Camp near Williamsburg Road, January 1, 1865.*
We remained in this position [New Market Heights-July 30] without pickets well out in front, enjoying freedom from the presence of the enemy, until the morning of 13th [14th] of August, when the enemy assaulted, and after three efforts succeeded in driving in my pickets capturing and killing some of them. It was here that Captain Beaty, of the Palmetto Sharpshooters, one of the most efficient officers of this brigade, fell mortally wounded. The enemy in his front were successfully repulsed, he was slain, and some of his men captured by the enemy, who had driven in the pickets on our left and came up in rear of his lines. I mention this as due to the gallant officers and men who were captured there. Our picket-line was finally driven in, pretty badly mutilated. The enemy opened a furious cannonade upon our main line, which, however, did not last long. Our skirmishers were advanced, and they threatened his left, resting near the Yarborough house, which perhaps induced him to withdraw. While this was occurring here it seems that the enemy were moving heavy columns up the Darbytown and Charles City roads, which necessitated a sliding of the whole division to the left. I was ordered to follow and keep up connection with the brigade on my left. This was done, and night found my brigade with its right resting upon the Drill house, extending along New Market Heights beyond the Libby house.
On the next morning the affair on the left became more serious. The enemy succeeded in taking a portion of our line about Fussell’s Mill. My already-attenuated line was depleted to furnish force to drive them out. Two of my regiments-the Fifth South Carolina, Colonel Coward, and Second South Carolina Rifles, Colonel Bowen- were sent down without delay and (I was told by others than themselves) rendered most effective assistance in driving the enemy away and recovering our line. While this was going on on the left the enemy assaulted my line near the Libby house, by were easily repulsed by the picket-line, aided by the artillery on the heights. In the afternoon I received orders to take command of the whole line from the left of my brigade to Chaffin’s farm. I found on this line the City Battalion, detachments from Scales’ and Thomas’ brigades, and Johnson’s old (Tennessee) brigade, numbering in all about 1,000 men. I went out to the picket-line to discover what troops were there, and reached Cox’s farm, Signal Hill, where I had been informed the picket-line was established, in time to meet the enemy coming in by way of Double Gates, but could see or hear nothing of our pickets, who ought to have been on this part of the line. I learned afterward that the line for some distance to the left of Double Gates to the river was occupied by detachments from the City Battalion and Johnson’s brigade. They unquestionably behaved badly-ran away from their posts, and could not give any intelligible report of what had occurred when they were found, which was not until some time after dark. Knowing little or
nothing of the country in front, and only that the enemy were advancing up the Varina road, I immediately moved Johnson’s brigade from Four-Mile Creek up to B. Aiken’s house to secure Chaffin’s farm from disaster. Night closed in before I found the pickets and without my learning anything definite of the enemy. During the night, however, I found that the picket-line had been disturbed only between where it crossed the Kingsland road and the river, and had it adjusted and ready for an advance at early dawn. I moreover discovered by means of scouts that there was no enemy in advance of their usual lines on the left of the Varina road. At daybreak the next morning the pickets on the right (from Johnson’s brigade) advanced and found the enemy on Signal Hill, throwing up intrenchments. I received orders to dislodge them if I [could]. During the night three regiments from Pickett’s division reported, and were put in position near the B. Aiken house, in all about 600 men. Harris’ brigade was found near the B. Aiken house, and with these troops to hold the line I thought that I could drive the enemy away with mine, and was making dispositions with this view when I received orders to suspend operations until further orders. About sunset received orders to proceed, but it would have been impossible to arrange for it by dark. The navy opened upon the enemy during the evening. Johnson’s brigade advanced against the hill early the next morning and found it abandoned; 5 or 6 prisoners of various colors and nationalities were captured, several muskets, and a lot of entrenching tools also. The navy claims the credit of driving them from the position, and doubtless aided in producing the result. Something, however, is due to the sharpshooters of Johnson’s brigade, who hugged closely the works of the enemy all day and effectually prevented their completion. All of the unburied dead left on the hill were killed by minie-balls, and there were several white. Many of the negroes were known to be killed, and it was supposed they occupied the graves found there. Sharpshooters were thrown well out in the field below Signal Hill, so as to fire upon their line of communication with Dutch Gap, and it was this, in my opinion, that influenced them to leave at night. Our old lines were re-established; remained quiet until I was ordered away.
