Number 78. Appomattox Report of Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade

   

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in Appomattox Campaign Reports (95)

No. 78. Report of Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade.1

CAMP OF FIRST DIVISION, FIFTH CORPS,
April 24, 1865.

CAPTAIN: In compliance with orders just received, I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the First Brigade of this division from the 29th of March to the 9th of April 1865:

The brigade broke camp on the morning of the 29th ultimo and marched at 6 a. m., bay way of Arthur’s Swamp and the old stage road and Vaughan road, toward Dinwiddie Court-House; turning to our right, we went into position near the Chappell house. Soon after this we returned to the Vaughan road and moved up the Quaker road in a northerly direction. On reaching Gravelly Run Major-General Griffin directed me to form my brigade in order of battle and advance against some works which were in sight on the opposite bank. Crossing the run, I sent Major E. A. Glenn, commanding the second battalion of the One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, forward with his command as skirmishers, and formed my lines, with Bvt. Brigadier General H. G. Sickel, One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania, on the right, and Colonel G. Sniper, One hundred and eighty-fifth New York, on the left of the road. Major Glenn pushed forward vigorously and drove the enemy’s skirmishers out of their works without any difficulty, and succeeded in pressing them through the woods and as far as the Lewis house. The enemy making considerable show of force in the edge of woods beyond, I halted Major Glenn and brought my line of battle up to supporting distance. Here i was directed to halt. In a short time I was ordered by General Griffin to resume the advance. There being at that time no firing of any consequence on the skirmish line I brought my line of battle up to that point, reformed it on the buildings, re-enforced the skirmishers by a company from the One hundred and eighty-fifth New York, and commenced a rapid advance with my whole command. The skirmishers reached the edge of woods before the firing became at all severe. I was exceedingly anxious that the troops should gain the cover of the woods before receiving the shock of the fire, but the obstacles to be overcome were so great that this could not be fully accomplished, and my men were obliged to gain the woods against a heavy fire. They advanced, however, with great steadiness and drove the enemy from their position and far into the woods. It was not long, however, before another attack was made upon us, evidently by a greatly superior force, and we became completely enveloped

in a withering fire. We replied with spirit and persistency, holding our ground, taking rather the defensive at this stage of the action. In the course of half an hour my left became so heavily pressed that it gradually gave way, and at last was fairly turned, and driven entirely out of the woods to a direction parallel with the road by which we advanced. This position couldn’t be held ten minutes, and nothing but the most active exertions of field and staff officers kept the men where they were, the fire all the time being very severe. At this moment I sent a request for General Gregory, commanding Second Brigade, on my left, to attack the enemy in flank in their newly gained position. I was assured by Major-General Griffin, who was on the line, that if we would hold on five minutes he could bring up the artillery. Upon this I succeeded in rallying the men, and they once more gained the woods. Battery B of the Fourth U. S. Artillery now came into position and opened a most effective fire. By this assistance we held our line until the enemy fell heavily upon our right and center, and my men being by this time out of ammunition, many of them absolutely without a cartridge, began to yield ground. Seeing that this was inevitable I dispatched an aide to General Gregory asking him for a regiment, and at the same time Major-General Griffin ordered up three regiments of the Third Brigade. These regiments came promptly to our assistance. I was at that movement endeavoring to reform my broken line, so as, at all events, to cover the artillery. The line was falling back in front of the Lewis house when Lieutenant-Colonel Doolittle, of the One hundred and eighty-eighth New York, came up, gallantry leading his regimen, as also Colonel Partridge, Sixteenth Michigan; the One hundred and fifty-fifth Pennsylvania and First Michigan came on in the most handsome manner, passing to my front, Brevet Brigadier-General Pearson, of the One hundred and fifty-fifth, grasping his color and dashing straight against the enemy’s line. This assistance and the admirable service of the artillery compelled the enemy to abandon their position; otherwise I must have been driven entirely from the field.

