Numbers 306. Report of Major General Robert F. Hoke, C. S. Army, commanding Hoke’s division, of operations June 24.1
HEADQUARTERS HOKE’S DIVISION, July 2, 1864.
CAPTAIN: In obedience to orders from headquarters I respectfully report that a plan of an attack upon the enemy was settled upon on June 23 to take place on the following morning, which plan was fully known to the commanding general.
On the night of the 23rd General Hagood was made sufficiently familiar with the mode of attack to make the necessary arrangements. No other officer of my command was aware of the intended advance. This precaution was taken, fearing that by some means the enemy might learn our intentions and prepare for us. In accordance with the plan my arrangements were made (which are fully and properly given in the inclosed report of General Hagood), dividing my forces on the left of the City Point road into two heavy skirmish lines, one to be supported by the other, the whole to be supported by Brigadier-General Anderson’s brigade, of Field’s division, formed in line of battle in rear of the intrenchments then occupied by Hagood’s left and under cover of the hill. As was directed, the artillery from the batteries on the north side of the river opened fire upon the intrenchments of the enemy as soon as the morning’s mist had cleared away, and continued its fire with great accuracy, but no execution, for half an hour. After an elapse of five minutes the fire of these guns was directed upon the batteries of the enemy, drawing in a great degree their fire from the advancing infantry, which, as far as I could see, was the only service rendered by our guns. Indeed, I fear we were injured more than we gained by the use of our guns, as it notified the enemy of our intended attack. My intention was to attack immediately after our guns opened on the enemy’s batteries, but as General Anderson had not reported I delayed, and immediately one of his staff officers appeared, by whom General Anderson was informed that in fifteen minutes the attack would certainly take place, which would give him time to reach the intrenchments then occupied by Hagood. At the appointed time the advance was ordered and the second line immediately followed. The first line gallantly entered the intrenchments of the enemy and did their duty nobly, and, as was witnessed by General Lee himself, succeeded not only in breaking the enemy, but drove them from their works. It was never expected that the intrenchments of the enemy could be held by these two lines of skirmishers, but that they should occupy them until the line of battle could reach them.
As was before stated, the second line of skirmishers immediately followed the first, but was not allowed to go beyond the rifle-pits, as it was discovered that the supporting line of battle had not appeared, and had they gone on they would have shared the fate of the first line. I then asked Major-General Field, who was on the ground, to order General Anderson forward, as a moment’s delay would be fatal. He immediately sent the order, which had been previously sent to General Anderson, to go forward. It is proper for me here to state that this was my third effort to get General Anderson forward after my notice to him that in fifteen minutes I would certainly move forward. Some time after General Field’s second order was sent to General Anderson he received a note from him stating that the intrenchments were still occupied by General Hagood’s troops. It this he was greatly mistaken, as will be seen by General Hagood’s report, and, if necessary to prove the mistake, I can produce a statement from Colonel Du Bose, commanding Benning’s brigade (who by this time had moved up in line of battle on the right of General Anderson’s position, and after reaching the trenches moved by the left flank down them and occupied the position which General Anderson was to have taken, and this in his front), that there were no troops in the trenches apart from some stragglers, from which I am sure no command is free. After some time (I suppose an hour) Major-General Field put two brigades in the trenches on the left of the City Point road with a view to attack, and seemed anxious
to do so; but I advised against it, as the enemy had had ample time to make all preparations for us, which they had done, and I felt assured they would sustain a very heavy loss and accomplish nothing. At this time orders were received from General Lee for me to report to him in company with General Field, who abandoned the attack after hearing the position of affairs. My troops, who were in advance of the intrenchments, could not return until night, as they would have been exposed to a heavy fire of the enemy from their intrenchments, which were about 400 yards in advance of those occupied by our men.
A report of the casualties has been forwarded.
I was very much troubled at the loss of my men, who did their duty truly and nobly, without results which appeared to me certain, and surely ought to have been reaped.
It is not my desire to place blame or responsibility on any one (for I fear neither) in making the foregoing statements, but merely give facts to the best of my knowledge, after which the commanding general may draw his own conclusions, as I have unofficially learned that both I and my command were censured by the commanding general. My regret is in attempting the attack without full command of all the forces which were to participate. Both the plan of battle and of attack were good, but failed in the execution. The enemy became extremely uneasy along his entire line when the attack was made, and had we been successful at that point our results would have been such as have not been hitherto attained.
No other portion of my command was engaged except the three regiments of Hagood’s brigade on the left of the City Point road, whose action is given in detail in the inclosed report.* The plan of battle was such that no part of my command could participate except those mentioned. General Hagood did everything in his power to give us success, and desired to push forward when in my judgment it appeared hazardous.
R. F. HOKE,
Captain JOHN M. OTEY,
HDQRS. DEPARTMENT OF N. CAROLINA AND SOUTHERN VA., July 5, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded to General Robert E. Lee for his information.
It will be seen by the reports of Generals Hoke and Hagood that they are not to blame for the failure of the attack of the 24th ultimo, which would have been undoubtedly successful had the supports advanced in time. General Hoke is mistaken if he refers to me when he says, “I have learned unofficially that I and my command were censured by the commanding general.” I stated only that “the success would have been most brilliant had the skirmishers been properly supported.” His report and that of General Hagood prove the correctness of my assertion. General Hoke says on the second page of his report:
After the lapse of five minutes the fire of these guns (i. e., forty-four guns on the northern side of the Appomattox) was directed on the batteries of the enemy, drawing in a great degree their fire from the advancing infantry, which, as far as I could see, was the only service rendered by our guns. Indeed, I fear we were injured more than we gained by the use of our guns, as it notified the enemy of our intended attack.
*See p. 802.
The object of opening the fire of the batteries referred to during half an hour preceding the infantry attack was to demoralize the enemy’s troops occupying the defensive lines which were to be attacked, and which were enfiladed and taken in reverse by those batteries. It was expected, also, that the heavy artillery fire would throw into confusion any supports the enemy might have concealed in the woods near his lines. The best proof of the entire success of this plan was the facility with which one unsupported line of skirmishers got possession of those lines, with the loss of only 25 killed and 72 wounded. I am decidedly of the opinion that, regard being had to the locality and the attending circumstances, no better results could have been attained by any other plan than the one adopted, and which failed only because not properly supported.
G. T. BEAUREGARD,
HEADQUARTERS, July –, 1864.
I had supposed that, in accordance with the plan of General Beauregard of 23rd of June, General Hooke’s division was to have driven the enemy from his first and second skirmish and main lines; have swung to its right and carried the position at Hare’s house; that General Field’s division was to have moved in support of General Hoke, protecting his left flank, occupying the abandoned lines of the enemy, and filling up the gaps between Hoke’s left and river road. As far as I am aware the enemy was never driven from his lines. General Hoke’s skirmishers reached the front line, but his second line did not; nor did his division move to its right or make any room for Field to enter or occupy them. Field’s division could not have entered the enemy’s lines from the position given it without passing over Hoke’s troops. There seems to have been some misunderstanding as to the part each division was expected to have performed.
R. E. LEE,
- 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 796-799 ↩