Number 91. Siege of Petersburg Report of Major General Governeur K. Warren, U. S. Army, commanding Fifth Army Corps, of operations February 5-7

   

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No. 91. Report of Major General Governeur K. Warren, U. S. Army, commanding Fifth Army Corps, of operations February 5-7.1

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
February 15, 1865.

COLONEL: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations intrusted to me in the late movement. My instructions, received on the 4th instant, say:

The commanding general directs that you move with your corps to-morrow morning at 7 o’clock down the Halifax road to Rowanty Post-Office, then by the road direct to the crossing of Rowanty Creek, at W. Perkins’, thence to J. Hargrave’s, on the road leading from Dinwiddie Court-House, taking position at or near that point, to support General Gregg’s cavalry. General Gregg has been ordered to strike the Boydton plank road at Dinwiddie Court-House. He is to endeavor to intercept and capture any wagon trains carrying supplies from Belfield, and to take advantage of any opportunity of inflicting injury on the enemy.

I set out, as directed, at 7 a.m. on the 5th. My divisions were in the following order: First, General Ayres’; second, General Griffin’s; third, twelve field pieces (with eight horses to each piece and to each caisson); fourth, General Crawford’s division; fifth, train, consisting of half my ambulances, fifty wagons of infantry ammunition, and fifty-six wagons heavily loaded with forage and ammunition for the cavalry. We took four days’ rations. The column was preceded by three squadrons of the Sixth Ohio Cavalry, commanded by Captain Saxon. We reached the crossing of Rowanty Creek, at W. Perkins’, about 10 a.m., and found the place defended by about 100 of the enemy’s infantry. A squadron of cavalry, dismounted, was unable to keep down their fire so as to cross, and General Gwyn’s brigade was at once ordered up. This silenced the enemy’s fire, and a crossing was made by swimming and wading, beside a few on the ice.

About twenty-five prisoners were taken. This was about 11 a.m. We lost eight wounded, among whom was Major D. H. Kent, of the Fourth Delaware.

The stream was about sixty feet wide, and could not be forded by men or horses, but tree were soon cut for the men to scramble over. The horses were able to cross on a bridge we made for them about a quarter to 1 p.m., and a bridge practicable for the artillery and trains was completed about 3.45 p.m. The column, as fast as it crossed, moved out to the Vaughan road and toward Dinwiddie Court-House, and took up the position assigned it, by the orders of the preceding day, without any opposition. We communicated with General Gregg’s column on reaching the Vaughan road, and learned he had gone on to Dinwiddie Court-House. At 4.30 p.m. I was informed by Major H. E. Tremain, aide-de-camp to General Gregg, that he had reached Dinwiddie Court-House and was on his way back to the Malone crossing of the Rowanty Creek, where he should bivouac for the night. Immediately after this I met some of the enemy’s cavalry coming down the quite unexpected to them from the way they scampered off, and to me, as I had supposed General Gregg would send information to me as soon as he uncovered the road leading to my position. The enemy’s cavalry thus picket up or two stragglers and caught sight of our infantry; this was all.

Being in frequent communication with the major-general commanding the army during the evening, I, at 9 p.m., received orders to move up and join General Humphreys at the Vaughan road crossing of Hatcher’s Run, to be prepared for any concentration of the enemy in the morning. This gave me specific instructions about the posting of my divisions and of General Gregg’s cavalry, which was ordered up to join me for that purpose. I, as soon as practicable, ordered General Griffin’s division in motion, but the relieving of pickets, &c., made it nearly midnight before he was fairly on the road. My train all followed him, then General Ayres’ division and the artillery, and then General Crawford’s division.

