Numbers 82. Report of Colonel John Pulford, Fifth Michigan Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, of operations August 14-17.1
HDQRS. SECOND Brigadier, THIRD DIV., SECOND ARMY CORPS, August 23, 1864.
MAJOR: In accordance with orders received from headquarters Third Division, Second Army Corps, dated August 21, 1864, I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by this brigade in the recent operations on the north side of James River:
The troops of this brigade arrived at Deep Bottom, Va., and disembarked at daybreak on the morning of the 14th instant. At about 10 o’clock the same morning we were moved a short distance across the plain from James River, and massed in column of regiments near a piece of woods, in which position we remained the rest of the day and the following night. On the 15th we were temporarily detached from our division and ordered to report to the Tenth Corps for duty. The brigade was attached to the Second Division, Tenth Corps, commanded by Brigadier General William Birney. We had no sooner halted after having reported than the brigade was ordered to make a reconnaissance to the extreme right of our position toward Charles City road, with instructions to “push on and reach the road if possible.” At 2 p. m. the brigade was placed in position. The First U. S. Sharpshooters were deployed in front as skirmishers, while the line of battle consisted of the following-named regiments in the order given from right to left: Eighty-fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, First Regiment Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, and One hundred and fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. This line was supported on either flank by the One hundred and forty-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers and Fifth Regiment Michigan Veteran Volunteers, respectively, massed in column by division, while the Ninety-third Regiment New York Volunteers was also massed in column by division behind the center of the line of battle. The Fifty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers was deployed as flankers to protect the left flank of the brigade, while the right flank was protected by cavalry. After these dispositions were made the skirmishers moved forward and engaged those of the enemy, who were deployed only a short distance in a piece of woods and one mile and a half from Charles City road. They were closely followed by the line of battle and supports and were driven back from their position to their line of battle, which, after a sharp engagement of short duration, was completely routed and we pursued them closely as far as Charles City road, where we took up a position in accordance with or instructions, and where we found them strongly intrenched about 800 yards distant
from the road. Here we remained until nearly dark the same evening, when we were ordered back three miles to General Birney’s division, where we arrived soon after dark and massed in column of regiments for the night.
Our loss in this engagement was as follows:
Prisoners captured during the day, none.
The same evening an order was received from headquarters Second Division, Tenth Corps, to detail 800 men to relieve some colored troops in the front line and occupy the works during the night. Accordingly the Fifth Michigan, Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers, One hundred and fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and One hundred and forty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers were selected for the purpose, the detail being commanded by Colonel John Pulford, Fifth Michigan Volunteers. On the morning of the 16th instant we were well prepared for action, which belief led the commander of the Tenth Corps to attach us to the attacking column. For this purpose we were ordered to report to General Terry, commanding division, Tenth Army Corps, for duty. We had scarcely reported when the order of attack seemed to have been changed, as the assaulting column was to be that of General Foster, which occasioned another transfer of the Second Brigade and another report. The brigade was used in this attack to protect the right flank of the assaulting column. For this purpose the First U. S. Sharpshooters and Fifth Michigan Volunteers were deployed as skirmishers on and extending back from the right flank of General Foster’s division. This skirmish line was supported by a line of battle consisting of the Ninety-third New York Volunteers, Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers, One hundred and forty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, and One hundred and fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers. The Fifty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers and First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery were massed in column by division in rear of the line of battle to extend the skirmish line to the right, or to support the line of battle, as the case might be. After these dispositions had been made the front lines of the attacking columns moved forward and we conformed to their movements by marching by the left flank. We had not advanced far before the engagement commenced. The enemy’s pickets were driven in and the front line confronted their rifle-pits, which were soon assaulted and carried. This advance occasioned the deployment of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery on the right of the Fifth Michigan Volunteers as flankers. From the rifle-pits the lines again moved forward and soon became severely engaged with the enemy in their earth-works. The left of our skirmish line also became engaged. A brisk and hotly contested action ensued,
which, after a determined assault by our lines, resulted in the capture of their earth-works. In front of these works a ravine extended in an oblique direction from left to right, across an open field, a distance of about 250 to 300 yards. The enemy still occupied this ravine and the crest beyond. To drive them from this position the balance of this brigade was ordered up to make a charge and drive them out. Accordingly those regiments which were not on the skirmish line (Ninety-third New York, Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers, One hundred and forty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, One hundred and fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Fifty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers) were marched up by the left and formed in front of these earth-works in two lines, the second line consisting of the Fifty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers. We formed on left by file into line at nearly right angles with the earth-works and parallel to the ravine which we had to charge. From this point we charged across the open field and into the ravine, driving the enemy before us. The enemy fought stubbornly and the position was hotly contested. In this advance the brigade took 3 commissioned officers and 100 enlisted men of the enemy prisoners. We held our position in the ravine for nearly an hour, until we were completely flanked, receiving a fire on both flanks and in front, and as we had no supports we were compelled to fall back to the captured earth-works, which were now occupied by troops from the Tenth Corps. In this action and after we had fallen back to the earth-works, Colonel C. A. Craig, One hundred and fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, commanding brigade, was mortally wounded through the head by a musket-ball while he was in the act of giving an order about reforming his brigade. His gallantry and efficiency on the field had been remarked by all and the brigade felt severely his loss.
