No. 164. Report of Colonel Charles Wheelock, Ninety-seventh New York Infantry, commanding Second Brigade, of operations July 30 – August 30.1
HDQRS. NINETY-SEVENTH NEW YORK STATE VOLS.,
Near Weldon Railroad, Va., September 4, 1864.
CAPTAIN: In accordance with orders from headquarters Third Division, Fifth Army Corps, I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by the Second Brigade from July 29, 1864, to August 3-, 1864, viz:
On the 30th day of July, 1864, orders came to have the brigade in line at 3 a. m., and to be ready to march to any point when called, which was promptly complied with. At 5 a.m. the mine in the Ninth Corps was sprung. The brigade remained under arms until the firing ceased along the line, and returned to camp near Fort Crawford. On the 1st day of August the brigade relieved the Third Brigade, Colonel Hartshorne, from picket in front of the Jones house, remaining until August 15, when we went into camp near the Suffolk, railroad, remaining until August 18, when, at daylight, the brigade moved to the Weldon railroad, a distance of some eight miles on the route taken. Day very warm; men suffering much from the extreme heat. Reached our destination about 11 a. m., the brigade forming in column of regiments, half a mile north of the railroad. At 2 p. m. advanced northwest into the woods, which was very dense, for one-third of a mile. We there met the First Brigade falling back, with a heavy fire in front from the enemy’s skirmishers. At this juncture Colonel Coulter, who had returned form leave of absence on account of wounds, and had been in command of the brigade for the three days previous, being yet unwell, I assumed command of the brigade for the three days previous, being yet unwell, I assumed command and at once advanced Companies D, F and B of the Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers as skirmishers; at the same time deployed the brigade into line extending to the right, with the Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers faced to the right on the right flank. the First Brigade here reformed on my left. the whole line then, by order of the general commanding, advanced under a heavy skirmish fire from the enemy. After driving back the enemy half a mile, and 100
yards beyond the right of the Second Division, resting on the railroad, I found my line within 100 yards of the enemy’s intrenchments. I gave the order to lie down, which was very fortunate, for at that moment we received the fire from the enemy’s whole line, doing but little harm, the fire mostly passing over us. We remained un this position, throwing up intrenchments, on the night of the 18th.
On the morning of the 19th, at daylight, I found that the enemy had fallen back from their works into the corn field. The Second Brigade was marched to the right and commenced building new works, the First Brigade taking the intrenchments we had vacated. Heavy skirmishing was keep up most of the time until 2 p. m., when a simultaneous attack was made on the left of the First Brigade, or the right of picket-lines on our right, and without any notice came upon our right flank and rear. At the same time the whole First Brigade was captured or fallen back from the intrenchments, which left my right and left without any protection. To add to the confusion, our own batteries were shelling every part of the woods and with great accuracy, striking our line of works, and, to aid the panic, the Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers on my left was ordered by a staff officer to march by the left and leave the works. I reached the left in time to halt the remainder of the brigade and ordered every man over the works, and to lie down to avoid our own shells. After waiting in this position a few moments a column of the enemy appeared in our rear (now become our front) with orders to surrender, but with a few volleys they withdrew with the loss of many of their men, running into our lines, with some thirteen of our own men who had been captured. I at the same time ordered my right flank to form and march double quick to cut off some part of the enemy’s column, but we only succeeded in capturing a few men and a stand of colors, as the woods was so dense that we could not see over forty or fifty yards. Getting the men again into the works we remained until all was quiet except our own shells, and to avoid them I thought int prudent to leave the works, and did so by forming in line and marching cautiously to the open field. Reforming the brigade, was ordered by General Crawford to retake the intrenchments, which was immediately done without any loss., Remained there until the next day, when the brigade was relieved by a portion of the Ninth Corps. We then marched to the rear of the Brick [Blick?] house and threw up intrenchments, remaining there until the 21st, being under a heavy fire from the enemy’s battery through the engagement of that day. 22nd, moved into the works in front of the Yellow House. That night made heavy traverses. 23rd, brigade engaged all day in tearing up and destroying railroad, 24th, afternoon went into camp half a mile to right of railroad. 25th, received orders to march to the right about one mile. After reaching that point we commenced building a fort, but were recalled and marched to the left one mile from the Yellow House, threw up new intrenchments, working all night. 26th, made heavy abatis in front and remained in this position until the 29th.
I wish to state that the prisoners captured from the Second Brigade were mostly from their leaving the works without orders. The Ninety-fourth, however, lost mostly by the attack on the right flank. The three right companies, being mostly new men, surrendered without any effort to repulse the assault, and Major McMahon, a brave officer, being wounded, they became panic-stricken at the first fire from the enemy. The Ninety-seventh New York being ordered to leave the works, and without my knowledge, and doing so lost some 80 men and 6 officers, when, if they had remained, would not have lost a man.
The commanding officers of regiments, and, in fact, all of the officers and men generally of the brigade, acted most gallantly and praiseworthy, except in the case of the new recruits on the right of the Ninety-fourth New York Volunteers, who were taken by surprise and must be considered with some degree of allowance.
The casualties of the brigade were as follows: The Eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, 2 enlisted men killed, 10 wounded; 1 commissioned officer and 71 enlisted men missing. Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers, 1 commissioned officer and 4 enlisted men killed, 3 commissioned officers and 10 enlisted men wounded, 6 commissioned officers and 87 enlisted men missing. Ninety-fourth New York Volunteers, 1 enlisted man killed, 1 commissioned officer and 3 enlisted men wounded, 6 commissioned officers and 131 enlisted men missing. Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1 commissioned officer killed, 3 enlisted men wounded, and 28 enlisted men missing; total, 2 commissioned officers and 7 enlisted men killed, 4 commissioned officers and 26 enlisted men wounded, 13 commissioned officers and 317 enlisted men missing.*
On the 29th General Baxter returned and relieved me of the command of the brigade.
I have the honor to be, captain, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Ninety-seventh New York Volunteers.
Captain GEORGE MONTEIGH, Assistant Adjutant-General:
P. S. – The conduct of Captain Doolittle, acting assistant adjutant-general, and Lieutenant Manchester, aide, are worthy of mention, doing all that brave men could do, but being taken prisoners early in the action their services were lost. Both succeeded afterward in escaping.
* But see revised statement, p.124.
- 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 509-511 ↩