Number 161. Petersburg Campaign Report of Colonel Thomas F. McCoy, One hundred and seventh Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding First Brigade, of operations August 18-September 12

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 161. Report of Colonel Thomas F. McCoy, One hundred and seventh Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding First Brigade, of operations August 18-September 12.1

HDQRS. FIRST Brigadier, THIRD DIV., FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
Camp near Weldon Railroad, Va., September 12, 1864.

CAPTAIN: In compliance with the orders of the commanding general of the division, I have the honor to report the operations of this brigade on the Weldon railroad from the 18th ultimo:

The brigade on that day was composed of the following regiments: One hundred and fourth Regiment New York Volunteers, Colonel G. G. Prey; Ninetieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel C. L. Peirson; Sixteenth Maine Volunteers, Colonel C. W. Tilden, and One hundred and seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Colonel T. F. McCoy, and was formed in column in the order named. The aggregate number of officers and men was as follows: field officers, 8; line officers, 59; buns, 1,108. The column moved in the direction of the Weldon railroad about 8 a. m., the Third Division being preceded by the First and Second Divisions respectively. The Fourth Division was in rear of the column. the day was oppressively warm and the soldiers suffered greatly form the hot sun. The railroad was reached by the First Brigade about noon at the Yellow House, or Six-Mile Station, south of Petersburg. The troops were massed in the fields near this point on the right or east of the railroad. The troops that had preceded us had already advanced one battery and some infantry up the road in the direction of the city, and other bodies of troops were engaged in destroying the railroad. There is here a large and beautiful

area of cleared ground of several hundred acres, extending east and west of the railroad and north along the road, perhaps half a mile from the Yellow House. This clearing is surrounded by a dense wood, interspersed with swamps, parts of it so filled with underbrush that it is difficult to penetrate. The ground is generally a level. In these grassy fields the troops were permitted to rest about an hour, when they were called to arms. The battery on the railroad had opened and skirmishing had commenced on the right and left of the road in the direction of Petersburg and in the woods beyond the open ground just mentioned. This brigade, then under the command of Colonel Peter Lyle, of the Ninetieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, was formed in line of battle and advanced to within a short distance of the woods. The One hundred and seventh Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were ordered to deploy as skirmishers, and advanced to within a short distance of the woods. The One hundred and seventh Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were ordered to deploy as skirmishers, and advanced into the woods about twenty yards and halted for further orders. While this regiment was in the act of deploying and advancing, orders were given for it to oblique to the right and also extend the intervals that it might extend to the right and form a cave, following the line of the clearing so as to protect the right flank of the division, the other brigades of which were now advancing and forming on the right of the first.

The brigade soon advanced into the woods with orders to connect with the right of the Second Division, which extended across and to the right of the railroad from 50 to 100 yards. This was effected by the Sixteenth Maine Regiment (Colonel Tilden.). that regiment being on the left of the brigade. While Colonel Lyle was exerting himself to bring up each successive regiment on the right of the Sixteenth Maine into line, it being very difficult to accomplish in the thick and tangled wood and underbrush, the enemy’s column of battle advanced and made a furious attack on the Second Division, on our left, and extending along the front of our brigade, then in course of formation. The Sixteenth maine first came under the fire with the right of the Second Division. The troops on the Second Division, on our left, and extending along the front of our brigade, then in course of formation. The Sixteenth Maine first came under the fire with the right of the Second Division. The troops on the right of that division retiring somewhat, left the left flank of this brigade exposed. This regiment holding its ground for some minutes, soon discovering that the enemy was threatening the flank and rear, fell back some 150 yards, together with the other regiments of the brigade that had also become engaged, suffering a loss of some killed, wounded, and missing. This was not done, however, without inflicting loss upon the enemy. Lieutenant William T. Spear, Thirty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers, a most worthy officer, of Christian habits and character, was killed in this part of the action, and Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Peirson and Lieutenant John D. Reed were wounded, the former very seriously, together with a considerable number of men killed, wounded, and a few prisoners. The Sixteenth Maine Regiment also lost in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Lieutenant John. T. Reilly, of the Ninetieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, was taken prisoner, with some of the men of that regiment. These regiment retiring but a short distance and reforming, the line of battle was again formed as soon as possible. The One hundred and seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers (seven shooters). The brigade, in connection with the troops on our right and left, again advanced under a brisk skirmish fire and partially reoccupied the ground from which it had just retired. The skirmishing was kept up during the evening and night 12 o’clock with but little intermission.

