No. 136. Report of Bvt. Major General Orlando B. Willcox, U. S. Army, commanding First Division, of operations March 25.1
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
April 2, 1865.
COLONEL: At 4.15 o’clock on the morning of the 25th ultimo the enemy attacked the entrenchments held by the Third Brigade of this division. The brigade picket officer, Captain Burch, Third Maryland, reports that he visited the picket-line at 4 o’clock of that a.m. and saw that the men were on the alert. After visiting the line he returned to his headquarters in front of Fort Stedman and Battery Numbers 11. He states that in a few minutes after his return a man of the lookout gave notice that the enemy were approaching. At the same time the men on the post fired their pieces. One column moved toward the right of Battery Numbers 10, a second column moved toward a point between Fort Stedman and Battery Numbers 11, a third column moved direct toward Stedman. These columns were preceded by a strong storming party, which broke through the pickets, clubbing their muskets, and made opening in the abatis. The trench guards made sufficient resistance to arouse the garrisons of the inclosed works in the immediate neighborhood, but the column which struck to the right of Battery Numbers 10 quickly succeeded in breaking through and effecting an entrance into that battery, which is entirely open in the rear. This success gave them a great advantage over Fort Stedman, as the ground just in rear of Battery Numbers 10 is on a level with the parapet of the fort. The fort had also a comparatively small line of infantry parapet; particularly was this the case in front, which was cut up with embrasures for artillery. The garrison of the fort consisted of a detachment of the Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery, under Major Randall, and made quite a spirited resistance, but were finally overpowered and most of them captured.
The commanding officer of the brigade, Bvt. Brigadier General N. B. McLaughlen, had reached Battery Numbers 11, from his headquarters before this and gave some directions about the disposition of the troops on the left flank. The guns, and even the mortars, in both Stedman and Battery Numbers 11, were used against the enemy. Detachments of the First Connecticut Heavy Artillery, at the mortars, behaved very handsomely. General McLaughlen was captured near the gorge of the fort, but whether after the enemy had got in, or while they were attacking, is unknown. Captain Swords, ordnance officer on my staff, and division staff officer of the day, also reached Fort Stedman from these headquarters, before it was fully in the enemy’s possession, and was captured at the fort.
The right column, with the aid of troops from Stedman, now succeeded in gaining Battery Numbers 11. Their left column turned down the works to their left toward Battery Numbers 9, taking the Fifty-seventh Massachusetts in the trenches in flank and rear, capturing a part of them. The remainder retired to the rear, reassembled, and afterward did good work as skirmishers, with General Hartranft’s troops. The Second Michigan fought the enemy on this flank from their bomb-proofs and traverses in the most spirited manner, until they were drawn in by order of their brigade commander, Bvt. Colonel Ralph Ely, to Battery Numbers 9, which, though small, is an inclosed work.
In pursuance with my orders Colonel Ely deployed, perpendicular to and to the rear of his entrenchments, a portion of the First Michigan
Sharpshooters as skirmishers, promptly taking them from the right of our line for this purpose. I also directed him to press the enemy on his left as much as possible. Finding themselves opposed in this direction the enemy halted for more of their troops to come up, and the ground vacated by the Second Michigan remained unoccupied by either party. The enemy’s skirmishers now came down the hill directly to the rear of Stedman, and moved toward my headquarters at the Friend house, the Dunn House Battery, and in the direction of Meade’s Station, and this, for a time, rendered my communication with the Third Brigade long and circuitous. Meantime, I had ordered out the Seventeenth Michigan Engineer Regiment, at my headquarters, and sent word to the commanding officers of the Two hundredth and Two hundred and ninth Pennsylvania-encamped between Meade’s Station and Dunn House Battery-to move, respectively, one of the Friend house, the other in front of the Dunn House Battery. These regiments promptly appeared.
Brigadier-General Hartranft commanding the Third Division, now came up in person, and I request him to move his available force direct upon the fort. He promptly and gallantly took command of the two regiments already out, without waiting for the rest of his command. I ordered the Seventeenth Michigan to deploy as skirmishers on his right. This regiment, with only 100 men in its ranks, under command of Major Mathews, moved forward at the same time with General Hartranft’s line, capturing most of the enemy’s skirmishers in their front, about twenty-five in number, and inclining to the right, connected with the skirmishers of Ely’s brigade.
While Hartranft was operating in rear of Stedman the enemy’s force, which had moved down toward Battery 9 and halted, was re-enforced by Ransom’s brigade, and opened an attack upon that battery. This attack was handsomely repulsed by my skirmishers and troops of the Second Brigade in Battery Numbers 9, assisted by the artillery, particularly one piece of Roemer’s battery, under Major Roemer himself. The enemy attempted to retreat back to his own entrenchments, when they were charged by detachments of the Second Michigan, who captured some prisoners. Troops of the Twentieth and Second Michigan also threw themselves into the picket-line of the Second Brigade, and poured such a fire on the flanks of the retreating enemy that over 300 threw down their arms and surrendered themselves on the spot. On our left the enemy proceeded through the trenches, driving before them the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts, a small regiment, which made the best resistance it could, over its traverses and works, being attacked in front, flank, and rear. From Battery Numbers 11 they proceeded toward Battery Numbers 12 in the same manner, killing, wounding, and capturing a part of the One hundredth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. In this attack Colonel Pentecost, commanding One hundredth Pennsylvania, was mortally wounded. A part of this regiment was deployed as skirmishers in the rear, and a part went into Fort Haskell. Brevet Colonel Robinson took a part of the Third Maryland from a portion of his line on the left of Haskell and deployed it on the left of the skirmish line of the One hundredth Pennsylvania. South afterward Colonel Robinson, by my direction, assumed command of the Third Brigade.
