Number 105. Appomattox Reports of Major General Horatio G. Wright, U. S. Army, commanding Sixth Army Corps

   

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No. 105. Reports of Major General Horatio G. Wright, U. S. Army, commanding Sixth Army Corps.1

HEADQUARTERS SIXTH CORPS,
April 22, 1865.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by this corps in the operations of Sunday, the 2nd instant, which operations resulted in the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond by the rebel Army of Northern Virginia, and the subsequent surrender on Sunday, the 9th, of what remained of that force:

On the evening of the 30th ultimo the instructions received by me looked to an attack on the following morning at daybreak upon the enemy’s lines, somewhere upon the front held by this corps: but certain considerations relating to other portions of our army which could not be got ready in time occasioned a suspension of that order, though this corps, which had hitherto laid quietly in its winter camps, was fully prepared for the movement. On the evening of the 1st orders were received from Major-General Meade to attack at 4 a. m. the next day,

and the necessary instructions were promptly issued to the various commanders, designating the point of attack, formation of troops, &c., a copy of which is as follows:

ORDERS.] HEADQUARTERS SIXTH ARMY CORPS,
April 1, 1865.

In accordance with instructions received from Major-General Meade an attack will be made at 4 a. m. to-morrow upon that part of the enemy’s line between the house burnt by us on Saturday (the Jones house) and our left. The First division will take the right, the Second Division the center, and the Third Division the left-the Second Division being in advance, the First and Third, on the right and left, being in echelon, the entire formation being by brigade, with regimental front, small regiments being consolidated so as not too much to extend the column, and the moved to as near the picket-line as practicable, will advance promptly at 4 a. m., on the firing of a gun from Fort Fisher. The entire picket-line will be advanced at the same time, and that part of it on the right of the attacking columns will gain any point in the enemy’s works that it may be practicable for it to carry-the parts of the line which it may be impossible to advance keeping up a heavy fire upon the enemy. The garrisons of the works from Fort Howard to Fort Urmston, reduced to the minimum, will be maintained, as well as those of Forts Gregg, Sampson, and Cummings, and also the one-tenth of the force in the rifle-pits connecting the works named, the line between Forts Urmston and Gregg being abandoned. The five batteries already designated to move with the corps will accompany the attack, one being assigned to each division, and the other two being held in reserve, while the remainder of the batteries now present will remain in the works to the right of fort Fisher, and to the left of Fort Gregg, as may be directed by the chief of artillery, under special instructions. The troops in the forts on the rear line to the left of Fort Cummings will be returned to their commands to-night in time to take part in the attack. Pioneers should be distributed along the front of the assaulting columns, to clear away abatis rendered most effective. The garrisons left behind will be held ready to repulse any counter attack of the enemy, and the infantry promptly to join their commands, and the artillery to go to the rear upon receiving orders to that effect.

In forming the column for attack it is recommended that the First Division be formed left in front, and the Third Division right in front, so as to form readily to the right and left respectively, if necessary.

The troops should start from their camps to-night and proceed to the vicinity of Forts Fisher and Welch in time to move to the positions assigned them near the picket-line and complete their formation before 4 a. m.

The quartermaster’s, commissary, and medical department will be in readiness to conform to the movements referred to.

The necessity of perfect silence in this movement up to the time of making the assault cannot be too strongly impressed upon the command. Should we succeed in breaking the enemy’s line and gaining the Boydton plank road, the subsequent movements of the corps will be in conformity with the orders of Major-General Meade, already promulgated.

By command of Major-General Wright:

C. H. WHITTELSEY,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

In addition to the above arrangements, a detachment of twenty picked artillerymen, under Byt. Major G. W. Adams, Battery G, First Rhode Island Light Artillery, who had volunteered for the duty, accompanied the assaulting columns with the purpose of promptly turning any captured guns upon the enemy. This detachment, which had been carefully supplied by Major Adams with reamers, lanyards, and friction primers, was of great service in the operations subsequent to the assault in turning the captured guns upon the enemy’s columns and works, thereby adding much to the demoralization of the rebel forces. The assaulting columns were in position before 4 a. m.; but the unusual darkeners at that hour rendered any connected movement impracticable, and the columns did not therefore move till 4.40 a. m., when it had become light enough for the men to see to step, though nothing was discernible beyond a few yards dis-