General Gregg reached me on the Vaughan road at 4 a.m. on the 6th instant, and his troops filling up the road which my instructions required his forage train to return by, I directed it to follow General Crawford. The cavalry then brought up the rear, skirmishing with the enemy and punishing him severely when he came close enough. The night was very cold and the roads were frozen hard before morning. The night was very cold and the roads were frozen hard before morning. The troops had little rest and no sleep. The enemy’s cavalry followed General Gregg up the Vaughan road, but were easily repulsed in their attempt to crowd us, and did not show themselves to the infantry in the position I placed them, according to previous instructions. At 8 a.m. I received notification to feel the enemy along my front, and fight him if outside his lines. This I took to refer to the enemy in front of General Humphreys’ troops, where the fighting had been the evening previous, and at which point the enemy were expected to attack, that being a part of my front, in the event of my being the ranking officer present, which I thought might be meant, as the concentration of our troops had been made under the supposition that General Humphreys outranked me, and then he was to command the whole, which my rank, when known, would put upon me. This left me in some doubt, and before I could make any definite arrangements I received notice from General Humphreys that he was about to attack the enemy if outside his works; and then I thought it best to await the result of his operations and hold all the Fifth Corps and cavalry in hand to co-operate with him if needed. I sent General Winthrop’s brigade, of General Ayres’ division, to hold the Vaughan road and relieve the cavalry. At 11 a.m. General Humphreys informed me that the enemy on his front had retired to his entrenched lines, and I then waited further instructions from the general commanding after his receiving this information. At 12.15 I received orders to make a reconnaissance south and west of Hatcher’s Run, to ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy’s lines in that direction; I also had a personal interview with the general commanding at my headquarters; consequently, at 1.15 p.m., I issued instructions to General Crawford to move out on the Vaughan road to where it turns off to Dabney’s Mill, and then follow up that road toward the mill, drive back the enemy, and ascertain the position of his entrenched lines said to be there; also, to General Ayres to follow General Crawford with his division, taking with him General Winthrop’s brigade, then with the cavalry down the Vaughan road. General Gregg was directed to send a force of cavalry and drive the enemy down the Vaughan road across Gravelly Run, and also to watch the left flank of the infantry column (composed of General Crawford and General Ayres) as it advanced.

This I thought the cavalry could easily do, as no considerable force of the enemy had been reported to me to be in that direction. General

Griffin’s division was left in reserve to support either the column toward Dabney’s Mill or the cavalry on the Vaughan road, and posted where the road diverged. General Humphreys informed me also that Wheaton’s division, 4,500 strong, at the Cummings house, was available as support, as well as General De Trobriand’s brigade, 2,500 strong. My orders were obeyed very promptly. General Crawford had not proceeded far before the enemy’s entrenched picket-line was encountered. This was soon carried by General brigade of his division. Having intrusted the direction of affairs on the Vaughan road to General Gregg with his cavalry, I went with the infantry column toward Dabney’s Mill. We had proceeded but a short distance when heavy firing began on the Vaughan road, and reports came that General Winthrop’s brigade had been attacked by the enemy in force and could not rejoin General Ayres, as both he and General Gregg had all they could do to maintain themselves and needed assistance. I then directed General Griffin to re-enforce General Winthrop by a brigade and to take command of operations on the Vaughan road, reserving to myself General Griffin’s Third Brigade (his largest and best), which was on his right, to send to General Ayres, in place of General Winthrop’s, if it was needed there. Being again called upon by General Gregg for re-enforcements, as the enemy was turning his left, I sent over to order across the run the supports from General Humphreys. Having made these arrangements, I went along with the movement toward Dabney’s Mill, to which place General Crawford soon drove the enemy. Rallying there, the enemy forced back General Crawford’s left somewhat, when General Ayres was sent in to his support on that flank with his two brigades. The enemy was again driven and to some distance beyond Dabney’s Mill. The firing continuing now to be constant and severe I brought up the Third Brigade of General Griffin’s division in close support, and was obliged to put it all with General Ayres to hold our left. I sent then also, at once, for at least a brigade of General Wheaton’s division, intending to order the whole division up if affairs on the Vaughan road would permit. Unfortunately, however, the enemy got up re-enforcements faster than I could, and when a brigade of General Wheaton’s division was nearing the scene of action a charge was made by the enemy in a force (according to the Petersburg Express consisting of three divisions) against which I had but six brigades opposed.

