Report of Colonel Samuel A. Duncan, Fourth U. S. Colored Troops, commanding brigade, of operations June 15-19.1
HDQRS. 2nd BRIG., 3rd DIV., EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
In the Field, June 25, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by this brigade in the operations before Petersburg from the 15th instant to the 19th, inclusive:
The brigade broke camp near Point of Rocks, Va., on the evening of the 14th, crossed the Appomattox on the pontoon bridge at Broadway at 11 p. m., and went into bivouac, reporting to the division commander, Brigadier General E. W. Hinks. At 3 a. m. of the 15th the brigade moved out toward Petersburg on the middle road, its march being somewhat impeded by the passage of the First and Second Divisions of the Eighteenth Army Corps. The effective fighting force of the brigade on the morning of the 15th was about 2,200 men.
Three miles from Broadway the progress of the column was arrested by the fire of a rebel battery posted on Baylor’s farm, a mile in advance. A reconnaissance by General Kautz’s cavalry developed the position of the enemy. It was naturally one of very considerable strength, being the crest of rapidly rising ground 300 yards in rear of an exceedingly difficult road. The wood deserves special mention. It was about 600 yards in depth and was traversed by a turnpike and a railroad in directions diagonal to that to be followed by an attack upon the enemy’s works. These roads in places were deep cuts, and proved a serious obstacle to the advance of a line of battle. Moreover, the bottom of the wood was marshy and obstructed with fallen timber and covered with a dense thicket of vines and bushes twenty feet high.
A hastily constructed earth-work with a connected line of rifle-pits, crossing the road at night angles and running along the crest nearly parallel to the outline of the wood, added much to the natural strength of the position, and rendered the enemy’s occupation of this point a serious obstacle to farther progress.
Behind this parapet the enemy was posted with four pieces of artillery and a considerable force of infantry. This brigade was formed in line of battle in front of the wood with orders from General Hinks to move through and taken the enemy’s works. The Fifth Regiment, Colonel Conine, held the right; the Twenty-second, Colonel Kiddoo, the right center; the Fourth, Lieutenant-Colonel Rogers, the left center; and the Sixth Regiment, Colonel Ames, the left. Colonel Holman’s command formed the second line. The order given to each regimental commander
of the first line was to open a heavy fire upon the enemy upon reaching the farther skirt of the wood, to reform the line with all possible dispatch, which would necessarily become much disjointed in passing over such obstructed ground, and then await the order to charge.
As the line moved forward the enemy’s battery opened a furious shelling of the woods, inflicting considerable damage. The Fourth Regiment was the first to reach the open field. The center companies of this regiment, injudiciously and without orders, and before any attempt at a correction of the alignment, started forward for the works with cheers. This demonstration, checked immediately by Colonel Rogers, who ordered the companies back o the cover of the woods, attracted the attention of the enemy, who instantly opened upon the regiment a destructive fire of canister from all his guns. The inexperience of the troops, the terrible fire to which they were subjected, and the nature of ground caused no little confusion among them, which was much increased by the second line in the excitement of the moment opening fire upon the first line.
Captain King was killed and Captains Mendall and Parrington and Lieutenant Brigham wounded, the latter mortally.
One hundred and twenty of the men of the regiment were killed and wounded at this point.
The Sixth Regiment in the blindness of the wood had partially overlapped and become involved with the Fourth. On reaching the edge of the wood it found itself subjected to an enfilading fire on the left. These combined circumstances rendered the left of the line of no avail for an immediate charge, but the fire directed toward the left had enabled the right of the line to form with comparative regularity, when the charge was ordered. Through the risd upon the right wing the Fifth and Twenty-second Regiments swept gallantly up the intervening declivity and into the rebel works. The enemy fled precipitately, abandoning one 12-pounder, which fell into the hands of the Twenty-second, and was immediately turned upon the retreating foe.
The charge was made at 8 a. m. The brigade rested for an hour, reformed, and then moved on toward the strong defenses at Jordan’s field. Arriving near these works at 10 a. m., the Fifth Regiment was deployed as skirmishers on the left of the road, and moved forward through a dense thicket for half a mile to a position fronting Batteries Nos. 9 and 10. It was hoped that the fire of these skirmishers would seriously annoy if not entirely silence the guns in these works, which held a very commanding position reltive to the works opposite our right and against which the main attack was intended, but the distance from the edge of the woods to the redoubts against which the regiment was operating was so great–fully 600 yards–that they accomplished little, save to distract the enemy’s attention.
Owing to the nature of the ground it was impossible for the skirmishers to advance nearer to the works with any safety, except under cover of night. Furthermore, any advance of the regiment beyond this point would have separated it from all support from the rest of the command, which was to be advanced in a different direction.
Meanwhile an attempt was made to open an artillery fire upon these redoubts from an open field to right and rear of this regiment. Both Captain Choate’s and Captain Angel’s batteries were brought up, but every part of the field was so thoroughly commanded by a direct, an oblique, and an enfilading fire from the enemy’s guns that prudence
dictated the withdrawal of the batteries. At 1 p. m., in obedience to orders from General Hinks, the Fifth Regiment, which had suffered considerably, was withdrawn, two companies being left to continue the demonstration and to guard our left flank.
A double line of battle was then formed in the field before mentioned in the following order: The Fourth Regiment on the right and the Twenty-second on the left of the first line, and the Fifth on the right and the Sixth on the left of the second line. The First Regiment U. S. Colored Troops, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Wright, connected with the left of the first line. The lines when formed were advanced 500 yards to the crest in Jordan’s field, which had been partially occupied by the skirmishers of the First Regiment.
