Number 79. Siege of Petersburg Reports of Bvt. Brigadier General Robert McAllister, Eleventh New Jersey, Infantry, commanding Third Brigade, of operations February 5-6 and March 25

   

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No.79. Reports of Bvt. Brigadier General Robert McAllister, Eleventh New Jersey, Infantry, commanding Third Brigade, of operations February 5-6 and March 25.1

HDQRS. THIRD Brigadier, THIRD DIV., SECOND ARMY CORPS,
February 13, 1865.

MAJOR: In compliance with orders from division headquarters, I have the honor to report the part taken in the operations of the 5th and 6th instant:

According to orders received, we broke camp and left at 7 a.m. on the morning of the 5th, the brigade following the Second, commanded By General West. In passing the Cummings house we were halted, and I was ordered by Brevet Major-General Mott to place my brigade in line of battle near the Tucker house, across the road leading past it, and to throw out pickets well to the front, connecting them with the Second Division pickets on my left; also, to guard well my right. This was accomplished in a very short time, giving my personal superintendence to the placing of the pickets and their connection with the Second Division pickets on the road leading through the left center of my line of battle, as directed. After taking a survey of the whole field, and making myself acquainted with the roads and swamps in my front and right, I returned to my command. At 12.30 p.m. I received orders from General Humphreys to build breast-works. My men went at it with a will, and soon had the works under way, at the same time extending them toward the swamp on the right, to prevent my being flanked. Meanwhile an order was received from Brevet Major-General Mott to throw a regiment across a road a considerable distance from my left, leading down toward the Armstrong Mill. I placed there the Seventh New Jersey Volunteers, commanded by Colonel Price, and had my brigade to connect with him by taking distance to the left. These works are now nearly completed. 3.30 p.m. a staff officer from Brevet Brigadier-General Ramsey presented a telegram from Major-General Humphreys, ordering General Ramsey to relieve me in my position; at the same time the head of General Ramsey’s brigade was on the ground, with the general leading it. I obeyed the order, and sent my adjutant-general, Captain Finkelmeier, to division headquarters for orders, massing in the meantime, my brigade in my rear. 4 p.m. received orders to form on the left of General Ramsey. I at once commenced the movement; my right regiments were just filling in, when the attack was made on the picket-line. I then ordered “double-quick,” and we were moving in rapidly. Lieutenant-Colonel William of Major-General Humphreys’ staff, then informed me that there was a gap in the line between myself and Ramsey, caused by General Ramsey closing to the right; my rear regiment (the Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers, Colonel Schoonover), intended for the left of the line, was taken off and hurried into this gap. They received a fire from the enemy and returned it, causing the left of the enemy’s advancing line of battle to falter and lie down. The fire was taken up all along the line as fast as my troops were formed. The pickets in my new front having come running in without firing a shot, left the enemy right on us before I had my line completed. Regiment after regiment opened on the rebels as fast as they wheeled into position, causing their line to halt and lie down. The left regiment, the Eighth New Jersey Volunteers, under command of Major Hartford, or the left wing of it, had no

works, and were exposed to a terrible fire in this unprotected position, but they stood nobly and fought splendidly, not a man of this regiment, or indeed of the whole brigade, left for the rear.

Major Hartford and his regiment deserve particular credit for the gallantry displayed in getting into position under the severe fire and holding it without works, while two regiments from the Second Division that had been lying for hours a little to my left, on the approach of the enemy gave way without firing a gun, leaving much larger space without troops between my left and the right of the Second Division.

After completing the line on the left, under charge of Captain Bowers, acting aide-de-camp, I rode along the line with my adjutant-general, encouraging the men to stand firm and the day would be ours; the One hundred and twentieth New York Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Lockwood, on the right of the Eighth New Jersey Volunteers, and the colonel and his officers were all on their feet doing the same.

The Seventh New Jersey Volunteers, Colonel Price, came next. This regiment was formed at a different angle, so as to enable the men to pour an enfilading fire onto the enemy’s lines and prevent them advancing into the gap. I gave this order, and it was executed handsomely and added very much to the repulse of the enemy. Had it not been for this and the aid of the artillery, commanded by Lieutenants Green and Adams, of the Tenth Massachusetts, who were throwing their fire across the swamp at a right angle with my enfilading fire, all would have been lost. These artillery officers deserve great credit, and I have the pleasure to mention them favorably.

The enemy advanced with a yell known to us, all and fell back; again they advanced with determined to break my line, but again my ranks stood firm, and rolled back the tide of battle in a highly creditable manner. Prisoners say that they advanced in three lines of battle. From all I could see and learn, I think that was the case, though the woods prevented our seeing their movements.

I riding along the line, I found Chaplain Hopkins, of the One hundred and twentieth New York Volunteers, using a gun and firing constantly, and encouraging the men to stand firm. He is deserving of mention.

Before the battle ended Major-General Humphreys and a part of his staff came up on the line, and was an eye-witness to the scenes before him. It was a pleasing sight to see how the appearance of our corps commander inspired our men to new efforts.

The third attack of the enemy then attempted ended in a complete rout, and night closing in they fell back to the woods, leaving their dead behind.

During the latter part of the engagement two regiments of the Second Brigade came up to support my line, and at the close the whole Second Brigade formed on my left.

A number of prisoners came in during the evening and in the night, and were forwarded. During the night our pickets were thrown out, and, tired and exhausted as the men were, the most part of the night was spent in building breast-works on the left of the line; the rest of the troops laid on their arms during the night.

