HDQRS. FIRST CORPS, ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA,
———, —-, —.
COLONEL: On the 19th of October, having partially recovered from my wound received at the battle of the Wilderness, I reported for duty and assumed command of the troops on the north side of the James River, consisting of the Local Defense troops, commanded by Lieutenant-General Ewell, Hoke’s division, Field’s division, and Gary’s brigade of cavalry, as well as Pickett’s division, holding the lines from the James River to Swifth Creek. General Ewell’s command was in position in the trenches between the river and Fort Gilmer, General Hoke between the New Market and the Darbytown roads, and General Field took up the line to the Charles City road, both along the line of works which had been thrown up, connecting Fort Gilmer with the exterior line of the Charles City road. General Gary was picketing the White Oak Swamp, the crossings of which had been obstructed, and had the main body of his cavalry to the left of and back of the outer line of works.
On the 25th of October I was advised of the crossing of heavy bodies of the enemy to the north side of the river, continuing until the morning of the 27th. General Field was directed to throw a strong regiment across the Charles City road, and every effort was made to strengthen my works and dispose of the force at my command so as to cover the long line I had to defend as well as possible.
Early on the morning of the 27th it became evident that the enemy was moving to my left, and about 9 o’clock heavy skirmishing, amounting in some places almost to attacks, was opened along my line from the New Market to the Charles City roads. Under cover of this fire the enemy pushed a column through the White Oak Swamp, cutting out the obstructions at Hobson’s Crossing (a point about one mile and
a half below the line of works), and driving off the cavalry pickets stationed there. Anticipating such a move, being convinced the skirmishing between the New Market and Charles City roads was but a feint, and that the real move was to flank our position by crossing the swamp and taking the unoccupied works on the Williamsburg and Nine-Mile road down which they would then sweep, I had ordered Field and Hoke to move by the left flank along the works, leaving only strong lines of skirmishers on the fronts they were leaving, and ordered Gary to the Nine-Mile road to hold the works at that point. This movement was made rapidly and continued till the left of Field rested just beyond the Williamsburg road. Johnson’s and Haskell’s battalions of artillery were moved with the infantry and placed in suitable position along the line. When the head of the column reached the Williamsburg road the enemy were already advancing a strong line of skirmishers on the works at that point. They were handsomely repulsed by our advance by a portion of General Gary’s command, and the column took position along the old line of works.
Hardly had Field located himself when an attack in very heavy force was attempted on his front over the open ground on each side of the Williamsburg road. This was repulsed with ease and small loss to ourselves, but with heavy loss to the enemy in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Major Johnson’s artillery assisted materially in this success. No other effort was made by the enemy at this point, and only a heavy artillery fire kept up for about an hour. In the meanwhile Gary had moved a part of the way over to the Nine-Mile road, when he sent word to me that no that road, and that his scouts reported none as being about. He was then ordered to return and attack the force in front of Field on the flank. While in the execution of these orders he received information that the enemy were attacking the small force picketing the Nine-Mile road, and he withdrew his command to their assistance. Moving with promptness he arrived only in time to see his small squadron driven out of the salient at that part of the line by the heavy ordnance of the enemy’s skirmishers, supported by a large force in line of battle and about 100 yards from the works. A piece of artillery had been captured. Immediately forming his lines at right angles with the works, Gary charged down them taking the enemy in flank, routing them and recapturing the piece of artillery. This was accomplished with such rapidity that our loss was but slight.
The fruits of these successes, so creditable to the officers and men engaged, and resulting iin the complete defeat of the most determined effort to take Richmond on the north side, amounted to 11 stand of colors, captured in the assault of Field’s position, and about 600 prisoners, most of whom were taken through the personal exertions of Captain Lyle, of the Fifth South Carolina. During the night the enemy withdrew their forces to their original positions.
For a more detailed account of the operations of the day I have the honor to refer you to the accompanying reports of the subordinate commanders.
I am indebted to the member of my staff for efficient services rendered during the day.
I am, colonel, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant Colonel W. H. TAYLOR,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of Northern Virginia.
- 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 871-872 ↩