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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1864 Report

Appendix F

HEADQUARTERS 4th Corps,
Warwick Court. House, Va., April 16, 1862.

Brig. Gen. S. Williams,
Asst. Adj't. Gen.
Army of the Potomac

SIR: I have the honor to report the operations of this army corps from the 4th to the 15th inst., inclusive.

Two divisions (Smith's and Couch's) marched from their camps near Newport News at 6 a.m. the 4th. Smith, being in advance, encountered the enemy's pickets at Watts' Creek. While halting at this point to close the column it was reported that the enemy had strong works and a force at Young's Mill. I caused the column to be closed up, but the two regiments of the enemy retreated in great haste at our approach, firing only a few shots, and wounding one of our men. The enemy's works at Young's Mill are so strong that with 5,000 men he might have stopped my two divisions there a week.

At 6 o'clock the head of Smith's column left Young's Mill, and at about 11 a.m. came in sight of the enemy's works on Warwick Creek, near Lee's Mill, 2 miles from here. The rain had been falling in torrents all the morning, and it was with the utmost difficulty that a few guns could be got forward to the edge of the woods fronting a wide open space, from which the enemy had burned the buildings and cut the timber to give a field of fire for his two forts in advance, which we could see: A brisk fire was opened on both sides between guns and skirmishers; Brig. Gen. Davidson's brigade being posted and partly deployed on the left, and Brig. Gen. Hancock's brigade on the right, while Brig. Gen. Brooks' brigade was held in reserve about half way through the strip of woods of a mile wide, which we occupied, Couch's division being in rear.

Between 2 and 3 o'clock p.m. it was reported to me that a body of 2,000 or 3,000 of the enemy was filing out from the rear of the works about Lee's Mill, and moving to our left. Immediately I directed Graham's brigade to move to the left, and send scouts far enough through the dense forest to discover, if possible, the enemy's intention. Word was soon brought to me that another of the enemy's forts was found, and that the course of Warwick River seemed to be nearly parallel to our line of advance from Young's Mill. Accordingly, leaving the front in charge of Brig. Gen.s Smith and Graham, I returned in this direction, sending in scouts from point to point to the left, but without a satisfactory result.

Later in the day Brig. Gen. Peck, of Couch's division, was ordered far down to the left from Warwick Court-House with Brady's and McCarthy's batteries and three regiments, and discovered two other forts and a considerable body of rebels not far from the mouth of Warwick River. I was thus enabled in the first day to comprehend with tolerable clearness the position of the enemy from a short distance above Lee's Mill down to James River. He is in a strongly-fortified position behind Warwick River, the fords in which have been destroyed by dams, and the approaches to which are through dense forests, swamps, and marshes. No part of his line as far as discovered can be taken by assault without an enormous waste of life.

On the 6th I thoroughly reconnoitered my whole front, and in the evening directed Brig. Gen. Smith to withdraw his brigades to the rear and right, and shortly after a similar order was received from Major-General McClellan. Smith's division is now, since the 7th, on and near the Yorktown road from near this place to the Four Corners. Graham's line of battle is in the edge of the woods, a mile from here, and their pickets connect.

Brig. Gen. Peck's brigade and two of West's batteries are now stationed on the irregular peninsula running down to Warwick River, and bounded on the right and left by Stony and Lucas Creeks. General Peck has been extremely active in that quarter, and has thoroughly studied his ground, and has thrown up some earthworks, which will be indicated on the map. The two division commanders, Conch and W. F. Smith, have exhibited continued zeal and intelligence.

Brig. Gen. Graham's brigade has remained near its position of the first day, where General Graham has made good dispositions.

Col. Briggs' brigade has been held mostly in reserve near these headquarters. A reconnaissance with one regiment (Col. Wheaton's) was made on the left, and the other regiments have been active by detachments.