Our line, despite all the exertions of the prominent officers and much good conduct amoung those in the ranks, gave way and fell back rapidly, but with little loss after the movement began; portions of the line continued to fire as it retired, and General Wheaton got his brigade in line, and with it a portion of the others reformed, so that the enemy was checked before our old lines were reached by us. The resistance the enemy’s attack met on the Vaughan road, together with the vigor of our attack at Dabney’s Mill, drew off all his troops to the latter place, which was the natural place for both his retiring columns to meet, as was our lines at the run for our two columns in time, so as to have transferred our troops on the Vaughan road to the enemy’s right flank at Dabney’s Mill, we should have driven him beyond the plank road with ease. As it was, a reconnaissance in force (see General Lee’s report) began nearly simultaneously by both parties, resulted in the enemy being repulsed on one road and ourselves upon the other, with probably nearly equal losses. I must say if our troops had all stood as firm at Dabney’s Mill as the best of them did, that I had

enough there to have held the enemy till any amount of re-enforcements could have arrived. On the whole, it was not a bad fight and in no way discouraged me in my willingness to try the same thing again with the same men. Nearly all the operations of the column toward Dabney’s Mill I was an eye-witness to, and can speak of the good conduct of all those officers on whom I have heretofore relied. I, however, refer you to the division and brigade reports for specific details. The operations on the Vaughan road were completely successful, but they required and took up a very considerable force that I expected to use on the other road, and thus rendered us too weak at that point, to which I gave my personal attention, and which, from the relation of our forces, was the important one. I beg to refer to the reports of General Gregg, of the cavalry, General Griffin, commanding First Division, and General Winthrop, commanding First Brigade, Second Division.*

The moonlight night served to reform the brigades, and at dawn of the 7th we were ready for whatever might be offered by the enemy. At daylight changes in the brigades were begun successively so as to bring all of each division together. This was effected by 10 a.m.; and the enemy having made no demonstrations I ordered General Crawford to move out from our right near Armstrong’s Mill and attack the enemy. This was promptly done. The enemy’s pickets were found on the same entrenched lines as on the preceding day, but in stronger force. General Baxter’s brigade drove them out. General Crawford having reformed his men I sent over two brigades of General Wheaton’s division to secure his flanks, in case of a farther advance, which he was directed to make just before sunset. I did not think it proper to make more extensive operations in the severe storm which prevailed all day, having instructions not to do so without I was confident of great advantages. About 6 p.m. General Crawford again advanced and drove the enemy back to his line near Dabney’s Mill, remaining part of the battle-field of the preceding day and burying those killed found there.

During the night I withdrew his command to this side of Hatcher’s Run, to be able to make the disposition of troops contemplated by the commanding general, in making a new defensive line. General Crawford’s division was the only one engaged this day and behaved most creditably. It lost in killed and wounded 175 officers and men, but drove the enemy arduous service and underwent severe exposure on this day. The prompt execution of orders and the good service rendered by the brigade of General Wheaton’s division, engaged on the 6th, I most gratefully acknowledge.

I take this occasion to deny the newspaper correspondent’s statement that this brigade fired into any of our troops. It was under my eye the whole time, and did not fire except upon the enemy. I would also state that there was no ammunition wagon abandoned on the 6th. I wish further to state that our falling back from Dabney’s Mill under the fire of the enemy was, in my opinion, unnecessary and was against my orders; I had force enough to have held on longer. The enemy did

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*Griffin’s report not found. On February 16, 1865, General Griffin transmitted to corps headquarters the reports of his brigade commanders, with the remark that he submitted them “as my report of the movements of the troops under my command during the operations of the 5th, 6th, and 7th instant.”

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not flank us but came square in front, and I believe we can do better next time. Our losses in the whole movement are as follows:

The above table is made out from the nominal lists.

I beg to record here the names of my staff officers present during the operations, all of whom did their duty: Bvt. Colonel Fred. T. Locke, assistant adjutant-general; Bvt. Colonel H. C. Bankhead; Lieutenant Colonel A. L. Thomas, chief quartermaster; Bvt. Major D. L. Smith, chief commissary; Surg. T. Rush Spencer, medical director; Asst. Surg. C. K. Winne, medical inspector; Capts. E. B. Cope and James W. Wadsworth, aide-de-camp; Capts. Gordon Winslow, jr., and H. S. Melcher, acting aides-de-camp.