This was a work of great difficulty owing to the riple fire of the enemy, which had previously prevented the planting of our batteries, and which was now directed with increasing rapidity and with great accuracy upon all our movements. In this advance our batteries, placed well in the rear, were used with effect, drawing off somewhat the fire that would otherwise have been directed upon our infantry lines.
It was 2 p. m. when the crest was gained and the right of the brigade connected with General Brooks’ left. Here we lay five hours, suffering much from the well-directed fire of the enemy, which he never remitted.
At 5.30 p. m. the skirmish line was re-enforced, three companies of the Fourth, under Major Boernstein, and four companies of the Twenty-second, under Major Cook, being used for this purpose. These officers were instructed to push their skirmishers well to the front and to charge the works as soon as the charge should begin to their right. The order was promptly obeyed. The enemy’s sharpshooters were driven in by repeated advances of our skirmish line, and when at 7 p. m. General Brooks moved forward to the assault our skirmishers charged gallantly through a very heavy fire upon the works immediately before them, carrying them with loud cheers and capturing one iron gun and two 12-pounders in Battery No. 7. The honor of this capture is claimed by both the Fourth and the Twenty-second Regiments. As the work was near the middle of our line it is probable that men from both regiments entered it, but in the absence of any formal investigation into the question I incline to the opinion that the work was first entered by men of the Twenty-second Regiment, and that to this regiment belongs the chief credit of this affair, so far as any portion of the line can appropriate to itself the credit, where all behaved so gallantly and success depended so greatly upon the mutual support of all the parts. As soon as the works were carried the reserves of the Fourth and the Twenty-second Regiments, which had been kept back out of canister range, were ordered forward under their respective commanders to support the skirmishers in such movement against the remaining defenses as circumstances might warrant.
Colonel Kiddoo, passing into the works at Battery No. 7, hastily reformed his command, and supported by the First Regiment pushed gallantly on against Battery No. 8, a strong work advantageously posted on a considerable elevation behind a difficult ravine. This, after heavy resistance and considerable loss, he turned and carried, capturing one gun.
Lieutenant-Colonel Rogers, meanwhile, having reformed his regiment, moved, by command of Major-General Smith, against Battery No. 8, but finding it already held by our forces passed in front of it
up through the deep ravine and made for Battery No. 9, a work 500 yards distant and commanding the positions already taken. As he approached the enemy retired to Battery No. 10, upon which Colonel Rogers immediately charged, driving out the occupants and capturing one gun, with caissons and horses.
This position taken the enemy immediately abandoned Battery No. 11, although from the statements of prisoners it appears that the Forty-second North Carolina Regiment was close at hand to re-enforce the work.
It was impossible to move our second line of battle in the direction pursued by the first, on account of the angle which it formed with the lines of General Brooks, and with which by a forward movement it would become involved. Consequently it was swung around and moved forward toward the front of Batteries Nos. 9, 10, and 11, with view to feeling the strength of the positions, and if found advisable attacking them. As these dispositions were being made an orders was given by General Smith, who now appeared in person on this part of the field, to assault the works. A column with battalion front was at once formed, the Sixth Regiment leading and the Fifth forming the second line. Skirmishers were thrown out and the advance commenced, a battery being ordered up to assist the movement.
The way lay over a ravine 600 yards in extent and greatly obstructed by stumps, piles of wood, fallen timber, bushes, and pools. Darkness had come on, so that our only guide was the flashes from the enemy’s guns. The column advanced as best it could, receiving only an occasional shot, the main fire of the enemy being directed upon the storming parties approaching on the flank. The column had only reached the bottom of the ravine when the shouts ahead told that our forces had gained the works.
It was now 9 o’clock. The brigade was reformed and rested for the night near Battery 10, details being set at work cutting down the reverse slope of the fortifications as a precaution against an apprehended attack.
In the morning the brigade, having been relieved by troops of the Second Army Corps, moved to the rear and took position near the junction of the Spring Hill and City Point roads, where details were employed in constructing defensive works.
On the 17th the Sixth Regiment was ordered to report to General Martindale for a reconnaissance, but returned soon after going out, the reconnaissance having been given up.
The Fifth Regiment on the same day was ordered to report to General Martindale for pics so employed during the night. On the morning of the 18th the Fifth Regiment rejoined the brigade, which now, by order of General Hinks, reported to General Martindale for duty. Two regiments, the Sixth and the Twenty-second, were held in reserve. The other two, the Fourth and the Fifth, were sent to General Stannard, by whom they were employed to form the right of our second line of battle resting on the Appomattox. An advance of our lines took place in the afternoon, in which these regiments suffered considerably.
In the forenoon of the 19th the brigade was relieved by troops of the Sixth Corps, and returned to the division near the Walthall house. Thence it marched to Spring Hill, and at 6 p. m. crossed the Appomattox and went into camp near Point of Rocks.
It will be seen that the loss on the 15th was very severe, being in the aggregate 378; but, while deeply deploring the loss of so many valued officers and brave men, the colonel commanding finds abundant occasion for rejoicing over the important successes of the day and the splendid behavior of the troops. The troops were all untried in battle, and by many it was still a problem whether the negro would fight. The events of the day justify the most sanguine expectations for the future. Skirmishers pushed forward with boldness; lines advanced firmly; hours of inaction under heavy fire were endured with fortitude; assaults were made with gallantry, and wounds endured heroically.
The brigade captured during the day six pieces of artillery, the work and line of rifle-pits at Baylor’s farm, and five of the strongly fortified works on the principal line of defenses around Petersburg.
Appended are the corresponding reports of the several regimental commanders of the brigade.*
I have the honor to be, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
SAML. A. DUNCAN,
Captain SOLON A. CARTER,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.