Number 208. Petersburg Campaign Report of Colonel John I. Curtin, Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding First Brigade, of operations September 29 – October 17

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

Numbers 208. Report of Colonel John I. Curtin, Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Infantry, commanding First Brigade, of operations September 29 – October 17.1

HDQRS. FIRST Brigadier, SECOND DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Near Poplar Grove Church, Va., October 17, 1864.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of this brigade from September 29, 1864, to the present date:

On the morning of September 30 I received for my information the following order addressed to Major-General Parke:

Major-General PARKE:

General Warren is ordered to move out to the Poplar Spring Church road and endeavor to secure the intersection of the Squirrel Level road. The commanding general directs that you move out after and co-operate with him in endeavoring to secure a position of the right of the enemy’s position; try to open a route across the swamp to the vicinity of Miss Pegram’s, below Poplar Spring Church, and take post on Warren’s left. Gregg will be directed to move out to Wilkinson’s.

A. A. HUMPHREYS,

Major-General and Chief of Staff.

In accordance with the above, my command was moved from its encampment near the Gurley house, by way of the Brick [Blick] house, through the woods to Poplar Spring Church. Having arrived at this position my brigade was formed in line at right angles with Poplar Spring Church road. Two regiments on the left of my brigade (the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and the Twenty-first Massachusetts Veteran Volunteers) took a position at the Smith house on the left of the church. The Seventh Rhode Island Volunteers, temporarily acting as engineers, were thrown forward to cut a road through the swamp in the direction of Miss Pegram’s. In the meantime the Fifth Corps had succeeded in carrying the enemy’s position near the Peebles house. My brigade was then thrown forward beyond the Peebles house and on the right of the captured redoubt, and having formed in line of battle I advanced through the woods until my first battalion (the battalion of direction) rested on the open field adjoining the Squirrel Level road, and considerably in advance of the enemy’s line, which had just been evacuated. The command occupied this position until 2 p. m., when I received orders to move to the left out of the woods, and, following General Griffin, to take a position beyond the Pegram house, on the left of road leading from the Pegram house and intersecting the Church road on the left of the Boswell house. The position was accordingly taken, with my right resting on the last-mentioned road. I moved forward to the support of General Griffin (the first battalion being the battalion of direction), until my left rested on the Bonyason house (since burnt), and my right occupied the road along the edge of the woods in front of the Pegram house. I then received orders to place my command on a line with General Griffin’s, which I did by moving my right forward.

Finding that I was on a line with General Griffin, and that there was an open field in front, I took advantage of a favorable position and halted my command behind a thickly-grown hedge and fence. My brigade was then formed in the following order: Thirty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteers, Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Fifty-eighth Massachusetts Volunteers, and Fifty-first New York Volunteers in the first line; the Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Veteran

Volunteers, Twenty-first Massachusetts Volunteers, and Thirty-sixth Massachusetts Volunteers occupied the second line; the Seventh Rhode Island Volunteers were considerably behind the second line, following up the advance with the intrenching tools, while the Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers, their term of service having expired, were permitted to act as provost guard. While in this position brisk skirmishing was heard in the direction of the Boswell house. I then received orders to send one of my regiments to the support of General Griffin. The Thirty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteers were accordingly taken from my right, and the commanding officer instructed to report to General Griffin. As this left a gap between my right and General Griffin’s left, I moved my command to the right until the opening was closed. I then received an order to advance with General Griffin. Accordingly, I advanced into the open field. I could discover no enemy in my front to the left, and but a small force to the right. The advance was continued until my first line had arrived to the position now marked by the enemy’s vedette line, where I halted and rode over the ground on my left, but could discover no enemy. My right was at this time quite briskly engaged, and very heavy firing was heard in General Griffin’s front. I could not have been gone more than twenty minutes on this reconnaissance. On my return, however, I found the enemy had flanked General Griffin’s brigade and that a confused mass of men had been thrown on the right of my second line, then resting in the woods directly in rear of my first line. Such was the pressure upon the flank of the second line that it was compelled to fall back to a position at right angles with the first line.

At this time the enemy appeared in heavy force immediately in front of the second line and desperate fighting ensued. The Thirty-sixth Massachusetts Volunteers, Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Twenty-first Massachusetts Volunteers were able to hold the ground but for a short time, and fell back in good order to the edge of the woods on the left of the Pegram house. The troops of my first line were completely cut off by this rapid movement of the enemy, so that all efforts to extricate them were of no avail. Had I been informed of the approaching disaster I could have easily changed the position of my first line so as to have met the assault which was made by the enemy on the right of my second line, as it was not until after the right of my second line had been driven back and my first line cut off that the enemy appeared in any force on m left in front of the Bonyason house. But I had no intimation of the disaster, beside the enemy, continually, on the right flank of my second line, swept around in the direction of the Bonyason house and made connection with their own troops advancing to that point from the opposite direction, thus completely cutting off a large portion of the troops in my first line. During this time the Seventh Rhode Island Volunteers had taken a position on the right of the Pegram house and did good service by stopping the men of both brigades, and with their united efforts the enemy were held in check for some time. The troops of the second line fell back in good order to the line of works in front of the Peebles house.

The officers and men of my command behaved to my entire satisfaction. They were driven back, but not until their efforts upon the enemy had been rendered futile by the broken and confused mass of our own men which were thrown upon them.

During the night of September 30 I formed by brigade upon the left of the redoubt in front of the Peebles house. This position was occu-

pied until Sunday morning, when it appeared that the enemy had fallen back to their present position. The brigade was then thrown forward to its present position, the left resting on the Pegram house.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JNO. I. CURTIN,

Colonel, Commanding.

Captain SAMUEL WRIGHT,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

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 581-583

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