Number 67. Reports of Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth, U. S. Army, commanding Third Brigade, of operations August 23-25 and October 25-28

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 67. Reports of Brigadier General Thomas A. Smyth, U. S. Army, commanding Third Brigade, of operations August 23-25 and October 25-28.1

HDQRS. THIRD Brigadier, SECOND DIV., 2nd ARMY CORPS, August 28, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to respectfully submit the following report of the part taken by this command in the late operations near Reams’ Station, Va.:

About 6 o’clock on the evening of the 23rd instant I received orders from the major-general commanding division, through yourself, to move my command, via the Villiams house, to the Jerusalem plank road. This order was promptly obeyed, my brigade leading the division and moving in a southerly direction on the aforementioned road a distance of about two miles, where I halted, in compliance with orders to that effect, in an open field on the right of the road and bivouacked for the night, under orders to be in readiness to move at 3.30 o’clock on the following morning. In compliance with these orders I moved the command at 3.15 o’clock on the morning of the 24th instant toward Reams’ Station, on this occasion also leading the division. Reached Reams’ Station, at 7 a.m. and by order of the major-general commanding took position on the immediate left of the First Division. At about 7.30 o’clock I received orders to move to the right, occupying the works evacuated by a brigade of the First Division, my right resting at Sleeper’s (Tenth Massachusetts) battery and at the same time to relieve a portion of the First Division picket-line. In compliance with the order I posted my regiment in the following order from right to left: Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers, Fourth Ohio Battalion, Tenth Battalion New York Volunteers, Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers, Seventh Virginia Battalion, One hundred and eight New York Volunteers, my left resting at the road running southwest from the railroad. The First Delaware Veteran Volunteers with the Second Delewere Battalion were posted on the left of the pickets of the First Brigade, connecting on their left with the pickets of the Third Brigade, First Division; the Sixty-ninth and One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers were posted as pickets on a continuation of the line of battle

guarding the approach by the road on which my left is represented as resting, and relieving a portion of the Fourth New York Heavy Artillery. This disposition remained unchanged throughout the day, the Fourteenth Connecticut, Fourth Ohio Battalion, and Tenth New York Battalion being engaged in completing the destruction of the railroad in rear of their position and to the right as far as the First Brigade. About 8 o’clock in the evening I moved do the right of the railroad, occupying the breast-works in two lines on the left of the First Brigade, and bivouacked for the night under orders to be in readiness to move at 5.30 o’clock on the following morning.

At 5 o’clock on the morning of the 25th instant the order directing me to be ready to move at 5.30 o’clock was countermanded, and I was directed to hold my command in readiness to move at short notice. During the night the First Delaware Veteran Volunteers, with the Second Delawere Volunteers, with the Second Delawere Battalion, had been relieved from picket and rejoined the brigade. The Sixty-ninth and One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, however, had not, and by direction of the major-general commanding First Division, who immediately sent a detail to relieve these regiments. At 6 a.m. I received orders from the major-general commanding, through Captain Potter, to mass my command in an open space in the corn-field in the rear of the railroad, facing in a westerly direction. This was accomplished, at which the Sixty-ninth and One hundred and sixth rejoined the command. About 9 a.m. I received orders from the major-general commanding, through yourself, to move my command out on the road running parallel with the railroad. After proceeding about three-quarters of a mile I received orders to halt the column and report to the major-general commanding, who directed me to deploy as skirmishes on the right of the railroad one of my best regiments, supported by another, and to advance them so as to enable me to procure, if possible, the entrenching tools left by the First Division on the previous day, and also to endeavor to capture the enemy occupying that ground.

In compliance thereof I deployed the First Delaware Veteran Volunteers, using as a support the Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers, commanded respectively, by Lieutenant Colonel D. Woodall and Lieutenant Colonel R. S. Thompson, and immediately advanced the line, making a left hall-wheel as I approached, and engaged the enemy. Finding both flanks exposed, I deployed, in protection of the left two companies of the Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers, and of the right running nearly perpendicularly to the skirmish line, the One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel F. E. Pierce commanding. These dispositions being made, I advanced quite half a mile, and meeting with considerable resistance, I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Thompson to deploy the right wing of his regiment in single rank in rear of the First Delawere Volunteers, and to charge the enemy’s skirmishers. At this time, having received instructions to that effect, I directed a staff officers to bring the remainder of the brigade to a position a short distance in rear of the skirmish line. My skirmish line immediately advanced and drove the enemy through a corn-field, also an open field, and into the woods in our front, when he advanced a line of battle, forcing back my skirmish line to the position occupied prior to the charge, when he in turn fell back to his position in the woods. I reported this fact to the major-general commanding division, from whom I received an order to again press the enemy, and ascertain, if possible, his force and position. In order to accomplish this the following dispositions were made: I deployed in

