Number 116. Siege of Petersburg Report of Bvt. Major General Frank Wheaton, U. S. Army, commanding First Division, Sixth Army Corps, of operations February 5-8

   

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in Siege of Petersburg Reports (95)

No. 116. Report of Bvt. Major General Frank Wheaton, U. S. Army, commanding First Division, Sixth Army Corps, of operations February 5-8.1

HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION, SIXTH CORPS,
February 14, 1865.

SIR: I have the honor to report that at 8 p.m. of the 5th instant I received orders from the corps commander to move to Hatcher’s Run with my division and report to General Humphreys, commanding Second Corps. While en route and near Fort Siebert a staff officer of General Humphreys brought me orders to form on and covering the Squirrel

Level road, on the right of a division of the Ninth Corps just going into position. A short time after the leading brigade arrived upon the ground we were to occupy, the right of the Ninth Corps was fixed, and this division line was then formed as follows: Third Brigade, Bvt. Brigadier General Joseph E. Hamblin, on the left, one regiment in reserve; the First Brigade, Lieutenant Colonel E. L. Campbell commanding, on its right in one line, reaching nearly to the abatis at Fort Cummings, and the Second Brigade (Mackenzie’s), commanded by Colonel James Hubbard, Second Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery, in reserve, and in rear of the left of the line, which was near the Claypole house. The front was at once entrenched as ordered, and the troops held ready to meet an attack which was anticipated on our left. The troops were in position by 11.30 p.m., and two hours after an excellent rifle-pit had been constructed all along our front and slashing made across the two swamps through which our line ran. No attack was made by the enemy and nothing of interest transpired during the remainder of the night or morning of the next day, the 6th.

At 2.30 p.m. on the 6th General Humphreys directed me to move to the vicinity of the Cummings house on the Vaughan road, and hold my division in readiness to support a movement about to be made by General Warren’s corps, the Fifth. The rear of the last brigade of this division had just reached the Cummings house when a staff officer from General Humphreys directed me to move down the Vaughan road, and to send a staff officer to General Warren to learn whether he wished the division massed on the east or west side of Hatcher’s Run. From the sound of firing on the left I supposed General Warren’s troops to be engaged, and ordering the division to follow quickly I went to General Warren’s headquarters in person to report and receive his instructions. General Warren was not at his headquarters, but I was directed by General Meade to move over Hatcher’s Run, and be in position to support the Fifth Corps on the Vaughan road or elsewhere. Riding rapidly down the Vaughan road, I learned from Generals Gregg and Griffin that no re-enforcements were needed at that point of the line, and that they could hold their fronts without assistance. While receiving this information Major Fitzhugh, of General Warren’s staff, who had just come from the right of the line, where the Third Division of that corps was engaged, informed me that re-enforcements were needed at that point. By this time the leading brigade had crossed Hatcher’s Run, and, guided by a staff officer of General Warren, was being conducted through the entrenchments and on the road to Dabney’s Mill. Leaving the assistant adjutant-general of the division to conduct it and follow me, I started ahead to learn the condition of affairs and where General Warren desired the division to form. Before leaving the head of the column the staff officer from General Warren but one brigade. Orders were then given for the other two to form in the entrenched line in our rear and there await further instructions.

When three-quarters of a mile from the run, at about 5.30 p.m., the stragglers from the Third Division, Fifth Corps, increased to such a number and the changes of the sounds of firing indicating to my mind some misfortune to that division, I immediately ordered the Second Brigade into line, which was but partially effected when the mass of the troops in front came rushing through the dense woods and quite over us, and it was with the greatest difficulty that the line could be formed, so obstructed was it by the fugitives, who were deaf to every entreaty

of myself and staff and refused to rally on the flanks or in support of the brigade there forming. Squads, companies, and regiments went rapidly to the rear despite our greatest efforts to halt them. During this confusion I was joined by General Warren, who informed me that the line in front had broken irreparably. Up to this time there had been only skirmish firing, and no firing from a line of battle of the enemy upon my Second Brigade. While preparing to throw out skirmishers to check his we received several volleys from a line of our own troops to our left rear, who, fortunately for us, fired too high.

Most of the casualties reported occurred at this time, and I was compelled to withdraw from the woods to an open field some 300 yards in rear, in order to secure a better position and to avoid being slaughtered by our own men, who, on account of the darkness, were unable to distinguish friend from foe. While we were being fired upon, Major R. P. Lincoln, the division inspector, had been dispatched to General Warren, who was close at hand, and informed him of our danger from his men, and through General Warren’s exertions the firing was stopped. While moving to and reforming in the open field we were rapidly followed by the enemy’s skirmishers, and on that account, together with the increasing darkness and general confusion, it was almost impossible to form any line at all, and I think our success in re-establishing the line was in a great degree attributable to the personal exertions of Colonel James Hubbard, Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery Volunteers, commanding Second Brigade, and Lieutenant Colonel E. Olcott, One hundred and twenty-first New York. Pearson’s brigade, of Griffin’s division, Fifth Corps, which joined us in the open field, was formed in excellent order on our left, and one of his Michigan regiments and the One hundred and twenty-first New York from the Second Brigade of this division were deployed as skirmishers and the security of the new line insured, General Warren expressing himself very much gratified with the conduct of the Second Brigade of this division and Colonel Pearson’s brigade. About 10 p.m. General Winthrop with his brigade relieved the skirmishers in our front, and I was directed to withdraw my division to the east side of Hatcher’s Run and mass in some convenient place. The Second Brigade, joined by the First and Third Brigades, which had been in reserve in the entrenchments in the rear, was marched across Hatcher’s Run and went into bivouac near Cummings’ house.

At 10 a.m. of the 7th I was directed by General Warren to mass a brigade in the open field, near his headquarters, east of Hatcher’s Run. At 12 this same brigade (Third, General Hamblin) was ordered across to report to and support General Crawford. The Second Brigade, Colonel Hubbard, was then ordered to be massed in the field vacated by the Third, and at 1 p.m. it was ordered across the run and massed near the bridge to support the Third, if necessary. At 3 p.m. the First Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, was massed in the open field, east of the run, vacated by the Second. The Second and Third Brigades were used as supports by General Crawford, but were not engaged. At 12 p.m. orders to withdraw and rejoin the corps were received, and at 6 a.m. on the 8th the division reached its old camp on the right of the Sixth Corps, in the main line of works. The conduct of the division in this movement was most satisfactory in all respects. The Second Brigade was most actively employed and well commanded by Colonel James Hubbard, Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery Volunteers.

Before closing this report I desire to call the attention of the corps commander to the gallant bearing of Lieutenant Colonel E. Olcott, One hundred and twenty-first New York, who, on the evening of the 6th, under fire and during great confusion, took the colors of his regiment and leading them to the front did much to re-establish a line. This officers has commanded a regiment over a year; has been long commissioned as colonel, but cannot be mustered, as his regiment is small; has been recommended for the brevet of colonel for distinguished gallantry while commanding a brigade at the battle of Cedar Creek, and in consideration of his abilities and services I should be pleased to see him brevetted to a higher grade.

The following are the casualties during the period covered by the above report: 1 enlisted man killed, 21 wounded, and 5 missing; total, 27.

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

FRANK WHEATON,
Brevet Major-General, U. S. Volunteers.

Captain C. H. WHITTESLEY,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Sixth 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 297-300

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