Hdqrs. Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers,
Near Petersburg, Va., August 30, 1864.
Captain: I have the honor to make the following report of the part taken by the Eighty-fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry,
in the operations at Deep Bottom and other points north of the James River, from the 14th to the 20th of August, 1864:
Colonel Howell being absent North on a short leave of absence, the command of the brigade devolved upon Colonel Pond. On the 13th of August I received orders from Colonel Pond to be ready to move from camp at Bermuda Hundred at sundown of that day. At 11 p. m. I was ordered to march and take the road leading to Deep Bottom, Va. Being on the right of the brigade and division, of course I had the advance of the column. I reached Deep Bottom in the morning about 2 o’clock and was ordered to move out toward the Grover house and bivouac in the woods just in rear of General Foster’s picket line. On reaching that point the men were ordered to lie on their arms and rest until daylight. Just at dawn and before the men had time to prepare breakfast shots were heard in front, and I received orders from Colonel Pond to form line and move forward to support our pickets, who were attacking those of the enemy. After moving forward some distance I received orders to follow the movements of the brigade by the left flank. This I did until I found myself nearly clear of General Foster’s brigade, when I was ordered to halt, communicate with General Foster’s left, and keep even with his line, and informed that the rest of the First Brigade would guide its movements by mine. I immediately found Colonel Evans, commanding the First Maryland (dismounted) Cavalry, the left regiment of General Foster’s brigade, and informed him that I was to keep connection with his left, and for that purpose had moved up to within fifty yards of the New Market road, across which his men were briskly skirmishing with the enemy behind a line of rifle-pits. I discovered here that instead of being clear of General Foster’s left nearly my whole right was in rear of Colonel Evans. This I communicated to Colonel Pond and he told me not to change my position but to support Colonel Evans. Colonel Evans told me that he was ordered to conform his movements to those on his right, and that he was as far advanced at that time as the line on his right. I then made my men lie down in the field, but shortly afterward moved them up to the road even with Colonel Evans’ line and took part in the skirmishing on his left. In a few minutes after I reached the road Captain Brooks, of General Terry’s staff, came up with orders to charge the rebel line. Colonel Evans and I both gave the order at once to advance. The men charged at double-quick with a loud cheer. The other regiments on my left quickly followed the movement and we swept over, under a heavy fire of musketry, the whole line of the rebel pits without any further check until we halted before his main works on New Market Heights. The First Brigade, having been formed in echelon with the right advanced, great numbers of the enemy escaped who would have been taken prisoners if the left had been on a line with the right, but the left, having a dense woods to penetrate and being in the rear at the start, could not reach the enemy in time to make any prisoners or to catch those driven from the right.
As the First Brigade formed the left of the whole line of battle that day, the enemy had a fair opportunity to escape to our left, and great numbers did so. In this affair I lost 1 officer (the gallant and lamented Lieutenant Campbell) and 3 men killed and 10 men wounded. It was now about 10 a. m. The enemy was within his main works and the men were allowed to rest themselves and prepare breakfast. After making several short moves during the afternoon and early part of the night, I was ordered about midnight to get under arms and follow General Foster’s brigade, Rain had set in about dark and continued inces-
santly until shortly before I received orders to move, by which time it had completely done its work and everybody was thoroughly soaked in the “tears of heaven.” I followed General Foster, and, crossing Four Mile Creek, continued the march to the right of the Second Corps, near the crossing of the River and Quaker roads. Next morning, Monday, August 15, I received orders to take up the line of march about 9 o’clock, and moving up the Quaker road halted near Craddock’s, about three miles beyond the middle road, at 1 o’clock. Here I was ordered by Colonel Pond to send forward 100 men as skirmishers to support the pickets of the Second Corps, already in position. I placed Captain Hughes in command, and sent them forward to the line, where they remained until after dark that night. In going out to his position the captain lost 2 men mortally and 2 men slightly wounded. I recalled him at 8 p. m., and he returned without further loss. At this point Major Abraham was wounded by a small bullet from a spherical case-shot and disabled from duty, though not seriously wounded. About 9 a. m. of the 16th I was ordered to get under arms and move to the right. I moved about half a mile and was then ordered to form line of battle and move forward to the support of the right of General Foster, who was in the woods driving the enemy’s skirmishers, preparatory to a charge on his works.