tance. Axmen had been distributed along the front of the assaulting columns, and the sharpshooters of the divisions had been so disposed as to produce their greatest effect. The point chosen for assault, selected after the most careful considerations, based upon personal examination and the reports of a large number of officers who had for a long time scanned the works of the enemy, was in front of Forts Fisher and Welch, over ground perfectly cleared of trees and offering few natural obstructions, except the marshes with which the front of the enemy’s line was intersected. It was near the let of the corps line; and on its right was in inundation, which was entirely impracticable, while still farther to the right, and before reaching the Ninth Corps left, were the strong works, originally constructed for the defense of Petersburg, in the vicinity of the lead-works. All examinations concurred in designating the point chosen as the true one for attack, and, after observations, concern in sustaining this conclusion. The works in front of the chosen point of attack were known to be an extraordinarily strong line of rifle-pits, with deep ditches and high relief, preceded by one or two lines of abatis; but it was not known till after our successful columns had passed over them that these two lines of abatis were not only unusually well constructed, but that a line of very strong fraise existed between them. At every few hundred yards of this line were forts or batteries well supplied with artillery. These lines might well have been looked upon by the enemy as impregnable, and nothing but the most resolute bravery could have overcome them. It should here by remarked that, but for the successes of the 25th ultimo, in which the corps carried the entrenched picket-line of the enemy, though at a cost in men which at the time seemed hardly to have warranted the movement, the attack of the 2nd instant on the enemy’s mainlines could not have been successful. The position then gained was an indispensable one to the operations upon the main lines, by affording a place for the assembling of assaulting columns within striking distance of the enemy’s main entrenchments. By some mischance or misapprehension our pickets in the vicinity of the forming columns commenced firing while the columns were forming, and brought, not only upon themselves but on the dense masses in their rear, a return fire which, for a movement, threatened to seriously interfere with if not break up the plan of attack. Everything was soon quieted down, however, by the exertions of the officers, though many casualties occurred from this contretemps. The men behaved well during the whole of the severe fire, without returning a shot or uttering a word to indicate their presence to the enemy. All being ready, the hour named for the assault having passed and light enough having dawned, the columns moved promptly at the signal, at 4.40 a. m., broke over the enemy’s picket line, meeting little resistance, and poured their masses over the main defenses, under a heavy fire of artillery and a more deadly though less noisy fire of musketry from the parapets. Abatis was cut away, and through the openings thus made, and through those made by the enemy for his convenience of access to the front, his works were gained. Here occurred a brief but sharp conflict, which soon resulted in giving us possession of the whole front of attack. In the ardor of the movement it was quite impossible to check the advance of the troops at once, and parties from each division soon reached the Boydton plank road and the South Side Railroad, breaking up the latter somewhat and cutting the telegraph wire of the enemy. As promptly as possible the lines were reformed, wheeled to the left, and moved, with the left of line guiding on the rebel entrenchments,

toward Hatcher’s Run. At first the enemy attempted resistance, but he was soon broken, and the entire rebel line from the point of attack to Hatcher’s Run, with all his artillery and a large number of prisoners, was in our possession. In making this movement the Second Brigade, First Division, was left at the point of assault to hold what we had gained and to resist any force the enemy might send from Petersburg. Portions of this brigade and a part of the Second Division picket-line gained a considerable extent of the enemy’s line of works to the right of the point of attack, while the rest of the corps was engaged toward the left, a portion of which it was unable to hold against the attacks of a considerable force sent from Petersburg. On reaching Hatcher’s Run (a small portion of the force crossed it) I learned from staff officers of the lieutenant-general that the Second and Fifth Corps and the cavalry were sweeping down in that direction, and that it was not necessary to proceed farther. I therefore turned and moved toward Petersburg.

