Number 189. Petersburg Campaign Reports of Brigadier General Orlando B. Willcox, U. S. Army, commanding First Division, of operations September 30 – October 8 and October 27 – 28

   

0 comments

in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

Numbers 189. Reports of Brigadier General Orlando B. Willcox, U. S. Army, commanding First Division, of operations September 30 – October 8 and October 27 – 28.1

HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
October 18, 1864.

MAJOR: In compliance with instructions I have the honor to report the operations of this division from the 30th of September to 8th of October instant, inclusive:

On the morning of September 30 the division moved out from the Gurley house, following the Second Division, General Potter, to the intersection of the Poplar Spring Church and Squirrel Level roads, and came up on the left of the Second Division near the Peebles house, and threw out scouting parties to the left and front; thence it followed the Second Division to the Pegram house, in front of which, facing north, General Potter formed for attack, and I received orders from Major-General Parke, commanding the corps, to post one brigade on the left of the Second Division, with its left strongly refused, to guard Potter’s left and rear. The Second Brigade, Brigadier-General Hartranft, was accordingly posted with his right connecting with Potter’s left near the Boisseau house, and facing about northwest. Harriman’s and McLaughlen’s brigades were held in reserve. General Hartranft adapted his movements to those of the Second Division, and

when that division moved forward to attack, Hartranft stood with his right in front of the Boisseau house in echelon about 300 yards in rear of Potter’s left, Hartranft’s left resting on a swampy ravine. The enemy’s works were visible on his left, in a westerly direction, about 1,000 yards. Potter’s attack being met by a counter-charge of the enemy, who outflanked him, the Thirty-fifth and Thirty-sixth Massachusetts Regiments, of Potter’s command, came to the rear in confusion and were rallied by General Hartranft on his line. General Hartranft’s farther view to the right was obstructed by a growth of sorghum, so that he was not aware of the general repulse along Potter’s line, and he still maintained his position, skirmishing with the enemy on his left and right front, until recalled by an order from Major-General Humphreys, chief of staff, Army of the Potomac. Meantime, pursuant to General Parke’s orders, the First Brigade, Colonel Samuel Harriman, Thirty-seventh Wisconsin, commanding, was formed on the left of the Pegram house and obliquely in rear of both the Second Division and Hartranft’s brigade, with orders from me to support either, as the occasion should demand. One regiment (One hundred and ninth New York) of this brigade was posted on a road coming in rear from the southwest.

As soon as Potter’s division became engaged I ordered the brigade to extend farther to the right as far as the Pegram house road so as to support General Potter. A moment afterward I received orders from General Parke to advance the reserve to the crest of the field toward the Second Division, and both brigades were ordered forward. Harriman was on the left and in front of the Pegram house, in an open field, and the Third Brigade, Colonel N. B. McLaughlen, Fifty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers, commanding, was in rear and in the woods. The orders were scarcely given before the Second Division troops had fallen back as far as Harriman’s line, which now became engaged on its own ground. The field sloping up toward the enemy gave them the advantage of ground, and Harriman’s brigade soon began to give way. The right wing, consisting of the Thirty-seventh Wisconsin, Eighth and Twenty-seventh Michigan, retired in good order to a fence on the left of the Pegram house, where these regiments halted, faced about, checked the farther advance of the enemy, and threw up hasty breast-works of rails, where they remained. The left wing did not behave so well; the Thirteenth Ohio (dismounted) Cavalry were thrown into panic and part of them fled ingloriously from the field, breaking the Thirty-eighth Wisconsin, which latter, however, were soon reformed in the woods in rear. McLaughlen’s brigade was moving forward under my orders toward Harriman’s line and rallying fugitives when Captain Wright, assistant adjutant-general Second Division, rode up and requested me to send some troops to the right of the Pegram house. Here McLaughlen was put in position, connecting on the right with the Fifth Corps troops and on the left with Harriman’s brigade, and opened fire on the enemy, checking his farther advance in this quarter of the field. Hartranft’s brigade, in retiring on the left, had considerable skirmishing with the enemy, who drove his skirmishers across the swamp on his left and threatened his rear. But this brigade withdrew in excellent order and took position to the left and rear of Harriman’s line. The division now occupied the front on the left of the Fifth Corps. Before dusk the enemy fell back. In the evening there was some firing on our right, but mostly from our own men. Pickets were thrown out and the rest of the troops withdrawn to a position in front of the Peebles house, the right about half a mile from the Pegram

house and the left at the Clements house, and defenses thrown up.