During the night intrenchments were thrown up, and during the early part of the 19th the troops were engaged in strengthening their works. In the morning it was discovered that the enemy’s skirmish line had been withdrawn several hundred yards to rear of the one occupied on the previous night, leaving a few dead in our hands and quite a number of small-arms. The dead were buried and the arms sent to the rear. In our front there was quietness during the early part of the day. At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon the brigade moved by the right flank for a distance of about 200 yards, occupying part of the ground vacated by the Second Brigade, the party of the line we vacated Division. The men again engaged in repairing the works, a heavy rain during the day having made additional labor necessary. At about 4 o’clock a brisk musketry fire was opened on our right on the line, perhaps a half or three quarters of a mile distant and in front of another or part of another division of the corps. A short time before this fire was opened it was reported to Colonel Lyle by the picket officer that the enemy was forming a line of battle in our immediate front. The fire continued on the right and seemed to grow in volume. The regiments were in the breast-works, and very soon thereafter the whole line opened a heavy musketry fire, repelling the enemy in every attempt to approach our lines. This fire was continued almost without intermission until rifle-balls and shells began to come from our rear, and very soon thereafter a backward movement was made in the direction of our second line of battle. In passing through the woods in the direction named, the fire from our own batteries was very hot, and I believe some were killed and not a few wounded. The enemy also suffered from this fire. Before reaching the clear ground a rebel column was met that had interposed through a break in the line in the division on our right, while our division in our part of the line was repelling the attack from the front, and came along in our rear between our retiring force and the second line of works, and this being effected through the thick wood and with great daring, was accomplished unperceived by us and before measures could be taken to resist or avoid it; hence we lost in prisoners largely, in both officers and men.

The following field officers were captured and taken to Petersburg by the enemy: Colonel G. G. Prey, One hundred and fourth New York Volunteers: Colonel C. W. Tilden, Sixteenth Maine Volunteers; Lieutenant Colonel J. R. Strang, One hundred and fourth New York Volunteers, reported to be wounded; Lieutenant Colonel William A. Leech, Ninetieth Pennsylvania Volunteers; Major Jacob M. Davis, same regiment. Others were taken but made their escape before they could be taken to the enemy’s rear. Thirty-three line officers were taken and 721 enlisted men.

I would not omit to mention that Colonel Tilden, of the Sixteenth Maine, a most worthy and esteemed officer, being deeply impressed with a vivid recollection of a former imprisonment in Richmond, after having been taken to Petersburg and on his way under guard from that city to the Libby Prison, made a most daring and successful escape, and rejoined his regiment the third night after his capture. Considering the perils through which he passed in making his escape, it cannot be otherwise regarded than remarkably providential. He was accompanied by Lieutenant E. F. Davis, of the same regiment. I would also state that the brigade staff has suffered severely by the following members of it having been captured: Captain Byron Porter, assistant adjutant-general,

general, Captain E. J. Trull, acting brigade inspector, and Lieutenant I. F. R. Hosea, commanding pioneer corps. Lieutenant A. Leavitt, acting aide-de-camp, was captured, but made his escape, and bringing into our lines a number of prisoners. It was with difficulty that Colonel Lyle, commanding brigade, made his escape, having to abandon his horse in the attempt. With all these losses, however, the remnant of the brigade was rallied, and with the aid of other troops advanced again into the woods, and late in the evening reoccupied the line of the afternoon. All these operations of the afternoon took place during a rain-storm, and the men were wet to the skin and greatly exhausted.