On 22nd of August I was ordered to move across the river at Drewry’s and take cars at Rice’s Station for Petersburg; was held in reserve about the lead-works for several days; moved on to a ravine near Reservoir Hill, and worked at night on fortifications. On the —- moved down the Boydton plank road some five or six miles to meet some movement of the enemy, but he retired, and we were ordered back that night. Marched about two miles, when we were halted and ordered into camp, where [we] remained the next day night, and on the next morning moved back, and were put into camp on Captain Whitworth’s farm, near Petersburg. We remained here until September 29. While encamped here built a line of works along the Squirrel Level road.
On the morning of the 29th of September received orders to take cars for Rice’s Station, which we did, and moved thence, across the river at Drewry’s to the Osborn turnpike. Reached there just before dark; started out from the works near New Market road on reconnaissance, but were ordered back, as night was coming on and went into camp, but about 10 p.m. received orders to move down Osborn turnpike toward Battery Harrison, which had been taken by the enemy. We reconnoitered as well as we could at night, and were making dispositions
to attack when orders came to move to the rear of Fort Gilmer and rest. We reached Fort Gilmer a little before daybreak; rested until about 8 a.m. and were ordered back to the vicinity of Battery Harrison. The preliminaries were arranged for an assault, and the assault ordered at 2 p.m. In the meantime the enemy had thrown up a retrenchment making Battery Harrison an inclosed work. I was to support Anderson’s brigade. I occupied a rugged line on the right of Anderson. He was to move out to a ravine in his front and wait for me to file out of my rugged position and form in rear of him. (All the details are known to the major-general, but I mention this point for a purpose which will appear presently.) I gave full and explicit instructions to my brigade. Every officer and man knew exactly what he was to do. Anderson did not stop at the ravine, but passed on. To give my promised support and carry out my part in the arrangement it was necessary for my brigade to file out at the double-quick, and, without halting, or even moderating to quick time, to move by the right flank in line against the enemy. I deplored this and felt that my men were not having a fair chance, but it was too late to give new orders and instructions. All that was left me to do, I thought, under the circumstances, was to try to carry out the agreed-upon arrangement, and this [I] did. My brigade was ordered to follow about 100 yards in rear of Anderson’s, and if they stopped to pass over them and charge the enemy’s works. My orders were obeyed, and my dead close under the enemy’s works attest their honest efforts to achieve the object for which they were given. My right regiment (Colonel Walker) was streaming along at a run, unable to gain its position on the line of the brigade. This I halted for an instant, closed its ranks, and put it on the left against a little redan on the line a short distance in front of the enemy’s retrenchments, and it was carried and much consternation produced among the enemy, who left one face of Fort Harrison-that looking toward B. Aiken’s house-and did not occupy it again; but it was too late to help the main assault-that had failed; but it was a diversion, and more- a sort of distraction to the enemy, which saved the lives of many of my retiring men. My shattered ranks were ordered to the rear to reform. I dispatched a staff officer to General Hoke to explain my situation and to say that I would make another effort in conjunction with him if he would assault. My four repulsed regiments, rallied by their gallant colonels, moved up, sadly reduced in numbers, but with firm and solid tread, as well in hand and obedient to orders as at the beginning. General Hoke assaulted, but so feebly, and was so quickly repulsed, that I did not put my regiments in again, but took up a position to support the troops in the redan in case they were assailed by the enemy. After dark, when all my dead and wounded except those immediately under the works of the enemy were brought off, the troops were withdrawn to the line of the morning. We failed to take the fort, and there is, therefore, no occasion for praise; but while I think it right that success should be, as it is, the measure of the soldier’s merit, I would be ungrateful to the living and false to my glorious dead if I did not express my admiration of their heroic conduct in this action. They failed to take the fort, but it was because the difficulties from beginning to end of the attack were too much for human valor. Our loss here was severe, summing up in killed and wounded 377; some of the wounded are prisoners. I took into this action 1,165 muskets, 129 officers.
