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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1864 Report

Appendix C

HEADQUARTERS FIRST VT. BRIGADE,
August 27, 1864.

Peter T. Washburn,
Adjutant and Inspector General.

Sir: -- I have the honor to report that this Brigade crossed the Rapidan May 4th, 1864, and encamped two miles south of Germania Ford.

On the morning of May 5th, we marched to Old Wilderness tavern and halted several hours. Soon after noon this Brigade and two others, (the 1st and 4th) of this Division, Brig. Gen. Getty commanding, were detached from the 6th Corps and ordered forward across the "old pike," and along the "Brook" road, to where it crosses the plank road leading from Chancellorsville to Orange Court House. Upon arriving at the cross roads, the first Brigade became engaged with the enemy's advance, which was coming down the plank road driving before it a force of our Cavalry. The point having been gained, this Brigade passed the first Brigade and took position in two lines on the left of the plank road. Capt. C. J. Ormsbee, 5th Vt. Vols., with companies D and K, of that Regiment, held the skirmish line. The 4th Vt., Col. Geo. P. Foster, and the 3d Vt., Col. T. O. Seaver, constituted the first line. The 2d Vt., Col. Newton Stone, the 6th Vt., Col. E. L. Barney, and the 5th Vt., Lt. Col. J. R. Lewis, constituted the second line. A section of Artillery occupied the road, and the other two Brigades took position on the right. As soon as this Brigade took position, the Regiments commenced throwing up rude defensive works which subsequently proved of great value. The 2d Corps, Maj. Gen. Hancock commanding, was moving up from the left, but a few Regiments only had got into position.

An order came for us to make an immediate attack. The skirmish line and two lines of battle were simultaneously ordered forward. All advanced promptly to the attack, except the left of the skirmish line, which, for some unknown cause, failed to advance with the rest. It was doubtless owing to the want of a prompt communication of the order along the skirmish line. Capt. Ormsbee was at the time attending to his duties near the right of the line. The ground was covered with brush and small timber so dense that it was impossible for an officer at any point of the line to see any other point several yards distant.

The Brigade had advanced but a short distance before the skirmish line on the right, and very soon thereafter the 4th Regiment, became engaged. The 3d Regiment moved obliquely to the left, passed the skirmish line, and became engaged a short time after the firing upon the right had commenced. About this time the Artillery opened fire, and the engagement became general along the line of the three Brigades. The enemy had but few or no skirmishers out, and, with the exception of the skirmishing of short duration on our right, the engagement commenced with terrible volleys of musketry from both sides. The 2d and 6th Regiments moved up promptly to the support of the 4th and 3d respectively, and the 5th held a position further to the left. As soon as the first volleys were over, our men hugged the ground as closely as possible, and kept up a rapid fire; the enemy did the same. The rebels had the advantage of position, inasmuch as their line was partially protected by a slight swell of ground, while ours was on nearly level ground. The attempt was made to dislodge them from that position, but the moment our men rose to advance, the rapid and constant fire of musketry cut them down with such slaughter that it was found impracticable to do more than maintain our then present position. The enemy could not advance on us for the same reason. The 2d Regiment crept forward upon nearly the same line of the 4th, and both Regiments poured a constant and destructive fire into the enemy's line. The 3d Regiment retired a short distance, and the position was firmly held by the 6th. The condition of affairs was represented to Gen. Getty, and by his order to Maj. Gen. Birney, then commanding the right of the 2d Corps, who expressed a readiness to render us all the support in his power. Accordingly three regiments moved in to our support; one took position in rear of the 2d and 4th, and subsequently a portion of it went to the rear; two others took position in rear of the 5th. I went to Maj. Dudley commanding the 5th, (Col. Lewis having been previously wounded,) and called his attention to the fact that the position of the enemy in his front was less protected than it was in front of the rest of the Brigade, and asked him if he could, with the support of the two Regiments in his rear, break the enemy's line. "I think we can" was re reply of the gallant Major. I went to the commanders of those two Regiments, and asked them to support the 5th in its advance. The men rose and with a cheer answered "we will." The order for the charge was given, and all advanced in good style, and the enemy partially gave way. The two rear Regiments were thrown into some confusion and soon halted and laid down, and Maj. Dudley, finding his Regiment far in the advance and exposed to a flank fire, wisely did the same.

