HDQRS. SECOND Brigadier, FIRST DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS, Before Petersburg, Va., August 3, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to report that on the evening of the 29th of July, 1864, this brigade moved, under command of Colonel E. G. Marshall, from the line occupied by them in rear of the First and Second Brigade headquarters to General Willcox’s front, near the headquarters Twenty-seventh Michigan, and was then formed for a charge in the following order: The first line of battle consisted of the Second Provisional Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, Lieutenant Colonel B. G. Barney; the second line of battle consisted of the Fourteenth New York Artillery, Captain L. I. Jones, and the third of the Third Maryland Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel G. P. Robinson, and the One hundred and seventy-ninth New York Volunteers, Major John Barton.
At 4.40 a.m. July 30 the mine under the fort in front of and to the right of the position where we formed was exploded, and the Second Brigade advanced in the order stated. By keeping a strong right oblique we arrived at the crater formed by the mine, to the right of which the orders for the assault had directed us to form. Through this crater and 150 yards in advance of it the Second Provisional Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery charged. The Fourteenth New York, diverging somewhat to the left, came upon two cannon and their magazine buried in the earth, but not destroyed, which they dug out and prepared for service. The Third Maryland and One hundred and seventy-ninth New York Volunteers proceeded into the second short covered way on the [our] right, and occupied that position. The First Brigade entered the crater in our rear and occupied the covered ways on the [our] right, and Griffin’s brigade closely followed them. The Second Provisional Pennsylvania, having been heavily flanked, the sharpshooters of the Third Maryland were detailed to cover their flank and protect their retreat to the works we had gained. By this time the troops in and around the crater were very much mingled together, and the staff of the Second Brigade was directed by Colonel Marshall, commanding, to form the brigade in the covered way nearest our work. This was accomplished with some difficulty, the Third Maryland holding the extreme right, and occupying the cross-traverse which enfiladed our line. From this the Spencer rifles in that regiment did great execution upon the enemy and demonstrated the advantages of an organized corps of sharpshooters. About this time the Fourth Division [negroes] came into the pit, passed through the crater, and proceeding to the right,
passed through the covered way held by the First Division, one brigade of them forming on the right at right angles to our line. The First Brigade was to have formed on the left of the First Division, but before it got into position the enemy made an attack, and all the black troops crushed back into the works occupied by this brigade, throwing it into inextricable confusion, and forcing it back upon the troops in the crater. Our men them fell back and were reorganized. When this had taken place Captain Clarke, acting assistant adjutant-general, being left in the works by Colonel Marshall, who had returned to the front, reported at division headquarters that about 350 or 400 men of the brigade had been gathered together, but was informed that the men in the enemy’s fort had been ordered to leave, and that it was not advisable to lead the brigade again into action. They were therefore retained within our line of works, and directed to cover the retreat of those in the fort by a right and left oblique fire, leaving the fort blown up by us in the axis of a sector without fire. Through the road thus opened in the enemy’s fire many escaped. I regret to say that Colonel Marshall, of the Fourteenth New York Artillery, commanding the brigade, after having been borne away from the enemy’s lines in the rush while gallantly endearing to rally the negro troops, determined to return to the fort and share the fate of the commanding officer of the First Brigade. He was taken prisoner. In consequence of this, as senior officer present, I assumed command of the Second Brigade, and directed it to return to the camp of July 29, where it arrived at about 6 p.m.
To the officers commanding regiments and to Captain Weaver, of the Third Maryland, who directed the operations of the sharpshooters, great credit is due for the manner in which they performed their duty. Lieutenant-Colonel Barney, commanding Second Provisional Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, was dangerously wounded, and Major John Barton, of the One hundred and seventy-ninth New York, was killed in the affair. The Fourteenth New York Artillery was successful in capturing a rebel flag-turned over to division headquarters by Lieutenant Van Brackle-and a squad of men, under Sergt. Wesley Stanley, of Company D, worked with skill and effect the guns captured by his regiment from the enemy. He sleeps on the field of battle. The acting staff of Colonel Marshall, consisting of Captain Clarke, of the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts, acting assistant adjutant-general; Captain Wood, Fourteenth New York, brigade inspector; Second Lieutenants Backus and Smith, of the Fourteenth New York, performed their duties and carried orders faithfully and attempted to stem the retiring mob of black troops until forced, with myself, to the line of works originally held by Wilcox. First Sergt. Barnard A. Strasbaugh,* Company A, Third Maryland Battalion, in charge of a squad of sharpshooters, armed with Spencer rifles, greatly distinguished himself. Taking a favorable position, he single handed captured 8 prisoners in one squad, wounding 2 of them, and 3 more in another. The effectiveness of the Spencer rifle in good hands was abundantly demonstrated during the day. I attribute the abandonment of our lodgment to the excessive massing of troops in the line captured by the First and Second Brigades of the First Division in the morning, into which all the other troops crowded and beyond which none of them advanced.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GILBERT P. ROBINSON,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
Captain C. J. MILLS,
*Awarded a Medal of Honor.
- 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 541-542 ↩