Numbers 48. Report of Brigadier General Thomas W. Egan, U. S. Army, commanding Second Division of operations October 26-28.1
HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, SECOND CORPS,
October 31, 1864.
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the movements and actions of the Second Division, Second Army Corps, under my command, during the recent operations:
In pursuance of circular from headquarters corps, dated October 25, I drew my division out of the front line at 2.30 a.m. on the 26th instant and placed them temporarily in rear of Fort Bross, on the rear line. At 2 p.m. on the 26th instant, in pursuance of circulars from headquarters corps, dated October 25 and 26, I took up the line of march, my command being supplied with six days’ rations and the full amount of artillery and infantry ammunition. I followed the rear line of works, passed through them at the left flank of our fortifications, and bivouacked at Robertson’s house on the Halifax road. I moved from Robertson’s house at 3.30 a.m. on the 27th; my troops marched in this order, viz: General Smyth in advance, commanding the Third Brigade, Colonel James M. Willett followed, commanding Second Brigade and Lieutenant Colonel Horace P. Rugg marched in the rear with the First Brigade, A squadron of the Sixth Ohio Cavalry preceded the whole, and Lieutenant W. Butler Beck’s battery, composed of Companies C and I, Fifth U. S. Artillery marched between the brigades of Colonel Willett and Colonel Rugg. I followed the Halifax road about half a mile and then took the Church road to the right. This road struck the Vaughan road at about two miles from the Halifax road. At daybreak, just after reaching the Vaughan road, a cavalry vedette of the enemy’s who was posted at a house about 200 yards to the left, fired upon my skirmishers. I at once ordered forward Lieutenant Colonel Frank J. Spalter, of the Fourth Ohio Battalion, with his battalion, and the Seventh Virginia Regiment deployed as skirmishers. Lieutenant-Colonel Spalter advanced rapidly for two miles, and finally met the enemy, who were entrenched on the farther bank of Hatcher’s Run, where it crosses the Vaughan road. Lieutenant-Colonel Spalter, dashed at the enemy, but was killed at the first onset. His skirmishers were unable to carry the entrenchments, but pressed up within thirty yards and engaged the enemy until my main body arrived. I then ordered General Smyth to deploy his brigade across the road, and formed a second line in his rear with the brigades of Willett and Rugg. Willett on the right and Rugg on the left of the road. I then at once drove out the enemy, and took his camp and a few prisoners. The enemy here was a detachment of Young’s cavalry brigade, commanded by Major Farley, of Georgia, whom prisoners reported mortally wounded. I reformed General Smyth’s brigade on the late rebel side of the entrenchments, strengthened my skirmish line and pushed it one out the Vaughan road. I then reformed my division across Hatcher’s Run, and moved to the right by the flank on the telegraph road, Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg in advance, followed by Colonel Willett, and General Smyth in the rear, he having been relieved by a brigade of the Third Division.
At about 8.30 a.m., at a point where the telegraph road again strikes Hatcher’s Run, I deployed Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s brigade across the road in line, and pushed my skirmishers across the run, but met no enemy. Then I again advanced in column in the same order, Lieuten-
ant Beck’s battery in rear, whit two of Rugg’s regiments as rear guard. I reached the cross-roads at Dabney’s Mill at 9.15 a.m. Here my skirmishers captured Major Venable, formerly inspector-general of Stuart’s cavalry, and now adjutant-general (it is thought) of Hampton’s division. He would give no information. Major-General Mott reached the mill at 9.45 a.m., having moved on a road to my left. I then moved forward on the plantation road and reached the Boydton plank road in an open field at about 10.30 a.m. The enemy’s cavalry were preparing to receive me at some distance up the Boydton road. I at once sent out as skirmishers the Nineteenth and Twentieth Massachusetts Regiments, under Captain A. Henry Embler, acting assistant adjutant-general. Captain Embler advanced on the right of the Boydton road and felt the enemy. By the personal order of Major-General Hancock I then moved Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s brigade across the Boydton road, and deployed it with his right resting on the road. I deployed Colonel Willett’s brigade in the open field on the right of the Boydton road, his left on the road, and moved him forward to the support of Captain Embler’s skirmishers, until his left connected with Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s right. While placing my command the enemy planted several batteries on my front, flanks, and rear, and opened with case-shot. These batteries were all about 800 yards distant. The battery in my front occupied the ridge near the Burgess house (or tavern), at the junction of the White Oak and Boydton roads; that upon my right occupied the high ground near Hatcher’s Run; that upon my left was between Hatcher’s Run and White Oak road, and that in my rear on or near the Boydton road, in rear of the house used as a field hospital. Lieutenant Beck went into position at the junction of the plantation and Boydton roads, and silenced all of these batteries immediately, forcing