No. 34. Report of Lieutenant Colonel James J. Smith, Sixty-ninth New York Infantry, of operations March 25.1
HEADQUARTERS SIXTY-NINTH NEW YORK VOLUNTEERS,
March 27, 1865.
CAPTAIN: In compliance with orders, I respectfully submit a statement of the operations of this regiment through the day and during the action on Saturday, March 25, 1865.
Early in the morning we, in obedience to orders, struck tents, loaded our wagons, and got under arms on the color front. About 9 o’clock the regiment was marched up and deployed inside of the breast-works in front of the First Brigade. About 2.15 p. m. the regiment was marched out, and a line formed along our old line of picket-pits and facing the woods; ten minutes afterwards the line moved forward and halted about twenty paces in front of the Kenner house. About 4 o’clock the line was again, advanced and halted just in rear of the line of picket-pits abandoned by the enemy during the morning. About this time part of the First brigade, then in our front, moved to the left and the enemy commenced to take demonstrations of an attack on our front and on our right flank; and, in obedience to orders from the brigade commander, I threw out my right and left flank companies as skirmishers – the left company covering our front, and the right company covering and encircling our right flank, which was otherwise unprotected. The enemy’s skirmishers being very close, our skirmishers commenced firing as soon as in line. Soon afterward the enemy’s bugles sounded a charge, and from the right of our skirmish line the enemy was seen to advance in line, in very force, at the double-quick, and directly in our front. Our skirmishers immediately in front were driven in slowly, fighting stubbornly every foot of the ground. Captain Mulhall, commanding at this point, received a severe wound, falling some distance in front of our line, when the skirmishers (the left company) approached within twenty paces of our line. In obedience to orders, I called them in, and they formed on our left; soon afterward, the enemy having approached within about 200 yards, we opened fire. During this time the right company, under the command of Captain Murtha Murphy, whit with excellent judgment selected a good position for his men, poured in a good fire of the enemy, who were much exposed in his front; the first line of the enemy broke, and another line was immediately advanced, and also broke, but was also closed up again, and advanced as far as a swamp in our front, where they commenced firing. A heavy line of the enemy was then advanced on our skirmishers on the right, who, in consequence, had to fall back, and made a bold stand behind some old works, on a line with our right flank, in the field to our right. The enemy about this line discovered that this was our weakest [point] and commenced to pour in some of their troops. Not being able to drive Captain Murphy’s company from his position, or fearing that a line of battle was there in reserve, they passed around to his right and advanced up, flanking his position, when he had to hastily fall back on the battalion to avoid capture. I then, in obedience to orders received from the brigade commander, in anticipation of such an event, threw back three companies on my right wing, and the fire changing from our direct front to our right and front, I directed our fire to the right oblique. The enemy soon afterward appeared to fall back, when the order to cease firing was given, and some four of our men went out and brought in Captain Mulhall, wounded, and who for
over one hour had lain between the two fires. Some ten minutes afterward the enemy opened again from a line of battle on our right and front, and I ordered the firing to commence again. During the firing I discovered that although our men had each on coming into the fight directed the firing to be moderate and slower, and sent some men to the rear for ammunition, which was not received until nearly every man had expended his sixty rounds and that of the killed and wounded. The firing was continued, details continually bringing up ammunition, until about ten minutes to 7 o’clock, when we were relieved by, I believe, a Michigan regiment when I marched the regiment about fifty paces to the rear, and then had each of the men supplied with sixty rounds of ammunition. We lay here until about 8 p.m. when we were marched by the left flank to the rear and left, and halted at some of our old picket-pits, stacked arms, and left the men cook some coffee. About 1 a.m. of the 26th we got orders to fall back, and marched back to this camp.
I cannot speak in too high terms of the coolness and gallantry displayed by all of my officers and men. To Captain Milliken, acting field officer and who superintended the left wing great praise is due for his keeping the line well connected and steady, particularly so as it was on the center and left of our regiment that we sustained the greatest loss. To Captain Murtha Murphy, for his good judgment, coolness, and bravery in protecting our right from being flanked by the enemy too much in praise cannot be said. Captain Mulhall also acted with the greatest bravery, and kept his skirmishers well to the front, and fell back only when the only alternative was annihilation or capture. I regret to say that he was severely wounded. Acting Adjutant Dolan also acted in the bravest and coolest manner, and rendered the greatest assistance and [was] continually along the line. I respectfully submit that in his case application be made to the Governor of State of New York for the position of adjutant. The non-commissioned officers all without exception, acted with the greatest bravery, and I most respectfully decline to particularize any one of them, but they are well known at these headquarters and no opportunity to do them justice will be overlooked.
I beg to state that our loss in killed and wounded, so far as can be possibly ascertained, is as follows; Commissioned officers-wounded, 2. Enlisted men-killed, 9; wounded, 83. Total killed and wounded, 94.
I have the honor to be, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES J. SMITH,
Lieutenant-Colonel Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, Commanding
Captain JOHN C. FOLEY, 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), pages 200-201 ↩