Number 288. Petersburg Campaign Report of Brigadier General Robert S. Foster, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations September 28-October 4 and October 27-28

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 288. Report of Brigadier General Robert S. Foster, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations September 28-October 4 and October 27-28.1

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, TENTH ARMY CORPS,
In the Field, Va., October 5, 1864.

LIEUTENANT:I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the Second Division, Tenth Army Corps, from the 28th, of September to the 1st of October, 1864, inclusive:

On the 28th of September, pursuant to orders from the major-general commanding the corps, broke camp near Petersburg at promptly 3 p.m. and took up the line of march, following in rear of First Division, Tenth Army Corps. Owing to delays in the wagon train of that division my progress was show, and the head of my column only reached the pontoon bridge across the Appomattox at 8.35 p.m. and Deep Bottom at 1.30 a.m. on the 29th. On reaching Deep Bottom the Two hundred and third Pennsylvania Volunteers was detached from the Second brigade and ordered to garrison the roads at that place. The balance of my command bivouacked outside the works until 5.50 a.m., when it was moved forward and formed in column of battalions in mass, the head of column resting on the Kingsland road about 300 yards on the right of the Grover house, in support of General William Birney’s division, of the Tenth Army Corps. At 8.30 a.m. the division moved forward to Signal Hill and took the advance up the New Market and Richmond road, the First Brigade leading the column. At 9.25 the head of column met the enemy’s picket along the line of works at the junction of the Mill and New Market and Richmond roads. A portion of the One hundred and forty-second New York Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel A. M. Barney, were deployed as skirmishers, and followed by the whole brigade charged the works in our possession. After a short rest the column again moved forward through the woods, with but a few shots from the enemy’s vedettes, to the open ground, when the head of the front and left and by their light 12-pounders in position at Laurel Hill Church. I attempted to form under cover of the wood in three lines of battle, but the formation of the ground threw them in echelon-the First Brigade in advance, the Second Brigade extending to the right, and Third to the right. This was done under a heavy fire of artillery, which did considerable execution. As soon as formed, I ordered an advance to dislodge the battery at Laurel Hill Church, which was promptly executed, the enemy retiring in such haste as to leave their killed on the field and the road strewn with artillery ammunition and implements. I formed my command along the New Market road, the right resting at Laurel Hill Church. At this place I found upon examination that my command had been reduced, by straggling and shirking, to about 1,400 men, although strong rear guards were detailed in front of each brigade. Many of these men fell out in the darkness between Petersburg and Deep Bottom and others fell out at the time of the formation to charge the battery, the thick undergrowth favoring their retiring. A large number of these men were sent forward with their commands in this charge by myself and staff, but I regret to say many orders the duty they should have performed. At 1.25 p.m. I received orders from Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson, assistant inspector-general Tenth Army Corps, to charge and attempt the capture of the enemy’s works,

supposed to be Fort Gilmer, and was informed that Brigadier-General Birney was to advance simultaneously on my left, and that I was to be supported by troops of Brigadier-General Paine’s command. I was to commence the movement in ten minutes from the receipt of order. I at once formed my line, the Second Brigade, Colonel G. Pennypacker, Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, on the right; the First, Colonel R. Daggett, One hundred and seventeenth New York Volunteers, on the center, and the Third, Colonel Louis Bell, Fourth New Hampshire Volunteers, on the left, and at 1.35 p.m. moved forward, the distance from the road to the fort being three-quarters of a mile. As we advanced I found four ravines intervening also that old trees and undergrowth had been slashed, rendering our advance very show, and requiring a halt at the second ravine, and again just after the crossing of the Fourth to reform. During this time the command was subject to a very severe enfilading fire of artillery from two forts on the right and one gun from a fort on the left, and a front fire from Fort Gilmer, which disabled many of my men. After reforming the last time the line moved forward to the assault and advanced rapidly under a heavy fire from infantry, an artillery fire of grape and canister from Fort Gilmer, and shell and case from the two forts to the right, but was obliged to fall back. With the assistance of the officers of my command the line was rallied and reformed, and one brigade of Brigadier-General Paine’s command coming to my support another assault was made, which was again unsuccessful and the forces obliged to retire, which they did slowly and stubbornly to the New Market and Richmond road, when the line was again reformed. As my line advanced to the assault a body of troops of the enemy, apparently 500 or 600, moved from the fort on the right, and reached Ford Gilmer in season to assist the garrison in our repulse. In this assault the colors of the Third New York Volunteers were lost. I had the circumstances investigated and have the honor to forward herewith the report of the commanding officer of the regiment, which, with the indorsement of the brigade commander, would seem to show that it was not through any unworthy act on the part of the regiment. At dusk on the 29th, pursuant to orders, I withdrew my command to the line of works taken in the morning, taking position, my left at the New Market and Richmond road, where crossed by the line, my right refused, and resting at the Lines house. The Second Brigade was taken from my command at this time and ordered to report to the commanding officer Eighteenth Army Corps.