them all the change position. During the artillery firing, by order of Major-General Hancock in person, I ordered General Smyth to deploy his command, facing my left and rear, where he remained until General Mott’s column came up. I then moved General Smyth forward across the plantation road on the right of the Boydton road, and placed him in the open field on the right of and on the prolongation of Colonel Rugg’s line. This was at about 11.30 a.m. At the time of Smyth’s advance I ordered Willett (who it will be remembered had been connecting with Rugg’s right) to advance and carry the enemy’s position on the hill crest near the Burgess house. Accordingly, Captain Embler, acting assistant adjutant-general, advanced with his skirmishers on a run, riding in advance, Colonel Willett charging in support. The enemy’s skirmishers were driven across a swampy ravine and small stream. Reforming immediately under the slope beyond, Colonel Willett again charged, with Captain Embler in advance, and drove the enemy’s main body, gaining his position on the crest near the Burgess house, and forcing a barricade on the Boydton road. This barricade on the Boydton road. This barricade was erected at a toll-gate, but the Virginia highway regulations were not observed.
Colonel Willett reformed beyond the Burgess house, his left resting just across the Boydton road to the left. The Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, deployed as skirmishers, in connection with Captain Embler’s left, advanced simultaneously with him. This being done, Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s brigade was moved up the Boydton road and formed on Colonel Willett’s left, Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s left resting on a ravine and swamp at a point of woods. General Smyth was then moved to Colonel Willett’s right,prolonging his line. One section of Lieutenant Beck’s battery was placed in the corn-field at the
right of the Boydton road, and another section on the crest near the Burgess house. At the time of this formation the enemy opened a severe artillery fire upon our left flank from a battery beyond Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s left and upon our front from a battery near a milldam about 800 yards distant. I held this position until about 1 p.m. and then threw forward my right wing (General Smyth’s command) across the open field on the right of the road, driving the enemy in confusion from his entrenchments and across Hatcher’s Run, and seizing the bridge-head. Some of General Smyth’s skirmishers penetrated the swamp beyond the run and reached the hill beyond, but were compelled to fall back. These skirmishers were the First Delaware Veteran Volunteers, and the One hundred and eighth New York Volunteers. On the extreme left of my advanced line the One hundred and sixty-fourth New York captured a gun, limber, and caisson from a battery near the bridge on Hatcher’s Run. The caisson was brought off, but the gun and limber were destroyed from the the lack of drag ropes. The position being gained, General Smyth was re-enforced by Colonel Willett’s brigade, which I placed on his right. At 3 p.m., having been strengthened by the Third Brigade of General Mott’s division (commanded by Colonel Robert McAllister, Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers), I determined to capture the enemy’s position across Hatcher’s Run. Colonel McAllister formed in rear and on the right flank of General Smyth’s line, whose skirmishers were already at one place across the run for the second time, and had driven the enemy’s skirmishers in. At this time I threw out the Tenth New York and Twelfth New Jersey as skirmishers to the right, stretching them very far out in an endeavor to connect with General Crawford, but could not connect. The skirmishers became sharply engaged, and the enemy appeared to be trying to penetrate between my line and General Mott’s. At 4 p.m. I was ready to cross Hatcher’s Run, and had given the order, when the enemy opened heavily upon my right and rear and advanced his main line upon mine in heavy masses. I at once ordered General Smyth to halt, and facing Colonel McAllister’s command by the rear rank, baffled the enemy’s attempt at flanking by flanking him. The enemy was doubled up and driven, with severe loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. When Colonel McAllister made this charge Bvt. Lieutenant Colonel W. G. Mitchell, aide-de-camp to Major-General Hancock, charged with him, and then determined to capture a heavy force which had reached the Boydton road in my rear. Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell took the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin and charged at their head, capturing nearly the whole, with their officers and colors. I consider this brilliantly done, and that the Thirty-sixth, during the whole movement, behaved most nobly. Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell was with me through everything. At this time I was fighting heavily on three sides, but captured entire (with the colors) the brigade spoken of which had reached my rear, recaptured two guns taken from General Mott’s troops, and a rebel battery narrowly escaped. Had Colonel McAllister and additional front of but one average regiment he would have captured this battery also. Colonel McAllister arrived most opportunely, and his gallantry and the steadiness of his men rendered him and them of vital importance until the withdrawal of the troops.
