No. 333. Report of Colonel Alonzo G. Draper, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, commanding Second Brigade, of operations September 29.1
FIELD HOSPITAL, EIGHTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
October 6, 1864.
GENERAL: On the morning of the 29th ultimo my brigade was massed in column in rear of the woods near Ruffin’s house before day-break. We were directed to lie down and wait for further orders. After the Third Brigade had preceded us for half a mile or more I received an order to form line of columns and advance. We advanced immediately across the open field, leaving Ruffin’s house on our left. On this field we received a skirmish fire from the woods. When nearly down to the ravine I received an order from Brigadier-General Paine to move my brigade to the right, as “we were getting the worst of it there.” We immediately moved by the right flank and again by the left (by the proper evolutions), and formed at the ravine, where the troops lay down in line. We were here subjected to the fire of the New Market batteries, which did little damage. After lying here about half an hour I was ordered to form my brigade into line of double columns and assault the enemy’s works in front. The Twenty-second U. S. Colored Troops were to skirmish on our left. This they did for awhile, bud did not continue to the works. After passing about 300 yards through young pines, always under fire, we emerged upon the open plain with shouts, losing heavily. Within twenty or thirty yards of the rebel line we found a swamp which broke the charge, as the men had to wade the run or stream and reform on the bank. At this juncture, too, the men generally commenced firing, which made so much confusion that it was impossible to make the orders understood. Our men were falling by scores. All the officers were striving constantly to get the men forward. I passed frequently from the right to the left, urging every regimental commander to rally his men around the colors and charge.
After half an hour of terrible suspense, by starting the yell among a few, we succeeded in getting them in motion. The entire brigade took up the shout and went over the rebel works. When we reached the palisades the rebels fell back to the woods on the side of Signal Hill. We again assaulted and drove them out. I immediately formed for defense, and sent a courier to Brigadier-General Paine for re-enforcements, which arrived in about twenty minutes to a half hour. In this assault we had no supports. Lieutenant Samuel S. Simmons, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, acting aide-de-camp on my staff, abandoned me shamefully at the ravine, and went to Deep Bottom without my knowledge. I respectfully recommend that he be dismissed for cowardice.* His true name is De Forest, and he has been once before dismissed the service. This I have lately learned from officers to whom he has confessed it. All the other officers and men of the brigade, except Captain Strong, brigade commissary, whom I shall mention in a separate report, displayed the greatest courage. A few may be enumerated for particular acts; Lieutenant Colonel G. W. Shurtleff, Fifth U. S. Colored Troops, though repeatedly wounded, still strove to lead his regiment; First Lieutenant Edwin C. Gaskill, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, rushed in front of his regiment, and, waving his sword, called on the men to follow. At this moment he was shot through the arm, within twenty yards of the enemy’s works; First Lieutenant Richard F. Andrews, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, had been two months sick with fever and was excused from duty. He volunteered, being scarcely able to walk. He rode to the thicket, dismounted, and charged to the swamp, where he was shot through the leg; First Lieutenant James B. Backup, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, excused from duty for lameness, one leg being partially shrunk so that he could walk but short distances, volunteered, hobbled in as far as the swamp, and was shot through the breast; Lieutenant Bancroft, Thirty-eighth U. S. Colored Troops, was shot in the hip at the swamp. He crawled forward on his hands and knees, waving his sword and calling on the men to follow.
When the brigade were making their final charge, a rebel officer leaped upon the parapet, waved his sword and shouted, “Hurrah, my brave men.” Private James Gardiner,# Company I, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, rushed in advance of the brigade, shot him, and then ran the bayonet through his body to the muzzle. Sergt. Major Richard Adkins, Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops, distinguished himself by his gallantry in urging on the men. Many sergeants of the Thirty-sixth distinguished themselves in urging on the men, but I have not their names. The brigade numbered about 1,300 effective men when it made the assault. We lost here 13 commissioned officers and 434 enlisted men, at the lowest estimate. Went in with thirty-two line officers and lost 11. At Laurel Hill the loss of the Fifth U. S. Colored Troops increased the figures to 16 officers and 537 enlisted men. Another staff officer, my inspector-general, wounded next day, makes a loss of 17 officers.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. G. DRAPER,
Colonel Thirty-sixth U. S. Colored Troops.
Major General BENJAMIN F. BUTLER,
Commanding Army of the James.
*Lieutenant Simmons was dismissed the service for absence without leave, by Special Orders, Numbers 75, War Department, Adjutant-General’s Office, February 15, 1865.
#Awarded a Medal of Honor.
- 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 819-820 ↩