The morning of the 6th, Brig. Gen. Hancock, with the Fifth Wisconsin, Col. Cobb, and Sixth Maine, Col. Burnham, Lieut.s Comstock, Bowen, and Merrill, engineers, made a reconnaissance of the enemy's lines above Lee's Mill. The reconnaissance was conducted with great skill and daring, and in the report of General Hancock, inclosed herewith, several officers are commended by name, among them Lieut.-Col. Chandler and Lieut. and Adj't. J. D. McFarland, of the Sixth Maine, who took four prisoners. One of the prisoners was pursued 150 yards by Lieut. McFarland on horseback directly' toward the enemy's fort and in easy range of his guns, captured, and brought off. This act of gallantry deserves special notice.

On the 9th inst., Col. Burnham and the Sixth Maine assisted Lieut. Comstock in a reconnaissance of the one-gun battery. A brisk skirmish occurred, resulting in the loss of 1 man mortally wounded on our side and the killing and wounding of 10 or 12 of the enemy. General Davidson's brigade, consisting of the Seventh Maine, Thirty-third, Seventy-seventh, and Forty-ninth New York, of Smith's division, which was deployed on its left, occupied a very exposed position until the evening of the 7th inst., at which time the brigade was withdrawn out of range. The guns of Wheeler's battery, placed in the edge of the woods and supported by Davidson's brigade, played upon the enemy's works at intervals until they were withdrawn by General Davidson's assistance on the night of the 7th- without attracting the attention of the enemy. The guns being too small to affect the enemy's forts, it was thought best to waste no more ammunition. As will be seen by the list of casualties, Davidson's brigade suffered far more than any other in this corps. The conduct of that brigade and of Wheeler's battery was excellent. They captured 3 prisoners and killed many of the enemy. Lieut. Swan and Bugler Brown, of the Seventh Maine, were captured by the rebels.

I am happy to be able to report acts of extraordinary coolness which were performed in Capt. Wheeler's battery, Smith's division, on the 6th inst. The enemy opened with a 10-pounder Parrott. One of its projectiles, a percussion shell, passed through the corner of a limber ammunition-chest, exploded 29 cartridges and 2 case-shot in one compartment, and set fire to the packing tow in the other compartment of the chest. Sergt. David L. Smith and Artificer James H. Hickox promptly passed water upon the burning tow, which Private William H. Kershner pulled out with his hands, and thus prevented the explosion of all the remaining ammunition. With such artillerists we have everything to expect.

The artillery of the Second (Smith's) Division was under the chief direction of Capt. R. B. Ayres, whose dispositions were excellent.

The artillery of the First Division (Couch's) was under the chief direction of Major West, First Pennsylvania Artillery, whose zeal and activity have been constant.

Yesterday afternoon I reconnoitered closely the one- battery opposite Smith's right. I observed the enemy digging to extend his defenses about it. This morning at 3 o'clock a.m. (at which hour this report of operations concludes) I received the order of Major-General McClellan to stop the enemy's working.

Owing to the unusual coldness of the weather and the rains our men have suffered considerably. The badness of the roads has made it next to impossible to get forward supplies. No complaints, however, have been heard, and every officer and man of this corps seems devoted to the great task before us.

The engineers, Comstock, Merrill, and Bowen, have been actively engaged in reconnoitering the enemy's position and the country occupied by this corps. No country I have been in seems more difficult to learn, and in finding out my exact situation the troops have been severely taxed. I have been cordially seconded by all the superior officers, and they and the men have shown an extraordinary activity and cheerfulness under the trying circumstances of cold, wet weather, bad roads, and short rations.

With every means to make reconnaissances it has required many days to discover the position and apparent strength of the enemy's lines in front of the army corps. Our knowledge is yet far from perfect. Enough has been ascertained to be certain they are exceedingly strong, and I have learned that thousands of slaves have been long occupied in their construction.

Inclosed is a list of the casualties, stating the divisions and regiments to which the killed and wounded belonged and the dates of their injuries. It will be seen that up to this time we have lost 2 killed and 19 wounded.

I have the honor to be, sir,
Your most obedient servant,
E. D. KEYES,
Brig. Gen., Com'g 4th Corps.

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