Number 134. Siege of Petersburg Reports of Major General John G. Parke, U. S. Army, commanding Ninth Army Corps, of operations February 5-7 and March 25

   

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No. 134. Reports of Major General John G. Parke, U. S. Army, commanding Ninth Army Corps, of operations February 5-7 and March 25.1

HEADQUARTERS NINTH ARMY CORPS,
February 14, 1865.

COLONEL: In compliance with instructions from headquarters Army of the Potomac, I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of this corps during the movement of the 5th, 6th, and 7th instant:

At 1 o’clock on the morning of the 5th I received the circular order from headquarters of the army, directing me to hold my command “in readiness to move at short notice, anticipating that the movement to be ordered will consist of the withdrawal of all the troops, except the minimum number necessary to maintain the picket-line and the garrison of the works.”

At this time our front extended from the Appomattox to Battery 24, and was held by the First and Second Divisions, with the Third Division in reserve. All the preparations were at once made for the movement. At 1.45 p.m. of the 5th I received an order to send General Hartranft’s division (the Third) down the Vaughan road to report to Major-General Humphreys at Hatcher’s Run. General Hartranft moved his division as rapidly as possible and reported to Major-General Humphreys at 8 p. m. General Hartranft’s report is forwarded herewith. In compliance with instructions Colonel Brainerd, commanding Engineer Brigade, at City Point, reported to me with his command during the evening of the 5th, and was posted as a reserve in the vicinity of the Avery house. On the following day this brigade was moved to the left and directed to Major-General Getty, commanding Sixth Corps.

The Third Division, General Hartranft commanding, returned during the night of the 10th and took up their old position. On the following morning the divisions holding the front lines were extended the left as far as Fort Howard, and are now holding the line from the Appomattox to that point.

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

JNO. G. PARKE,
Major-General, Commanding.

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

HEADQUARTERS NINTH ARMY CORPS,
March 25, 1865.

GENERAL: The enemy attacked my front this morning at about 4.30, with three divisions, under command of General Gordon. By a sudden rush they seized the line held by the Third Brigade, First Division, at the foot of the hill to the right of Fort Stedman, wheeled, and overpowering the garrison, took possession of the fort. They established themselves on the hill, turning our guns upon us. Our troops on either flank stood firm. Soon after a determined attack was made on Fort Haskell, held by part of McLaughlen’s brigade, Willcox’s division, and was repulsed with great loss to the enemy. The First Brigade, of Hartranft’s division, held in reserve, was brought up, and a check given to any farther advance. One or two attempts to retake the hill were made, and were only temporarily successful until the arrival of the Second Brigade, when a charge was made by that brigade, aided by the troops of the First Division on either flank, and the enemy were driven out of the fort with the loss of a number of prisoners, estimated at about 1,600; 2 battle-flags have also been brought in. The enemy also lost heavily in killed outside of our lines. The whole line was immediately reoccupied, and the guns retaken uninjured.

I regret to add that General McLaughlen was captured in Fort Stedman. Our loss was otherwise not heavy.

Great praise is due to General Hartranft for the skill and gallantry displayed in handling his division, which behaved with great spirit in this its first engagement.

JNO. G. PARKE,
Major-General.

Bvt. Major General A. S. WEBB,
Chief of Staff.

HEADQUARTERS NINTH ARMY CORPS,
April 20, 1865.

COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my command in the action of March 25 ultimo:

The line held by this corps extended from the Appomattox on the right, with pickets stretching some three miles down the river, to Fort Howard on the left, a distance of about seven miles. The line was occupied by the First Division, Bvt. Major General O. B. Willcox, commanding, extending from the Appomattox to Fort Meikel, and the Second Division, Bvt. Major General R. B. Potter commanding, extended from Fort Meikel to Fort Howard. The Third Division, Brigadier General J. F. Hartranft commanding, was held in reserve, its right regiment being posted near the Dun House Battery, and it s left regiment between Forts Hays and Howard. The intrenchments held by Willcox’s division and the First Brigade of Potter’s, were very nearly as placed when the positions were originally gained by our troops, under fire, and in so close proximity to the that the work was necessarily very defective. This was especially the case with Fort Stedman, where our line crossed the Prince George Court-House road. This is a small work without bastions, with Battery Numbers 10 immediately adjoining, the battery open in the rear, and the ground in rear of fort nearly as high as its parapet. The opposing lines are here about 150 yards apart, the picket-lines about fifty yards. This portion of the line was held by the Third Brigade, First Division, Bvt. Brigadier General N. B. McLaughlen commanding.