When the enemy’s skirmishers were driven in I found that I was about half a mile to the right of Fussell’s Mill and 100 yards from the enemy’s works, just hidden from his sight by the dense woods. General Foster’s skirmishers were then withdrawn, and I was ordered to form column, doubled on the center, and storm the works in my front. A portion of the Second Corps (Colonel Broady’s brigade) was protecting my right, but was not to take part in the assault. The Sixty-second Ohio was on my left, formed in double column, and to the left of that the Thirty-ninth Illinois, formed in the same way. All of the Sixty-seventh Ohio, under Colonel Voris, which was present (being only two or three companies) was deployed as skirmishers in front. I formed the double column, Captain Hughes having the leading division, acting as lieutenant-colonel; Captain Phillips the last, acting as major. I had just 201 men in the column. Captain Hooker, Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general, came up and gave me Colonel Pond’s orders to take the enemy’s works and immediately form my line of battle to the right, the troops in my rear and on my left to push the enemy along his works to our left, while I was to take care of such as might be on our right. He then reported to me, saying that he would go into the charge along with the regiment, which he did, acquitting himself very gallantly, but unfortunately receiving a very severe wound in the foot toward the close of the action. After communicating the orders I received from Captain Hooker to every officer in the regiment, as I thought (although it seems Captain Hughes did not understand them), I told Captain Hughes to allow nothing to stop him, and to move as quickly as possible, bearing a little to the right if he could avoid the slashing by so doing. At the command “forward ” I advanced. On emerging from the woods into the slashing the enemy poured into our ranks, from a distance of about fifty yards, the heaviest and deadliest fire I have ever witnessed. The first division went down like so many ten-pins. Captain Hughes halted but for a moment, shouting “forward!” to his men. The whole column raising a deafening cheer, in three minutes we were in the midst of the densely packed rebels in their works, fighting hand to hand with such as still had fight in them, and sending to the rear such as surrendered, num-
bering about 200. Three stand of colors were here captured, one by Company B (Lieutenant Dial), one by Company E (Captain Watkins), and one by Private Leonard* (Company F). On my left the Sixty-second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, under Major Kahler, and the Thirty-ninth Illinois, temporarily under the command of Major Butler, of the Sixty-seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, were not a whit behind me.
It was now my concern to form my line to our right, as my orders directed. The lines of the regimental divisions were necessarily much broken by the slashing and the enemy’s fire. The rebels were running in all directions and my [men] nearly crazy with excitement. The enemy was tiring rapidly from a considerable distance on my right directly up the trench, and I saw at once the necessity of forming my line to meet him in that direction, according to my orders. Captain Hughes, as I mentioned before, states that he did not receive my order to stop at the works and form his line to the right. He pushed out after the enemy, and every man of the regiment as last as he came over the works struck out for the first rebel lie saw, and either made him prisoner, chased him off, or entered into combat with him. The rebels fought desperately, this being the only time during the war that I ever knew the Eighty-fifth to use the bayonet in actual collision. Just at that moment Captain Phillips was the only officer near me, the most of them having gone off in the excitement like the men in hot pursuit of the foe. By great exertions I succeeded, with Captain Phillips’ assistance, in collecting about fifty men and forming them to meet the enemy on the right, who, not finding any attack on his front, was already advancing upon us down the trench. Just then General Terry came up, and on my telling him that most of my men had scattered off to the left, he ordered the Seventh New Hampshire to form the line to the right and me to collect my regiment. The general’s staff being absent from him carrying orders, and I being mounted, I offered my services to the general to carry any orders he might have to send and assist him in his disposition of our troops, now coming into the works. He accepted my services and desired me to remain near him. I then directed Captain Philips to collect such men of the Eighty-fifth as he could, and form them at a point I indicated to him within the works. I had exchanged a few words with Captain Mason (assistant adjutant-general to the rebel General Field), wounded and captured by my men, who told me that they had 15,000 men coming down on us from the left. This I communicated to General Terry, and he directed me to inform Major-General Birney of the fact and request re-enforcements. I immediately went to General Birney, and he ordered me to take the Ninth U. S. Colored Troops, Lieutenant-Colonel Armstrong commanding, and relieve my regiment with it. I did so, and guided Colonel Armstrong within the line of works directly on the right of the point at which the Eighty-fifth had stormed them. This was the only colored regiment which came within sight of the rebel works during the fight. By the time Colonel Armstrong got into position the enemy had driven our men back from the left and were swarming down upon the line which Colonel Howell’s brigade had taken and still held. I may just say here that in front of General Foster, who was on the left of the First Brigade, was a ravine with perpendicular banks which it was impossible to scale. Consequently, the general did not go over the enemy’s line directly in his front, but sent his forces, or a part of them, around by the flank into their works.