Colonel Bankhead, inspector-general, was wounded, and Captain Melcher had his horse killed. Majors Pease, Sanders, Mason, and Rosecrantz, officers of General Meade’s staff, also aided me in their duties most creditably. Major Pease’s horse was shout under him.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

G. K. WARREN,
Major-General of Volunteers.

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

ADDENDA.
HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
March 9, 1865.

Major-General WARREN,
Commanding Fifth Army Corps:

GENERAL: I have the honor to report the following as the operations of the corps during the late movement on Hatcher’s Run, commencing February 5, 1865, so far as they came under my observation:

We marched from our old camp between the Halifax road and the Jerusalem plank road at 7 a.m. February 5, taking the Halifax road, via Rowenty Post-Office, to the crossing of Rowanty Creek. The Sixth Ohio Cavalry had the advance of the column. At the creek we found the bridge destroyed, the stream deep and unfordable, and the crossing disputed by a small force of the enemy, who were protected by a strong rifle-pit on the opposite bank. The cavalry, deployed as skirmishers, dismounted, and subsequently Gwyn’s brigade, of the Second Division, were sent forward, effected a crossing, drove the enemy away, capturing

twenty-three prisoners. This brigade pushed forward about half a mile and threw out a strong picket, while the bridges across the creek were being constructed under the personal superintendence of the major-general commanding. The bridges were completed about 4 p.m., when the whole command crossed and proceeded to the intersection of the Vaughan road with the Quaker road. Captain Cope, aide-de-camp, was directed to go forward on the road toward Dinwiddie Court-House and effect a communication with General Gregg’s cavalry. This was done, Captain Cope meeting an officer from General Gregg, whom the latter had sent for the purpose. About the same time a connection was made on our right with the Second Corps. Griffin’s division was sent out about half a mile on the above road, taking position on the Chappel farm. Ayres’ division was posted on the Quaker road, while Crawford’s division was stationed on the Vaughan road, the trains and artillery being parked near him. About 5 p.m. heavy firing was heard in the direction of Hatcher’s Run, the Second Corps having engaged the enemy near Armstrong’s Mill.

About 9 p.m. orders were received from the major-general commanding the army to move up at once to the crossing of the Vaughan road over Hatcher’s Run. The command was put in motion, Griffin, with the trains, leading. Ayres followed with the artillery, Crawford bringing up the rear, and soon after daylight, February 6, the troops and trains arrived at the point designated. The infantry were placed in the breast-works near the crossing of Hatcher’s Run. General Gregg with his cavalry was directed to cover the Vaughan road as far as the crossing of Gravelly Run. Winthrop’s brigade, of Ayres’ division, was sent to the support of the cavalry, and went into position on the right of the Vaughan road near the Keys house. About 1.30 p.m. the enemy made his appearance in considerable force on our left. About 2 p.m. Crawford’s division was advanced up the Vaughan road in the direction of Dabney’s Mill, Bragg’s brigade leading. The enemy was discovered in rifle-pits about 800 yards in front of our breast-works. A sharp picket-fire was delivered by the enemy, who quickly left his pits and retired to his own rear. General Ayres, with two brigades of his division, coming up at this time was sent to support Crawford. About 3 p.m. I was sent by your orders to the left to communicate with General Gregg on the Vaughan road. I found him on the left of the road, not far from the Keys house. Our troops had been forced back by the enemy for a short distance, but had reformed in good order, and at the time I was there were maintaining their ground and fighting bravely. General Gregg told me that he had called on General Griffin for support, and on my return I met Brevet Brigadier-General Sickel with the First Brigade, First Division, marching down the road to the battle-field, conducted by an officer of General Gregg’s staff. I reported the condition of affairs on the left to Major-General Meade, and immediately after to yourself in the rear of the line of battle, a little past 4 p.m.

