No. 156. Report of Brigadier General Lewis A. Grant, U. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade, of operations June 12-July 9.1
HEADQUARTERS FIRST VERMONT BRIGADE,
September 14, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following statement of the movements and engagements of this brigade from the time it left Cold Harbor, June 12, to the time it embarked from City Point for Washington, July 9, 1864:
Leaving Cold Harbor at midnight, we crossed the Chickahominy in the afternoon of the next day and encamped for the night, having marched about twenty-four miles. The next day we marched toward the James River and encamped about one mile from Charles City Court-House, and remained near there till the evening of June 16, when we crossed the James on the pontoon bridge and marched for Petersburg,
where we arrived on the afternoon of the 17th, and relieving General Brooks’ division, of the Eighteenth Corps, occupied the rebel works which had been carried by that corps. The Second Regiment and part of the Fifth went to the front on picket.
On the morning of the 18th there was a general attack upon the enemy’s works, when it was ascertained that the enemy’s main lines had fallen back during the night and erected new works nearer Petersburg. Later in the day the enemy was attacked in his new position and driven back to his strongest lines. The brigade, except the Second and Fifth Regiments, which held the skirmish lines, took no part in the engagement, being held in reserve, having the unusual opportunity of seeing others do the fighting.
On the morning of the 19th the Second and Fifth were relieved from picket, and that portion of the Second Regiment whose term of service expired started for Vermont. That evening the brigade relieved the First and Fourth Brigades of this division from the front line and held it during the next day, skirmishing with the enemy during the entire day. The enemy opened upon us a heavy artillery fire from the front, and also from several batteries across the Appomattox to our right and rear, inflicting but small loss. The position held at this time was within about half a mile of Petersburg, and it is believed to be nearer that fated city than any other point occupied by Union troops.
On the evening of June 20 the brigade was relieved from its position on the right, and moving to the left we relieved General Gibbon’s division, of the Second Corps, and held that position twenty-four hours. The front lines were engaged during the day.
On the evening of the 21st the Sixth Corps was relieved from the front by the Eighteenth Corps, and the corps moved about six miles to the entire left of the army and halted near the Williams house.
June 22, the First Division took position on the left of the Second Corps and the Third Division on the left of the First. One brigade of this division took position on the Jerusalem plank road, facing to the left and rear. This brigade took position on the left of the Third [General Ricketts’] Division, and as that division advanced in line I was ordered to move forward by the flank so as to protect the left flank. While in that position I was ordered to send a regiment to the left and front to report to the officer of the day. I sent Captain [now Major] Walker’s battalion of the Eleventh Vermont, and it was subsequently deployed upon the skirmish line. After skirmishing for a few hours the Third Division fell back and this brigade started for the right to assist Major-General Hancock, but the order was soon changed and we were placed in position near the Williams house and ordered to intrench. The Third Vermont was sent on picket, forming a line between the Jerusalem plank road and Major Walker’s battalion of the Eleventh Regiment. The men had worked entrenching but a short time when the order was changed, and at attack upon the enemy’s position was made. The attack was made by the First and Third Divisions just after dark. The main force of the enemy had by this time fallen back and the charge was made for about a mile through thick brush. I was ordered to follow and protect the left flank of the Third Division, which order was obeyed. The brigade got into position about one mile from the Weldon railroad about 11 o’clock that night. The Fourth Vermont was placed on picket to protect our then present flank. The other regiments which had been placed on picket stretched back to our left rear about two miles.