While halted and reforming near Hatcher’s Run, one division of the Twenty-fourth Corps and a command of colored troops came in across the lines we had captured, and another division of the same corps came in by way of Fort Fisher to the support of the brigade which had been left to take care of our rear. At the request of Major-General Gibbon, commanding Twenty-fourth Corps, the division first referred to was allowed to pass the Sixth Corps, which immediately followed, returning to the original point of attack. Thence the troops were again pushed forward to closely invest Petersburg-the Second Division and the First and Third Brigades of the First Division being sent to the support of the left of the Ninth Corps, which was reported to be hard pressed. The Third Division moved up to the position finally occupied with little resistance. The Second Division formed promptly on the left of the Twenty-fourth Corps and moved rapidly forward, under a considerable fire of artillery and musketry, till the position near the Whitworth house was gained, when our lines were halted. The two brigades of the First Division gained the left of the Second Division as promptly as possible and moved forward with it, its left somewhat refused and reaching to the Appomattox. Several batteries of the enemy, which were very dashingly handled, occasioned some loss, but were driven back from point to point into the rebel works, with the exception of one, which was captured after its horses had been shot down by our skirmishers. On reaching the position finally occupied there was an interval of at least half a mile between the left of the Twenty-fourth Corps and the right of Getty’s division, which was covered only by our skirmishers, but which was subsequently filled by Mott’s division, of the Second Corps. On reaching the position referred to the men were so exhausted as to make an assault upon the enemy’s lines unadvisable. The corps had been under arms for nearly eighteen hours; had assaulted the strong lines of the enemy; swept down them several miles and returning had moved upon Petersburg, some miles farther. It was therefore determined not to attack that night; but, under orders from Major-General Meade, the artillery was put in position and the troops prepare for an assault at daylight the next morning. On advancing the next morning it was ascertained that the place had been evacuated during the night, and preparations were at once made for the pursuit, and by 8 o’clock the troops were in motion, following the River road.

To the division commanders, Brevet Major-Generals Getty and Wheaton and Brigadier-General Seymour, too much of the credit of the successful assault cannot be worded. They enter cheerfully and confidently into the project of attack, and handled their commands admirably during the whole of the operations of the day. The same may be said of the brigade commanders, and needed, of all officers, special mention of whom is made in the accompanying reports.

To my own staff I was as unseal indebted for prompt, intelligent, and gallant discharge of duty during the day.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. G. WRIGHT,
Major-General, Commanding.

Colonel GEORGE D. RUGGLES,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.

HEADQUARTERS SIXTH ARMY CORPS,
Danville, Va., April 29, 1865.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of this corps from the 3rd instant, after the retreat of the rebel forces from Petersburg and Richmond, to the 9th instant, the date of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia near Appomattox Court-House:

At daylight on the morning of the 3rd of April, the artillery of the corps being in position ready to open fire and the troops prepared for the assault, in pursuance to orders from headquarters Army of the Potomac of the evening previous, the skirmish line was pushed forward and soon discovered that the city of Petersburg had been evacuated during the night and that the army of General Lee was retreating. A communication received from the city authorities surrendering the place was forwarded to your headquarters, and the skirmish line halted. Soon after orders were received to pursue the enemy, and Mott’s division, of the Second Corps, temporarily under my command, was at once put in motion by the River road, followed closely by this corps. The other two divisions of the Second Corps being in our front, with the trains which usually accompany the troops, our march for the day was necessarily a slow and short one, and we camped for the night about ten miles from Petersburg. The next morning the march was resumed, and at night we camped about two miles beyond Wintincomack Creek, near the place of Mr. Featherston. On the 5th the corps moved, at 3 a. m., toward Jetersville Station, on the Danville railroad, and went into position some time before dark about two miles from that point and on the right of the Fifth Corps and of the army. It had been reported that the enemy, who had concentrated at Amelia Court-House, were threatening an attack, and the latter part of the march was hurried in consequence, and the troops put in position in order of battle.

The next morning (the 6th) the corps was put in motion at 6 a. m., in conjunction with the rest of the army, toward Amelia Court-House, where it was supposed the enemy still was, with the intention of attacking him at that place. Without regard to roads the troops were moved across the country, but after proceedings some three miles information was received that the enemy had left during the night and was endeavoring to pass around our left. The corps was at once halted and this information sent to army headquarters. Orders were soon received for