This action lasted nearly two hours before any support reached us. I need not speak of the severity of the engagement, nor of the conduct of my officers and men, inasmuch as it was all under the eye and direction the fact that more than 400 of my men and 18 officers killed and wounded marked our line with too painful destructiveness. Nor can I fail to speak of the steadfast coolness and courage of Brevet Brigadier-General Sickel, whose example and conduct made my efforts needless in that port of the line, until he was borne from the field severely wounded; the unflinching tenacity of Colonel Sniper at his perilous post, and the desperate bravery with which he rallied his men, seizing his color after it had fallen from the hands of three color-bearers and a captain, and bearing it into the very ranks of the enemy; the fiery courage of Major Glenn, which could scarcely be restrained; and of the heroic spirit of Major Maceuen, who fell dead foremost in the ranks of honor; nor shall I forget to name the young gentlemen of my staff- Lieutenants Walters and Vogel, my personal aides, both painfully wounded, but keeping the field to the last; Lieutenant Mitchell, my adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Fisher, pioneer officer-who rendered me essential aid in the hottest of the fire. Private Kelsey, my orderly, rode upon the enemy’s line and captured, under my own eyes, an officer and five men, and brought them in

Remaining on the ground that night and the next day, we buried our dead and 130 of the enemy’s, and brought in the wounded of both parties.

On the morning of the 31st we moved up the Boydton plank road, land upon this nearly to Gravelly run crossing, taking position on the left of the division and the corps. A sharp engagement commenced to our right, which resulted in the troops falling back through our lines in great confusion. I was desired by General Griffin to regain the field which these troops had yielded. My men forded a stream nearly waist deep, formed in two lines, Major Glenn having the advance, and pushed the enemy steadily before them. Major-General Ayres’ division supported me on the left in echelon by brigade, the skirmishers of the First Division, in charge of General Pearson, in their front. We advanced in this way a mile or more in to the edge of the field it was desired to retake. Up to this time we had been opposed by only a skirmish line, but quite a heavy fire now met us, and a line of battle could be plainly seen in the opposite edge of woods and in a line of breast-works in the open field, in force at least equal to our own. I was now ordered by Major-General Warren to halt and take the defensive. My first line had now gained a light crest in the open field, where they were subjected to a severe fire from the works in front and from the woods on each flank. As it appeared that the enemy’s position might be carried with no greater loss than it would cost us merely to hold our ground, and the men were eager to charge over the field, I reported this to General Griffin, and received permission to renew the attack. My command was brought into one line and put in motion. A severe oblique fire on my right, together with the artillery which now opened from the enemy’s works, caused the One hundred and ninety-eighth to waver for a moment. I then requested General Gregory, who reported to me with his brigade, to move rapidly into the woods on our right by battalion in echelon by the left, so as to break this flank attack, and possibly to turn the enemy’s left at the same moment that i should charge the works directly in rout at a run. This plan was so handsomely executed by all that the result was completely successful. The woods and the works were carried, with several prisoners and one battle-flag, and the line advanced some 300 yards across the White Oak road.

My loss in this action was not more than seventy-five, but it included some of my best officers and men.

It would be unjust not to mention the services of Major Glenn and Colonel Sniper in this affair, whose bravery and energy I relied upon for the successful execution of my plans. I would also express my obligations to General Gregory for his quick comprehension of my wishes and for his efficient aid. I may be permitted also the mention the gallantry of Captain Fowler, assistant adjutant-general of division, who rode int the hottest fire to bring my orders, having his horse killed under him in doing so, and who by his conduct and bearing showed an example worthy of all praise.

During the night we buried our dead and cared four our wounded, and bivouacked on the line.

The brigade left bivouac on the White Oak road early on the morning of the 1st and moved, with the rest of the division, toward Dinwiddie Court-House, until we met General Sheridan with his cavalry. We then moved in connection toward Five Forks. Arriving at a point near Gravelly Run Church we were formed on the right