double line the Seventh Virginia Battalion, the Fourth Ohio Battalion, and Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers, commanded respectively by Captain I. B. Fisher, Captain Denniston, and Lieutenant Colonel S. A. Moore, the right wing of the Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers in echelon on the left flank of the line, and the right wing of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers bearing well to the right and rear in protection of the right flank. This line was supported by the Sixty-ninth and One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel William Davis commanding. I advanced, driving the enemy, until my right flank reached a swamp, upon the opposite side of which the enemy was discovered in position. He opened upon me a severe fire, and as it was impossible to advance, and, furthermore, as I had discovered the enemy moving to my right in considerable force, I deemed it inadvisable to again attempt to force his position in my front. To meet the demonstration of the enemy on my right flank I deployed the Tenth Battalion New York Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel George F. Hopper commanding, and apprehending that the enemy was endeavoring to get position in my rear, I moved the One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers and First Delaware Volunteers to the right and rear connecting with the Tenth New York on their left and covering the road to the railroad on their right.

At 2 p.m. I received orders from the major-general commanding to withdraw my command and rejoin the division. This was speedily effected in good order and without loss, notwithstanding the troops were somewhat exposed to artillery fire. By direction of the major-general commanding my command was placed in position on the left of the Second Brigade, my line following the crest of the hill through the corn-field toward the swamp. The Fourth Ohio Battalion were deployed as skirmishers in advance of the road in my front and the command immediately set at work building breat-works on the line it occupied. Before this was completed, and while the troops were yet at work, the enemy attacked and forced from their position the troops of the First Division, thus enabling him to open a severe fire in my rear, from which the command suffered to a considerable extent. At this time I was ordered by the major-general commanding division to attempt to recapture the works evacuated by the troops of the First Division. I immediately faced my command by the rear rank and ordered and advance. This was not executed with the promptness and alacrity which usually characterizes the movements of the troops of my command, for which I cannot account, unless it was owing to the peculiar position of the troops, part of them being on the reversed side of the works, or their exhausted condition after the active operations of the previous part of the day. They retired again to their former position and reformed after some difficulty. Three of my regiments, however, succeeded in retaking a portion of the works formerly occupied by the First Division, recapturing three pieces of McKnight’s (Twelfth New York) battery, and occupying the works until after dark. While in the act of reforming the brigade the enemy attacked in front of my right, and turning the flank of the troops on my right forced them from the works, my command being obliged to follow. I then retired with my command to the woods in my rear and formed the brigade with the division, moving the Sixty-ninth and One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers so as to connect my right with the three regiments in the breast-works, protecting their flank during the removal of the recaptured guns. I was shortly after ordered to move to the rear, when the column started and I moved with the division to its present position.

In conclusion, I feel it my duty to speak of the services rendered by the regimental commanders of this brigade, as well as the gentlemen comprising my staff. If affords me pleasure to report them as performing their duty as becomes men and soldiers. It was with pain that I saw one of these last named, a noble, brave young man, and one of my most valuable officers, killed by a shot from the enemy. Captain Hawley, had been with me constantly during the time I had command of this brigade, and the services he has rendered, his worth as a gentleman and a soldier, cannot be too highly nor his loss too deeply deplored.

I have the honor to submit herewith a nominal list of casualties occurring in my command for the time covered by this report.*

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

THOS. A. SMYTH,

Colonel First Delaware Veteran Volunteers, Commanding Brigade.

Captain A. HENRY EMBLER,

Actg. Asst. Adjt. General, Second Division, Second Army Corps.

HDQRS. THIRD Brigadier, SECOND DIV., 2nd ARMY CORPS, October 30, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I would respectfully submit the following report of the

part taken by my command in the late movement on the left and the engagement of the 27th instant:

In compliance with instructions I moved this brigade from its position near Fort Morton to the vicinity of Fort Bross on the night of the 25th instant. On the 26th instant my command was supplied with rations and ammunition, and at 2 p.m. moved with division to the Halifax road, near which it bivouacked for the night. The First Delaware Veteran Volunteers and One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers were here detached and posted as pickets by order of the brigadier-general commanding division. An interior guard, consisting of the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers and One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Major P. S. Tinen commanding, was posted in compliance with instructions. At 3 a.m. on the 27th my command again moved, leading the division and following the Halifax road a short distance and thence south. Upon reaching the Wyatt house the Fourth Ohio Battalion and Seventh West Virginia Volunteers, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Spalter, Fourth Ohio, were sent in advance as skirmishers and advance guard, and flankers were also deployed. The column then moved on without opposition until it reached Cedar Creek, when the enemy were found in an intrenched position, and disposed to dispute the crossing. By direction of the brigadier-general commanding division I at once deployed the brigade across the road and advanced through the creek, which was more than waist deep at places, driving the enemy from their works, and capturing several prisoners. At Young’s Store the command was reformed, the First Delaware Veteran Volunteers skirmishing in advance, relieving the Fourth Ohio and Seventh Virginia on this duty, and driving the enemy’s skirmishers for over half a mile, when they were halted. The column was formed, after being relieved on the line by the Third Division, and followed the Second Brigade on the Armstrong Mill road, left in front. Upon reaching the plank road I was ordered to form line

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*Embodied in table, p.130.

