Number 336. Petersburg Campaign Reports of Colonel Robert M. West, Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, commanding First Brigade, of operations October 7 and December 10

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 336. Reports of Colonel Robert M. West, Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, commanding First Brigade, of operations October 7 and December 10.1

SIR: I have the honor to submit herewith my report of the operations of this brigade in the action of the 7th instant on the Central, or Darbytown, road:

We had been apprised of the attack the night previous by the general commanding division, and were up early, expecting it. All was quiet during the early morning and until about 6.30 o’clock, when couriers from the outposts gave notice of the approach of the enemy, both by the Central road and from the Charles City road through a small road which debouches near Mr. Gerhardt’s house onto the open field whereon was our position. The picket reserves harassed the advance of the enemy, fighting on foot in the woods, and, as I believe, deceived them as to the kind of troops they would encounter. The enemy consumed about one hour driving in our outposts, and deter-

mining where to strike us. Our picket reserve on the Central road divided and came in by the left and right; Captain Dern, Third New York Cavalry, commanding on the right; Captain Richardson, same regiment, commanding on the left. Captain Dern came in by the Gerhardt house and made a stand at the works near there, fighting every step as he came. Now, the enemy having felt us all along our front moved rapidly to our right with nearly his whole force, coming out of the woods near the house I have named in masses, driving Captain Dern with his small party from the works and occupying them. Our men opened and kept up a well directed fire from their position near the road. The enemy halted and reformed at the works, which were a continuation of the line we were holding, and from which they had driven Captain Dern. They edged down toward us so long as they could find cover in the sinuosities of the line; then swinging around their left they formed in three lines and advanced directly upon our flanks. Observing this, I ordered a change of front, which was effected in remarkably good order, considering the circumstances, the new line being the embankment of the ditch along the road. The Third New York now came up from where they had been supporting the artillery and got into position on the right of the Fifth Pennsylvania. The Fifth up to this time had done nearly all the fighting. The two regiments held their ground gallantly for a time, but their line was too long. The enemy pierced it exactly in the center. The Third New York rallied on its right at the unfinished redoubt of the Fourth Wisconsin Battery and did some further execution there. The Fifth Pennsylvania, being out of ammunition by this time, retired from the field under a withering fire from the enemy.

The reports show the losses in this brigade to have been 13 killed, 34 wounded, and 111 missing.* These must be inaccurate, since 16 dead bodies of our men were found by us afterward where they had fallen at the works. They had been partially buried by the enemy, and were so disfigured by their wounds and dirt that some of them could not be recognized. Ten of the missing are known by their comrades to have been wounded before they were left upon the field. The reports embracing lists of casualties of regimental commanders are inclosed.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jacobs refers to the incident of a portion of the enemy’s line throwing down their arms and shouting “deserters.” This is substantiated by other officers of the Third New York, who saw and heard it. They chose a most unfortunate season for throwing themselves upon our protection, since we had more than we could do to protect ourselves just then. First Lieutenant Herman, E. Smith, Third New York Cavalry, acting as my aide, was very seriously wounded in this fight, and, as I have since learned, died in Richmond after his arrival there. Lieutenant Smith was in the prime of his life and usefulness when he fell. He was an earnest, brave and faithful officer. First Lieutenant George C. Gibbs, Third New York Cavalry, acting assistant inspector-general of the brigade, and serving on my staff at the time, was severely wounded in the leg. These two casualties are not included in the regimental reports.

I estimate the attacking force of the enemy at 2,000 men. This is smaller by 500 than the lowest estimate I have heard. Of course, I refer only to the force opposed to this brigade. They had more men in reserve with the artillery, which came into position on the Central road toward the close of the fight, and shell us vigorously.

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*But see revised statement, p. 145.

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With a single exception every officer and man came nobly up to his work and did his whole duty. The exception is the surgeon of the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, Patrick Heany by name, who was not near his regiment, so far as I could see or learn, during any part of the fight. The wounded of his regiment were permitted to lie unattended where they fell; or, if any received attention, it was through no provision of his. Complaint has frequently been made against this officer. He is felt to be an incubus upon his regiment, wanting all the energy and providence so essential to one occupying his position. I recommend that he be discharged the service.

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

ROB. M. WEST,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Major THEODORE H. SCHENCK,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.

HDQRS. FIRST BRIGADE. KAUTZ’S CAVALRY DIVISION,
In the Field, December 12, 1864.

SIR: In obedience to orders just received, I have the honor to submit herewith a report of the operations of this brigade during Saturday last, the 10th instant:

At about 8 a.m. of that day Captain Paul, Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, commanding outposts, notified me that the pickets of the Third Cavalry Brigade, joining my left, had been driven in. Shortly afterward Captain Paul sent another messenger with information that his own line on the left had been driven back, and that a heavy column of rebel infantry was advancing down the Darbytown road. This information I immediately communicated to the general commanding the division. The reliving detail had just gone out, and I directed Captain Paul, he being senior, to take command of the whole and fight for every inch of ground, and to yield none until compelled to. At the same time I ordered the forces in camp to the front to man the works at my headquarters. The order given to Captain Paul was most faithfully executed by that officer, assisted by Captains Gallisath and Reinmuller, all of the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, to which regiment the whole picket force of my brigade in front-about 300 men-belonged. (This number was reduced by men being sent to the rear with the horses.) Our cavalry determinedly confronted the enemy everywhere in front of this position, forcing him to advance in regular battle order, so that it was 2 p.m. before he succeeded, with his main force, driving our men inside of our breast-works. Here the enemy essayed, at first, to charge, but finding us strongly intrenched and supported by artillery, he retired to the wood, from when he kept up a skirmish with us until night-fall. Late in the afternoon he got well around toward our right, and felt of us pretty sharply, evidently with the intention of turning our position, but finding this impracticable, he desisted. Some time between dark and 8 o’clock the enemy withdrew, leaving his fired lighted to deceive us. As soon as I could get a sufficient force mounted, I directed an advance to be made, which was done. A few stragglers were picked up (six in number), but the main body had gone. By half an hour after midnight my picket-line was re-established and quiet restored. The forces engaged on our side were a detachment of the Fourth Wisconsin Battery, about eighty strong, under Lieutenant Campbell, working four 12-pounder mountain howitzers (the only artil-

lery I had), a detachment of the Twentieth New York Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Evans, and the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Kleintz. The cavalry force I will state to have been 550, approximately, actually engaged. One man to every four horses had been sent to the rear. The force opposing us was Field’s division of Longstreet’s corps.

My loss was 5 men killed, 2 officers and 16 men wounded, and 18 men missing, all of the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry.

We captured 1 officer and 7 men. Information gathered from citizens outside induces me to the belief that the enemy’s loss fully equaled our own. We buried 3 of his dead after he had retired. Among our wounded is Captain Gallisath, Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, who, the surgeons say, will lose a leg. This I regret as a public misfortune as well as a serious loss to the regiment. In the conduct of the officers and men I have no special exceptions to make. All did their duty well.

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

ROB. M. WEST,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Major THEODORE H. SCHENCK,
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 826-829

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