No. 182. Report of Captain David F. Ritchie, Battery C, First New York Light Artillery.1
HDQRS. BATTERY C, FIRST NEW YORK ARTILLERY,
April 5, 1865.
SIR: In compliance with circular dated headquarters Artillery Brigade, Ninth Corps, April 4, 1865, I have the honor to transmit the fol-
lowing report of the part taken by my battery in the action resulting in the capture of Petersburg, including the time between the 30th ultimo and the morning of the 3rd instant:
My battery occupied the small work in rear of Fort Sedgwick, and up to the morning of the 2nd my men had been constantly employed in repairing the embrasures, ramps, platforms, &c., the fort being almost useless when I entered it. At about 5 o’clock on the morning of the 2nd instant I received an order from Brevet Major Ricketts to take my cannoneers into the rebel works, which had then just been captured, and man such rebel guns as I might find there. I immediately marched my four detachments of cannoneers at double-quick through one of the front embrasures of fort Sedgwick across the plain directly up the rebel fort, immediately in front of fort Sedgwick, and which was numbered by the enemy, Battery 27. I found in this work five 12-pounder rebel guns, three iron and two brass, one of the former, and one of the latter were partially disabled but in the course of the day both were put in working order. The remaining three were at once manned and worked with good effect on the enemy’s line. There were between 200 and 300 rounds of ammunition in the fort, all of which the enemy’s batteries.
The guns were much exposed to the enemy’s fire, but the men behaved splendidly, working the guns with great accuracy and rapidity, and finally silencing the enemy’s battery in Fort Virginia which consisted of two 8-inch siege guns. This battery was not more than 500 yards distant, and annoyed us severely with grape, during the early part of the day.
Soon after taking possession of the rebel guns the enemy brought seven pieces of light artillery into position on different parts of his rear line. These together with a rifle battery about 900 yards to the right opened on us to cover a rebel charge, which was partially successful. We were also under a heavy mortar fire all day. After expending nearly all the rebel ammunition in the fort I was supplied by the way of Fort Sedgwick and was at no time entirely out, although obliged several times to cease firing so as not to exhaust the supply. It was very difficult to get ammunition up to the work as the space intervening between Fort Sedgwick and the captured fort was covered by the enemy’s sharpshooters and skirmishers, and was also swept by the enemy’s artillery. Most of the ammunition had to be brought up one or two rounds at a time. In the course of the fight one of the guns was disabled by the guns was disabled by the breaking of the cap squares, another was burst open at the re-enforce, apparently from a defect in the manufacture. At no time during the fight were these less than three guns in working order, and most of the time there were five.
The fight was a most exhausting one, the men having been at their posts nearly all of the previous night and without anything to eat till near noon, when I had coffee brought up for them. It was necessary to maintain a constant fire, as the enemy proved every cessation to open on us with their batteries and musketry, yet the cannoneers labored at their pieces even after they were almost exhausted. The guns were only partially covered by a small traverse, which sheltered the men when not firing.
The casualties in my battery during the day amounted to but four, two killed and two wounded.
The general conduct of my officers and men was most praiseworthy. When ordered to cross the plain to the enemy’s work in the morning not one faltered, even some of the infantry whom their officers were
vainly endeavoring to urge forward, took courage when they saw the artillerymen charging past them with nothing but hand spikes and reamer staves and jumped up and went forward.
I cannot do justice without mentioning the names of my officers, First Lieutenant George E. Ketchum and Second Lieutenant David B. Cooper. Both behaved with coolness and gallantry and performed excellent service.
My First Sergt. David Cole displayed great coolness and courage by attending to the supply of ammunition, crossing the field several times under a hot fire. Other enlisted men who particularly distinguished themselves were Sergt. Gustavus A. Rice (wounded), Corpls. Samuel T. Mallet (who sighted and fired the first gun), George S. Bennett, and Jacob S. Cole; Privates Cleary, Mooney, Webster (wounded), and Thompson. Quite a number of my cannoneers were new men, but soon became veterans in conduct.
During the day I was re-enforced by ten men with a sergeant and corporal, from Battery B, First Pennsylvania, under charge of First Lieutenant Rice; about a dozen men with a sergeant and one or two corporals from the Twenty-seventh New York Battery, under First Lieutenant Teller, and two detachments with their non-commissioned officers, under charge of Second Lieutenant Page, from the Fifth Massachusetts Battery. Captain McClelland, of B, First Pennsylvania, was present part of the day and rendered good service. Captain McClelland and Lieutenant Page were slightly wounded.
To all the officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates of Battery B, First Pennsylvania, Twenty-seventh New York Independent Battery, and the Fifth Massachusetts Battery, who assisted to work the guns in the rebel fort, too much praise can scarcely be awarded. I have mentioned them in the order which they came to the fort, and I wound further mention particular instances of gallantry and coolness, but will leave this for the officers of the respective batteries.
Between 3 and 4 p. m. the rebels made a charge and nearly succeeded in recapturing the fort, on account of the inexcusable retreat of quite a large number of the infantry which occupied the fort. The infantry for a short time prevented the working of the guns, by ruining over the cannoneers at their posts, but enough stuck to their guns to soon get them working again, and the panic was finally checked, but not till after an exhibition of the most disgraceful cowardice and inefficiency on the part of many of the officers of the one-year regiments. There appeared to be a total lack of discipline in some of the regiments. it is my opinion that any time during the forenoon the enemy could have been driven out of the second line of works by a vigorous charge.
The arrival of General Collis’ brigade and their good conduct in charging up to the fort at the time of the panic contributed to restore the courage of our troops and to check the enemy’s advance.
It is impossible to give the exact number of rounds fired from the captured guns during the day, but I have set the approximate figure at 1,800 rounds.
About 4 p. m. Bvt. Major C. A. Philips, Fifth Massachusetts Battery, came up to the fort and by virtue of his rank assumed command remaining until the morning of the 3rd instant.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. F. RITCHIE,
Captain, First New York Artillery, Commanding Battery C.
Lieutenant THOMAS HEASLEY, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
- 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. 1080-1082 ↩