Number 137. Siege of Petersburg Report of Bvt. Colonel Ralph Ely, Eighth Michigan Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, of operations March 25

   

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in Siege of Petersburg Reports (95)

No. 137. Report of Bvt. Colonel Ralph Ely, Eighth Michigan Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, of operations March 25.1

HDQRS. SECOND Brigadier, FIRST DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS,
March 27, 1865.

MAJOR: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of my command in the action of the 25th instant:

I first learned that an attack had been made by an officer of the Second Michigan informing me about 4 a.m. that the enemy had entered our main line of works between the Second and Third Brigades and had

wheeled round and attacked the left of the Second Michigan. I immediately visited the line, and gave such orders as, in the darkness and under the uncertainties of the situation, I deemed practicable. I at once sent orders to Major Schwenk, whose regiment (the Fiftieth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers) was in camp about two miles down the river, to send up all his effective men. Being unable, on account of the darkness, to determine the relative positions of our own men and those of the enemy only by the flashing of the guns, I ordered fifty men of the First Michigan Sharpshooters to be deployed as skirmishers and advance toward Fort Stedman. This company advanced in good style, and skirmished to a point in the field in rear of the Second Michigan. The attack on the second Michigan had been made on their left by a heavy force of the enemy coming down the line of the breastwork and the old wagon road just at the rear, thus having an enfilading and rear fire on that regiment. So suddenly had this been done that no line was formed, and the left companies were driven in upon the right, and some of the men took refuge in Battery Numbers 9. Captain Boughton, however, quickly formed a line in rear of the left traverse, extending across the old wagon road, and though left with only a small portion of the regiment, checked the enemy in a splendid manner, who, instead of forcing their way, or by any means getting possession of any part of my line, were held there. As the light increased and the position of the enemy became more clearly defined, the fire of the musketry and artillery was more effective. They were cut off and subsequently captured.

In an early part of the engagement, I sent orders to Lieutenant Bangs, commanding artillery in Battery Numbers 5, who had been replying to the enemy’s batteries on the north side of the river, to direct his fire on Fort Stedman. He obeyed, and, with both guns and mortars, did excellent execution. Major Roemer, commanding the artillery in Fort McGilvery, kept up from the first a rapid and effective fire. I should not neglect mentioning that the gallant major, while aiming a gun, was struck by a piece of shell, knocked down, and severely injured, but continued in active command until the action was over. The artillery in Battery Numbers 9 did all that could have been asked. Upon the arrival of the Fiftieth Pennsylvania I ordered them to take a position on the right of the Seventeenth Michigan, which had moved up and occupied a line of rifle-pits in rear of the line assumed by the disposition of my men and all keeping up a brisk fire. The enemy were completely baffled, and, under the terrible fire of the artillery, were soon forced to yield their hold on the road and began to retreat. To escape the galling fire of the Second and Twentieth Michigan and part of the Sixtieth Ohio, kept up from the first, 300 or 400 of the enemy took refuge in bomb-proofs and behind traverses in the line, and were unable to escape. No portion of my line was removed, except as above mentioned, and no part of the picket-line was abandoned except in front of the Second Michigan, and that was reoccupied at an early part of the action and materially assisted in preventing the escape of the prisoners.

In view of the suddenness of the attack and its complete success at first, too much praise cannot be given the different regiments of the brigade for the coolness and bravery with which they did their duty. Throughout the action the entire line sustained a very heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries, but all damages done to the works were repaired during the day after the fight.

Prisoners were captured to the number of 316, rank and file, and 17 officers. The losses of the brigade foot up as follows: Second Michi-

gan, 1 killed, 8 wounded, 19 missing; Twentieth Michigan, 9 wounded; Sixtieth Ohio, 1 killed, 6 wounded; Forty-sixth New York, 2 killed 3 wounded; total, 49.*

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

RALPH ELY,
Brevet Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Bvt. Major WILLIAM V. RICHARDS,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. General, First Division, Ninth Army Corps.

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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 325-327

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