our works. As the pickets of the Third Brigade had not fallen back, notice was sent to Colonel Broady that Captain

Penfield still held his position. Captain Noyes, inspector of Consolidated Brigade, was then directed to ascertain how far in the woods in front was the skirmish line, and whether it covered the whole front of the brigade. He reported that the left of the brigade was unprotected by skirmishers, but that the right was covered. Colonel Broady then directed Captain Noyes to have the skirmishers of the Consolidated Brigade in concert with the skirmishers of the First Brigade, to make a left half-wheel and find out the force of the enemy. It was then only that it was discovered that no connection existed between the skirmishers of the First and Third Brigades. The nearest picket discovered was in charge of a lieutenant at a house in front of the First Brigade. The condition of the picket line was immediately reported to General Miles, commanding the division. The line of men in the works had been so weakened by the withdrawal of the One hundred and eleventh, One hundred and twenty-fifth, and One hundred and twenty-sixth New York Volunteers that only a single line of men, in some places at the interval of a pace apart, occupied the works. The attention of Colonel Broady had been often called to the thinness of the line holding the works and to the necessity of well covering the gaps on the right and left of the brigade. To meet the occasion the One hundred and forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers was formed in the rear of the left of brigade. Between 4 and 5 p.m. the works were further weakened by the posting of a gun in the rear of the right brigade. Shortly after the enemy commenced a charge extending over and overlapping the whole from of the brigade which resulted in the abandonment of the works. Three officers and one or more non-commissioned officers were sent into the rifle-pits on the skirmish line to announce the coming of a large force of the enemy. Sufficient attention was not given to the statements of these officers, whose especial care it was to look out for the front, and send correct information. The reports were discredited, and no order was given for the skirmish line to fall back. The enemy advanced with the utmost silence, refusing to answer the fire of the skirmishers till it suddenly broke with full force on the skirmish line, which soon became mingled with the pursuing column. The brigade reserving their fire for a time to allow the skirmish line to retire, poured heavy volleys upon the charging force. At this time the One hundred and forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers was in the rear of the brigade. It was not posted in the pits, and the conduct of some of the men who rushed toward the left to discharge their pieces created some confusion. The reserve force only operated to impede and annoy the line in front occupying the works. The enemy appeared to come in on the railroad upon us through the gaps in the works between the First and Third Brigades, partially unnoticed by the men on the right of the brigade, who were too much engaged with the enemy in their immediate front. In this manner quite a force of the rebels got in the rear of the right before it fell back or was even aware of the mode of their penetrating our lines. On the left of the brigade also the enemy charged with great fury through the gap in the works between the Third and Fourth Brigades, capturing a large number of men who were fighting in the pits with great desperation, and who broke out rather for the front than the rear. The contest was a desperate one, but of short duration. The thin line in the works, flanked on the right and left, was obliged to fall back, not, however, before the colors of the One hundred and eleventh New York Volunteers were wrested from the color-sergeant in the very rifle-pits. Officers and men of the brigade, however, rallied, and in a short time

occupied a portion of the works previously held by the First Brigade. After dark the brigade line was formed and the brigade moved off by the right flank, following the Fourth Brigade, marching all night and halting on the morning of the 26th near the Williams house.

Our loss in this brigade was 25 commissioned officers killed, wounded, and missing, and 243 enlisted men killed, wounded, and missing.

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

WILLIAM WILSON,

Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Captain WILLIAM R. DRIVER,

Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division, Second Corps.

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLII, Part 1 (Serial Number 87), pages 287-290

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