of the Third Brigade of this division in three lines. Brevet Brigadier-General Gregory, commanding Second Brigade of this division, reported to me with his brigade, by order of General Griffin, and was placed upon the right flank of our lines, one regiment being deployed as skirmishers in our front, one on the flank faced outward, and one held in reserve. Mackenzie’s cavalry was on or right. In this formation we advanced in the order designated. Our instructions were to keep closed to the left on the Third Brigade, and also to wheel to the left in moving, the design being to strike the enemy in flank. We advanced through an open wood with nothing but light skirmishers in our front for some time. The constant change of direction to the left made the march on the right flank exceedingly rapid. On coming out at a large opening it was discovered that the Third Division of the corps was no longer on the left of the First Division, as had been the order of movement, and the heavy firing was all concentrated at a int to our left and front, where the Second Division had struck the enemy’s works. Seeing the division flag moving in that direction I immediately drew my brigade into the field moving in that direction I immediately drew my brigade into the field by the left flank and formed them facing this fire, and General Griffin ordered me to move against the point. Brevet Major-General Bartlett advanced at the same time with three regiments of the Third Brigade immediately on my right. We moved up rapidly under the crest of a hill and charged the works, striking them obliquely in flank and reverse, the right of my line-the One hundred and eighty-fifth New York (Colonel Snope) and the first battalion of the One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania (Major Glenn)-passing down to the rear of the works, and the left-second battalion of the One hundred and ninety-eighth (Captain Stanton)-passing in front of them. The regiments of the Third Brigade, striking farther up, met a very heavy flank fire on the right, which broke us up somewhat, the extreme right falling back and the remainder of the line showing strong disposition to swing to the left into the works form which we had driven the enemy, a position which would render them powerless against the flank attack which was then commencing. It required the utmost personal efforts of every general and staff officer present to bring our line to face perpendicularly to the line of works, and to repulse the attack. General Bartlett informing me of the imminent peril on his right I directed my two right regiments to sweep down the rear of the Twentieth Maine and First Michigan and break the attack, General Gregory also pressing forward with his brigade in the same direction. In the attempt to do this the regiments of the several brigades became somewhat mixed, but a new direction was given to our line, and the enemy completely put to rout. In the meantime, with one staff officer and Captain Brinton, of the division staff, I assisted General Bartlett in collecting the stragglers from all commands who were seeking shelter in the edge of the woods; these men, to the number of 150 or 200, were formed and pushed in. While engaged in this I saw in the open field in our rear the flag of General Gwyn, of the Second Division, and dispatched Lieutenant Fisher, of my staff, to request him to throw his brigade in as rapidly as possible in the same direction as had been given to the troops already in. This assistance was not cheerfully and promptly rendered, and contributed in a good degree to our success. The confusion of the battle at this moment was great; different commands were completely mingled, but our line was still good. The men of my own brigade were, for the most part, nearest to the line of works, thorough many of them were mixed with those of the Twentieth Maine

and of the Second Brigade. As the line all merged into one the right of our line, consisting chiefly of the Second and Third Brigade troops, struck a battery and wagons on a road running perpendicular to the works, while Colonel Sniper and Major Glenn, with their colors close together, came upon the flank of other guns in position in the works. Two battle-flags were taken here by the One hundred and eighty-fifth New York Volunteers, and a large number of prisoners. The whole line then pressed on, three brigades of the division as one, and driving the enemy far up the road to the distance, I should judge, of a mile or more. At dark I received an order from General Griffin to collect the troops of the division, and afterward from General Sheridan, to gather all the infantry that could be found and reform teem in an open field to the left of the road, which was done; and we then encamped for the night along the works.

The prisoners captured by my brigade who cannot be claimed by other commands were nearly 900. Four battle-flags were taken; all these were turned over and receipted for except one battle-flag, which was torn up and distributed among the men before it could be properly taken charge of. My loss was not heavy in comparison with that of previous days, but cannot be considered otherwise than severe, inasmuch as it includes the name of so excellent a gentleman, and so thorough a soldier, as Major Edwin A. Glenn, commanding One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, who fell mortally wounded in the extreme advance. I have already recommended his promotion by brevet for distinguished gallantry at the battle of Lewis’ farm and White Oak road.

