Number 214. Petersburg Campaign Reports of Brigadier General Orlando B. Willcox, U. S. Army, commanding Third Division, of operations August 19 – 21 and August 25 – 26

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

Numbers 214. Reports of Brigadier General Orlando B. Willcox, U. S. Army, commanding Third Division, of operations August 19 – 21 and August 25 – 26.1

HEADQUARTERS NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Before Petersburg, Va., August 31, 1864.

COLONEL: At 3,30 o’clock on the morning of the 19th of August, in obedience to instructions received from Major General John G. Parke, I withdrew my command (Third Division, Ninth Army Corps) from the position it then occupied on the general line near the Taylor house, marched to the Blick house, or Yellow Tavern, on Weldon railroad, where I arrived at 7.30 a. m., and immediately reported to Major-General Warren, commanding Fifth Army Corps. From him I received orders to bivouac in a field near and to the right of the Yellow Tavern. I formed my division in two lines in this field – first line about 500 yards to the rear of and nearly parallel with the right of Brigadier-General Crawford’s division – and then sent staff officers to ascertain the positions and routes to the several divisions of the Fifth Army Corps. About 4 p. m. the enemy attacked the Fifth corps in such force as to drive the troops from the works they occupied to the right of the Weldon railroad. I at once ordered the First Brigade (1,100 strong) of my division, commanded by Brigadier-General Hartranft, to proceed to the support of Crawford. The move was made in the direction of the enemy’s main attack, handsomely checking his advance, and eventually compelling him to retire to the cover of the wood in which were Crawford’s rifle-pits. From this cover he soon, however, again advanced to within about seventy-five yards of the First Brigade, and his charge was again successfully repulsed by it, with a loss

to the enemy of between 50 and 60 prisoners. During these movements of the First Brigade the Second Brigade (1,200 strong), commanded by Colonel William Humphrey, advanced with it at supporting distance. In obedience to orders from General Warren to move to the left toward Ayres’ division, I ordered Colonel Humphrey to march his brigade (the Second) in two lines to the left of General Hartranft’s brigade, and to advance upon and recapture the line of rifle-pits. (Fifth Corps) then occupied by the enemy. This movement was well executed by him. Moving into the woods unsupported, he advanced cautiously until near the rifle-pits occupied by the enemy, when his brigade gallantly charged at the double-quick upon the works, drove the enemy from them, capturing 100 prisoners and the colors of the Forty-seventh Virginia Regiment. While occupying this line of works he was three times attacked by the enemy in force and successfully repulsed each attack. About the time of Humphrey’s advance the First Division, Ninth Army Corps, arrived upon the field, under command of Brigadier General Julius White, and, in accordance with instructions from Major-General Warren, reported to me.

Soon after their arrival General Warren advised me that the main attack was still apprehended upon General Ayres’ front (division Fifth Corps), to the left of Crawford’s old position, upon which I ordered Hartranft to take position near Humphrey, replacing Hartranft by the First Division. Meanwhile General Crawford had rallied some of his men and put them in position to the right of my Second Brigade, partially filling up a gap between the two brigades. Hartranft moving farther to the right enabled me to dispose of the whole of White’s division for the protection of our extreme right, until then held only by a picket-line.

White was scarcely in position ere he was attacked in force, and repulsed the enemy, with success, about the time Humphrey made his attack. General White has doubtless furnished you a copy of his report. In the course of the night different gaps in the old line of Fifth Corps works in our front were taken by troops of both Crawford and my command, so that at daylight on the morning of the 20th the line was fully reoccupied. On the afternoon of the 20th both brigades of the Third Division, by direction of the major-general commanding, were withdrawn to their original positions in the open field and held in reserve, leaving pickets, with supports, in front of the main line.

At 5 o’clock on the morning of the 21st Hartranft’s brigade was moved up on a main line, and threw up a work across the railroad between the Ninth Massachusetts Battery and another battery of the Fifth Corps. These works were nearly completed when the enemy opened their attack. This attack was splendidly repulsed by, mainly, the artillery of the Fifth Corps, Hartranft’s brigade taking no part in the action, except through the firing of his sharpshooters. The only portion of my command engaged this day was the picket-line, which was temporarily driven in, with some loss, and re-established after the action was over. The First Division remained under my orders in position on the extreme right, picketing its own front, with flankers thrown out from both divisions to guard the right flank of the main body. On the 22nd Major-General Parke moved up his headquarters and resumed command of the troops of the Ninth Corps.

Attached hereto please find list of casualties, full names of which have been furnished to the headquarters Ninth Army Corps:

Report of casualties in Third Division, Ninth Army Corps, for August 19, 20 and 21, 1864.

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

O. B. WILLCOX,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant Colonel F. T. LOCKE,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifth Army Corps.
HEADQUARTERS THIRD DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Aiken’s House, Va., August 29, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that on the 25th instant I received orders to march this division from its position on the right of the Yellow House to Shay’s Tavern, on the Jerusalem plank road, where a road turns off toward Reams’ Station, and there communicate and report to Major-General Hancock, commanding Second Corps, at Reams’ Station. The division had been got in readiness and started immediately the order was received. Passing the Gurley house at 3.30 p. m., I marched for the most part across the country and came out on the plank road, some five miles, at 5 p. m., when I received a dispatch from General Hancock to move on rapidly to Reams’ Station, still distant five miles. Little after 6 o’clock, on my way to Reams’ Station, I received an order from General Hancock to arrest the stragglers now coming back in large numbers, including officers; to sort them into regiments and hold them. The road was completely filled with stragglers, wagons, and ambulances. Deploying the leading regiment, I drew up Humphrey’s brigade in line across the road and was engaged in stopping and organizing the stragglers, when I received word from General Hancock that if I could get up one or two brigades in time the day might yet be saved. It was nearly 7 o’clock. My troops threw off their knapsacks and started at a double-quick, and marched to within about on mile of the battle-field, when I was met by Colonel Morgan, with an order from General Hancock to take a position to cover the withdrawal of his troops; to hold on until his rear division passed, and then to follow as rear guard, covered by cavalry, as far as the plank road, where Mott’s division was in position, and from which point I should proceed to rejoin my own corps. These orders were obeyed, and I reported next morning at 7.30 o’clock to Major-General Parke at the

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* But see revised statement, p. 127.

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Gurley house. I waited till about midnight, and nearly an hour after the Second Corps passed, but the enemy did not appear. A guard from each brigade collected stragglers, hundreds of whom were asleep and exhausted along the road and in the woods, and my staff and orderlies made every effort to arouse them and push them on, leaving none we could see.

The casualties of this division were only 2 missing from the First Brigade and 8 from the Second – 10 in all.

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

O. B. WILLCOX,

Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Captain ROBERT A. HUTCHINS,

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 589-592

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