On the morning of the 30th I moved my command by the left flank along the lines of captured works about the mile, connecting on my right with the First Division, Tenth Army Corps, and on my left with those of the Third Brigade, Tenth Army Corps. Immediately on gaining this position I commenced turning the face of the enemy’s works and raising and strengthening the parapet, putting in abatis and otherwise rendering them defensible. At 10 p.m. the Second Brigade, having been returned, reported and went into camp near the Widow Aiken’s house. On the morning of the 1st of October the Second Brigade moved to the right, taking a portion of the line occupied by the First Division. This formation has since been retained, the troops being busily engaged improving the works. On the 3rd of October the Two hundred and third Pennsylvania Volunteers were relieved from duty at Deep Bottom by the Seventy-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers.

In conclusion, I would state that the troops of the division behaved well, with the exception of those officers and men who were guilty of the disgraceful and cowardly conduct of straggling. Orders of the

most stringent character were issued and every precaution was taken to prevent this most disgraceful and pernicious evil. The commandants of brigades were well to the front at all times, urging forward their men and executing all orders promptly. Colonel Rufus Daggett, One hundred and seventeenth New York Volunteers, commanding the First Brigade, was slightly wounded in the assault on the fort, and also suffering from disease which compelled him to relinquish the command of the brigade on the night of the 29th to Lieutenant Colonel A. M. Barney, One hundred and forty-second New York Volunteers, who held the command until the return of Colonel Curtis on the 4th instant.

My entire staff was present with me at all times and performed their duty faithfully and intelligently, rendering invaluable assistance to me in rallying and urging forward the command at all times and under all circumstances. To their valuable assistance I am much indebted for the management of my command during the advance.

R. S. FOSTER,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.

Lieutenant WILLIAM P. SHREVE,
Com. of Musters and Actg. Asst. Adjt. General, Tenth Army Corps.

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, TENTH ARMY CORPS,
In the Field, Va., October 30, 1864.

LIEUTENANT:I have the honor to submit, for the information of the brevet major-general commanding, the following report:

At 5.30 a.m. on the morning of the 27th moved my command, the First Brigade on the right (Colonel Curtis commanding), the Second and Third Brigades (commanded respectively by Colonels Pennypacker and Bell) following. Marching rapidly, I arrived at the Johnson house at about 7 a.m. I immediately formed line of battle, my right near the Johnson house, and deployed from the First Brigade a strong line of skirmishers, covering my entire front, the right resting on the Darbytown road, and pushing them forward at 7.15 a.m. the enemy opened on my skirmish line from the woods on the right of the Darbytown road. My entire command was at once advanced about 300 yards, when I deployed a strong line of skirmishers from the Second Brigade, to the right of the Darbytown road, with a view of covering the right flank and dislodging the skirmishers of the enemy, who enfiladed the line from an old line of works in front of the woods. I then advanced the main line forward to the abandoned line of works in front of the woods, the right of the First Brigade resting on the Darbytown road, the Third Brigade resting on the Darbytown road, the Third Brigade to right and rear of the First, crossing the road, the Second Brigade in reserve, and at the same time advanced my skirmishers well into the woods. About 1.30 [10] a.m., receiving orders to show as much force as possible, I moved by Second Brigade by the flank up the Darbytown road, through the old works, to the edge of the woods in full view of the enemy, filed to the left along the edge of the woods, in full view of the enemy, filed to the left along the edge of the woods out of sight of the enemy, and formed in line of battle to the rear and left of the First Brigade. About 11 a.m. the enemy re-enforced his skirmish line in front of my center and succeeded in pushing my skirmishers back a short distance. My line was immediately strengthened and I ordered Colonel Curtis to push the enemy into his main works, if possible to do so without too great a loss of life, which he succeeded in doing at about 3 o’clock. About this time I deployed a strong line of skirmishers from my left (the Second Brigade) and moved them forward to the left of my line