Our ammunition soon became well nigh exhausted, and a force from the 2d Corps was sent in to relieve us. The Regiments on the right were relieved first. As soon as the 2d and 4th were relieved and ordered to retire, the enemy pressed forward and occupied the ground. So sudden was the enemy's advance that the Staff Officer, who was sent to order back the 5th, fell into the hands of the enemy. The 5th, finding itself flanked, judiciously retired. The Brigade fell back to its former position on the Brock road. The 2d Corps now held the front; darkness soon came on, and the firing ceased.

One engaged in that terrible conflict may well pause to reflect upon the horrors of that night. Officers and men lay down to rest amidst the groans of the wounded and dying and the dead bodies of their comrades, as they were brought to the rear. One thousand brave officers and men of the Vermont Brigade fell on that bloody field.

Was the result commensurate to the sacrifice? Whether it was or not, the battle once commenced had to be fought. There was safety only in success. A retreat would have resulted in the defeat, rout and greater carnage. It is claimed, and it is believed admitted by Division, Corps and Army Commanders, that the positive results of this engagement can hardly be over-estimated. A glance at the situation will show this. The rebel army was advancing in two heavy columns; one down the "old pike," and the other down the plank road. These roads run nearly parallel, and, at this point, are about two miles distant. Our army was not yet in position. The 2nd Corps, which rested near Chancellorsville the previous night, was moving up circuitously from the left to this position. The 5th Corps was in position on the pike, preparing for the attack; part of the 6th Corps had been left to guard the approaches to our right and rear, and the remainder was in reserve or moving up to support the 5th Corps. The 9th Corps had not yet arrived. The rebel column on the plank road was moving down rapidly, and was likely to gain the cross roads before the 2d Corps possibly could. The three Brigades of this Division were sent to take and hold the position. Our arrival was opportune, as the rebel advance was then within a few yards of the crossing. The advance being repulsed, the enemy was evidently preparing for a vigorous attack. It is indeed claimed by some, that the enemy was advancing to the attack at the same time we did, and it is instanced as one of the few remarkable occasions, where two armies moved to attack at the same time. However this may be, there is but little doubt that the enemy was preparing for an attack, a portion of which must have fallen upon a part of the 2nd Corps before it was in position, and while the rest of the Corps was not in supporting distance. Our attack not only held the enemy in check, but put him upon the defensive, while the 2d Corps was moving into position. Had it been otherwise, the result cannot, of course, be stated. The 2d Corps might have been able to sustain itself against any force, hurled against it, but the enemy would have secured the important position, and completely cut off that corps from the rest of the army.

May 6th. The entire army attacked the enemy at daylight. This Brigade advanced on the plank road in two lines, two regiments upon the right and three upon the left of the plank road. The Regiments were commanded as follows: -- 2d Vt., Lt. Col. S. E. Pingree; 3d Vt., Col. T. O. Seaver; 4th t., Major J. e. Pratt; 5th Vt., Major C. P. Dudley; 6th Vt., Lt. Col. O. A. Hale. There were two lines of battle from the 2d Corps in our front, and during the advance two lines from the 5th Corps came from the right, and filled in front of the others; at this time there was a general movement to the left, and the Brigade all came together on the left of the road.

The enemy had fallen back a short distance during the night, and, when met, was driven back nearly a mile further. During this advance, there being two, and some of the time four lines in front, this Brigade suffered only from tray bullets and shells which came to the rear. Soon, howeve3r, the advance was checked and the enemy fought with greater desperation. The tide of battle turned; our front line was shattered and broken, and men came, disorganized, to the rear. This Brigade, at the time, happened to occupy a slightly elevated or rolling position, where the enemy had, for his own use, thrown together two irregular lines of old logs and decayed timber. The Regiments took position behind these lines of logs and rubbish, and awaited the progress of battle. In less than half an hour the four lines in our front were swept away, and heavy lines of the advancing enemy came upon us with great force. They were received with a bold front and galling fire, and their advance was co0mpletely checked and thrown back in confusion. Still determined, the enemy reformed his lines, and again advanced to the attack and again went back. The attack was many times repeated, and as many times repulsed. The repulse, however, was complete only in front of this Brigade. Every time the enemy made an attack, he made a substantial advance upon both our right and left, and the Union troops gradually gave way, especially upon the right. Bullets came from the right across the plank road. Major Pratt promptly faced the 4th regiment to the right, and opened fire across the road. The state of affairs in that direction becoming critical, it was represented to the Division Commander, who placed another Brigade under my command. That Brigade was immediately placed on the right of this, partially facing the plank road, so as to protect our right and rear; should the enemy gain further advantage in that direction.