About 4.30 o’clock on the morning of March 25 last, the enemy assaulted this front with Gordon’s corps, re-enforced by Bushrod Johnson’s division. At 4 a.m. the picket-line had been visited by the captain of the picket, who found the men on the alert and discovered no signs of movement by the enemy. Taking advantage of the order allowing deserters to bring their arms with them, the enemy sent forward squads of pretended deserters, who, by this ruse, gained possession of several of the picket-posts. They were closely followed by a strong storming party of picked men; this, by three heavy columns. The picket-line was overpowered after one discharge of their pieces. The trench guard, though stoutly resisting, was unable to withstand the rush of numbers, and the main line was broken between Batteries 9 and 10, near Numbers 10. The enemy turned to the right and left hand, the right column soon gaining Battery 10, which is open in the rear, thus acquiring great advantage for an assault on Fort Stedman.

The garrison of Stedman, consisting of a battalion of the Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery, under Major Randall, made a spirited resistance, but being attacked in front, flank, and rear, was overpowered and most of it captured. The artillery in the fort, consisting of four light 12’s, discharged a dozen rounds of canister before being taken. These guns, as well as those in Battery 10, were at once turned upon us. The enemy then pushed gradually along the lines toward Fort Haskell, driving out the troops holding Batteries 11 and 12, neither of which are inclosed works. It was still quite dark, which circumstances greatly augmented the difficulty of formation to check the progress of the enemy, it being almost impossible to distinguish between friend and foe, and made the use of artillery upon them impracticable at any distance. At the first alarm General McLaughlen sent members of his staff to the various positions on his front, and himself proceeded to Fort Haskell, thence along the line to Stedman. He found that our troops had been driven from Battery 11. He directed Mortar Battery 12 to open on it, and sent for the Fifty-ninth Massachusetts, and on its arrival recaptured Battery 11 by a bayonet charge. He then proceeded to Fort Stedman and was there taken prisoner.

As soon as it became evident at my headquarters that the enemy were attacking, I dispatched aides-de-camp to communicate with General Willcox and McLaughlen, ordered General Hartranft to concentrate his right brigade and re-enforce General Willcox, and ordered General Tidball, chief of artillery, to place his reserve batteries in position on the hills in rear of the point attacked. On receiving a report from General Willcox and from members of my own staff of the state of affairs, I ordered up General Hartranft’s other brigade, informed General Willcox that he would be re-enforced by the Third Division, and directed him to at once reoccupy the works taken. General Hartranft concentrated his division with commendable promptitude, his left regiment having to move a distance of five miles, he in the meantime promptly and gallantly attacking with a regiment of his right brigade, the Two hundredth Pennsylvania, assisted by detachments from McLaughlen’s and Ely’s brigades, of Willcox’s division, checking the enemy’s skirmishers, who were advancing toward Meade’s Station, and driving them back to the line of works.

The column of the enemy which turned to the left hand after entering our line, proceeded along the trenches in the direction of Battery Numbers 9, taking the Fifty-seventh Massachusetts in flank and rear, and driving them from the trenches. The left of the Second Michigan, the

left regiment of Ely’s brigade, of Willcox’s division, was also somewhat broken, but the regiment promptly rallied, and fought the enemy over the traverses so stoutly that time was gained to bring up re-enforcements from the right of the brigade, and form a strong line perpendicular to the intrenchments, with right resting near Battery 9. This line of troops, assisted by the artillery from Numbers 9, Numbers 5, and McGilvery, repulsed with loss a heavy assault on Battery 9, and stopped all farther advance of the enemy in that direction. The picket-line was held up to a point to the left of Battery 9 throughout the engagement.

The rebel column which moved from Fort Stedman toward Fort Haskell met no better success. It gained temporary possession of Mortar Batteries 11 and 12, but the garrisons of those works, the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts and One hundredth Pennsylvania, quickly rallied on the left, and formed in conjunction with troops withdrawn from his left by Colonel Harriman, commanding First Brigade, Willcox’s division, a line perpendicular to the intrenchments, connecting on their right with Hartranft’s troops and with left resting near Fort Haskell, checking all farther progress of the enemy, and slowly driving him back. He made several desperate assaults on Fort Haskell, but was bloodily repulsed.