You left me in open field just east of the wooded crest overlooking the run, with instructions to remain there while you proceeded to the front. Shortly after stragglers began to break to the rear in considerable numbers. I deployed the provost guard of the corps across the field, and also used the cavalry escort in the same duty. Perceiving a mass of troops with colors retiring through the wood to the left of the open, I rode toward them to see who they were. I found a large portion of General Gwyn’s (Third) brigade, Second Division. I ordered them to halt and form. General Gwyn coming up soon after said his

brigade had broken after receiving but a slight fire from the enemy. I requested him to form his brigade and advance to the woods in front and deploy so as to stop the men from falling back. I discovered many men from the Maryland brigade, rallied quite a number of them, and asked General Gwyn to take charge of them along with his own command. I then sent Captain Melcher with a dispatch to you informing you of this state of affairs (hour, 5.15 p.m.) Gwyn’s brigade advanced just to the edge of the woods and halted. In the meantime several hundred men from the Second Brigade, First Division, had fallen back in great disorder, their officers having no control of them whatever. With the assistance of several officers, this mass of men was halted and faced to the front. Some straggling shots coming over, these men became frightened and commenced firing into our own troops who were in their immediate front. Very many of the men fired almost perpendicularly into the air. They then broke and ran panic-stricken to the rear. One brigade of General Wheaton’s division of the Sixth Corps was on the ground at this time, but their presence availed nothing toward stopping the flight of the fugitives. The enemy having withdrawn from our left, Winthrop’s brigade was ordered up about dusk and went into position on the left of the Second Corps, and remained there during the night. The troops of the First and Second Divisions were placed in the breast-works, and Crawford’s division, which had retired in good order from the field, were massed in rear on the line near the Vaughan road.

On the morning of the 7th General Crawford was directed to relieve Winthrop’s brigade and push out toward the enemy’s works. This was done in a heavy storm of rain, which continued nearly all day. The enemy was driven from his advanced line of rifle-pits, and nearly the whole of the battle-field of the preceding day regained, affording an opportunity of getting in our wounded from the field and burying our dead. In this movement General Crawford was supported by two brigades of General Wheaton. These troops remained in this position all night, and on the morning of the 8th were withdrawn to the north bank of Hatcher’s Run.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

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

HEADQUARTERS FIFTH ARMY CORPS,
March -, 1865.

Major General G. K. WARREN:

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following statement of the operations of the Fifth Corps from February 5 to 8, 1865, as seen by me:

I left camp near Fort Stevenson on the 5th instant at 6 a.m., directed by your order to proceed to Billup’s Post-Office, on the Halifax road, with the advance (one regiment of cavalry assigned to the corps), there to take the right-hand road to Rowanty Creek. We found this road obstructed; this delayed us so long that the infantry column had come up when we arrived at the stream. Upon the south bank of this creek the enemy was posted, in recently constructed works, prepared to contest the crossing. The cavalry dismounted some men, formed a skirmish

line, and attacked at once. Gwyn’s brigade, Second Division, formed line of battle and advanced to the bank of the stream, driving the enemy from their works. Trees were felled to facilitate the crossing, and as it was found impossible to ford, a temporary bridge was constructed upon felled trees for the cavalry. Upon this they crossed and again went forward, the head of the column in a westerly direction. They reached the Vaughan road in two miles and proceeded down it to Great Cat-tail Creek. Here we communicated with Gregg’s cavalry, by parties sent toward us for that purpose. As this was the point to be reached, the troops began to take up the positions assigned to them in the following order: The Second Division, covering the Quaker road and roads leading north; the First Division went into position near the Hargrave house, covering the Vaughan road and roads leading west; the Third Division, on the right in a field east of the Vaughan house. Communication was opened with the Second Corps, and about 5 o’clock heavy firing was heard in that direction. As soon as the proper disposition had been made of the troops you established your headquarters at the crossing of the Vaughan and Quaker roads.