The next day we remained quiet, but at dark were advanced to a line that had been selected during the day by the engineers and intrenched.
We remained here strengthening our works until the night of the 6th of October, when we were relieved by General Moore and moved to the Darbytown road.
Early on the morning of the 7th we moved down the Darbytown road and struck the enemy’s outposts near Pleasants’ house. The Fifth South Carolina Regiment (Colonel Coward) was deployed and drove them to their works over old line. My brigade formed on the left of and perpendicular to the road, some 600 or 800 yards from the works. In a short time, in conjunction with Anderson’s brigade, formed on the right of the road, we moved forward. I succeeded in driving them out of the works in my front, and turned upon the flank and rear of those in Anderson’s front and drove them from a part of it-indeed, from all of it finally-but was temporarily checked by a flank work. They had no artillery, on the line, but a battery was playing on us from a position some 400 yards in rear of their line and in an extension of the line of this flank work. This embarrassed our attack, and being concealed by a slight ridge from view I was unable to see what was there. I therefore directed one regiment against the battery, which threw it entirely in rear of the line, and as it rose the ridge advanced the brigade and carried the works. With scarce a halt at the works I pressed on at the enemy and artillery, now seen running across the field for near a mile, when I halted and adjusted my ranks, now somewhat deranged by the succession of charges. The enemy were completely routed. I succeeded in capturing one piece of artillery; the rest got away from me, but was made an easy prey by Gary’s cavalry, who did overtake and capture it. I here received orders to march to the right and connect with the division, which was moving, up the works in a line perpendicular to them. This was done in due time, but with great difficulty, through dense thickets. The whole advancing, in line struck the enemy near the New Market road in heavy force and behind log breast-works. My brigade advanced to from 50 to 100 yards of the work (my line was not parallel to that of the enemy, my right was nearer to them than the left), and I thought at one time that the enemy were leaving my front. I could not see, but their fire slackened. The brigade on my right, however, did not come up, and the enemy in its front poured its fire into me. The brigade on my left fell back and retired entirely from the contest. This somewhat disturbed my left. I was myself on the right and was wounded a few moments before, but seeing this movement to the rear went toward the left of my line to find it, too, beginning to break away, doubtless because they were abandoned, for the fire was not near so heavy as on the right. I ordered them to fall back to the crest from which we started. The fire on the right was most terrific, but fortunately the balls ranged high and my loss was less than I feared it would be. My regiments were in line thus from right to left-Walker’s on the right; Steedman’s, Hagood’s, Bowen’s, and Coward’s on the left.
My casualties sum up in killed and wounded 190. Nearly half of them occurred in the right regiment (Walker’s); more than half in my two right regiments (Walker’s and Steedman’s). I lost some of my best officers and men. Captain Quattlebaum, Palmetto Sharpshooters, a most faithful officer, who has signally distinguished himself in this campaign, was here shot dead upon the field. Lieutenant William T. Norris, Fifth South Carolina Regiment, a noble man and most worthy officer, was, I fear, mortally wounded, and fell into the hands of the enemy.
Lieutenant Lewis, Palmetto Sharpshooters, had his leg broken and was captured. He has been heard from; is doing well, but his leg was amputated. The service has sustained a loss in these three officers.
My command behaved to my satisfaction on this occasion, and officers and men have my thanks for their gallant and spirited conduct.
To my staff I am indebted for their prompt and efficient services. I was deprived of the valuable services of my assistant adjutant-general, Captain Sorrel, early in the action. His horse was killed under him, and he was so much injured by the fall as to necessitate removal to the rear. Captain Lyle, acting inspector, and Lieutenant Judge, aide-de-camp, acted with usual gallantry and rendered most useful assistance.
