No. 159. Report of Bvt. Colonel Ralph Ely, Eighth Michigan Infantry, commanding second Brigade.1
HDQRS. SECOND BRIG., FIRST DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS,
April 6, 1865.
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part
performed by my brigade in the occupation of Petersburg:
Pursuant to instructions from General Willcox my command was disposed for a charge at 4 a.m. on the 2nd instant. Two columns were formed for assault. The Second Michigan Veteran Volunteers, supported by the Twentieth Michigan Volunteers, was to assault on the left of the brigade; the First Michigan Sharpshooters, supported by the Forty-sixth New York Veteran Volunteers, was to assault on the right of the line. The Fiftieth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and Sixtieth Ohio Volunteers were held in reserve. At 4.05 a.m. I received orders to make the best demonstration possible. I immediately gave the necessary orders, and a brisk skirmish commenced along my whole line. The First Michigan Sharpshooters, Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols commanding, advanced rapidly and occupied the rebel line, where it rests on the Appomattox. These gallant men did nobly, but they were forced back by superior numbers, with a loss of forty-one killed, wounded, and missing. The total loss of the brigade in this affair was eighty-six. Sunday evening I directed that one of my staff should remain on the line during the night and watch closely the movements of the enemy. About 1.30 a.m. I notified the commanding officers of the First Michigan Sharpshooters and Second Michigan Veteran Volunteers to hold themselves in readiness to make a demonstration on the right of my front at 4 a.m. and perhaps sooner. I received orders at 2.30 through Captain Keyser to make a demonstration immediately, as a deserter had come in on Colonel Robinson’s front and reported that the rebels had all left except the picket-line. I ordered Brevet Major Lounsberry, assistant adjutant-general, to awaken the command immediately and order the First Michigan Sharpshooters and Second Michigan to report to him on the picket-line for further orders. I instructed the major to form the two regiments as quickly as possible, to throw out scouts and a heavy skirmish line and occupy the main rebel works if possible. I directed that so soon as the balance of the brigade reached the abatis after the occupation of the main works the advance should move rapidly, but cautiously, forward and plant a color upon some public building in the city.
At 3.10 a.m., all being in readiness, the advance moved rapidly forward and occupied the main works of the enemy, when the boys gave three hearty cheers, reformed their lines, partially broken by the obstacles they had passed, and pressed forward. The advance pushed forward as rapidly as was possible under the circumstances, as it was necessary to keep scouts well out in front and on the flanks.
The ground was unfavorable for rapid movement, yet the flag of the First Michigan Sharpshooters was hoisted on the court-house at 4.28 a.m., and the flag of the Second Michigan on the custom-house a few moments later.
The left of my brigade moved slowly because of the necessity of keeping connection with the troops on my left. My whole command reached the vicinity of the court-house before 6 a.m. So soon as I saw my advance leave the rebel works and proceed forward I ordered the
pioneers to clear the road for artillery. Captain Stone, Fifth U. S. Artillery, followed the pioneers, and reached the court-house with two pieces just after daylight. At 4.25 a.m. Major Lounsberry was met in front of the court-house by three citizens bearing a flag of truce and a communication from the mayor and common council tendering the surrender of the town, and requesting that persons and private property be respected. But the gallant major could listen to no proposition until the “old flag” was floating from the highest point of the court-house steeple and proper pickets had been established in the vicinity, and patrols sent out to pick up stragglers, about 500 of whom we captured, many of them with arms; also 7 flags or colors. The major then assured the gentlemen that we came in the name of liberty and in the defense of the right, and that they need have no fear, for all would be well with them so long as they remained at home and conducted themselves properly. While the brigade was in the city all commands were implicitly honored and vigorously executed.
In his report the major says:
During the advance the command moved in magnificent style. The men were most completely under the control of their officers; not a man straggled, not a man left his place. The conduct of both officers and men was such as to reflect on our cause and cast a luster of glory over the profession of arms.
What was true of the First Michigan Sharpshooters and the Second Michigan also supplies truthfully to the rest of the command. I inclose herewith the “original” surrender of the city.
I remain, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brevet-Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
Bvt. Major WILLIAM V. RICHARDS,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
PETERSBURG, April 3, 1865.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT,
Commanding the Armies of the U. S., or
THE MAJOR-GENERAL COMMANDING U. S. FORCES,
IN FRONT OF PETERSBURG:
GENERAL: The city of Petersburg having been evacuated by the Confederate troops, we, a committee authorized by the common council, do hereby surrender the city to the U. S. forces, with a request for the protection of the persons and property of its inhabitants.
We are, respectfully, your obedient servants,
W. W. TOWNES,
CHAS. F. COLLIER.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLVI, Part 1 (Serial Number 95), pp. 1047-1048 ↩