* Awarded a Medal of Honor.
Our troops now fought valiantly to hold what they had gained, but as there was no attack made at any other point of the line the enemy could give us his undivided attention, and at4 p. m. we left his works to his own possession. As to who left them last there is of course the controversy usual in such cases. I believe there was very little difference between the Seventh New Hampshire, Ninth Colored, Sixth Connecticut, Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania, Sixty-second Ohio, and Thirty-ninth Illinois; but I do know this, that Colonel Little, Eleventh Georgia Regiment, told me the next evening, under a flag of truce, that he did not expect any of us to leave, for, he said, troops that could take those works, manned as they were, could never be driven from any place. He told me he had been ordered to lead off in the effort to drive us out, and, said he, “I will tell you frankly I did not like the job.” About dark General Terry relieved me from duty on his staff and I rejoined my regiment, which had been relieved from the first line, together with the rest of Colonel Howell’s brigade, in order to give an opportunity for rest and refreshment. Shortly afterward I was ordered forward to assist in throwing up a line of defense about 300 yards distant from the enemy. All was quiet during the night, and the next day (17th) I was ordered to occupy a position on our line of works directly in rear of the action of the day before. Here, on my right, were the Seventh and Ninth Colored Regiments, and this is the only line of works which any colored regiment except the Ninth occupied in these operations.
During the 17th and until about 9 p. m. of the 18th nothing of importance occurred. At that time, however, the enemy moved forward a line of battle merely. I believe, to find out whether we were still in the neighborhood, and extending to the right and left some distance. The pickets were driven in and the rebels came on slowly. As soon as some of them appeared in view a sheet of devouring fire swept from Foster’s front far down on the left, along the line of Colonel Howell’s brigade, and extending off on the right along the front of the colored troops died away in the Second Corps. The woods were cleared of the enemy in an instant and our pickets reoccupied their former posts without opposition. Colonel Howell, having returned from the North on the night of the 17th instant, at once assumed command of the brigade, relieving Colonel Voris, Sixty-seventh Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Colonel Pond having been taken sick on the night of the 16th. Colonel Howell, present on the ground, seemed just in his element. Moving up and down the lines in the highest spirits, with a lively and encouraging word for all, he inspired the troops with his own high-toned and ardent courage to a degree that bid triumphant defiance to the whole rebel army.
Nothing of importance occurred during the march to the right of the army on the night of the 18th or the delay there until the night of the 20th, when, after a hard march, I reached the old camp at Bermuda Hundred just at daybreak of the 21st.
The officers and men under my command behaved with the greatest gallantry, showing a patience and endurance under fatigue and a contempt of danger beyond all praise. My especial thanks are due to Captains Phillips and Hughes for their heroic bearing during the whole of the movement. No man could have led the charge of the 16th better than Captain Hughes did or have seconded a charge better than Captain Phillips. Captain Hooker distinguished himself highly by his daring and eager courage and activity, and although only with me for a short time on the 10th rendered me very valuable assistance.
I take pleasure in bringing to notice the gallantry of Private W. Edward Leonard, Company F, who brought off the colors of a Georgia
regiment in the heat of the action, and of Corpl. W. Edward Chick, Company I, who was amongst the foremost in the charge and captured the horse of a rebel officer.
The color bearers, Sergt. J. M. Moore and Corpl. A. M. Ross, selected for bravery amongst brave men, acquitted themselves with most distinguished gallantry.
I have the honor to be, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieut. Col. Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania Vols., Commanding.
Capt. R. O. Phillips,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General, Colonel Howell’s Brigade.
- 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 697-702 ↩