No. 318. Report of Brigadier General Gilman Marston, U. S. Army, commanding First Division, of operations October 27-29.1
HDQRS. FIRST DIVISION, EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
October 30, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by this division during the recent operations:
In accordance with instructions previously received, the division moved from their encampment at Cox’s farm, in light marching order, with three days’ rations, at precisely 5 a.m. on the morning of the 27th instant, the First Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Raulston commanding, being in the advance, followed by the Second Brigade, Colonel E. M. Cullen commanding, the Third Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson commanding, being in the rear. The command moved on the Kingsland to the New Market road, and then across the Darbytown to the Charles City road, which we struck at White’s Tavern. Moving down the Charles City road about half a mile, the column turned to the left in the direction of the Williamsburg road. Colonel Spear’s cavalry brigade was in the advance. The enemy’s vedettes were met a short distance from the Charles City road, but hastily retired at our approach. We struck the Williamsburg pike, about 1 p.m., near the Seven Pines; a small cavalry force of the enemy appeared on our front. I ordered the division sharpshooters’ corps, Captain Goss, and the One hundred and eighteenth New York Volunteers, Major Dominy commanding, to be deployed as skirmishers, Captain Goss,, with the sharpshooters, being on the right, and Major Dominy, with the One hundred and eighteenth New York Volunteers, stretching about 200 yards to the left of the Williamsburg pike. The skirmishers advanced promptly, meeting but little opposition. I ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Raulston to deploy his brigade in line, the center on the road, and advance in support of the skirmishers. The Second Brigade was formed in column of divisions and the Third marching by the flank. The line advanced through the woods to the open field, beyond where the enemy’s works were discovered, and there halted. Some time was here spent in reconnoitering the enemy’s works and endeavoring to ascertain their strength. In accordance with orders, I then moved the First Brigade to the right and ordered the Second Brigade to move up and deploy into line, its right joining with the left of the First Brigade and its left resting on the Williamsburg road. The Third Brigade was formed in column of divisions and held in reserve about 100 yards in rear of the center of the line.
During this time Major Dominy, commanding the skirmish line, reported to me that there appeared to be a considerable force in his front, and that re-enforcements were arriving, which facts I reported to the brevet major-general commanding the corps. About 3 p.m. I was ordered to have one of the brigades of my division in readiness to charge the enemy’s works on the right of the road, the brigade to charge in single line of battle. I was informed that a brigade of the Second Division would charge at the same time on the left of the road, and that the movement would be supported by a battery that would be posted on the road. I selected the Second Brigade for this work, and gave the necessary instructions to Colonel Cullen, first moving his brigade about fifty yards to the right, in order that it might be protected from the premature bursting of our own shells. About 3.30 the order was given to advance, and Colonel Cullen at once moved his brigade to
the assault. The line advanced steadily under a light artillery fire until within musket-range, when it met a sharp fire from the enemy’s infantry. Colonel Cullen charged to within a short distance of the fortifications, when, from his heavy losses and the strength of the enemy, it was found impossible to carry them. As the Second Brigade advanced to the charge, I moved the First Brigade forward some 200 or 300 yards, under cover of the woods, for support. I reported the result of the movement to Brevet Major-General Weitzel, commanding corps, when I received an order from him to withdraw, Colonel Cullen’s brigade bringing off the wounded. I ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Raulston to throw out a strong line of skirmishers along the edge of the woods, with instructions to keep up a sharp fire, in order to cover the withdrawal as much as possible. I sent Lieutenant Cook, of my staff, to give the order for the return of the Second Brigade. He went to the right of the line, and soon the troops began to return in small squads. He communicated the order in person to nearly the whole line, but did not find Colonel Cullen. He saw a few men still farther to his left, but across a plain in full view of the enemy’s line, to whom it was next to an impossibility to go. Lieutenant Cook was not warranted, in my opinion, in exposing himself to more, when the men were retiring as fast as possible from all part of the field. After the return of the Second Brigade I was ordered to form a second line, somewhat retired from the position my division now held. The First and Third Brigades were brought into line about 100 yards in rear of the position occupied by the battery during the engagement, the left resting on the road. The Second Brigade was placed in reserve; a short skirmish line covered my front and right flank. Just after dark I received the order to retire with my division, leaving the picket-line and the officer in charge who reported to General Heckman. I returned by the same road we advanced over in the morning, and encamped in line of battle on the left of the Charles City road, about half a mile above White’s Tavern.
The next morning several changes were made in the troops of the division. During the forenoon I received the order to retire by the nearest road and take up my original position along the line of works near Chaffin’s Bluff. During this movement the division was halted for about an hour on the Darbytown road by order of General Butler, conveyed to me by one of his staff officers. The division arrived at its present position about 5 o’clock on the evening of the 29th of October.
I regret the loss of many brave officers and men and three stand of colors, that were lost in the charge of the Second Brigade.
A list of casualties has already been forwarded.*
I have the honor to forward the report of brigade commanders.
I have the honor to be, captain, very respectfully,
Captain D. D. WHEELER,
A. A. G., Eighteenth Army Corps.
*Embodied in table, p. 150, 151.
- 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 802-803 ↩