the corps to take the right of the army in the pursuit; but these orders were shortly after charged by instructions to move via Jetersville to the vicinity of Deatonsville, and take position on the left of the Second Corps and of the army. In obedience to these instructions the corps was promptly started. Following for a time the road from Jetersville, parallel to the railroad, and then turning square to the right, the road passing Deatonsville was reached at a point to the southward of that place. Here I found the Second Corps was engaged in skirmishing in advance of the road; and awaiting the arrival of the column the ground on the left of that corps was reconnoitered with a view to taking up that position, but finding the country to be a difficult one through which to advance, and hearing the cavalry heavily engaged some distance to the left, I moved on the arrival of the head of the column down the Burkeville road, perhaps a mile, and, turning sharp to the right, proceeded across the country toward a nearly parallel road on which the enemy was moving with troops and trains, and along which he had thrown up some slight breast-works. As soon as Seymour’s division, which was leading, could be formed it was moved upon the road held by the enemy, which was carried after a slight resistance. This movement compelled a part of the enemy’s force to move off by a branch road to the right, and in front of the Second Corps, which was rapidly coming up. The road being carried, the Third Division was wheeled to the left, with its left on the road, and Wheaton’s Division, which had come up, having been rapidly formed on Seymour’s let, the line was advanced down the road against a pretty sharp resistance for about two miles, when reaching Sailor’s Creek, a marshy and difficult stream, it was found that the enemy had reformed his line on the opposite side, and that he had thrown up such breast-works at various points of his line as time permitted. Readjusting the lines somewhat, the First and Third Divisions keeping their previous formation of the Third on the right, the creek was crossed, and the attack made, the artillery, previously established imposition, opening with great effect upon the enemy, while the Second Division, still in rear, was hurried up to take part in the battle in case it should be needed, and at any rate to sustain the batteries which were without support. This division was rapidly brought forward at the double-quick by Brevet Major-General Getty, and though not actually engaged performed an important part by its presence. The First and Third Divisions charged the enemy’s position, carrying it handsomely, except at a point on our right of the road crossing the creek, where a column, said to be composed exclusively of the Marine Brigade and other troops which had held the lines of Richmond previous to the evacuation, made a counter-charge upon that part of our lines in their front. I was never more astonished. These troops were surrounded-the First and Third Divisions of this corps were on either flank, my artillery and a fresh division in their front, and some three divisions of Major-General Sheridan’s cavalry in their rear. Looking upon them as already our prisoners, I had ordered the artillery to cease firing as a dictate of humanity; my surprise therefore was extreme when this force charged upon our front; but the fire of our infantry, which had already gained their flanks, the capture of their superior officers, already in our hands, the concentrated and murderous fire of six batteries of our artillery within effective range, brought them promptly to a surrender.

The position was won, the right of the rebel army was annihilated, and the prisoners secured were counted by thousands.

In the attack upon the road along which the enemy was passing, and already referred to, a portion of General Sheridan’s cavalry operated upon our right, and n the subsequent attack the mass of the cavalry operated on the enemy’s right flank and rear, doing splendid service and completing the successes of the day, capturing most of the prisoners who had been driven back, broken and demoralized, by the attack previously described. Many general officers were captured by the combined forces of the infantry and cavalry, and of those who surrendered to the Sixth Corps were Lieutenant-General Ewell and Major General Custis Lee. After the battle General Getty’s division, which was still comparatively fresh, was advanced some two miles to the front, and he pushed his skirmish line some two miles farther, meeting no serious opposition. The First and Third Divisions, following General Getty’s movement, took position on his left and right, respectively, where they bivouacked for the night.

In this battle of Sailor’s Creek the corps nobly sustained its previous well-earned reputation. It made the forced march which preceded that battle with great cheerfulness and enthusiasm, and went into the fight with a determination to be successful seldom evinced by the best troops, and by its valor made the battle of Sailor’s Creek the most important of the last and crowning contests against the rebel Army of Northern Virginia. To it had fallen the opportunity of striking the decisive blows, not only at Petersburg, on the 2nd of April, but at Sailor’s Creek, on the 6th, and most gallantly did it vindicate the confidence reposed in it baits own officers and the commander of the Army of the Potomac. The corps has always fought well, but never better than in the assault at Petersburg, and at Sailor’s Creek four days after.

On the morning of the 7th, receiving orders from your headquarters to continue the pursuit of the enemy so long as there was a prospect of success, the corps was on the road shortly after 7 a. m., proceeding in the direction of Farmville on the road aken by the enemy. Reaching Rice’s Station it was ascertained that the Twenty-fourth Corps had passed that point from Burkeville, and was of course ahead of us. Proceeding to Sandy River I was there informed that the advance of the Twenty-fourth Corps was in possession of Farmville, and not knowing what direction the enemy had taken an officer was sent forward to obtain information, with the intention of moving on Prince Edward Court-House if this intelligence was true, where the corps would have been in position either to follow the enemy promptly or cut him off it he moved toward Danville, or to move on Appomattox Court-House by the most direct route, with a prospect of intercepting a portion, at least, of his force, in the event of his taking that direction. Ascertaining that Farmville was not in our possession, I again moved toward that place, being somewhat delayed, however, by a division of cavalry that passed Sandy River in my front and by the Twenty-fourth Corps, the rear of which was overtaken before reaching Farmville. Passing the latter, the corps was massed on the high grounds overlooking the town, and the lieutenant-general, who came up about this time, directed me to remain in that position till further orders. It had been previously ascertained that the enemy, instead of moving toward Danville, had gone in the direction of Lynchburg, and that the main body had crossed the river at Farmville and High Bridge, burning the bridges at both these points, and that their rear guard alone had moved on the south side of the Appomattox. The river being too deep for the fording of infantry, a light foot bridge was constructed over it, and, under instruc-