Lieutenant Beck was now relieved by the Tenth Massachusetts Battery. I moved Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s brigade to the right of the plank road and formed a partial second line on the hill crest, extending to the left of Colonel McAllister, whose left (now right) ran a short distance across the Boydton road. At about 5 p.m. the enemy made
three attacks upon each of my fronts. On Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s former front (on the left of the Boydton road and extending from the Burgess house to a point of woods) they were held completely in check by a heavy skirmish line, composed of the Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania, Seventh Michigan, Nineteenth Massachusetts, and First Minnesota Battalion. These troops deserve great credit. General Smyth and Colonel Willett repulsed the attacks upon their fronts with ease, although they were attacked with equal vehemence. The command was formed during these attacks on three sides of a square, General Smyth holding the extreme left, Colonel Willitt on his right, and Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg on the right of Willett, partially extending behind McAllister’s line, whose right (lately his left) crossed the Boydton road. Another assault was made upon us at about 5.30 p.m. which was easily repulsed. This ended the main action. An attack was made in some force upon General Smyth’s front at about 8 p.m. but like the rest it amounted to nothing. At about 10 p.m. I withdrew and marched back to Dabney’s Mill, having orders to connect here with General Crawford, Major-General Hancock sending me his headquarters guard with which to do so. This guard reported to me at the front, but left without orders on the march to Dabney’s Mill. On arriving there they were not to be found. At 6 a.m. on the 28th a staff officer of Major-General Warren brought information that General Crawford had retired across Hatcher’s Run. I was ordered to report to Major-General Warren, which I did at about 7 a.m., massing across Hatcher’s Run, near Armstrong’s Mill, where I awaited orders from Major-General Hancock. At 10 a.m. I received orders from Major-General Warren to withdraw. Retreating by the line of advance, I reached Fort Bross in the evening. During all of this movement General Smyth gave me hearty support. He was the life of my command and always displayed tact and coolness. I call attention to his favorable mention of the Eighth New York Heavy Artillery and One hundred and sixty-fourth New York Volunteers, and of Lieutenant Cowtan, adjutant Tenth New York, and his squad of six men of the same regiment. Lieutenant Cowtan, gave me, through General Smyth, timely notice of the approach of a rebel column threatening the rear. This enabled me so to dispose McAllister’s brigade as to gobble those who were moving to gobble me. The results of Colonel McAllister’s gallantry speak for themselves. He and his command have my hearty thanks.
Colonel Willett, commanding Second Brigade, Second Division, is entitled to great credit. No troops could have better than his combined steadiness with dash or have been better led. A party of the One hundred and sixty-fourth New York Volunteers, under Captain T. J. Burke, captured a gun, limber, and caisson, bringing off the caisson and destroying the gun, carriage and limber from want of drag ropes.
Major and Bvt. Lieutenant Colonel W. G. Mitchell of Major-General Hancock’s staff, first accompanied Colonel McAllister in the charge which cleared my right flank, and then returned and took the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin and charged down the Boydton road on a body of rebels who had reached my rear. This regiment captured or dispersed the whole, taking colors and officers. Lieutenant-Colonel Mitchell was with me through everything.
Lieutenant W. Butler Beck, commanding companies C and I, Fifth U. S. Artillery, with six guns silenced every rebel battery brought to bear upon us during the action, using every round of his ammunition. His doses of canister effectually helped in repelling close assaults. I rec-
ommend most favorably the sergeants mentioned by Lieutenant Beck. Lieutenant Thornton,* of this battery, a most valuable officer, was killed in the action.