already deployed, to fill the gap between my command and the Third Division. About 4 p.m. I received orders to make a strong demonstration on the enemy’s works, to drive them from their rifle-pits, and if not developing too severe a fire to push forward and take the works, the object being to ascertain the strength of the enemy and his position. I immediately ordered Colonels Curtis and Bell to advance their skirmishers, supported by their main lines, to assault the works of the enemy if practicable, and if unable to carry them to advance sufficiently far to be able to report accurately his strength and position. The entire line then advanced, the skirmishers carrying two lines of rifle-pits, and driving the enemy into his main line of works. They were met with a severe fire of grape and case-shot and after advancing to within about eight rods of the enemy’s works it was found impracticable to proceed. In addition to a severe fire from the front, the First Brigade was, during this charge, suffering severely from a partially enfilading fire of two guns to the right of the Darbytown road, and also from two to the left, near Henrico Poor-House. My right (the Third Brigade) moved forward at the same time, and, after carrying two lines of rifle-pits on their front, were met by a fire of such severity from four pieces of artillery and musketry as to break the assaulting force, part of which fell back in some confusion to the rifle-pits. This brigade was, however, soon rallied and formed in line near the first line of rifle-pits, the skirmish line holding the second. I then moved the Second Brigade near the woods to the Darbytown road, and in rear of the First Brigade, in easy supporting distance of both the right and center. The right and center then retired out of range, bringing their dead and wounded with them. I found the enemy posted in single [line] of battle, behind a strong line of earth-works, with slashing and abatis in front. About 5 o’clock I received orders to make no further demonstration that night and about dark I withdrew my division within the line of abandoned works, with a strong line of pickets along my entire front, connecting with the First Division on the right and the Third Division on the left. My command remained in this position until about 2 o’clock on the 28th, when I received orders to return to camp. I moved my First and Second Brigades (left and center) to the rear, my Third Brigade (the right) acting as rear guard, covered by the entire picket-line, which retired as skirmishers. I am fully satisfied that the orders I received were fully carried out, and that the strength and position of the enemy as given above is correct.

My loss was 14 commissioned officers and 297 men. I forward herewith a list of casualties.*

I take pleasure in testifying to the general good conduct of the division. Composed largely (as it now is) of raw recruits, I was fearful that they might fail to acquit themselves creditable, but there was almost a total absence of straggling, and the new recruits acquitted themselves as well as their most sanguine friends could expect.

Colonel Curtis, commanding First Brigade, and Colonel Bell, commanding Third Brigade, were constantly superintending the movements of their brigades, their duties taking them frequently on the skirmish line, and they both deserve credit for the manner in which they gained the enemy’s rifle-pits and drove him into his main line of works. The Second Brigade, Colonel Pennypacker, although not engaged as a whole, did much to material for the advance skirmish line, moving promptly at all times when ordered to the support of any portion of the line.

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* Embodied in revised statement, p.149.

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To my staff-Captains Davis, Lord, Dawson, and Smith-I am especially thankful for the able and intelligent manner in which they carried my orders to all points of the field, not infrequently subjected to a heavy fire of musketry in addition to artillery. Captain Davis, my assistant adjutant-general, who went to the front while suffering from an attack of fever, refused to go to the rear, and did not do so until he fell seriously wounded in the thigh, and was borne from the field. This, however, is only characteristic of the conduct of that officer on all occasions when duty requires his presence.

I would, in concluding this report, speak of the excellent and efficient manner in which the division ambulance system worked on the 27th, under the supervision and direction of my chief medical officer, Surg. W. A. Conover. They were at all times well to the front, and the ambulance stretcher corps was actively engaged in removing the wounded.

Trusting the part taken by the division was satisfactory,

I am, very respectfully,

R. S. FOSTER,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant W. P. SHREVE,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Tenth 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 760-764

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