Report of Captain John H. White, Forty-sixth Virginia Infantry, of operations June 17.1
HEADQUARTERS FORTY-SIXTH VIRGINIA REGIMENT,
In the Trenches, July 19, 1864.
COLONEL: In compliance with your request of yesterday, I have the honor to submit the following as my observation on the part taken by the Forty-sixth Virginia Regiment in the engagement of June 17. In presenting this I beg leave to remark that as the brigade was divided by the Twenty-third South Carolina Volunteers, or, as I have since learned, by a detachment of that regiment, on our left, I cannot speak of the movement of any but my own regiment:
Early in the forenoon of the 17th ultimo we received orders to move to the right of the line and take position immediately on the right of the Twenty-third South Carolina Volunteers, Elliott’s brigade. At this point it was necessary to construct breast-works, and in doing which my men were exposed to the fire both of the enemy’s sharpshooters and batteries; the work was accomplished, however, to a slight degree, barely enough to afford [protection] to the men, when the enemy charged in our front and along the left of the line toward Clingman’s
brigade. His attack was handsomely repulsed, and about twenty of the Forty-sixth Virginia advanced in front of the works and captured some thirty-five prisoners. We were aware that the enemy were massing in large force, under cover of a hill in our front, and continued to work on the intrenchments until 6.30 p. m., when four Yankee flags were displayed above the crest of the hill with the evident design of drawing the fire of our men. This movement savored so strongly of the Yankee that our forces needed no telling to denounce it as a trick. Finding that his design was futile, the enemy immediately advanced four regiments in column by division, and when within 200 yards of our works the rear rank of the left wing was ordered to open fire upon him, which they did with great precision, that not only checked his advance but literally moved them down, all four of the flags, and when the smoke rose only a few could be seen struggling to the rear and right oblique. The firing of the Forty-sixth Virginia was for a short time continuous, and when it ceased in a measure the men were in a great glee at [the] easy success we had, when, looking to the left, to my utter astonishment and dismay, I saw the Twenty-third South Carolina Regiment leaving the trenches and scattering helter-skelter to the rear. We called on them to come back; cheered them; threatened to shoot some, and finally did shoot, but only a few of them could be stopped with us. Major Hill ordered the regiment to move by the left flank, and the left wing moved as directed, some of the men occupying part of the trenches so shamefully and disgracefully deserted by the Twenty-third South Carolina Regiment. An Alabama regiment passed me, and had, I supposed, re-enforced the lines. When Captain Cleveland, Forty-sixth Virginia, reported that the enemy had carried the works on our left in such overwhelming force that it was impossible for our left wing to hold our any longer, I reminded Captain C. that the Alabama regiment had gone to the left, and asked him to ascertain certainly who it was in the trenches. He returned in a few minutes and again informed me that the enemy had carried our works. I perceived at this time that the left was being forced back, which information was communicated to Major Hill, when he ordered the regiment to fall back to Blount’s battery, distant from where the right of our regiment rested about 100 yards, which they did in good order. Halting at the latter place, they were rallied almost instantly and quickly charged the works, carrying them as far as the left center of the regiment, and were still advancing when a Yankee officer called out, “What regiment is that?” Major Hill leaped upon a traverse and answered, “The Forty-sixth Virginia.” The response of the enemy came immediately, “Give it to them, boys.” A volley was poured in upon us, and here Major Hill, Ensign Rogers, and many others were killed and wounded; the flag staff was shot in two pieces of when we left the field there were eighteen holes through the colors. In some confusion the regiment fell back a short distance and the command devolved upon me. I rallied the men in as short time as possible and reported to you. This, sir, is a fair statement of the affair occurring as it did under my own eye, and I trust it may prove to the satisfaction of all concerned who it is that merits blame for the disaster.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. H. WHITE,
Captain, Commanding Regiment.
Colonel J. THOMAS GOODE,
Commanding Wise’s Brigade.