HDQRS. SECOND Brigadier, SECOND DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Before Petersburg, Va., July 31, 1864.
CAPTAIN: In accordance with orders from division headquarters I put my command in position at 2.30 o’clock yesterday morning, in support of the First Division, General Ledlie. Immediately after the explosion of the mine, my brigade advanced rapidly in support of the First Division, bearing a little to the right, the Ninth New Hampshire, Thirty-first Maine, and Second Maryland leading the charge, all under the immediate command of Colonel White, of the Thirty-first Maine, a most gallant officer. After passing the breach they immediately attacked the enemy in the lines and pits to the right, which were already filled with rebels. The First Division took possession of the crater, and instead of advancing to the front as was expected, turned to the right and came on the ground we were ordered to take-ground covered with pits and traverses, and intrenched lines running in every conceivable direction. At the commencement of the movement nothing could be seen on account of the smoke and dust, which had not yet cleared away, and some confusion had ensued in consequence. Finding the First Division not likely to advance from the crater, I ordered my troops forward, but on attempting to advance, they were compelled to pass through the confused ranks of the First Division, and consequently became themselves broken and confused. By this time the enemy had collected troops on the crest and in the ravine in our front, and in the intrenched lines and traverses to our right. Several attempts were made to advance some 400 yards across an open field and seize the works on the next crest, but the terrible fire of musketry from every direction, with grape and canister from our front, rendered the formation of lines from such confused masses lying in pits an impossibility; and notwithstanding the gallant masses lying in pits an impossibility; and notwithstanding the gallant conduct of both officers and men, every attempt failed. My brigade was, however, pushing gradually but constantly ahead and to the right in the next work of pits and traverses, when the Fourth Division came up shouting and yelling, and pouring into the crater and the pits already filled with our men, rendering “confusion worse confounded.” A few minutes later the enemy made a desperate assault. A panic seized the colored troops, and they went pouring through and over our men, plunging into the pits with fixed bayonets in frightful confusion. My brigade being principally to the left of the pits at this time repulsed the enemy handsomely, but the assault being more successful on our right, the colored troops came piling in upon us from that direction, completely paralyzing all our efforts. The rebels returned upon us, and a terrible hand-to-hand struggle ensued. The Thirty-first Maine and Eleventh New Hampshire fought heroically for their colors, tearing them to pieces and breaking the staves in the melee. The national colors of the Thirty-second Maine were lost, the color-sergeants being wounded and captured. The colors of the Sixth and Ninth New Hampshire and Seventeenth Vermont were saved. The regimental colors of the Twenty-first Massachusetts Volunteers were recaptured from the rebels by Sergt. L. A. Wilkins,* Company H, Ninth New Hampshire, and brought off. Every regimental commander in my brigade was either killed or wounded. Three of them are dead, and
*Awarded a Medal of Honor.
one, Colonel White, was captured. By this time a very large proportion of my men were either killed, wounded, or captured, and the enemy had possession of the pits north of the crater. Holding the remainder of the ground in conjunction with Generals Hartranft and Bartlett, and the fragments of regiments and scattered men, we sent for re-enforcements and instructions. Peremptory orders came to abandon the place, and while making arrangements to do so with the least loss the enemy were discovered advancing in force to make another assault. Not deeming it prudent to defend the place longer under those orders we withdrew.
Both officers and men behaved in the most gallant manner throughout, and no blame can be attached to any in my brigade. All were anxious to succeed, and were animated with a spirit of determination and devotion, and did all that could be done to insure success, and, when success failed, to prevent disaster.
Inclosed you will find a list of the casualties of the day.*
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. G. GRIFFIN,
Captain SAMUEL WRIGHT,
Asst. Adjt. General, Second Division, Ninth Army Corps.
*Embodied in return of casualties, p.247.
- 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 567-568 ↩