June 23, no enemy appeared about ninety picked men as sharpshooters,
pushed to the left and front as far as the Weldon railroad, and a portion of the pioneers of this brigade went out to the road and commenced its destruction. At the same time I was called upon for 200 men, properly officered, to report to Lieutenant Colonel S. E. Pingree, Third Vermont, general officer of the day. The detail was made from the Eleventh Vermont, and the men were deployed so as to form a skirmish line from the right of the Fourth Vermont to be railroad, for the purpose of protecting the pioneers, and at the same time of maintaining a connection with the main force. Soon after I was called upon for another detail to support the line. This detail was to reported by a brigade staff officer, at a house named, to a division staff officer and by him placed in position. Major C. K. Fleming, Eleventh Vermont, was sent out in command of the force and received instructions from the division commander through the officer of his staff. Major Fleming’s command was posted about half or three-quarters of a mile in front and to the left of the brigade, which constituted the extreme left of the time. The enemy attacked the party on the railroad and the skirmishers gradually fell back. It became evident that the enemy was advancing in considerable force, and Major Fleming strengthened his position by throwing up a breast-work of rails. It was thought that the attack would be made upon his front, but the enemy bore to the left around a skirt of woods. The picket-line in front of Ricketts’ division advanced. It was said that it was ordered forward one mile and would protect Major Fleming’s right. About the same time the Fourth Vermont was ordered forward as skirmishers on the left of Major Walker’s battalion. Two regiments of the First Brigade were hurried forward to strengthen the line in that direction. Having no control over that portion of the brigade on picket, or the skirmish line, but observing the movements of the enemy, and fearing for the safety of that portion of the command that was to the front in the direction of the railroad, I went to General Wright, commanding the corps, and expressed to him my fears. He went me to the front to observe the situation. His attention was called to the position of the Fourth Vermont and Major Fleming’s command, and to the fact that if the line should be broken at the point then threatened the enemy would come quite into their rear. It was said in reply that the officer in command had his instructions, and that in case the enemy broke through on the left these forces could fall back to the right and come in front of Ricketts’ division, and for aught there appeared this could be done. The enemy broke through at the threatened point and occupied an open field in the rear of the Fourth Vermont and Major Fleming, and when they attempted to fall back toward the right, it was found that the picket-line in front of the Third Division had fallen back and that the enemy occupied in force the woods to the right and rear; escape in that direction was impossible. The forces on the right and left closed up and formed a line in the rear, and but a few escaped. All that subsequently transpired is not fully known, but enough is known to satisfy me that our men fought to the last, and surrendered only when the ammunition was nearly exhausted, and surrender became necessary. The Fourth Vermont Volunteers was commanded by Major John E. Pratt, a cool and intrepid officer, whose dashing bravery had often been put to the test and has never been found wanting; Major Fleming had also on more than one occasion proved himself a gallant and accomplished officer. Although Lieutenant Colonel S. E. Pingree, Third Vermont, was not under my command that day, but was acting as officer of the day in charge of the whole picket or skirmish line, I bear willing testimony to his coolness and bravery and almost
superhuman efforts. He had a difficult and extended line and his attention was called to different points almost at the same time. He performed his duties in a manner entitling him to great praise.
In this engagement Lieutenant M. H. Sherman, a valuable officer of Major Walker’s battalion, Eleventh Vermont, was instantly killed, and Lieutenant Charles G. Fisher, Fourth Vermont, was wounded in the early part of the skirmishing. Captain William C. Tracy, Fourth Vermont, was killed. His dead body was found on the field next day, surrounded by the muskets of his men lying on the ground, giving evidence that he had rallied around him the men of his command, and that they surrendered only when their gallant leader had fallen. He was near left of the Fourth Vermont skirmish line and separated from the main force. Captain Tracy was a good and brave officer. His real worth had been but recently recognized by promotion. None excelled him in purity of character and earnestness of purpose. Modest and unassuming in manners, he rose with the occasion and was found equal to any emergency. For some time after the battles of the Wilderness he performed the duties of adjutant and commanded two companies, at the same time carrying imbedded in his face a buckshot in action.
Later in the day of June 23 the command moved back and took position near the Williams house, where it remained until the 29th of June, when the Sixth Corps marched to Reams’ Station to assist General Wilson, who was attacked there on his return from the raid upon the Danville railroad. This brigade took the lead. The Third Vermont was employed as skirmishers and met the rebel skirmishers within about half a mile of Reams’ Station. Our men charged upon them and drove them from the field without the loss of a man. The main force of the enemy had just left. We fortified our position and remained there the next day, and marched back about half way during the night of June 30, and subsequently back to our former position near the Williams house. This brigade was held in reserve and went into camp. When the Third Division of Sixth Corps left for Baltimore the brigade moved forward and again occupied the line of works near the Williams house.
On the evening of July 8  the brigade received marching orders and marched to City Point that night, and the next day, July 9 , embarked for Washington.
To the several regimental commanders and to Captain A. Brown, Fourth Vermont; Lieutenant Isaac L. Eells, Fifth Vermont; Captain A. H. Newt, Third Vermont, and Lieutenant Henry C. Baxter, Eleventh Vermont, officers of the staff, I am under renewed obligations.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
L. A. GRANT,
PETER T. WASHBURN,
Adjutant and Inspector General.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pages 500-503 ↩