While leading the troops Lieutenant Otis Fisher, Eighth U. S. Infantry, assistant commissary of musters of the division, fell mortally wounded near the Pegram house. He was ever brave and ready in action, hightoned and chivalrous, and his loss is sincerely mourned. Lieutenant George Goodsell, seventeenth Michigan Volunteers, assistant provost-marshal on my staff, also received a serious wound while zealously and gallantly engaged in carrying orders. My casualties for the day, already sent in, were as follows:

On the morning of October 1 the picket-line left out near the Pegram house was attacked in force, and withdrew to our immediate front, and the day was spent in digging rifle-pits and slashing.

On the morning of the 2nd, under orders from corps headquarters, I moved the division through the woods in line of battle, with the skirmishers, past the Pegram house to the Boisseau house, near which Hartranft’s brigade on the right connected with Potter’s division. McLaughlen occupied the center and Harriman the left connecting with Mott’s division, Second Corps. A forward movement was first ordered from this point, and my skirmishers drove the enemy’s pickets some distance. McLaughlen’s brigade was advanced about 300 yards up the Boisseau house road, but the movement was countermanded, and the enemy advanced their skirmishers to the foot of the field of the Boisseau house. Their works were in plain sight and they used some artillery. During the demonstration on the enemy’s works made by General Mott, a part of Harriman’s brigade was moved to the left and occupied the ground vacated by a portion of Mott’s troops, but no other assistance was called for. At 6 p. m. the division was withdrawn to a new line running toward the Peebles house, bearing westwardly, the right resting in rear of the Pegram house, and connecting with the Second Division. Here intrenchments were thrown up. Casualties for the day were as follows: Third Brigade, enlisted men, killed, 1; wounded, 8; total 9.

On the morning of October 8, under orders from General Parke, two brigades, Hartranft’s and McLaughlen’s, moved out on the road from the Clements house toward the Hawks house, and the picket-line, under Colonel Harriman, covering the front between the Pegram house and the Clements house, was at the same time moved out, with supports, toward the enemy. The object was twofold, viz, to make a demonstration upon the enemy’s skirmishers, and to reconnoiter toward the Boydton plank road. The head of Hartranft’s brigade was at the Clements house at 7 a. m. His brigade was soon deployed on the left of the road, McLaughlen’s on the right, connecting with Harriman, who connected with the Second Division. We came upon the enemy’s vedettes at an abandoned line of the enemy’s works half a mile from