Perhaps the valor of Vermont troops and the steadiness and unbroken front of those noble Regiments, were never more signally displayed.

They stood out in the very midst of the enemy, unyieldingly dealing death and slaughter in front and flank. Only the day before, one third of their number and many of their beloved leaders had fallen; but not disheartened, the brave men living seemed determined to avenge the fallen; and most effectually they did it. For more than three hours did the Brigade hold this advanced position, repelling every attack foiled in every attempt at this point, the enemy massed forces about one fourth of a mile to our left, and made a vigorous attack. Our lines, at that point, suddenly gave way and came in confusion past our rear. I immediately ordered two Regiments to face to the left, but before the order could be executed, the enemy rushed through the breach and opened fire into our rear, and at the same time made another attack in front. Perceiving that it was worse than useless to attempt further resistance there, I ordered the Regiments to rally behind the breast-works on the Brock road, at which point he had been ordered to rally in case of disaster.

Our entire lines, at this part of the army, went back in disorder. All organization and control seemed to have been lost. But out of that disorder the Vermont Brigade quietly and deliberately took its position in the front works o the Brock road, and awaited the enemy's advance. Other troops were rallied and placed on the right, and left and rear, though thousands went beyond reach or immediate control. The lines of the left of the 2d Corps were unbroken, and now took position on the Brock road. Other troops came up from the right, and our position was made strong again, and here we awaited the enemy's attack. It came late I the afternoon; a vigorous, determined and desperate attack. The heaviest part fell upon the troops on our immediate left, but a portion of it fell upon this Brigade, and was handsomely repulsed. Later in the evening, the 1st and 4th Brigades went back to join the 6th Corps. It was said that this Brigade could not be relieved from the important position it held until morning, when it could join our Corps.

May 7th. In the morning there was only skirmishing in our front, and parties were sent out to collect and bury our dead. I made application to join our Corps, and was informed that orders in that respect had been changed and that the Brigade must remain.

Under direction of Maj. Gen. Birney, commanding, I sent out a strong skirmish line, under command of Major Crandall of the 6th Vermont, to drive back the skirmishers and ascertain the enemy's position further up the plank road. Major Crandall drove them back sufficiently far to ascertain that the main body had retired. He captured a large number of muskets which the enemy had collected from the battle field of the day before and was drawing away. Gen. Birney sent out teams and brought them in.

This skirmish line was afterwards relieved, and another sent out from the 5th Vt., under command of Major Nelson of the 3d Vt.

In the afternoon, orders came to join the 6th Corps. The 6th Corps was, at this time, on the extreme right of the army, with its right thrown back facing the Rapidan. We joined the corps about sundown, and soon after dark commenced the flank movement towards Spotsylvania, via Chancellorsville.

It is, perhaps, a fact worthy of note, that the key-point to all the movements of that portion of the army, was on the plank road, which position the Vermont Brigade held during the entire engagements. In the manoeuvering of troops, at one time, three Regiments of the Brigade were placed on the right a short distance from it, but they were almost immediately ordered back by Gen. Hancock.

For their gallant conduct my thanks are especially due to the Regimental Commanders.

The list of killed and wounded contains the names of some of the most valuable officers in the service.

Col. E. L. BARNEY, 6th Vt., who fell seriously wounded in the head and survived only a few days, was one of Vermont's purest and best. He was always prompt and faithful in the execution of his duties; in camp and field, he was a good disciplinarian and a gallant officer; and on every occasion he exhibited in himself the highest type of a Christian gentleman.