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facing by the rear rank on the left of the wood, which I immediately did, advancing a skirmish line in my front. I was soon relieved from this position by troops of the Third Division and directed to form in line of battle on the right of the First Brigade, and in support of the Second Brigade, which advanced, and afterward was ordered to move my command by a flank into the plank road. These movements were executed under an artillery fire, which, although severe at times, did not tend to make the troops unsteady in the least degree. I received orders from the brigadier-general commanding division to move from the road into the open field on the right, which was done, a line being formed from the road to the right. I placed the Tenth New York Volunteers and Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers in echelon on the right of this line and in protection of that flank. At this time the enemy attacked on the plank road, moving up toward the battery, which was in position on the right of the road. I immediately moved the First Delaware Veteran Volunteers and One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers forward, and almost simultaneously the whole line, driving back the enemy and occupying their works on the bank of the creek. At this time the Sixty-ninth* New York Volunteers, One hundred and seventieth New York Volunteers, One hundred and sixty-fourth New York volunteers, and Eighth New York Heavy Artillery, reported to me, and were placed in position as follows: The Sixty-ninth* and One hundred and seventieth were placed in the pits on the left of the road, and the Eighth Heavy Artillery and One hundred and sixty-fourth New York on the immediate right of my brigade.

The brigadier-general commanding division directed me to endeavor to make a connection with troops who were engaged on our right, supposed to be the Fifth Corps, and I deployed the Tenth New York Volunteers from the right of my line to the right at intervals of about ten paces, but this line failed to make the desired connection. At my request the adjutant of the Tenth New York Volunteers, Lieutenant C. W. Cowtan, with six enlisted men, started from the right of that regiment to ascertain what troops were engaged in that direction, and saw a column of rebel troops moving by a flank toward our rear. This fact was immediately reported to me, and by me to the brigadier-general commanding division. I was directed by the brigadier-general commanding division to attempt to obtain on the opposite side of Hatcher’s Run, by forcing a passage of the bridge at the mill-dam. Colonel McAllister’s brigade, Third Division, reported to me at this time and was placed in position on the right of my line in rear of the deployed line of the Tenth New York. I advanced the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteers across the run on the right of the bridge, and was preparing to charge the bridge with the One hundred and sixty-fourth New York, when an attack was made in our rear and no advance was made at this point. While this attack being made the enemy advanced in my front and were gallantly repulsed by the Eighth New York Heavy Artillery and One hundred and sixty-fourth New York Volunteers. I assembled the Tenth New York and moved them to the support of the line engaged in my rear. This disposition of the troops under my command did not materially change until after dark, but my picket-line was constantly engaged with the enemy’s. At dark I received instructions to withdraw my command, following the Third Division, which I did, leaving a picket-line, which was withdrawn by a staff officer from these headquarters at 1 o’clock that night.

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*Or One hundred and eighty-second.

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My command bivouacked for the night near Amstrong’s Mill, and on the 28th moved with the division to the vicinity of Fort Bross, returning to the position I now occupy on the evening of the 29th.

In conclusion, if affords me the greatest pleasure to speak of the gallant conduct of the officers and men of my command. Without exception they behaved well, performing their duty unflinchingly and gallantly. Lieutenant Cowtan’s services deserve special mention, he volunteering a second time to ascertain the position of the rebel column referred to in this report. I have to mourn the loss of Lieutenant Colonel F. J. Spalter, Fourth Ohio Volunteers, who was killed while gallantly leading his regiment in the charge on the morning of the 27th. It is due to the officers and men of the Eighth New York Heavy Artillery and One hundred and sixty-fourth New York Volunteers to mention their unexceptionable conduct and their anxiety to perform duty. Valuable services were rendered by the gentleman of my staff, of which I desire to make mention.

I have the honor to furnish herewith a numerical list of casualties occurring in my command during the time covered by this report.*

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

THOS. A. SMYTH,

Brigadier-General of Volunteers, Commanding.

Captain A. HENRY EMBLER,

Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Second Division.

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*Embodied in return of casualties, p.154.

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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 322-327

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