On the 20th the brigade was relieved from duty in the front line and took position in the open field on the right of the railroad, again connecting with the Second division and in support of the Ninth Massachusetts Battery, when the men threw up a line of intrenchments during the afternoon fronting the northeast. There were indications of an attack of the enemy during the night, and on the morning of the 21st the indications were still more striking and apparent. At 9 o’clock the enemy opened their batteries, and soon after their columns of infantry advanced against the left flank and front of our line. Their repeated attempts to advance upon the works were repulsed, and after about an hour’s fighting they retired in disorder, leaving many prisoners in our hands and the ground strewn with their dead and wounded. Our loss in this engagement was comparatively small, which may be attributed to our men fighting behind breast-works. The artillery on our part of the line did the greater part of the fighting. Some prisoners were turned over to Colonel Lyle that were taken in our front. there was no further fighting during the day. The wounded rebels were carried from the field and well cared for by our surgeon. On Monday, 22nd, the dead were buried. On the 23rd the division under General Hancock’s corps was heavily engaged with a large force of the enemy. At this period in the movements of the brigade, Colonel Lyle, who had been in command since the battles of the Wilderness, to the great satisfaction of the officers and men, was compelled by severe illness to relinquish the command to the undersigned. I immediately assumed command and marched the column to the Yellow House, when I received an order from Brigadier-General Crawford, commanding the division, to report with my command to Brigadier-General Bragg, which I did at once and moved under his direction toward Reams’ Station. Having marched about one mile, orders were received to counter march the command and go into camp for the night. On the following day, the 26th, we were again ordered to change camp and throw up a line of works southeast of the Yellow House. September 2, instant, the brigade, with the division, was supporting the cavalry under General Gregg in a reconnaissance, since which time, with little interruption, it has remained quietly in camp near the Gurley house.

It affords me pleasure to state that the One hundred and ninetieth and One hundred and ninety-first regiments Pennsylvania Volunteers, formerly composing the Third Brigade of the Third Division, have been transferred to this brigade, and have composed a part of it since the

morning of the 23rd of August. In the operations of the 18th and 19th these regiments lost by capture about three-fourths of the number they had with the command, including Colonel W. R. Hartshorne, One hundred and ninetieth, commanding the brigade, and Colonel James Carle, commanding One hundred and ninety-first, with Major John A. Wolff, of the former, and Major M. Weidler, of the latter regiment, together with a large proportion of their line officers. Not having any personal knowledge of the operations of these regiments, then composing the Third Brigade, I cannot report their operations further than to inclose the reports of Captain N. B. Kinsey, of the One hundred and ninetieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Captain R. M. Birkman, One hundred and ninetieth, temporarily assigned to the One hundred and ninety-first, who have been in command of these regiments since the disaster of the 19th, to which I would respectfully refer the brigadier-general commanding the division.

I also forward, as a part of my report, the several reports of the regimental commanders of the brigade, and would refer the commanding general to rheum for many of the details that I have necessarily omitted.

A recapitulation of the losses are appended to this report.*

I should not omit to state that a rebel flag belonging to a North Carolina regiment was captured on the afternoon of the 19th by Private Solomon J. Hottenstine, of Company C, One hundred and seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, who presented it on the field to Brigadier-General Crawford, commanding the division.

In closing this imperfect report of the operations of the brigade, I would express my extreme regret at the loss of so many brave veteran officers and men. They are a great loss to this gallant corps and army, and to the good cause of our country. This is especially so at the present crisis of the contest. In their capture, however we may deplore it, it is gratifying to be assured that no dishonor or blame can attach to them. They battled bravely and successfully with the foe in their front. That the enemy was allowed to approach their rear from a distant part of the line cannot, and I am glad to know is not, chargeable to them. They have truly for a time lost their liberty and the privilege of continuing to battle for the righteous cause of the Government, but they have not sullied their fair fame, won and maintained on may battle-fields; they still retain a soldier’s patriotism, integrity, and honor.

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

T. F. McCOY,

Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Captain GEORGE MONTEITH,

Asst. Adjt. General, Third Division, Fifth Army Corps.

[Indorsement.]
HDQRS. NINETIETH Regiment PENNSYLVANIA VOLUNTEERS,
September 24, 1864.

I fully concur in the above report of Colonel McCoy of the operations of the brigade on the above dates.

Very respectfully,

P. LYLE,

Colonel Ninetieth Regiment Pennsylvania Vols., late Commanding Brigade.

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* Embodied in table, p.124.

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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 502-506

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