No. 347. Report of Lieutenant Robert M. Hall, Battery B, First U. S. Artillery, of operations October 7.1
HDQRS. HORSE BATTERY B, FIRST U. S. ARTILLERY,
October 9, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by Horse Battery B, First U. S. Artillery, under my command, in the battle of the 7th instant at Johnson’s farm, Va.:
About sunrise, and as soon as skirmishing commenced, the battery was held in perfect readiness for action, the drivers “standing to horse,” and the officers, non-commissioned officers, cannoneers, and horse-holders at their posts. In accordance with instructions from General Kautz, given three days before, I had thrown up two good earth-works close to each other (one for each section), in a very commanding position, between the right and center of the line, which were nearly completed, and which proved of great service in protecting men and horses. My part in the battle began by firing percussion-shell slowly into the woods, about 1,200 yards in my front, where the rebels were massing, and a few minutes afterward they opened a battery nearly opposite to the right section. About half an hour later the enemy’s skirmish line emerged from the woods, slowly driving our dismounted cavalry, and opened another battery on my left. I increased the rapidity of fire, taking the ammunition from the caissons in order to reserve a full supply with the piece limbers, for fighting in retreat, using percussion and time fuse shell and changing to case-shot as the enemy drew nearer. The engagement had been very brisk for about half an hour from this time when the left gave way, Colonel West’s brigade and three pieces of the Fourth Wisconsin Battery (one piece having left the field some time before moving hurriedly to the rear and exposing our left flank. The
enemy now made a fierce attack on the right with a large force, compelling Colonel Spear’s brigade to retreat in haste in front of and past my position, unfortunately yielding to the enemy an important road and exposing our right flank. At the same time the rebel line of battle displayed itself about 700 yards distant, with flags flying, and moved in three columns down a gentle slope for the purpose of crossing a small ravine in my immediate front, through which flowed a narrow stream. My whole energies were at once devoted to this force. I succeeded in breaking and scattering it with case-shot, and when the disordered mass approached within 400 yards gave them showers of canister. In the ravine they received a sweeping fire from the right section, which commanded it, and met a withering fire from the left section as they reached the house formerly occupied as division headquarters.
The enemy were in so much confusion at this time on my left and front that a small infantry force on the flanks would easily have driven them back, and cavalry could not have had a better opportunity to charge and make prisoners. My battery was thus hotly engaged with the enemy alone for full ten minutes after the other troops had retired. The enemy had possession of the roads on both flanks, and were about thirty yards from my front, when I “limbered to the rear” and gained the road successfully, trotting when I entered the woods. I had scarcely proceeded 300 yards, however, when I found the only road obstructed by the pieces and caissons of the Fourth Wisconsin Battery, which had left the field about fifteen minutes before. Had this road been kept clear there is no doubt that my battery would have got off safely. Unhappily, however, it was impossible to extricate it, and the pieces had to be spiked and abandoned as the rebels were close and in hot pursuit. All the material and horses which could have been brought away were secured. While I deeply regret the loss of the battery, it is due to all under my command, to my commanding general, and to myself to say that it was utterly impracticable to have prevented this occurrence, or to have made greater exertions than were made to save it, and that it was certainly not lost through any fault, negligence, want of forethought, coolness, courage, or military skill on the part of myself or any one under my command. While endeavoring to save material and horses, Lieutenant Leahy, two enlisted men, and myself were cut off from our column. The rebels were within twenty yards, but by dashing into the woods and crossing an almost impassable swamp, Lieutenant Leahy and I barely escaped capture, the enlisted men being less fortunate, as they are now missing.
During the engagement I fired 300 rounds of shell, 54 of case-shot, and 31 canister.
The casualties (11) were 6 enlisted men missing, 4 of whom are killed or wounded, and Lieutenant Leahy and 4 enlisted men wounded and taken to hospital from the field; and 41 horses mostly killed or badly wounded and abandoned, and 9 wounded brought away. But for the timely erection of the works, the casualties must have been very heavy.
I cannot speak too highly of the gallant and skillful manner in which Lieutenant M. Leahy handled his section, continuing his exertions after being wounded; the energy of Sergt. F. Gerth, in command of the left section; the unflinching manner in which all the non-commissioned officers and enlisted men remained at their posts, not one retiring until ordered, the rapidity and precision of fire while the enemy moved from about 700 yards until within thirty yards from the battery; the alacrity with which
they caught the spirit and importance of the occasion, and the zeal and enthusiasm with which they delivered the death-dealing canister with shouts of defiance; and I trust the general commanding the division will kindly remember that they detained a large portion of the enemy by a galling fire for full ten minutes after the other troops had left the by a galling fire for full ten minutes after the other troops had left the field (save Colonel Spear and a few dismounted cavalry), and perhaps contributed in some degree to weaken the subsequent attack on the Tenth Army Corps.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. M. HALL,
First Lieutenant, First U. S. Artillery, Commanding Battery.
Major THEODORE H. SCHENCK,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. General, Cavalry Div., Army of the James.
- 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 845-847 ↩