About 10 p.m. you sent me with an order to General Gregg. His command was about five miles down the stream at the next crossing. I reached him by a road on the north side of Rowanty Creek; he was then ready to march. I came back with an officer of his staff in advance of the cavalry, and reached you at 3 a.m. on the 6th. The troops were then moving on the Vaughan road toward the crossing at Hatcher’s Run. By 8 o’clock all the infantry were massed near the run, some of them inside of the rifle-pits thrown up to protect the crossing by troops of the Second Corps. The cavalry came up in the rear and went into position, covering the Vaughan road half a mile from the crossing, in a large field near the Keys house. The enemy followed them up, and Winthrop’s brigade was sent to their support. The Third Division crossed Hatcher’s Run and massed on the north side. From the south side a picket-line was thrown out, connecting on the right with the Second Corps and with cavalry on the left. The enemy’s pickets were discovered on the edge of timber beyond a small open lot, a few hundred paces outside of the works. About 4 o’clock you sent an order to General Crawford to advance to Dabney’s Mill, and drive the enemy into his works. I went with him to assist in carrying out the order. A line of battle was formed in the open ground before mentioned, and advanced by an old wood road, driving the enemy out of their picket-pits and pushing them rapidly through the woods and beyond Dabney’s Mill. Here the line halted and engaged the enemy until the necessary disposition had been made. The Second Division came up and went into line on the left of the Third. The right of the line of battle rested in a field near the Brouder house, covering the road to Armstrong’s Mill. About 5 o’clock you sent me from this part of the field with an order to General Griffin to send you one best brigade to the large open ground to the support of Winthrop’s brigade, and to take command at that point. He was on the field when I reached him, and had already sent for one brigade. This was about the time of the attack on the Second and Third Divisions.

On my returns I saw two brigades of the Sixth Corps halted near the rifle-pits, apparently awaiting orders. I ascertained that they were support to the Second and Third Divisions, and put them in motion immediately. General Wheaton then came up. I pointed out the road

to him and joined you at the front. I was then ordered to go back and hurry them up. About this time I saw a number of men giving way and running to the rear, and amid the confusion I found General Wheaton endeavoring to form a line of battle where his command had reached, which was 200 yards in rear of where the troops were giving way, but the men became panic-stricken and fled as if by common consent, firing into their officers and among one another as they ran. General Gwyn’s brigade came out of woods en masse before the action was over, stating that they were out of ammunition. A part of the Third Division came back, slowly and in comparative order, and succeeded in checking the enemy in the woods. This gave time to form a line of battle in the field from which the advance was made. The enemy did not seem disposed to push farther than to recover the ground lost in the morning. At dark all became quiet, and when the troops who had lost their information were formed in their respective regiments, they took up their former position within the breast-works, the Third Division camping for the night on the north side of Hatcher’s Run.

On the morning of the 7th instant you sent me up the run to find a position for a battery to reply to the enemy’s battery at Dabney’s Mill. I found a good position near Armstrong’s Mill, and a battery in position at the Armstrong house belonging to General Smyth’s division of the Second Corps. I then crossed the run at the right of the First Division and went out on the open ground in front of the works to the pickets. From no indications of the enemy I judged they had withdrawn their pickets some distance, and reported it to you on my return. About 12 o’clock you sent me with an order to General Crawford to take his command across Hatcher’s Run and up the stream to near Armstrong’s Mill; from there push out as far as possible toward Dabney’s Mill, burry his dead of the day before, and see what was going on. The order was carried out promptly. The enemy, contrary to our expectations, were found in their old picket-line and were driven back about one-quarter of a mile; the line of battle was advanced as far as practicable and temporary works were thrown up, the right of the line resting on Hatcher’s Run above the mill-dam, after which I came back and reported to you. Two brigades of Wheaton’s division had been sent to support the Third Division. I then returned to General Crawford with a written order from you to use all his support and to drive the enemy into his works at Dabney’s Mill. I went from there to General Smyth (by your order) to ask him to render what assistance he could with his artillery. He immediately opened a battery at the Armstrong house, firing toward Dabney’s Mill. General Crawford then advanced and drove the enemy to their works, recovering most of the battle-field of the 6th and burying a number of the dead. Firing was kept up until late in the night. ON the morning of the 8th instant all was quiet, and at 8 o’clock General Crawford’s command was withdrawn by order to the north side of Hatcher’s Run. I herewith submit map showing the country marched through, position of troops, &c.

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

E. B. COPE,
Captain and Aide-de-Camp.

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 253-262

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