tions from the lieutenant-general commanding, a pontoon train from the Army of the James was ordered up and a bridge thrown across the river for the artillery and trains. The infantry, crossing by the foot bridge, were encamped some time after dark, the trains and artillery getting into camp about midnight.

On Saturday, the 8th, orders to move at 5 a. m. were not received till 8 a. m., when the corps was at once put in motion and rapidly overtook the Second Corps. Instead of following this corps, the head of the column, at Major-General Humphreys’ suggestion, was turned off on the plank road, which runs nearly parallel to and intersects at New Store the road followed by this corps. At New Store the corps camped for the night, after a march of about seventeen miles.

Starting at 5 a. m. on Sunday, the 9th, the Second Corps was soon overtaken and followed closely to the vicinity of Appomattox Court-House, where the troops were halted and held ready for any movement, awaiting the result of the conference then being held between Generals Grant and Lee. Soon after halting official intelligence of the surrender of General Lee’s forces was announced to the army, and was received with great enthusiasm by the soldiers, who looked upon this as the result of all their privations, and as the virtual ending of the struggle which had convulsed the country for four years, in which they had willingly rushed their lives and fortunes.

In the whole campaign I have been ably assisted by my staff, who, by their services, are entitled to the acknowledgments of the country; they are as follows: Major C. H. Whittelsey, assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenant Colonel Walter S. Franklin, assistant inspector-general; Majors Arthur McClellan, Richard F. Halsted, Thomas L. Haydn, and Henry W. Farrar, aides-de-camp; Lieutenant James W. Dixon, acting aide-de-camp; Major S. H. Manning, acting chief quartermaster; Major James K. Holman, medical director; Actg. Staff Surg. S. J. Allen, medical inspector; Major D. I. Miln, provost-marshal; Captain George E. Wood, ambulance officer; Major E. K. Russell, acting commissary of subsistence; Lieutenant Thomas H. Fearey, signal officer; Lieutenant Alex. Samuels, acting assistant quartermaster.*

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

H. G. WRIGHT,
Major-General, Commanding.

Colonel GEORGE D. RUGGLES,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the Potomac.

List of casualties in the Sixth Corps, on April 2, 1865.

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*So much of this report as relates to the operations of April 6 was furnished by Wright to Sheridan May 6, 1865.

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List of casualties in the Sixth Corps, on April 6, 1865.

ADDENDA.

Address of General Meade, April 17, 1865, to officers and soldiers presenting battle-flags captured by the Sixth Corps.

Offices and soldiers of the Sixth Corps, I thank you very much for these numerous proofs of your valor, captured during the recent campaign. I do not wish to make any invidious distinctions between your own and the other corps of this army. They performed with valor and courage the part assigned to them. But candor compels me to say that in my opinion the decisive movement of this campaign which resulted in the capture of the Army of Northern Virginia was the gallant and successful assault of the Sixth Corps on the morning of the 2nd of April. It was with much pleasure I had received a dispatch from your commander assuring me his confidence in your courage wa so great that he felt confident of his ability to break through the enemy’s lines. I finally ordered the charge to be made at 4 o’clock on the morning of the 2nd and it was with still greater satisfaction that a few hours afterward I had the pleasure of transmitting a dispatch to the general-in-chief telling him the confidence of your brave commander had been fully borne out.

To you, brave men, I return the thanks of the country and of the army. To each of you a furlough of thirty days will be granted to enable you to present these proofs of your valor to the War Department. Le us all hope that the work upon which we have been engaged for nearly four years is over, that the South will return to its allegiance, and that our beloved flag will once more float in triumph over a peaceful and undivided country extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Saint Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico.

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pp. 901-909

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