Of the division and personal staff officers acting under me, I must mention the whole honorably. The following are the officers referred to, viz: Captain A. Henry Embler, acting assistant adjutant-general, Second Division; Captain H. Y. Russell, topographical officer, Second Division; Major W. L. Palmer, ordnance officer, Second Division; Captain F. B. Doten, assistant commissary of musters, Second Division; Captain W. E. Potter, judge-advocate, Second Division; First Lieutenant William H. Gilder, personal aide; First Lieutenant James E. Manser, personal aide. Captain Russell, Major Palmer, and Lieutenants Gilder and Manser, were particularly active. Lieutenant Gilder had his horse’s head knocked off by a shell.
I beg to mention the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin, Eighth New York Heavy Artillery, and One hundred and sixty-fourth New York Volunteers. No troops could have done better.
I am compelled to disapprove of the conduct of Lieutenant Colonel Horace P. Rugg, Fifty-ninth New York Volunteers, commanding First Brigade, Second Division in a very grave particular. When withdrawing from near the Burgess house, Captain J. C. Farwell, Seventh Michigan Volunteers,# was on picket with his command in Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg’s front, having been detailed some time previously. To this detail I ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg to send a staff officer and have it withdrawn. Instead of a staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg sent an orderly, who missed the road and failed to find Captain Farwell or notify him. Lieutenant-Colonel Rugg failed to inform me of his failure to withdraw his pickets, and marched his command from the field without them. Captain Farwell remained there all night, narrowly escaping capture in the morning. He fought the enemy several miles on his retreat and got through. To prevent the capture of his colors, he tore his State color from the staff, and his color-sergeant wrapped it round his body, under his clothing. Tearing his National color into pieces, each star was given to a man, and the other pieces also distributed, so that the enemy would have failed to capture them, except after the death of the whole command, and the search of their bodies.
I pronounce the cavalry sent with me as worthless. For cavalry I depended upon my staff, mounted orderlies, and the foot cavalry of the Second Corps.
The officers following are specially recommended for brevet rank for gallantry and distinguished services, viz: Colonel Robert McAllister, Eleventh New Jersey Volunteers, commanding Third Brigade, Third Division, to be brevet brigadier-general of volunteers; Major and Bvt. Lieutenant Colonel W. G. Mitchell, aide-de-camp, to Major-General Hancock to be brevet colonel; Captain A. Henry Embler, acting assistant adjutant-general, Second Division to be brevet major; Captain J. C. Farwell, commanding consolidated battalion of First Minnesota and Seventh Michigan Volunteers, to be brevet major. First Lieutenant W. Butler Beck, commanding Companies C and I, Fifth U. S. Artillery, to be brevet captain; Captain George W. La Point, Seventh Michigan Volunteers, to be brevet major.
*So in original; but reference is probably to Lieutenant Thomas Burnes.
#Farwell belonged to the First Minnesota, and was in command of a consolidated battalion of the First Minnesota and Seventh Michigan.
The results of these operations are that my command has captured–prisoners, captured 1 and recaptured 2 guns; captured 3 colors and many commissioned officers, and, by the admission of the enemy, killed a rebel general officer. If the enemy’s loss in prisoners bears the same proportion to his total loss that ours does, he has lost 2,500 men in his attack upon the Second Corps.
Making with the losses of Colonel McAllister and Lieutenant Beck a grand aggregate of 532 casualties in the troops operating under my command.
I forward herewith the reports of brigade commanders.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. W. EGAN,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Major S. CARNCROSS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Second Army Corps.
HDQRS. FIRST Brigadier, SECOND DIV., SECOND CORPS,
October 29, 1864.
Brevet Major-General MOTT,
Commanding Third Division:
GENERAL: Through you I beg to thank Colonel McAllister, commanding your Third Brigade for indispensable service rendered to myself and command during the recent operations. Colonel McAllister brought up his command at a critical moment, when I was almost surrounded by a force of vast disparity of strength. The defiant bearing of the enemy showed that they regarded their combinations as undoubtedly successful, and wanting only final execution. My command had done everything possible when Colonel McAllister saved them. I can not sufficiently thank him. The recounting of the particulars of his services is unnecessary, as they are too brilliant not to have been made public ere this, but I beg that you will if consistent, commend them at large to the major-general commanding the corps,as I shall take great pleasure in doing.
Your most obedient servant,
T. W. EGAN,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Second Division.
*But see revised statement, pp. 153, 154.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLII, Part 1 (Serial Number 87), pages 295-300 ↩