On the 6th of February the strengthening of the line was continued, our picket-line advanced, details were sent in front to slash the timber and bury the enemy’s dead. In the afternoon a part of my command was sent out on a reconnaissance toward the enemy’s lines, which, were then discovered about one mile and a half from our own.

February 7, packed up and remained under arms till dark, one-fourth of the command remaining under arms all night.

In conclusion permit me to say that my officers and men did all that could be desired of them. The former encouraging the men to stand firm, regardless of their own personal safety, and the latter firing low as directed. To mention some would be doing injustice to others. I must not, however, omit to notice my adjutant-general, Captain J. P. Finkelmeier, who fully sustained his previous reputation for gallant bravery in action, advising and encouraging officers and men every-where, under the most terrific fire; also my aides, Captain Charles F. Bowers, Captain L. M. Morris, brigade inspector, and Lieutenant William Plimley, who went into the thickest of the fight with a will whenever ordered.

Subjoined I have the honor to submit a statement of casualties:

Respectfully submitted.

R. McALLISTER,
Brevet Brigadier-General, U. S. Volunteers.

Major W. R. DRIVER,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Third Div., Second Army Corps.

HDQRS THIRD Brigadier, THIRD DIV., SECOND ARMY CORPS,
March 28, 1865.

In compliance with orders from headquarters Third Division, Second Army Corps, dated March 27, 1865, I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by this command in the operations of the 25th instant:

At 6 a.m. the brigade was ordered under arms at the breast-works, ready to move, and at 8 a.m. an order was received to send a reconnoitering party in our front. Captain Holmes, whom I sent with fifty men, soon found a strong line of pits, four and five in a pit, and engaged the enemy’s pickets. Pursuant to orders to send a force strong enough to press back the enemy’s pickets and discover the strength of their main line, I dispatched (at 9.50) Lieutenant-Colonel Schoonover with his regiment, who, upon arrival at the woods left of the open space, near Armstrong’s house, found his command insufficient to make a successful attack on the enemy’s picket-line. The One hundred and twentieth New York was ordered up for his support, and the combined forces then made a most gallant charge, and succeeded in capturing the enemy’s pits and abatis and 100 prisoners, under an enfilading fire of artillery from a redoubt on the right of the enemy’s line and heavy volleys of musketry from the main line of their works. It was then discovered that the enemy on this point had a heavy slashing and

a palisade in advance of their works. The line was held till 3 p.m., when the enemy, under cover of their works on our left, succeeded in flanking our left flank and recapturing a portion of the line. Our men rallied a short distance in the rear, and drove the enemy again out of the recaptured pits. After re-established the line the Eleventh Massachusetts was ordered up for support and placed on the left of the Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers. At this time General Smyth here requested Colonel Schoonover to make connection with hire right and protect his flank. To accomplish this Colonel Schoonover was compelled to stretch a thin line through the woods. Meanwhile the remainder of my brigade, consisting of the Seventh and Eighth New Jersey Volunteers were ordered forward and massed in rear of the First Brigade right of the Armstrong house. Remaining there a short time, intelligence was received at about 6 p.m. that the enemy, in strong force, made a second attack through the woods on our left toward the right, and, after a stubborn resistance by our men, had succeeded in retaking the line and capturing a number of Federal prisoners. The Seventh and Eighth New Jersey then was again ordered to move to the left and fill up the gap existing between the One hundred and twentieth New York Volunteers and the First Brigade. Colonel Price, commanding the Seventh New Jersey Volunteers, with promptness, deployed his command through the woods right of the open space, and succeeded in making the desired connection on his right, and with the Eighth New Jersey Volunteers, hastily, in the open space on his left. Almost simultaneously with this attack from the left another strong skirmish line of the enemy opened a brisk fire on the center of Colonel Rivers’ regiment, which, however, was checked in a short time by the steady and well-directed fire of his men.

It is very evident, from the report of Lieutenant-Colonel Schoonover, and the regimental reports under his command that the cause of the recapture of the line by the enemy was owing to the long line to be held by Lieutenant-Colonel Schoonover, with a force inadequate in numbers to the task, making it easy for the enemy to charge it with a strong line of battle; also, to the exposed position of our troops to the range of the enemy’s guns, and his line of works affording a cross-fire on our troops, so that without a line of works to protect us, we could not hold it.

I cordially indorse the honorable mention of the officers contained in the inclosed report of Lieutenant-Colonel Schoonover, viz: Lieutenant-Colonel Schoonover, then division officer of the day, for assistance in pushing ahead his regiment to the pits just evacuated; Major Scott, in command of the One hundred and twentieth New York Volunteers; Captain Holmes; Captain Newkirk, who was wounded; Adjutant Russell; Captain Gage in command of the Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers; Captain Moorhous; Captain Thompson; Lieutenant Oliver; and would call particularly attention to the deliberate bravery of Colonel Price in checking enemy’s advance toward evening. Colonel Schoonover deserves great praise for his gallantry and bravery in making his first and second charge and capturing and recapturing the enemy’s picket-line as well as during the entire engagement.

Subjoined is a copy of casualties.*

In conclusion, I have the honor and pleasure to say, my adjutant-general, Captain Finkelmeier, and my aides and staff officers rendered

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*Shows 9 men killed, 2 officers and 50 men wounded, and 1 officer and 91 men captured or missing; total, 153.

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valuable service all through the day, ever ready and willing to go amidst danger to carry orders and see the line connected, for which they richly deserve favorable mention.

Very respectfully,

R. McALLISTER,
Brevet Brigadier-General of Volunteers.

Major W. R. DAVIS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Third Div., Second 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 238-242

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