the Clements house. McLaughlen’s brigade was thrown across the line and moved out at an angle with Hartranft until the enemy’s skirmishers were encountered. Hartranft came into the Smith house field and discovered a working party of the enemy in a redoubt near the Hawks house. Skirmishers were thrown forward by General Hartranft, before whom the working party retired. A position was now taken across Smith’s field to the redoubt, and from there along and across the line of works, and the whole line of skirmishers advanced, driving back the enemy’s line about half a mile to the left and front. Their cavalry were in front of Hartranft and hovered around his extreme left with some annoyance. infantry appeared to be on McLaughlen’s front. Meantime Harriman encountered no force, but his scouting parties reported a column of the enemy moving toward our left. A report to the same effect was received from General Potter also. The enemy’s skirmishers halted on a ridge covered with brush, and I ordered General Hartranft to push a reconnaissance down the road as far as possible toward the plank road, and reported the situation of affairs to the major-general commanding. His orders were to keep up the connection with Harriman, make a drive at the enemy’s skirmishers, but avoid bringing on a general engagement. I then ordered Hartranft to swing up his left, and as soon as he got into line with McLaughlen to attack with his skirmishers simultaneously with those of McLaughlen. During the execution of these orders the enemy’s skirmishers advanced. The reconnoitering party were attacked at a cross-road about half a mile from the line by a small party of cavalry, which was repulsed, and considerable skirmishing ensued in front of both brigades. At two points our pickets were driven in. I had some reason to expect an attack in force, and I ordered the troops to close in, and my action now being left discretionary with me by General Parke, I determined to resist with my whole force. Hartranft drew in his left, and McLaughlen re-established his picket-line where it had been assailed. The firing along the front of the two brigades rather increased, but no attack was made. I remained on the ground till 6 p. m., when, in obedience to orders, I established a new and advanced picket-line in front of the intrenchments between the Pegram and Clements houses, and withdrew the troops to their camps. Casualties for the day as follows:

For more detailed account of the actions of regiments I refer to reports of brigade commanders, herewith forwarded.

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

O. B. WILLCOX,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Major P. M. LYDIG,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth Army Corps.

HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Near Peebles’ House, Va., October 31, 1864.

MAJOR: I have the honor to report that in obedience to orders this division broke camp at 3 a. m. on the 27th instant, and at 3.30 a. m. the head of the column, Cutcheon’s (Second) brigade, passed corps headquarters on the way by Fort Cummings. As many troops as could be massed between the slashing and the outer pickets were got into position. Colonel McLaughlen, by my orders, sent a party around to the right and rear of the enemy’s vedette post at the abandoned work near the Hawks house, to capture the vedettes. The party reached there before daylight, and as soon as it was light enough to see, they came upon the vedette post, but unfortunately one musket was prematurely discharged, and the vedettes escaped, except one killed. Lieutenant-Colonel Cutcheon quickly advanced with his skirmishers, and met the enemy’s skirmishers this side of the Watkins house in the woods. The First Brigade, Brigadier-General Hartranft, came up on the right at the Watkins house, and deployed skirmishers from his line, and the two brigades advanced, skirmishing with the enemy through and to the right of the Clements house field, a quarter of a mile from which they struck the enemy’s intrenchments, fully manned and protected by slashing in front of Cutcheon, and abatis in front of Hartranft. The two brigades were formed for attack, supported by the Third Brigade, Colonel McLaughlen, and every point of the enemy’s line carefully felt and examined for a weak point; none such, however, was found. Meantime, I extended my line up to the right of the Fifth Corps, which moved on my left and rear until we struck the enemy’s works, when it came up on my left in line. The enemy’s line returned sufficiently to give them an enfilading fire of artillery on my front, and then stretched again toward the southeast. In the afternoon I received orders to refrain from further offensive operations and to intrench. I intrenched my main line at a distance from the enemy’s line of from 250 yards on the left to 300 yards on the right. Some of my skirmishers advanced into the slashing. About 5 p. m. the enemy made a demonstration on my skirmish line, and was driven back.

On the morning of the 28th I received orders to withdraw as soon as the right of the Fifth Corps should begin to draw off. Cutcheon’s brigade was drawn in along the Third Division line, and acted as support to that division. The other two brigades were extended across, connecting nearly with the Fifth Corps, and all came in as if on drill. While Hartranft was in the watkins field, his skirmishers in the Clements field, the rebels came over our main line of pits with a cheer. I drew up my troops in the Smith field, in obedience to orders of Major-General Parke, and waited the passage of the Fifth corps, on my left, when I withdrew my lines, about 2 p. m., by the lines of the Second Division, and returned to camp.

My casualties were 64.* A nominal list will be sent in. The reports of brigade commanders are inclosed.

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

O. B. WILLCOX,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Major P. M. LYDIG,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth Army Corps.

—————

* For statement in detail, see pp. 157, 158.

—————

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 552-556

***



What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: