Numbers 81. Reports of Brigadier General P. Regis de Trobriand, U. S. Army, commanding First Brigade, of operations August 12-20, October 26-28, and December 7-12.1
HDQRS. FIRST BRIGADE, THIRD DIVISION, SECOND CORPS, August 21, 1864.
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the active operations of the First Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps, under my command, on the north bank of the James River, from the 13th up to the 20th instant:
On Saturday, the 13th, my command having moved the day before to City Point, was embarked on board of five transports, and with the rest of the flotilla carrying the division started at 10 p. m. for Deep Bottom, where we landed on Sunday, the 14th, at daybreak. As soon as my command was massed near the bank of the river I received from General Mott, commanding division, the order to deploy two regiments forward the left across Strawberry Plains, where I had already posted a picket-line, and to see if the enemy occupied the woods in front of us and some works erected by us during a former expedition. We found some small posts of the enemy on the edge of the woods,
which opened on us, but we had no difficulty in driving them back through the woods with four regiments, soon after occupying with my brigade the whole of the line of breast-works alluded to. A new line of skirmishers was formed at once, and under the able command of Colonel E. R. Biles, Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, who had already led the advance, the enemy was driven across open fields and woods to his main position under the protection of a very strong line of works. Our picket-line forming the extreme left of the line of battle and resting on some impenetrable swamps, was maintained close to the enemy although pressed hard by them in the afternoon, one of my regiments having been sent at once to strengthen it. On Monday, the 15th, I relieved early in the morning the picket-line of General Miles’ brigade (First Division), and made some demonstrations during the day so as to draw the enemy’s attention to my front, and prevent his sending re-enforcements to its left, where an attack was anticipated, which, however, did not take place until the following morning. On Tuesday, the 16th, having re-enforced my front, in compliance with orders from division headquarters, with two more regiments before daybreak, I opened fire on all my line to keep the enemy on the alert and to force them to strengthen their line while General Birney’s attack was progressing on our right. Our demonstrations were renewed several times during the day on different points, assisted materially by a steady shelling of the enemy’s position by Rickett’s (Pennsylvania) battery and one of the gun-boats in the river. They secured to us the possession of two heavy mortars and a magazine of ammunition, which, however, exploded by accident without injuring any of our men.
No active operations took place on the 17th and the picket-firing ceased in the afternoon during a suspension of hostilities under a flag of truce.
On the 18th (Thursday) the day had been very quiet along my line, when, about 5 p. m., a strong attack of the enemy on our right soon extended to our front, evidently to create a diversion and to keep us engaged where we were. The demonstration of the enemy twice repeated was twice repulsed without difficulty, and I had just posted my reserves to be ready for any emergency, when, about night, we received the order to withdraw, my picket-line being soon after relieved by the Second Division. After crossing the pontoon bridges on the James and Appomattox Rivers during the night, we halted near Dunn’s house in front of Petersburg on Friday morning, the 19th, and soon after relieved Potter’s division (Ninth Corps) on the extreme front in a position occupied previously by the Fifth Corps, and where we are still stationed.
I beg respectfully to state that during that period of operations all my officers and men have done their duty well.
The list of casualties has been forwarded.* I regret to have to record among them the names of Colonel D. Chaplin, First Maine Heavy Artillery; Captain G. W. Tomlinson, Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Captain William E. Mapes, One hundred and twenty-fourth New York Volunteers, all dangerously if not mortally wounded.
I have the honor to be, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. DE TROBRIAND,
Brigadier-General of Volunteers, Commanding.
Major JOHN HANCOCK,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Third Division.
*See p. 118.
HDQRS. FIRST BRIGADE, THIRD DIVISION, SECOND CORPS, October 30, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my brigade in the active operations on the Boydton road on the 26th, 27th, and 28th instant:
We broke camp on the 26th and 2 p. m. near the Southall house, and reached the same day a point on the Weldon railroad, where we bivouacked about three-quarters of a mile from Fort Dushane. On the 27th we started at about 4 o’clock in the morning, my brigade following the Second Division, along the Halifax turnpike and the Vaughan road till we halted at some distance of ——- Creek, the passage of which was forced by the Second Division and some defensive works carried without our assistance. My command relieved soon after the last brigade of the Second Division, which was pushing its advance toward a steam-mill in the woods by the main road (Armstrong’s Mill), Pursuant to orders from brevet major-general commanding division, I sent forward two regiments deployed as skirmishers-the Second U. S. Sharpshooters and the Seventy-third New York-which had no difficulty in driving the enemy away from an open field through which we had to pass in order to reach by a side road the mill, where we met the Second Division again. From that point the brigade marched through the woods to the Boydton pike, the possession of which I was directed to cover on our left flank by a line of skirmishers thrown forward at a considerable distance toward the White Oak road, and a curved line of battle facing to the left and rear (west and south, across the pike). The skirmish line was formed by the One hundred and twenty-fourth, Eighty-sixth, and Seventy-third New York, re-enforced soon after by the Second U. S. Sharpshooters, and connecting on the right with the Second Division, and on the left with the cavalry pickets. The line of battle was formed by the Ninety ninth and One hundred and tenth Pennsylvania, the Twentieth Indiana, the Fortieth New York, the First Maine Heavy Artillery, and Seventeenth Maine, extending across the open field on both sides of the road, and covered on both wings by dense pine woods. Such was our position under a brisk shelling, which, however, did not do any to my men, when in the afternoon, the successful advance of our force for several miles having extended our line to a length which could but weaken its solidity, the enemy charged vigorously the point of connection of the Fifth Corps with our Second Brigade, broke it, and pushing its advantage, threatened to cut the Second Division and two of our brigades from the balance of our operating forces. The danger could not be mistaken and was rapidly increasing, as that portion of our troops near the point of attack was giving away on both sides. I at once ordered a change of front to the rear by countermarching my six regiments at hand so as to face the enemy, and by order of brevet major-general commanding division, formed a new line along the road we came by, which I had to defend at all hazards. On the left I then formed the First Maine Heavy Artillery along the Boydton pike, in conformity with direct orders from major-general commanding Second Corps. The line was scarcely completed when the order to charge was given on my right by some officer from Second Corps headquarters, and with a will onward went the Fortieth New York, Twentieth Indiana, Ninety-ninth and part of the One hundred and tenth Pennsylvania, cheering lustily. I joined them at once and up we went, driving the enemy before us, and clearing the whole of the open field, where they were pressing our men. In the meantime, on the Boydton pike, another officer from Major-General Hancock’s staff (Major
Mitchell, as reported to me) had led the most of the First Maine Heavy Artillery and of the One hundred and tenth Pennsylvania, which rushing forward succeeded in saving two pieces of artillery from the hands of the enemy, in capturing one rebel battle-flag (which, however, in one way or other, passed afterward in the hands of a sergeant of the Seventeenth Michigan), and in securing a number of prisoners, which cannot be estimated less than 150, the One hundred and tenth Pennsylvania alone claiming about 100 taken in a clump of pine trees, independently of those captured in and around the barn by the First Maine Heavy Artillery and the three other regiments. I beg respectfully to insist upon these details, as some erroneous reports were made about that part of our attack, the exact truth of which I only ascertained afterward. So the credit due to the First Maine Heavy Artillery was wrongly attributed to the Seventeenth Maine, the only one of my regiments which was not seriously engaged with the enemy. And again the exclusive credit of the capture of prisoners and recapture of guns was awarded to the First Maine Heavy Artillery, while a large portion of the One hundred and tenth Pennsylvania had a good share, if not the largest share in it.
