HEADQUARTERS EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
October 31, 1864.
COLONEL: In accordance with orders from the major-general commanding department, I left H. Cox’s field at 5 a.m. Thursday, October 27, with the following troops of my command: the First Division and two brigades each of the Second and Third Divisions and two four-gun batteries of artillery, and marched by the route indicated to the Darbytown road; thence up this road to a cross-road beyond Timberlake’s Store; thence by this cross-road to White’s Tavern, on the Charles City road. Here Colonel West, commanding Cavalry Division, reported to
me that he had occupied the road with his cavalry near the enemy’s works, and that these works were occupied by the enemy. I therefore directed him to hold this road firmly and to extend a line of skirmishers to the Williamsburg road to cover the flanks of an screen my column while on its march thither. Preceded by Colonel Spear’s cavalry brigade, I then moved down the Charles City road about half a mile; thence by a cross-road which passed by Mrs. Hobson’s house through the head of White Oak Swamp to the Williamsburg road, striking this road at Heintzelman’s old line of works on the old Fair Oaks battle-ground, and then proceeded in the direction of Richmond. After passing about one mile and a half on the Williamsburg road I struck the enemy’s breast-works. I found them (as I still sincerely believe that they were at the moment I reconnoitered them) defended by only three pieces of artillery and a small body of dismounted cavalry. I therefore directed an attack to be made by two brigades, one each from the First and Second Divisions. This attack was made, but was met by a heavier fire than the force could stand, the enemy having undoubtedly re-enforced during the interval between the time of my order and the time of attack, which, as is usual in such cases, is too great an interval. I assisted the attack of the two brigades with a rapid and continuous fire from one of my batteries. While this was going on, by direction of the general commanding, I sent Colonel Holman, of the First Brigade, Third Division, across the York River Railroad to try and find the enemy’s left. He found it, as he thought, where the enemy’s line of works cross the New Bridge road. Finding them thinly manned, he attacked and carried the position, capturing two guns, and then, by my order, returned to the main body on the Williamsburg road. His advantage was gained too late in the day to be of any service to us. Shortly after dark I commenced to withdraw my command to the Charles City road, as directed by the general commanding. This march, owing to the rain, the intense darkness, the muddy and narrow roads, was the most fatiguing and trying one that ever I have known troops to undertake; and although my rear guard did not get in until 7 o’clock next morning, it was successfully accomplished. This march, performed as it was after a long march and a fight during the day, establishes beyond a doubt the high character of the troops of this corps.
At dawn on the 28th, having first ordered Colonel Spear to make a reconnaissance to the Williamsburg road, I commenced to place my troops across the Charles City road, and to connect my line with General Terry’s. While doing this, and after Colonel Spear had returned from his reconnaissance, bringing in everything that had been left in the darkness of the previous night, between 9 and 10 a.m., I received an order to return to this position. This order I obeyed in the manner directed. The last of my troops arrived at about 6 p.m.
Nominal list of my casualties have been sent in.
Although in this movement no great battle was fought, there were several instances of good conduct which deserve special mention. These I will bring to the notice of the general commanding in a separate communication. I regret that six colors were lost by the two brigades which attacked on the Williamsburg road, but under the circumstances I attach no blame to these brigades for this loss-they got in too hot a place, for which I and the rapid movement of the enemy’s troops are responsible. I did more than I was ordered to do. I knew that my orders were simply to make a demonstration. I probably
made a more lively demonstration than was intended, but at the same time I did not wish to march sixteen miles and then come back without finding out exactly what the enemy had there.
I send herewith copies of the reports of my division commanders.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding.
Lieutenant Colonel EDWARD W. SMITH,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Dept. of Va. and N. C.
- 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 795-797 ↩