On the afternoon of the 2nd we moved from the battle-field by the Church road, my brigade leading the advance. Colonel Sniper deployed six companies as skirmishers, holding four as support. Flankers were thrown out on the right and left. We advanced but a short distance before we came upon a strong skirmish line of the enemy, who endeavored to oppose our crossing a small creek. Colonel Sniper, however, attacked them with a vigor which soon dislodged them, and drove them before him. At Church road crossing on the South Side Railroad we captured a train of cars, which happened to be passing, in which were some Confederate officers and men. Crossing the railroad, I was then directed by major-General Bartlett, commanding the division, to push out, if possible, to the Cox road, crossing our direction at nearly right angle. The enemy here showed a disposition to make a stand, deploying a line in single rank, composed, as I judged, of about 1,500 dismounted cavalry. I immediately formed the two battalions of the One hundred and ninety-eighth Pennsylvania in line of battle, threw forward Lieutenant-Colonel Townsend’s regiment, of General Gregory’s brigade, which had reported to me, into a piece of woods to protect my right, and in this order pushed rapidly forward. The enemy fell back on Colonel Sniper’s brisk fire, and, with a loss of only three men wounded, the road was secured. I was then ordered to make disposition to hold the road, which was done; the skirmish line being formed along a creek half a mile or more in advance. We remained in this position until General Sheridan came up, when we moved again down the Cox road, with skirmishers and flankers as before, marching until night, and encamping on what is called the Namozine road. On the morning of the 3rd we moved out the Namozine road toward Amelia Court-House; bivouacked that night on the same road. marched at 6 a. m. on the morning of the 4th, and after dark came upon the Danville

railroad at Jetersville, and made preparations to attack the enemy’s trains in that vicinity. As the enemy appeared to be in force we threw up works, and remained on the alert during the night. The next day, the 5th, we were under arms nearly all day prepared to receive or make an attack. At about 1 o’clock I moved out the Amelia Court-House road to support a portion of our cavalry who were bringing in a large number of prisoners, and were severely attacked on the road. Returned to camp and remained during the night. The next day, the 6th, we marched in pursuit of the enemy in a westerly direction, passing through Paineville, my brigade in advance; firing was heard on our left. The skirmishers captured about 150 prisoners and several teams, and our pioneers destroyed, by order of the corps commander, a large number of army wagons, gun carriages, and caissons which had been captured by our cavalry or abandoned by the enemy. Our march this day was very rapid and tiresome. After dark we encamped near Sailor’s Creek. On the morning of the 7th we moved up the road by Sailor’s Creek, and crossing the Lynchburg railroad near Rice’s Station, brisk firing was heard on our right. Marched to Prince Edward Court-House and encamped for the night. On the 8th we moved by way of Prospect Station up the Lynchburg pike, the Twenty-fourth Corps preceding. Our march was frequently obstructed and tedious. Bivouacked at midnight on the road. Information was here received that General Sheridan had met the enemy and captured several trains. marched at 4 a. m. on the 9th to the vicinity of Appomattox Court-House, being but a short distance, and found the cavalry warmly engaged. my brigade having the advance was filed to the right, moved to the rear of the cavalry, and formed on the right of the division and corps, in two lines. A heavy skirmish line was thrown forward, connecting with the Third Brigade skirmishers on the left, and our lines advanced against the enemy, relieving the cavalry, who reformed on my right. The skirmishers drove the enemy rapidly before them, while our line of battle was opened on by a battery in the town, my right being exactly in the line of fire. My skirmish line had reached the town, its right being at the house of Mrs. Wright, and my line of battle was rapidly closing on them, when a flag of truce came in with an aide of the commanding officer of the opposing forces, who was referred to the major-general commanding. I soon after received the order to halt my lines and to cease the skirmishing. During the conference which ensued we remained as we had halted, and afterward went into camp near the same ground. My loss this day was, 1 killed and 1 wounded, Lieutenant Hiram Clark, of the One hundred and eighty-fifth New York, being instantly killed by a cannon-shot, just as the flag of truce came in.*

Respectfully submitted.

J. L. CHAMBERLAIN,
Brigadier-General, Late Commanding First Brigade.

Captain WILLIAM FOWLER,
Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division, Fifth Corps.

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* Copy of so much of this report as relates to operations April 1 – 5 was furnished General Sheridan April 14.

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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. 847-852

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