I would here state that last winter, when it was thought that the enemy were mining toward Stedman, I gave directions to the brigade commanders that in the event of the line being broken at Stedman or any other point, they should immediately take out troops where they could best be spared from their respective fronts and attack the flanks
In pursuance with this order, Colonel Harriman, commanding First Brigade of this division, and posted on the left of the Third Brigade, ordered up the One hundred and ninth New York and Thirty-seventh Wisconsin Volunteers to report to General McLaughlen, but, as General McLaughlen could not be found, these two regiments were formed in line in rear of the skirmishers already mentioned and entrenched themselves to resist the large force moving down the rear of the line toward Haskell. The enemy was now confronted on this flank by the troops in Fort Haskell and the skirmishers of the One hundredth Pennsylvania and Third Maryland. The enemy made three advances on Haskell, all of which were gloriously repulsed. Meantime several ineffectual attempts were made by General Hartranft with a portion of his division to regain Fort Stedman by an advance on the rear of that work, but very soon after the repulse of the enemy at Fort Haskell the Second Brigade, of Hartranft’s division, came up and formed on his left, the left of this brigade stretching toward Haskell. On the appearance of this new line the enemy, already repulsed on both flanks and considerably demoralized by the fire of our well-served artillery, were seen breaking away in small detachments from Stedman back to their own lines. This was quickly perceived by our troops on-all sides. Major Maxwell, One hundredth Pennsylvania, with the skirmishers of his regiment, under Captains Johnson and Book, and those of the Third Maryland, under Captain Carter, immediately started along the trenches toward Stedman, capturing a large number of prisoners in the bomb-proofs from Battery Numbers 12 to Battery Numbers 10. The first Union colors on the recaptured fort were planted there by Sergeant Oliver, One hundredth Pennsylvania, who captured a stand of rebel colors, at the same point and at the same time, with his own hands.
Hartranft’s line advanced rapidly, enveloping the rear of the works. The Seventeenth Michigan, on the extreme right, dashed forward and gained the trenches lately occupied by the Fifty-seventh Massachusetts but now held by the enemy, capturing prisoners on that side. The retreat of the enemy was soon cut off by the troops of this division gaining the rear of the main body along the parapet of the works, and a large number of prisoners and some colors were captured by the troops of both divisions. One thousand and five prisoners, besides some of the wounded, fell into the hands of my own command, also seven stand of the enemy’s colors, together with one of our own flag-staffs recaptured.
It was found on regaining our works that the enemy, while they held possession of them, were not able to carry off or effect, any damage on our artillery, which they temporarily held and partially used against Battery Numbers 9 and Fort Haskell. They carried one Coehorn mortar over the parapet, but it was regained, and not the least damage was inflicted on any of the guns or gun carriages. No colors or guns were lost by us.
The following are the names of the captors of enemy’s colors in this division: Captain John L. Johnson, Company D, One hundredth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers; Captain Joseph F. Carter,* Third Maryland Battalion Veteran Volunteers; Sergt. Major C. H. Pinkham, Fifty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers; Color-Sergt. Charles Oliver,* Company M, One hundredth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers; Private Joseph B. Chambers,* Company F, One hundredth Pennsylvania Veteran Volun-
*Awarded a Medal of Honor.
teers; Private Patrick McCran, Company C, Third Maryland Battalion Veteran Volunteers; Private James K. Brady, Fourteenth New York Heavy Artillery. Corpl. M. D. Dewire; Company A, One hundredth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, captured a rebel flag-staff and recaptured one of our colors.
The following is a tabular statement of casualties, the nominal list having already been forwarded:
I also forward herewith the reports of the commanders of the Second and Third Brigades, and respectfully call attention to the recommendations for gallantry therein contained.
Of my own staff, all of whom were active throughout the engagement, I would honorably mention Captain L. C. Brackett, Fifty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers, for gallantry in assisting in the charge of the Third Division, and Bvt. Major William V. Richards, U. S. Volunteers, carrying orders and gaining information under heavy fire.
I am, very respectfully,
O. B. WILLCOX,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding.
Lieutenant Colonel P. M. LYDIG,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Ninth Army Corps.
APRIL 8, 1865.
N. B.-I also append the report of Bvt. Brigadier General N. B. McLaughlen, which, as seen from the date, was received subsequent to the writing of the above report.
O. B. WILLCOX,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding.
*But see revised table, p. 70
- 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 322-325 ↩