The losses of the brigade in this action were as follows:
As soon as we had fallen back to the earth-works the brigade was ordered to the rear to reform. The command now devolved on Colonel John Pulford, Fifth Michigan Volunteers, who was informed and immediately assumed command. Within three-quarters of an hour’s time the brigade was reformed about 600 yards in rear of the front lines and reported to division headquarters for duty. In consideration of the last desperate charge that was made by the brigade, far beyond the advance of any other troops, of the stubborn resistance to the fire on both flanks and in front, of the final charge of the enemy on the ravine, which compelled it to fall back, and the capture of a portion of the command by the enemy, all told of the discipline of the brigade which
allowed it to be reformed in three-quarters of an hour. But very few stragglers were in the rear and the troops were well organized. After lying in the rear about one hour we were again placed in position on the front lines, our left connecting on the right of the Seventh U. S. Colored Infantry. While in this position the enemy made a demonstration on our right flank, which compelled us to refuse a portion of the brigade on the right, consisting of the Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers, after which they were repulsed. We remained in this position until late in the evening of the 16th, during which time a line of earth-works was constructed in rear of our lines. After they were completed, our line was withdrawn from the advanced position and occupied the line of earth-works that had been prepared for us. In the meantime the First U. S. Sharpshooters had been relieved from the skirmish line on the flank, and ordered to report to headquarters Tenth Corps for special duty. The Fifth Michigan Volunteers and the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery remained on the skirmish line and the remainder of the brigade occupied the front line of earth-works until the morning of the 17th, when the brigade was relieved from duty with the Tenth Corps and ordered to rejoin our division.
To more fully set forth our conduct while attached to the Tenth Corps I herewith subjoin a copy of an order issued at headquarters Second Division, Tenth Corps, at the time of being relieved:
ORDERS.] HEADQUARTERS BIRNEY’S DIVISION, TENTH ARMY CORPS,
August 17, 1864.
In accordance with orders from corps headquarters the Second Brigade, Third Division, Second Army Corps, is hereby from duty with this division and will report to its own division commander for duty. The brigadier-general commanding cannot part with this brigade without testifying to his high sense of its gallantry on the field while under his command. He was an eye-witness of its stand in the rebel works, which was worthy of its old reputation for hard fighting.
By order of Brigadier-General Birney:
Captain and Assistant Adjutant-General.
The brigade rejoined the Third Division, Second Corps, in the afternoon of the 17th instant, and massed in column by regiments, where we remained until the evening of the 18th, when we were conducted to the north side of James River, en route for the vicinity of Petersburg, at which place we arrived on the 19th. Here our troops were placed in position (mostly on picket) in the front lines, connecting on our right with the First Brigade, Third Division, and on our left with the troops of the Fifth Corps.
I cannot close the report without personally mentioning the officers of the staff of this brigade. I find, too, that not only one should be mentioned by name, but the whole of them who were so active during all the operations. The names of Captain F. E. Marble, acting assistant adjutant-general; Captain William H. Loyd, assistant inspector-general; Captain S. S. Hill, acting aide-de-camp, and Lieutenant S. D. Newcomb acting aide-de-camp, shall ever be remembered as very gentlemanly and efficient officers, who were conspicuous for their bravery by remaining in the most dangerous situations to attend to the welfare and prompt duties of the brigade.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
Major JOHN HANCOCK,
Asst. Adjt. General, Third Division, Second Army Corps.
- 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 362-365 ↩