Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte.
ADVANCE OF THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
The Second and Fifth Corps, With Gregg’s Cavalry, Move on the Enemy.
OUR FORCES CROSS HATCHER’S RUN.
They Are But Feebly Opposed.
THE ENEMY AFTERWARDS DOISCOVERED IN FORCE.
They Charge Our Troops Three Times
THEY ARE REPULSED EACH TIME WITH HEAVY LOSS.
The Union Troops Maintain Their Position.
TERRIBLE LOSS OF THE ENEMY.
Gallant Conduct of Gen. Smyth.
The 6th and 9th Corps at the Scene of Action.
SUCCESS OF THE MOVEMENT.
A Partial List of Casualties.
COL. MURPHEY WOUNDED.
Special Dispatch to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Army of the Potomac in Motion.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7.—The following report of the advance of the Army of the Potomac has just been received at the Washington office of THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, written by Mr. Crapsey:—
The Army Negotiating.
HEAD-QUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC, Sunday, Feb. 5—11 P. M.—While the messengers of peace from the Rebel oligarchy are supposed to be yet within our lines, the Army of the Potomac to-day began a different but a far more efficient negotiation, tending to the same end.
Scene of the Movement.
Preliminary to a recital of the operations of the day, a word about the country is necessary. Events in the latter part of October  have made the people familiar with the locality of Hatcher’s Run and the country immediately in the vicinity, and as far beyond it as Gravelly Run. When it is said the events of to-day have transpired on almost the same ground, the only difference being we are lapping further to the left. It is known that we have been marching and fighting in a country gently rolling, alternately open fields and dense pine forests, with here and there a swamp of no mean pretension.
Yesterday afternoon [February 4, 1865] it first became evident that the army would, in midwinter, make another attempt on the Rebel lines defending Petersburg. Orders were issued to the Fifth Corps, Second Corps, and Gregg’s Cavalry, to be in readiness to march at a moment’s notice, followed later in the day by the marching order itself; Gregg being ordered to move at three o’clock A. M., the Fifth Corps at five o’clock, and the Second Corps at six o’clock, but where, nobody knew. The purpose of the movement was kept profoundly secret, and even now, when Smyth has fought his good fight, our plans are so far undeveloped that the immediate purpose of our Generals can only be surmised.
The Troops in Motion.
This morning the troops designated were promptly in motion. Gen. Gregg, with his Division of Cavalry, moving in a generally southwestern direction from the camp, on the Jerusalem plank road, but the distance of his scene of operations prevents any detailed account to-night. No rumors have been received of his having encountered any serious opposition, and it is presumed that he accomplished the duty assigned him. General Warren, as usual, was prompt on time, and moved out the Halifax road early in the morning, and about the middle of the afternoon made a junction with the left of General Mott, who by that time was across Hatcher’s Run. Being myself on the Fifth Corps line I cannot speak particularly of General Warren’s movements, but no great amount of firing being heard in his direction, it is probable that he met nothing but a strong skirmish or picket line of the enemy, which he found no difficulty in drivin.
The Second Corps on the Ground.
The Second Corps was not behind its confreres. At the designated hour it moved down the Vaughn road, the brigade of General de Trobriand, of General Mott’s Division, leading the advance, followed by the Second Division, commanded by General Thomas H. Smyth. The enemy’s pickets were encountered on the east side of Hatcher’s Run, but retired with very little persuasion. On arriving within half a mile of the point where the Vaughn road crossed Hatcher’s Run General Smyth oblique to the right, and, taking a by-road, soon reached the designed ground and formed his line of battle nearly at right angles with the Run.
The Crossing of Hatcher’s Run.
In the meantime General Mott pursued the Vaughn road, spreading out De Trobriand’s Brigade in line of battle, and struck the point of crossing the Run with his right, composed of the Ninety-Ninth Pennsylvania, Colonel Biles. It is a most difficult piece of ground to cross over, as the previous experience of General [Nelson A.] Miles had proved, but the Ninety-ninth went over with no other mishap than the sudden but temporary disappearance of Colonel Biles and several of his men under the water, by reason of their getting into some holes the Rebels had dug in the bed of the creek. The crossing was but feebly opposed, not more than one hundred of the enemy occupying the flimsy line of breastworks defending the crossing.
The Enemy’s Pickets Encountered.
The crossing of the stream being secured, the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry was thrown forward, under command of Major Hess, and encountering the enemy’s picket line, drove it back some distance, suffering but slight loss. The cavalry was closely followed by the brigade of General De Trobriand, who, on getting into communication with Smyth, halted and began forming.
A pause along the whole line followed the crossing of Hatcher’s Run.
General Mott threw out his left only far enough to make his line of battle form an angle with Hatcher’s Run, as General Smyth has described on the east bank of the stream. The Run was crossed by De Trobriand about 10 A. M.
General Meade arrived and established the head-quarters of the army immediately on the battle-line at eleven o’clock, and from that hour until about four no perceptible change was made in our dispositions. We appeared to be waiting for something.
The story current was that it was for Warren to come up and join Mott’s left; but however that may have been, beyond some desultory skirmishing along Mott’s and Smyth’s fronts, the hours passed on without events.
The Rebels Wake Up.
The Rebels, meantime, wake up at last to the fact that a formidable force was sweeping around their right. Prisoners taken during the skirmishing had demonstrated the fact that Gordon’s Corps of Lee’s army, numerically the second, was picketing portion of the Rebel lines; but, aside from these pickets, we had found no evidence of the presence of an enemy, but were destined to make their acquaintance before day closed.
The Rebels Mass Their Forces.