To return to the right wing: The enemy driven away by our charge from the open field retreated through the woods, threatening for a moment the right flank of my regiments engaged, but having been ordered by brevet major-general commanding division to fall back and resume the line which we had formed before our repulse of the advancing foe, the enemy disappeared gradually from our front and abandoned any further attack on that point. Not so on our left, which was now protected only by the four regiments mentioned above and forming a picket-line on the edge of a dense pine wood. The enemy posted on the opposite side of a large open ground, resolved to drive them and to find what was behind. They advanced, therefore, with great determination through the field, but although some points of our line were at first thrown in some confusion the exertions of officers and steadiness of the veteran soldiers succeeded in rallying the new men, and finally the rebels were repulsed at all points and fell back to their previous position baffled in their attempt. So the pickets held their ground until after dark, when by want of instructions two of the regiments, deprived of their commanding and field officers wounded, misunderstood an order to keep a close connection on their right, and reformed in line in that direction. Even there the communication had become so extremely difficult through the woods in consequence of the condition of the weather and darkness of the night that it was deemed impossible to re-establish the line, which in my opinion was rather fortunate, as it is most doubtful if we would have succeeded in bringing it back safely after the withdrawal of our main force. As it was a new line was formed along a road nearly parallel and much more accessible, which allowed me as general field officer of the day for the Second Corps to bring back during the night the whole of the pickets with the exception of three officers and twenty-six men from the Seventy-third New York. These, according to all probabilities, having not followed the first movement of the balance of the line lost their way in the woods and were captured during the night, an occurrence which repeatedly took place among the enemy’s as well as among our own men during that evening, several on both sides having been captured, who soon escaped in the dark. On the early morning of the 28th I reported with the rear to Major-General Hancock, who ordered me to join the division at Davis’ house, which was promptly done.
To resume in a few words what my brigade accomplished on the 27th:
On the right five of my regiments, at a critical juncture, repulsed a most dangerous attack of the enemy, threatening to cut off the Second Division, and two of our brigades secured back 2 guns already lost, captured 1 battle-flag and from 150 to 200 prisoners; while on the left my four other regiments, deployed as skirmishers, held their ground against a serious attack, and were equally successful in repulsing the enemy, although the circumstances did not admit their securing any trophies but some prisoners.
In all parts of my command the officers and men behaved bravely and did their duty well, the veterans showing a good example to the new men.
My heavy loss in officers (19 killed, wounded, and missing) bears sufficient testimony to their gallantry, and it would be difficult without the risk of some injustice to discriminate here among them. I still make one exception in favor of Captain Finnegan, One hundred and twenty-fourth New York, who fell mortally wounded on the picket-line, when his noble exertions had succeeded in maintaining his men in spite of the loss of their two field officers and two of their lieutenants.
The officers of my staff did their duty bravely and efficiently. Among them Lieutenant S. Bonnaffon, Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania, one of my aides, was seriously wounded while gallantry charging among my right regiments, and Lieutenant Shoup, Second U. S. Sharpshooters, ambulance officer, volunteering his services as acting aide, remained with me in the thickest of the fight as long as his duties did not absolutely require his presence with the ambulance.
R. DE TROBRIAND,
Captain J. P. FINKELMEIER,
HDQRS. FIRST BRIGADE, THIRD DIVISION, SECOND CORPS, December 18, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the First Brigade, Third Division, Second Corps, under my command, in the recent operations on the Weldon railroad:
On Wednesday, the 7th instant, we broke camp at daybreak and marched during the day on the Jerusalem plank road, crossing the Nottoway River on a pontoon bridge in the evening near Freeman’s, and bivouacking in the fields on the south bank. Thursday, the 8th, resumed the march and passed through Sussex Court-House and Coman’s Well, reaching the Weldon railroad at sunset near Jarratt’s Station. Friday, the 9th, destroyed the railroad during the day from Jarratt’s Station toward Three Creeks, and during the evening between Three Creeks and Belfield. Saturday, the 10th, marched back toward Sussex Court-House and bivouacked about three or four miles before reaching it. Sunday, the 11th, recrossed the Nottoway River and bivouacked four or five miles this side of the pontoon bridge, along the Jerusalem plank road. Monday, the 12th, returned to our lines before Petersburg and encamped near the Halifax road. As the brigade was not engaged with the enemy the operations, limited to a march of six days in the enemy’s country, with destruction of railroad, houses, barns,
cotton, &c., do not afford ground for mentioning in particular anything else but the remarkable alacrity and skill of the men in their welcome work of devastation.
R. DE TROBRIAND,
Brigadier-General of Volunteers, Commanding.
Captain J. P. FINKELMEIER,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Third Division.
- 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 357-362 ↩