Number 105. Siege of Petersburg Reports of Bvt. Major General Romeyn B. Ayres, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations February 5-7

   

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in Siege of Petersburg Reports (95)

No. 105. Reports of Bvt. Major General Romeyn B. Ayres, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division, of operations February 5-7.1

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
February 14, 1865.

COLONEL: I have the honor to report that this division marched from camp on Sunday morning, 5th instant. Resistance was offered by a detachment of rebels (who had destroyed the bridge) at the crossing of the Rowanty (Hatcher’s Run). The place was quickly carried by the Third Brigade, and a portion of the defenders captured. The division proceeded and took up a position on the Quaker road. Marched that night on the Vaughan road to the crossing of Hatcher’s Run. The First Brigade was sent out next morning along the road to support the cavalry. Later I received an order to support the Third Division in a reconnaissance to Dabney’s Mill. I sent an order to withdraw the First Brigade in time for it to take its place in the column, but the enemy having advanced along the Vaughan road, that brigade became briskly engaged to my left and could not be withdrawn. Having received notice from General Crawford that his left was hard pressed, I was pushing forward rapidly with two brigades, marching in two lines by a flank in the thick underbrush ascending a ridge, when a quantity of our cavalry, riding rapidly, came on to my ranks suddenly. A portion of my troops were swept away, but I pushed rapidly on with what I had, soon engaged the enemy, and quickly retook the mill site, which I held, re-enforced by three regiments of the First Division, till the troops on my right were pressed back by overwhelming numbers. My troops then fell back to the open ground and were subsequently withdrawn to the position held previous. I refer you to the reports of the brigade commanders for further particulars of their operations. Those officers-Brevet Brigadier-General Winthrop, Brevet Brigadier-General Gwyn, and Colonel Bowerman, Eighth [Fourth] Maryland Volunteers-seconded me with zeal and energy. General Winthrop handsomely repulsed the enemy’s attack on the Vaughan road. I must bear testimony in this connection to the zeal, intelligence, and good conduct of my staff-Bvt. Colonel C. E. LaMotte, Fourth Delaware Volunteers, acting assistant inspector-general; Bvt. Major W. W. Swan, Seventeenth U. S. Infantry, acting assistant adjutant-general; First

Lieutenant R. P. Warren, One hundred and forty-sixth New York Volunteers, aide-de-camp; First Lieutenant John J. Diehl, Fifteenth New York Heavy Artillery, aide-de-camp.

The courage and fidelity of my mounted messengers under trying circumstances entitles them to be named in this report. They are: Henry Bonnet, Company D, Fifteenth New York Heavy Artillery, standard-bearer and acting corporal; John T. Thomson, Company I, Eighth Maryland Volunteers; William H. Yingling, Company I, Eighth Maryland Volunteers; John T. Bratt, Company H, Eighth Maryland Volunteers; Munroe Fowler, Company H, Eighth Maryland Volunteers; John T. Mackison, Company H, Eighth Maryland Volunteers, severely wounded.

Tabular and nominal lists of casualties will be forwarded as soon as completed.

Brevet Brigadier-General Pearson, commanding the re-enforcements from the First Division, bore himself with gallantry.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. B. AYRES,
Bvt. Major General, Commanding Second Division, Fifth Army Corps.

Bvt. Colonel FRED. T. LOCKE,
Asst. Adjt. General, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac.

[Indorsement.]
HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
February 18, 1865.

Respectfully returned to Brevet Major-General Ayres.

General Warren requests to know particularly whether the retiring of the division from Dabney’s Mill to the breast-works was due to orders received or to the misconduct of the troops on the right of it, or to the misconduct of the troops of the division itself, or to an irresistible force of the enemy. The general commanding does not think there were sufficient reasons for good troops to give way. The losses are not sufficient to justify a retreat. It was his positive orders to remain and fight it out, and he wishes his troops to understand that he will not shield them in his reports. If they won’t fight the country must know it. General Warren knows that General Ayres used his best efforts to make them hold their ground and, for his honor as well as that of the commander of the corps, wishes to have it plainly stated that it was the troops and not the generals who would not fight.

By command of Major-General Warren:

FRED. T. LOCKE,
Brevet Colonel and Assistant Adjutant-General.

HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, FIFTH CORPS,
March 17, 1865.

COLONEL: In accordance with the indorsement on my report of the fight near Hatcher’s Run on the 6th instant [ultimo], I enter more into detail concerning the fight.

A portion of my command was on picket at the old camp when the cavalry ran through the troops (see report). I was pushing rapidly forward to support the left of the Third Division, so instead of halting till I could get together all my troops, I moved on with what I had. The re-enforcement sent me I ordered formed, one regiment to the right of the mill site, two on the left of my troops. I then ordered my men

to roll up some logs near by for a cover, and was directing this when the two regiments just alluded to suddenly moved, without orders, some 300 yards forward, forming a line somewhat at an angle with the main line, having the mill site, say, at the apex. To the right and front of the site was a thick grove of small pines, covering the left of the Third Division. General Pearson, commanding the re-enforcements, says (and for the above reasons, their being masked by the pines, it may well be so) that the Third Division fire struck his troops. Those two regiments then broke. About this time a retrograde movement commenced along the whole line, I presume without and against all orders and authority, though I have recently seen an editorial in a Philadelphia paper which, speaking as though by authority, says that the Third Division came back by command. Between Dabney’s Mill and the open ground in front of our breast-works are several ridges, with marshy ground in the valleys between. I seized upon the occasion of arriving on these ridges to use every effort, assisted by my staff and messengers, to halt the troops and form lines, well satisfied from the favorable nature of the ground that, could this be done, the enemy could be repulsed. I succeeded in one case in halting quite a force, but the main mass to my right sweeping along, the contagion spread to those who had halted and they could not be held.

On arriving at the open, whilst halting and forming the troops, a line of the troops was brought up in rear, when, some little agitation occurring in the edge of the woods and a few persons riding out at a gallop, this line behind mine lost presence of mind and fired into mine. I think my men were justified in not remaining there; numbers of them were struck. When I pushed forward at first to support the left of the Third Division, I supposed General Gwyn, the most of whose brigade was disorganized by the cavalry, would rejoin as soon as he got his men together. He seems not to have found the direction, and to have gone forward in the woods quite to my left. This accounts for his finding himself without anyone on his right or left. This command (General Gwyn’s) had a fight in the woods, doubtless with the troops of the enemy which attacked ours on the Vaughan road as they were endeavoring to pass around us to join the enemy near Dabney’s Mill. The troops with me struck them and pushed them at the double-quick. In fact, my division fought on an extended front and held the ground covered by it, beginning with my first brigade on the Vaughan road and running around to Dabney’s Mill. At one time (when I sent for re-enforcements) there was a strong effort made by the enemy to push through to the (our) left of the mill site. That effort was foiled with the assistance of those re-enforcements. It will be seen that I arrived at the mill site with quite a small force, mostly Maryland troops. When the line gave way there was no panic in these troops; they had not fired for some time, and I am persuaded to believe were out of ammunition. Whether the troops on my right (the question is asked in the indorsement) were justified in falling back, I am not prepared to say, though I had received the impression that they were overborne by superior numbers. I gave my attention to my own command. It did not, and certainly would not have been justified in falling back alone.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

R. B. AYRES,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding Division.

Bvt. Colonel FRED. T. LOCKE,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifth Army Corps.

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), pages 277-279

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