Number 207. Petersburg Campaign Reports of Brigadier General Robert B. Potter, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations September 29 – October 19 and October 27 – 28

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

Numbers 207. Reports of Brigadier General Robert B. Potter, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations September 29 – October 19 and October 27 – 28.1

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
October 20, 1864.

SIR: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of this division since the 29th ultimo:

The morning of the 30th found us bivouacked near the Aiken house, ready for an immediate movement. We took up the route about 10.30 a. m., following Ayres’ and Griffin’s divisions, of the Fifth Corps, passing Ayres in position on the route and closing up on Griffin at Poplar Spring Church, when I placed part of my force in line near the church, facing north, and sent two regiments to Widow Smith’s to attempt to open a road to Miss Pegram’s, near the Boydton plank [road]. Griffin’s division, of the Fifth Corps, having carried the works north of the Peebles house, I moved up to his support, placing a brigade on each of his flanks, both brigades throwing skirmishers to the front. I subsequently ordered the Second Brigade, General S. G. Griffin, on the left, to advance and try and strike the plank road at the nearest point; and as soon as it was relieved by General Ayres I ordered my First Brigade, commanded by Colonel Curtin (now brevet brigadier-general) from the right to move on in support of the Second, sending also for the force cutting the road from Widow Smith’s to join the command. On reaching the Pegram house, finding the enemy showing some force on their skirmish line, I ordered General Griffin to support his with a line of two or three regiments, and follow with the rest of the column. At about a quarter of a mile beyond the Pegram house, finding the enemy stronger and their battery opening on and enfilading the road

by which I was advancing, I ordered General Griffin to form his brigade to attack and Curtin to form on the left to cover a road coming in from the left in my rear, understanding that a brigade of Willcox’s division would look after the right. Up to this time the indications were that the enemy had mostly withdrawn, and my orders being urgent I had pressed rapidly forward and was some quarter of a mile or more in advance of the skirmishers of the Fifth Corps, on my right. There was no one on the left, but it was stated that no enemy was there. General Willcox did not send a brigade to my right, as he subsequently received orders to cover the left, and I was ordered to push on with my whole force as rapidly as practicable, without reference to any one else. The Second Brigade had now advanced up the hill to the edge of the open ground about the Jones house, which our skirmishers occupied. I now ordered Colonel Curtin to form on General Griffin’s left, and to advance simultaneously. It was now about 5 p. m. As soon as it was reported to me that the First Brigade was in position, I ordered and advance. As soon as we had got well out into the open ground we found the enemy advancing in a southwesterly direction from the woods and low ground to the front and on my right, but as yet no considerable force had manifested itself to the left. The enemy were in such large force and so far overlapped my right, that I apprehended they would get on the road by which I had advanced and cut me off. I issued orders for an immediate change in the disposition of the troops, but battle had been joined and became very severe, and before the orders could be delivered the right began to give way, and the enemy pressing vigorously, and having got nearly behind my right, and penetrating also between the two brigades, the lines commenced falling back in considerable confusion. At this time I was near the right; every possible effort was made to rally the troops and check the enemy’s advance, but they were in so much force and so close that it could not be done. I dispatched an order to deploy the Seventh Rhode Island (in reserve) and form a new line near the Pegram house and stop all coming to the rear, at the same time sending an order, which, however, was not received, to Curtin to fall back and form on the new line, while I endeavored to check the enemy’s advance as much as possible. The enemy now advanced a considerable force to my left, attacking impetuously, and their cavalry advanced and attacked to the left and rear, but I think not in much force. They succeeded in making a junction between the attacking forces on the right and left, and cut off a considerable portion of my First Brigade. Owing to the close proximity of the contending forces when my right gave way, the Second Brigade lost several prisoners. A new line was formed near the Pegram house, and I ordered a section of Roemer’s battery, stationed in the corn-field to the left of the Pegram house, withdrawn behind the line. My casualties were: killed, 51; wounded, 280; missing, 1,313; total, 1,644.

The enemy’s advance was now checked, and night settling down on us the battle ended and pickets were thrown out. During the night we took up position in the line of works taken from the enemy north of the Peebles house. The majority of the troops behaved well, but the recruits (mostly substitutes, and many unable to speak English) behaved badly, and the greatest inconvenience and serious trouble resulted from the scarcity of officers, large numbers of both field and line officers having been recently mustered out of service. By this serious want I found my efforts to rally the troops nearly paralyzed. The conduct of the few officers remaining, as far as came to my knowledge or observa-

tion, was good. My brigade commanders, Brigadier-General Griffin and Brevet Brigadier-General Curtin, distinguished themselves by their energy, coolness, and courage.

On the 2nd instant we advanced to the Pegram house and took up our present position. Two killed and 6 wounded. This line we have since intrenched, and have built two redoubts on it. On the 4th instant the enemy attempted to drive in my picket-line, capturing a lieutenant and 6 men, but were driven back. On the 8th instant I advanced my skirmishers to cover a reconnaissance of the First Division; no casualties. On the night of the 19th I advanced my pickets on the right beyond the Boswell house; no casualties.

Copies of the reports of my brigade commanders accompany this.

Recent movements seem to demonstrate the urgent necessity of a reorganization of the division, which, in its present condition, is inefficient. Regiments should be consolidated into battalions, and these battalions grouped into regiments, and new officers appointed.

The officers of my staff were conspicuous on the 30th for their display of personal gallantry, and I can not commend their conduct too highly.

ROBERT B. POTTER,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Major P. M. LYDIG,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth Army Corps.
HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
October 31, 1864.

SIR: I have the honor to report that on the morning of the 27th instant my division moved out of the trenched shortly before daybreak, leaving the garrisons ordered for Forts Welch and Fisher. General Griffin, with the Second Brigade, moved out to the enemy’s abandoned redoubt near the Duncan road, relieving McLaughlen, of the First Division, and covered the passage of the rest of the troops by that point, his skirmishers moving to the northwest. After all the troops had passed I brought up Curtin, with the First Brigade, and put my whole division in position, the center on the road to the right of the Hawks house and in line with that house, m right in the old rifle-pits of the enemy about an eighth of a mile from the slashing in front of our main works, my left connecting with the Third Division, and established a picket-line well to the front, near the house marked on the map of Dinwiddie County as Doctor Boisseau’s, connecting on the right with the pickets in front of our main works. During the afternoon I threw up a good line of breast-works. Roger’s (Nineteenth New York) battery having reported to me, I placed four guns on the line near the Hawks house and the remaining section near my right. During the night I slashed more timber to the front and opened the roads to my rear. On the retirement of the troops on the 28th, after the Third Division had withdrawn and the First was at the old redoubt near the Duncan road, I placed Curtin’s (First) brigade, with a section of Rogers’ battery, in position near the vacant three-gun battery, covering the withdrawal of the rest of the corps. About 3 p. m. I returned to my old position near the Pegram house. My losses were 3 wounded and 1 missing; total, 4.

ROBERT B. POTTER,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Major P. M. LYDIG,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth 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 578-580

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