Number 186. Petersburg Campaign Reports of Bvt. Brigadier General Charles S. Wainwright, First New York Light Artillery, commanding Artillery Brigade, of operations August 18-21, October 27-28, and December 7-12

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 186. Reports of Bvt. Brigadier General Charles S. Wainwright, First New York Light Artillery, commanding Artillery Brigade, of operations August 18-21, October 27-28, and December 7-12.1

HEADQUARTERS ARTILLERY BRIGADE, FIFTH CORPS,
August 31, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit herewith the following report of the part taken by my command in the occupation of our present position on the Weldon railroad and in the enemy’s attacks on the 19th and 21st instant:

The command moved from camp near the Avery house soon after daylight on the 18th; Philips’ and Richardson’s batteries in rear of First Division – Martin’s, Van Reed’s, and Rogers’ in rear of Second Division, Miller’s and Bigelow’s in rear of Third Division, and the five remaining batteries in rear of the corps. On arriving at the railroad Martin’s battery went into position near the Blick house, and replied to the fire of two pieces of the enemy on the railroad toward Petersburg. On the advance of the Second Division this battery moved forward with it to the opening around the Davis house, and again engaged the battery of the enemy, which had been withdrawn nearer the town. So soon as it became apparent that the enemy would attack the Second and third Divisions in their advanced position, the following batteries were brought into position in a line running form west to east across the railroad: Hart’s, just west of the Blick house, Rogers’, Mink’s, Van Reed’s, Bigelow’s, and Miller’s. As our lines fell back all these batteries opened, soon silencing the guns of the enemy and aiding in the repulse of their attack. Later in the day Hart’s battery was moved 100 yards farther to the west and Mink’s was thrown to the west of the pike, so that both these batteries could fire to the north of west. Barnes’ battery was also brought up on the right and rear of Miller’s and Anderson’s, Philips’, and D, First New York (under command of

Captain Matthewson, temporarily assigned to the battery in consequence of the illness of Lieutenant Richardson), were posted along the road facing to the east.

August 19, the batteries remained in the same position. The infantry formed two lines at right angles – the First Division along the main road, running north and south; the Second Division, with Second Brigade of Fourth Division, on its left, ran across the road and was joined on its right by Third Division, which connected with the Jerusalem plank road by the First Brigade, Fourth Division, deployed as skirmishers. This line was about 600 yards in front of the line of batteries, and all of it to the east of the railroad was in a dense wood. At 4.15 p. m. the enemy opened from eight guns in the opening around the Davis house and advanced on the line of the Second Division. At the same time a strong column broke through the skirmish line connecting our right with the Jerusalem plank road and swept down in rear of the Third Division. Our batteries at once replied slowly to those of the enemy and soon silenced them. the column which broke through the skirmish line swept steadily down through the woods toward our left until it reached within 200 yards of the railroad. For a distance of some 300 yards of their left flank projected beyond the woods into the open ground on front of the batteries to the extent of some 200 men, showing one battle-flag. But few of Crawford’s men had come out of the woods at that time, but, as the major-general commanding the corps had informed me the night before that the infantry had been instructed to retire by the flanks should they be unable to hold their advanced position, thereby unmasking the fire of our batteries, and as the enemy were unmistakably on our front, within 400 yards of the batteries, having to all appearances driven our men to the left, I no longer hesitated to turn all the guns of that front of them. So soon as this was done they immediately fell back toward our right and were followed by a few hundred of our infantry, who appeared to be acting independently, when the artillery fire was at once stopped. I have since learned that General Crawford’s main line had not been broken at this time; consequently, the enemy’s attacking column was between that division and the line of batteries, and a number of the shot fired at the enemy are said to have struck into General Crawford’s lines. The batteries were but slightly engaged after this in throwing a few shot at long range. At dusk the position of Hart’s and Mink’s batteries was changed a few paces, so as to give them a greater range of fire, and during the next day works were thrown up in front of all the guns and good platforms put down.

August 21, at daybreak our infantry line was withdrawn to the line of batteries on our north front, so that all our line was now in the opening. The Fourth Division was also established during the 20th on a new line, facing west, about 350 yards in advance of the right of the First Division. Shortly before 9 a. m. information was received that the enemy were moving up to attack, and soon after they opened with their artillery – about twenty-four guns, twelve around the Davis house firing south, and as many on the Vaughan road firing east, bringing a very ugly cross-fire upon nearly all our batteries. Our guns at once opened in reply. their infantry first showed itself in the corner of the woods near the flowers house, but their lines were broken and driven back, before they were well formed, by a well formed, by a well-directed fire form Hart’s and Mink’s batteries. Several other attempts were made to form at the same point, as also to bring out a battery there, but were all prevented by the concentrated fire of the four batteries of

Hart, Mink, Anderson, and Phillips. They all also came out at a corner of the woods within 150 yards of Hart’s battery, but were driven back by heavy discharges of canister. So soon as the disposition of the enemy’s batteries on the Vaughan road was made out, Lieutenant Dresser, brigade inspector, was directed to take Barnes’ battery from the right and so post it toward the left of our line as, if possible, to get an enfilading fire upon these guns. The position selected by Lieutenant Dresser fully answered the purpose. The fire of this battery contributed largely toward silencing the enemy’s fire soon after. Having no batteries to the south of the Yellow Tavern, and there being indications of the enemy pushing around that flank, I had dispatched Lieutenant Canfield for two batteries of the Ninth Corps, camped near the Gurley hose, and which General Potter had place at my disposition. A section of Jones’ battery, Eleventh Massachusetts, reached the pike just as our skirmishers were driven in on our extreme left. Lieutenant Morris, acting assistant adjutant-general of the brigade, was directed to guide the section up the road and post it outside the woods west of the White house. The section went out with our skirmishers as they again advanced and was able to get several shots at the enemy before they regained the cover of the woods. It was afterward joined by the other section of the battery which had got stalled in coming up, but was not again engaged.

While this attack was going on word came that the enemy was advancing against our north front where it joined on to the Ninth Corps, and that a battery was needed in the position vacated by Captain Barnes. Rogers’ battery, Nineteenth New York Independent, of Ninth Corps, was immediately turned off to that point as it came up from the Gurley house. On reaching the right of our lines I found that the attack on this front had already been repulsed. Prisoners stated that the attack was formed in three lines of battle, but that the first line was broken by the fire of our batteries before it emerged from the woods. The second line did not get within 300 yards of our works, but was broken by a direct fire of canister and a cross-fire of case-shot from twenty-six guns. The last attempt of the enemy was made directly in front of the Yellow Tavern, where they penetrated through the woods to the left and rear of the advanced line held by the Fourth Division. As they came out of the woods they were exposed to a cross-fire of musketry from the left of this division and from the line held by the Fourth Division. As they cam e out of the woods they were exposed to a cross-fire of musketry form the left of this division and from the line half by the First Division. At the same time Matthewson, Phillips, and Anderson opened on them with their guns (the first with canister), while Barnes threw shell into the woods in their rear. Many prisoners were taken at this point, and the whole brigade would have been destroyed or captured had not our fire been stopped under the impression that they had surrendered. After each repulse the enemy reopened with their artillery, but their fire lasted only a short time and, except when they first opened, was very wild. thus ended a battle in which the artillery on our side bore more prominent part than in any other action of this campaign. Our lines being formed entirely in open ground, though within short range of the surrounding woods, afforded the very best opportunity possible for an effective artillery fire, which was so well employed that the infantry had comparatively little opportunity to take part in the fight. Particular instructions had been given the day before that in firing into the woods only solid shot should be used, and fired at so low an elevation as to strike the ground at the edge of the woods and enter on the ricochet. The appearance of the woods and the enemy’s dead left there gave ample testimony to the excellence of

this practice. The behavior of all the batteries was all that could be asked for. The advanced position in the salient at the junction of our lines held by Hart’s and Mink’s batteries, especially the former, afforded these commanders greater opportunities to display their promptness in changing front, while they were also more exposed than the others. The manner in which they handled their guns is worthy of the highest praise.

The larger part of the casualties in the corps being caused by the artillery fire of the enemy, and our infantry being little exposed during its continuance, a much greater proportion of the losses than usual fell upon the Artillery Brigade.

I send herewith a nominal return of casualties* and report of ammunition expended during the period included in this report.

C. S. WAINWRIGHT,

Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Lieutenant Colonel F. T. LOCKE, Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifth Corps.
HDQRS. ARTILLERY BRIGADE, FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
November 3, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to transmit the following report of the part taken by my command in the operations on Hatcher’s Run, October 27, and 28:

The following batteries accompanied the troops, the remainder being left in the forts, on the front of the line held by the corps: E, Massachusetts, Captain Phillips, six 3-inch; Ninth Massachusetts, Lieutenant Milton, four light 12-pounders; B, Fourth United States, Lieutenant Stewart, four light 12-pounders; B, First New York, Lieutenant rogers, four 3-inch; H, First New York, Captain Mink, six light 12-pounders. From the time we left the works at Fort Cummings a dense wood covered nine-tenths of the country, and the openings were all small; neither did the troops of the Fifth Corps confront the enemy at any point where artillery could by any possibility be used, unless it was on the line taken up by General Gregory’s brigade of the First Division, in front of the enemy’s works upon the north bank of the run. To have got a single battery in position on the line would have necessitated the opening of new roads, and a very considerable amount of labor, whole it would have drawn a much heavier fire from the enemy’s guns upon our line of battle without an object on our part, unless an attempt were to have been made to storm the works. When the Third Division advanced up the south bank of the run, I twice thoroughly explored the woods through which they passed, to learn if a battery could have been used even had it been possible to get it forward. from the character fo the country it will be seen that artillery on our part could at no time have country it will be seen that artillery on our part could at no time have been used so as to be of the slightest advantage, consequently the command returned to the camp on the 28th without having fired a shot.

I am, colonel, most respectfully, your obedient servant,

C. S. WAINWRIGHT,

Colonel First New York Artillery, Commanding Brigade.

Lieutenant Colonel FRED. T. LOCKE, Asst. Adjt. General, Fifth Army Corps.

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* Embodied in table, p.125.

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HDQRS. ARTILLERY BRIGADE, FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
December 14, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my command in the late expedition to Belfield:

Rapidity of movement being the main object but four batteries accompanied the infantry of the expeditionary force, one marching with each division – E, Massachusetts Artillery, Bvt. Major Charles A. Philips, six 3-inch, with Crawford’s division; H, First New York Artillery, Bvt. Major Charles E. Mink, four 12-pounders, with Griffins’ division; B, Fourth U. S. Artillery, Bvt. Captain James Stewart, four 12-pounders, with Mott’s division; Ninth Massachusetts Battery, Lieutenant R. S. Milton, four 12-pounders, with Ayres’ division. Each of the 12-pounder batteries had two extra caissons along, so as to carry 175 rounds ammunition per gun. The forges of all the batteries were taken, and one battery wagon for the whole two forage wagons accompanied each battery. The roads going out were excellent. On the return the rain and frost had made them very bad, but no difficulty was experienced in keeping all the carriages in their places in column. During the whole expedition nothing was seen of the enemy in force; consequently no engagement occurred. The batteries were not even brought into position, and returned without loss of any kind save a little material, a list of which is subjoined. to the credit of the officers and men of these batteries I would state that there was but one single case of straggling and drunkenness among them, though the nature of the expedition was such as greatly tended to these evils. this man was promptly arrested and punished on the spot.

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

C. S. WAINWRIGHT,

Colonel and Brevet Brigadier-General, Commanding Brigade.

Bvt. Colonel FRED. T. LOCKE,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifth Army 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 540-544

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