By two o’clock it became evident that the Rebels were about to try their old and often successful policy of massing their whole available force to attack what they considered a vulnerable part of the line. General Smyth, on reaching the ground designated for his occupancy, by orders of General Meade, had immediately thrown up, or to speak more properly, dug out a line of rifle pits, and with these as a protection to his right flank, partially shielded by a swamp, awaited the onset with confidence. The Rebel attack was in the old familiar style.
The Rebel Charge.
General Smyth’s Second Brigade, commanded by Colonel Matthew Murphey, of the Sixty-ninth New York, met the first charge of the Rebels. With that yell which has been heard too often to have any terrors for our veterans, the enemy came on in splendid style, a brigade front lapping over the right considerably, and with three lines of battle. He evidently expected no great difficulty in crushing our flank, and by gaining, even for an hour’s time, the Vaughn road, to so disarrange our plans as to compel an abandonment of them; but happily no such result followed. The swamp troubled the enemy some little, but in attempting to evade this Seylla he ran upon his Charybells, in the shape of Murphey’s Irish Legion. For five minutes or so that advancing line breasted as deadly a fire as even their experience can boast of, but they were not proof against it. Long before they reached our line they were compelled to fall back under the cover of the woods from which they had emerged.
A lull followed. Gen. Smyth had seen too many battles to think all over. He rode up and down his line, but every where his veterans stood firm, and nowhere did his line need reforming. It should be mentioned that immediately on being apprised by the musketry that the battle had commenced, General Humphries immediately repaired to General Smyth’s position, and during the remainder of the action remained upon the ground, giving the powerful influence of his presence as well as his soldierly ability and experience to the troops engaged.
The Second Charge.
A second charge, as our officers had divined, soon followed. First, reforming under cover of the woods, and shifting a little to the left, the Rebels again advanced in the same gallant style. General Smyth’s whole line poured into them a most terrible fire. That most persuasive of disputants, the musket, seemed endowed with the power of speaking without intermission. There was no break in our firing until the Rebel line broke and fled for the second time. At the close, or rather soon after, Colonel Murphey, of the Sixty-ninth New York, commanding the Second Brigade, was wounded. He had just rode the whole length of his line, and having just dismounted, was struck in the knee by a minie bullet and compelled to leave the field. The wound, though severe, is happily not dangerous. About the same time Captain H. T. McTavish, his Adjutant-General, was struck in the head by a similar missile and borne from the field in a dying condition.
Still Another Charge.
A third time the desperate Rebels essayed to dislodge us from our position. By this time it was after sunset, but the moon hung overhead in an unclouded sky, and was so bright we hardly knew when day ended and night began. In the same old way, on came the Rebel line. Again were they met by a fire they could not withstand, and, finally retreating, left the Second Corps a receipt in full for the 27th day of October.
The Fight Ended.
The fighting was principally with musketry, but the few guns we had in position did excellent service in the aid it extended to checking the advance. The enemy’s artillery, not more than half a dozen pieces, did us no material damage. By seven o’clock all was quiet along the entire line, and we held the line which we had fought for so stubbornly during the closing hours of the day.
Back of our graves is a long row of nameless mounds. These are the resting places of the Rebels killed in the defense of the fort. The thought arises, had we been defeated would the Rebels have buried our dead in separate graves? We trow not. Be ours ever the Christian part.
[SOPO Editor’s Note: Without a header of any kind to warn readers, the paper immediately launched into a story about Second Fort Fisher.]
The lateness of the hour at which the only fighting of the day occurred prevents anything but an approximation. In prisoners, matters are about equal. So far as known the enemy has not taken a single man of ours, and Lee can certainly count all of them by going once over the fingers of his hands, and we have picked up some fifteen or twenty on the Second Corps front. But in killed and wounded a great disproportion exists. From the nature of the fighting the enemy must have lost ten to our one, which would make his loss about one thousand in Smyth’s front.
General Warren on the Ground.
The junction with Warren, which was formed in the afternoon, near Gravelly Run, and to the left of the Vaughn Road, was a most auspicious event, and can be said to guaranty the success of whatever may be attempted to-morrow. What that will be it is useless to surmise.
To-day added a glorious chapter to an already enviable record. Receiving for his conduct in the trying hours of to-day the encomiums of his superiors and the plaudits of his command, it is no disparagement of officers who have preceded him in its command to say that he fought the Second Division as skillfully and gallantly as it was ever handled before.
H favored us wonderfully in this mid-winter campaign. The sunshine and warm air of the days past has put the roads in admirable order for the season. Yesterday [February 4, 1865] the wind was in the south, and the learned in the weather signs had a deluge on hand for to-morrow [February 5, 1865], but to-day [February 5, 1865] the wind veered, it turned cold, and we had a splendid day of it, and have no prospect of bad weather ahead. The omen is a happy one.
The Sixth and Ninth Corps Arrive.
Since dark to-night [February 5, 1865] the Sixth and Ninth Corps, or portions of them, have been brought into requisition, but their movements will not legitimately be public property for twenty-four hours yet.
Thus far we have been eminently successful. There has been no hitch or failure in any part of the programme visible.
General Grant has not been on the field, the direction of affairs having been vested in Gen. Meade, who has been at the front since early morning.
The troops moved in light marching order, and are experiencing a somewhat chilly night, without shelter, fires or blankets.
The following is but a partial list of our casualties:—Killed—T. O’Brien, Third Pennsylvania Cavalry. Wounded—E. Townsend, One-hundred-and-eighty-fourth Pennsylvania, lung; Sergeant W. H. Jenkins, One-hundred-and-tenth Pennsylvania, scalp; Corporal J. Moore, head.1
- “Grant’s Army.” Philadelphia Inquirer. February 8, 1865, p. 1 col. 1-2, 5 ↩