I left my brigade on the crest from which this last charge was made, and did not get back to it until the 20th of November. During my absence it had been engaged twice, on both occasions successfully resisting assaults of the enemy. You are referred to Colonel Walker for a report of these actions. I found it on my return on a new line between the Charles City and the Williamsburg roads fortifying. Since we have been engaged in erecting winter quarters and strengthening our works until the 10th of December, when we were ordered out to the front on what turned out to be a reconnaissance of the enemy’s line about Deep Bottom. Found on New Market Heights, between the Libby house and Big Springs, a large, isolated fort, with ditch and strong abatis around it. This was an outpost, and not the right of their line. Their right rested on the marsh of the Four-Mile Creek, below the Kingsland road. An immense area of forest about the Drill house had been felled. The fort and these lines seemed to be thinly manned, but obstructions in they way of felled timber, abatis, &c., were immense. A little after dark we were ordered back to camp.
In this day’s work I lost 11 men and 1 officer in killed, wounded, and missing.
We remained quiet in camp, fortifying and completing winter quartermasters, until the night of the 22nd, when we were ordered off in haste to Gordonsville. I left camp at 11.30 p.m., and started on the first train from Richmond with two regiments (Second [Rifles] and Fifth), but did not reach Gordonsville until 10 a.m. I moved my two regiments out with all proper speed on the Madison turnpike, when I was informed by a staff officer that General Lomax was confronting the enemy. I found him about two miles out, and the enemy drawn up from 600 to 800 yards in his front. There was in one place a solid mass of them, covering, probably, two or three acres of ground. I told him that I had two or three regiments of infantry at hand to assist him, and suggested that as we could not shift as rapidly as horsemen that he put us in the position most important to be held. He replied that the position on the Madison turnpike was the all-important point, and pointing to the massed enemy, said, “The are now preparing to charge.” I immediately put my regiments in position, one on either side of the road, readily put my regiments in position, one on either side of the road, relieving the cavalry who moved out on the flanks. We were all ready now, and as they were slow about the charge, I sent out a company of sharpshooters into a tongue of wood about 150 yards in front of our lines to kill some of them. About this time one of my regiments, by some mistake and without my orders, opened a scattering fire upon them. Before I could stop it they made the mass of the enemy deploy and retire out of range. It (the mass) was not more than 600 yards from my line, and I might have opened fire upon them with effect, and would have done so but for the hope and expectation that they would
charges us. In a short time they withdrew, taking the road toward Liberty Mills. Some of [our] sharpshooters followed them and took possession of the field; found 3 wounded Yankees and 2 or 3 dead horses and men; also several bee-gums just opened, but not robbed. The rest of the brigade arrived during the evening and night.
On the evening of the next day the whole brigade took cars for Richmond but owing to the bad condition of the road did not all reach Richmond until 9 p.m. on 25th of December.
I am happy to report not one single casualty on this expedition.
We returned to our old position on the line, and have remained quiet up to date.
Our total present at the beginning of the campaign (including quartermaster’s, commissary, and surgical departments) was: Officers, 150; men, 1,866; aggregate, 2, 016. Our loss during the campaign sums up 176 killed and 1,094 wounded and 94 missing; aggregate, 1,364. Total present to-day (including quartermaster’s, commissary, and surgical departments), 132 officers, 1,688 men; aggregate, 1820. We have lost many of our noblest and best officers and men.
Accompanying this is a list of casualties since the battle of the Wilderness.
The brigade as a whole has, in addition to the stirring gallantry of the fight proper, displayed a fortitude [and] endured the fatigues and dangers of this most arduous campaign with a staunch and sturdy courage, the contemplation of which fills me with gratitude not unmixed with pride.
While I feel that it is impossible in a report stretching over so much of action to do justice to the many individual, instances of meritorious conduct that from time to time occurred, I cannot close without special mention of Colonel Hagood’s (First South Carolina) regiment and Colonel Coward’s (Fifth South Carolina) regiment. These officers have distinguished themselves by their valor and skill on the field and general good management of their commands throughout the campaign. Also Captain J. B. Lyle, Fifth South Carolina Regiment, who, in command of his company, then of his regiment, and afterward as acting assistant adjutant-general on my staff, was everywhere conspicuous for his courage, energy, and zeal.
- 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 878-883 ↩