At 7.30 a.m. the position of affairs was this: We had regained Batteries 11 and 12, and had drawn a cordon of troops around Fort Stedman and Battery 10, forcing the masses of the enemy back into those works where they were exposed to, and suffered greatly from, a concentrated fire from all the artillery in position bearing on those points and the reserve batteries on the hill in rear. This cordon was composed of Hartranft’s division, with regiments from McLaughlen’s and Ely’s brigades on either flank.

General Hartranft, to whom I had confined the task of recapturing the fort, made his dispositions with great coolness and skill, and at about 7.45 a.m. advanced his whole line. His troops, the vast majority of them new men, for the first time under fire, charged with great spirit and resolution, the veterans on the flanks behaving with their accustomed gallantry, and carried the fort with comparatively small loss. The cross infantry and artillery fire upon the space between the opposing lines deterred many of the enemy from attempting to escape, and caused severe loss among those who made the trial. Nineteen hundred and forty-nine prisoners, including seventy-one commissioned officers, nine stand of colors, and many small arms, fell into our hands. The whole line taken from us was at once reoccupied, and all damage repaired during the following night. We lost no guns or colors.

I reported the state of affairs to army headquarters by telegraphic dispatches to Brevet Major-General Webb, chief of staff, at 5.30, 5.40, 5.45, and 6.05 a.m.; but received no reply until the following, at 6.10, from Colonel Barstow, assistant adjutant-general:

General Meade is not here and the command devolves on you.

S. F. BARSTOW.

This was the first intimation I had of General Meade’s absence and that I was in command of the whole line.

It was reported to me that telegraphic communication with City Point was interrupted, and I at once dispatched a courier thither to announce the state of affairs to Lieutenant-General Grant and Major-General Meade. At 6.20 I ordered down the Provisional Brigade from army headquarters, directed General Warren to move his command in my direction, and General Wright to move a division to the threatened

point. I would state that I had previously received prompt and cordial tenders of aid, both of infantry and field artillery, from the commanders of the several corps.

I soon after received the following dispatches from General Humphreys and Wright:

I ordered out reconnaissance some time ago. Shall I drive in the enemy’s pickets all along my line, and if I find his works slightly held, attack him?

A. A. HUMPHREYS,
Major-General.

As the enemy must have massed on right of our line, they must have left their own line weak. How would it do for us to attack along the whole length of our line?

H. G. WRIGHT,
Major-General.

While fully appreciating the earnest and hearty support, and the desire to take advantage of an opportunity evinced by these dispatches, I did not deem it advisable, under the peculiar circumstances under which I was in temporary command of the army, to take the responsibility of ordering these officers in, at least until the state of affairs in Willcox’s front should be more fully developed. The line was reoccupied by us not long after, and about that time telegraphic communication was re-established with City Point, when dispatches and orders were received from the major-general commanding. On receipt of my orders of 6.20 a.m. General Wright ordered down the division of General Wheaton, who moved with promptitude, but about the time he arrived at my headquarters, and while his and General Wright’s staff officers were examining the position he was to occupy, the line was retaken by General Hartranft, and I had no occasion to use the troops of the Sixth Corps. But I take great pleasure in acknowledging the alacrity and willingness displayed by General Wheaton and his command.

Among the many officers of my command who distinguished themselves by their behavior in this action, I must particularly mention General Hartranft, to whom too much credit cannot be given for the skill in handling his division and gallantry in leading it displayed by him; and General Tidball, chief of artillery, for his promptitude and good judgment in bringing up and placing his batteries, and for the exceedingly effective and gallant service done by them and the artillery in position.

My own staff did me efficient service throughout the action, and I would honorably mention for activity and gallantry Bvt. Colonel C. G. Loring, assistant inspector-general; Bvt. Colonel J. L. Van Buren, aide-de-camp; Bvt. Major D. A. Pell, aide-de-camp; Bvt. Major J. B. Parke, aide-de-camp; Captain R. H. I. Goddard, aide-de-camp; Captain James S. Casey, commissary of musters, and Captain John C. Youngman, assistant adjutant-general. Colonel Loring, Colonel Van Buren, Captain Goddard, and Captain Youngman are mentioned by General Hartranft for services to him on the field.

I have the honor to submit herewith the reports of my subordinate commanders, and beg to call attention to the recommendations therein contained for good conduct and gallantry, and I desire to call particular attention to the report of Bvt. Brigadier General N. B. McLaughlen.

A tabulated list of casualties is hereto appended.

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

JNO. G. PARKE,
Major-General, Commanding.

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

Tabular statement of casualties.

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*But see revised table, p. 70.

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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), pages 315-320

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