No. 279. Report of Captain Edgar A. Nickels, Eleventh Maine Infantry, of operations August 3-4.1
CAMP ELEVENTH MAINE VOLUNTEERS,
Deep Bottom, Va., August 4, 1864.
SIR: In accordance with Special Orders, Numbers 49, dated headquarters Eleventh Maine Volunteers, August 3, 1864, I have the honor to report that I reported to Captain Sanderson, Third Pennsylvania Volunteer Heavy Artillery, at 8.30 p. m., and was immediately ordered on board gun-boat Stepping Stones. Proceeded up the river and landed on the north side of the James River, this side and near the fleet, the object of the expedition being to march to Wilcocks’ [Cox’s?] Mill, situated across Dutch Gap, on the bank of the river, about three-quarters of a mile, to destroy the engine by means of a torpedo which had been furnished by the Navy Department. We moved across the open field in the following order: Company K, Lieutenant Small commanding, deployed as skirmishers; Company F, Lieutenant Holt, formed the right column, marching by the flank twenty paces in rear of the right wing of skirmishers; Company I, the left Lieutenant Weymouth commanding, and forty men of the Third Heavy Artillery Pennsylvania Volunteers the center, which guarded the party in charge of the torpedo. Our skirmishers met the enemy fifty yards this side of the mill, and a charge was ordered. The right of the line drove the enemy 200 yards with but little firing. Strong guards were stationed on the several roads leading from the mill toward the enemy, and a search immediately made for the engine, which was not found, but signs discovered which indicated plainly that it had been removed but a few hours previous. Two large iron wheels and shafts were found and the torpedo placed near them, the lanyard attached, and every man ordered out of danger of the explosion. After making three unsuccessful attempts,
the friction primer failing each time, the fact was reported to the commanding officer, who ordered it withdrawn, and the whole force to return to the boat. In falling back, Corporal Gould, of Company K, having been ordered to go tot the left of the line and notify a small party sent out to protect the flank of our movements, got lost. Thinking that he had or would soon find his wary to the bank of the river, no search was made, and we immediately re-embarked and sailed for Deep Bottom, where we disembarked at 3.30 a. m.
Had this expedition been conducted by a sober infantry officer, I think it would have amounted to the capture of quite a number of pickets without the loss of a man. The company of Third Pennsylvania Volunteer Heavy Artillery behaved very shamefully, and were very badly commanded. After my skirmishers had gained the mill, a volley was fired into them from the rear from where the said company lay. The officers seemed entirely inefficient in the command of men in action, rendered so by intoxicating liquors, and a want of understanding infantry tactics.
I am, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. A. NICKELS,
Captain, Eleventh Maine Volunteers, Commanding Company C.
[Colonel H. M. PLAISTED.]
- 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 743-744 ↩