Col. NEWTON STONE, 2d Vt., whose dead body was brought from the field the night of the first day's battle, had but recently been promoted to his command. He was a good officer; gallant by nature, prompt in his duties, and urbane in his manners; he was beloved by his command and all who knew him.

Lieut. Col. JOHN S. TYLER, 2d Vt., who received a severe wound, and subsequently died from its effects, was a young officer of great promise. Always cool, especially in battle, he could be relied upon. His loss is deeply felt.

Of the Captains who were killed, or have subsequently died from the effects of wounds, there were Capts. Orville Bixby, of the 2d Regiment, Enoch H. Bartlett and Erastus Buck, of the 3d Regiment; J. W. D. Carpenter, Dennie W. Farr and Daniel Lillie, of the 4th Regiment; A. R. Hurlburt, Geo. D. Davenport and Chas. J. Ormsbee, of the 5th Regiment; Riley a. Bird and George C. Randall, of the 6th Regiment, each and all of whom were valuable officers .It is no disparagement to those who survive that the places of these Captains cannot be filled.

Lieut. Abel Morrill 3d Regiment, Isaac A. Putnam, Thomas Ensworth, Winfield L. Wooster and W. H. Martin of the 4th Regiment, Orvis H. Sweet and Watson O. Beach of the 5th Regiment, and Albert A. Crane of the 6th Regiment, all offered up their lives as a sacrifice to our holy cause.

Col. George P. Foster of the 4th Regiment, and Lt. Col. J. R. Lewis of the 5th Regiment, -- officers whom Vermont may well delight to honor -- were both severely wounded. Col. Lewis lost his left arm.

Capts. Elijah Wales, P. E. Chase, D. S. White, E. G. Ballou, W. H. Cady, and Lieuts. J. P. Sawyer, James Allen, George Bridgeman, and E. M. Drury of the 2d Regiment, Capt. H. W. Floyd, and Lieuts. Henry C. Miller, Chas. E. Osgood and Richard P. Goodal of the 3d Regiment, Capts. Geo. H. Amidon, A. W. Fisher, and Lieuts. Geo. B. French, E. W. Carter, J. B. Brooks, L. B. Scott, Wm. C. Tracy, H.W. Morton and L. F. Richardson of the 4th Regiment, Capts. F. H. Barney, W. B. Robinson and Lieuts. Miner E. Fish, W. G. Davenport and L. G. Brownson of the 5th Regiment, and Capt. C. W. Dwinnell, and Lieut. S. H. Lincoln of the 6th Regiment, all received honorable wounds.

Justice requires special mention of the officers of my Staff. They fearlessly exposed themselves to al the dangers of battle whenever and wherever duty called them. Lieut. J. J. Bain 2d Vt., acting A. D. C., received a severe wound in the face while in the discharge of his duties, and Lieut. Horace French, acting A. D. C., had his horse shot, and was captured by the enemy while going to deliver an order to the 5th Regiment. Those casualties occurred in the battle of the first day, leaving Capt. A. Brown, 4th Vt., Asst. Inspector General, alone upon the Staff during the remainder of the battles of the Wilderness. And most gallantly and nobly he performed the duties of three officers. It was an occasion which called for unusual abilities, courage and powers of endurance, and Capt. Brown was found fully equal to the occasion. Honorable mention ought also to be made of Corp. Thomas J. Miller, Co. K, 3d Vt. And Privates Thomas J. McColley, Co. F, 2d Vt. and James r. McGibbon, Co. H, 5th Vt., mounted orderlies, who were constantly employed in carrying and delivering orders, and who performed their duties with a promptness, courage and intelligence for which any staff officer might well be commended.

Sergt. Isaac M. Burton, Co. E, 5th Vt., is also honorably mentioned for seizing and safely carrying the Colors of the Regiment after they had been shot from the hands of the color bearer.

It would be a pleasure to mention at length individual cases of daring and noble heroism, but when all did no noble it is impossible to further particularize. It was a terrible struggle - a time which truly "tried men's souls." The memory of those who fell will be sacredly cherished among the true and tried patriots of Vermont; and those who survive, well may proudly say "I, too, was in the battles of the Wilderness."

I am, General, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
L. A. GRANT,
Brig. Gen. Commanding.