17th Vermont Infantry
ReportsSaint Albans, Vt., April 18, 1865.
Brig. Gen. L. THOMAS,
Adjutant-General U. S. Army, Washington, D. D.:
SIR: Not having had the opportunity of seeing the report of the major-general commanding the Army of the James of the operations of my division in the battles of September 29 and 30, 1864, until a short time since, I deem it but justice to my then command that this, my report, should be placed on file at your office, and I have the honor to ask that it may be so disposed of.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brevet Major-General of Volunteers.
Report of operations of First Division, Eighteenth Army Corps, on 29th and 30th of September, 1864:
In pursuance to verbal orders received from Major-General Ord, commanding corps, this division moved from its late camp, on the line between the Appomattox and James Rivers, at 9 p.m. on the night of 28th of September, and marched, without noise, in the direction of Aiken's Landing, on the James River. At 3 a.m. on the 29th, in obedience to written orders received at that hour, the division, with Brigadier-General Burnham's (Second) brigade leading, crossed the James River near Aiken's on a pontoon bridge, and taking the road to the left moved in the direction of the enemy's works at Chaffin's farm. Previous to breaking camp on the night of the 28th, two regiments of infantry, forming a part of Brigadier-General Burnham's brigade, had, under orders to that effect, exchanged the arms heretofore in use for the Spencer repeating rifle. These two regiments (viz, Tenth New Hampshire, commanded by Col. M. T. Donohoe, and the One hundred and eighteenth New York, by Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols) were at once, on reaching the north bank of the river, thrown out as skirmishers and flankers, the whole line being under command of the senior officers above named. The remainder of the command, having been disposed in column by division, at once moved forward on the road running parallel to the course of the river, and at a few moments after daybreak encountered the enemy's pickets, which were driven in on the run. After pushing them back on their reserves, we continued to drive them at a brisk trot through dense woods for a distance of two or three miles, with few casualties on our side, when we emerged into open ground. Just before debouching from the woods, Brigadier-General Burnham reported to me a strong line of earth-works in his front, mounting heavy guns, which I at once directed him to carry by assault. My First Brigade, commanded by Col. A. F. Stevens, Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, was on my left, and my Third Brigade, commanded by Col. S. H. Roberts, One hundred and thirty-ninth New York Volunteers, on the right of the road, each in column by division, and within easy supporting distance. These I immediately pushed forward to the support of General Burnham, whose two remaining regiments moved directly up the road. The enemy now opened furiously from a powerful battery situated at the crest of the hill in my front and from other guns mounted in smaller redoubts situated at various points along the line of works which extended on the enemy's right to the river. The column here left the road, and, inclining to the left, moved directly across a heavy plowed field toward the principal work. The distance was about 1,400 yards, and while traversing this space my command, with the exception of my skirmishers, not having as yet discharged a musket, was exposed to a plunging fire of artillery and musketry, galling in the extreme and caused them to become somewhat broken. The column, however, pushed gallantly forward until it reached the base of the hill upon which the battery was situated, when it came to a halt, from sheer exhaustion. The enemy were now moving up from their left considerable re-enforcements, and, fearing that the assault would fail by reason of the delay, I sent Captain Kent, acting assistant adjutant-general of the division, to move the column at once to the assault. It was owing to his efforts, and, he reports, to the assistance of Colonel Donohoe, that, a few moments later, the head of the column gallantly mounted the parapet of Battery Harrison, drove the enemy from his guns, and planted the "Stars and Stripes " on one of its massive traverses. Our captures included 16 pieces of artillery of various calibers and about 50 prisoners, including a lieutenant-colonel in command of the works. My loss in officers and men was quite heavy. Capt. D. C. Rix, Eighty-first New York Volunteers, a very meritorious young officer, was killed just previous to emerging upon the open ground. The column had scarcely entered the works when the brave Brigadier-General Burnham was mortally wounded by a musket-ball in the bowels. He survived but a few moments.
During the events of the morning I had lost from my staff Capt. M. B. Bessey, Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry Volunteers, and acting assistant inspector-general, by shell wound in leg; Capt. L. N. Converse, Second New Hampshire Volunteers, and assistant provost-marshal, musket-ball in mouth, and Lieut. W. J. Ladd, Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, musket-ball in neck.
Moving with my Second Brigade, now commanded by Col. M.T. Donohoe, and my Third Brigade, commanded by Col. E. M. Cullen, Ninety-sixth New York Volunteers (Colonel Roberts having been relieved on account of severe illness), we drove the enemy successively from two lunettes which were thrown out from their main line of works at intervals of about 600 yards and compelled him to retire to his third and last remaining defense in this line of works. My First Brigade, meanwhile, now under command of Lieut. Col. J. B. Raulston, Eighty-first New York Volunteers (Colonel Stevens having been severely wounded in the leg while leading his brigade in the assault--and I would here respectfully recommend that this officer be promoted for bravery and efficiency on the battle-field), remained in the captured work, throwing out a strong line of skirmishers toward the enemy's inner line of works, and to which his main body had retreated. The work which the enemy now held in his first line was situated directly on the river-bank, and was covered by the fire of one of his gun-boats, as well as by a field battery so stationed as to be able to take the work in reverse should it be captured. The work itself mounted three heavy guns, and in view of the serious loss which must follow an attempt to dislodge the party holding it, and the impossibility of holding it when captured, I withdrew my troops. The enemy, seeing the movement, which occurred just before sunset, followed up his supposed advantage, until I opened upon him from the battery on the hill with a half battery of light 12's belonging to the Third Regiment of New York Light Artillery. A few rounds of canister sent the pursuing party quickly to cover, and my troops were quietly withdrawn to Battery Harrison for better defense during the night.
During this movement Colonel Donohoe, Tenth New Hampshire, commanding brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols, One hundred and eighteenth New York, were both severely wounded--and here I have the honor to ask that these officers may receive promotion for highly meritorious conduct.
My casualties during the day's operation were heavy in proportion to the strength of the command. My field return for 28th of September gave 3,115 men for duty. One regiment (Fifth Maryland Volunteers) had been left in camp, reducing this number by 260 men. Of these I lost as follows: Commissioned officers--killed, 8; wounded, 36. Enlisted men--killed, 84; wounded, 466. Total, 92 killed and 502 wounded. Three hundred and thirty men were also reported missing, but as the enemy had made no captures from my command, and the command became somewhat mixed up during and immediately succeeding the assault, I think this number will be materially reduced, if not quite canceled. Lists, by name, of the killed and wounded have been duly forwarded to the proper authority.
A strong picket consisting of about one-half my command was thrown out immediately after sunset, and the remainder of the division occupied the line extending across the rear of Battery Harrison until about 9 p.m., when I was relieved by the Third Division (colored troops), commanded by Brigadier-General Paine, and, under orders from Brigadier-General Heckman, commanding corps (Major-General Ord having been obliged to leave the field in consequence of a severe wound), I took a new position facing the river, with my right resting on Battery Harrison and outside that work, and my left refused. No attempt was made by the enemy during the night to dislodge me from this position, and at about 8 a.m. of the 30th I was directed to resume my former position inside the battery, relieving in turn Brigadier-General Paine, of the Third Division. Nothing of importance occurred during the forenoon. The enemy were evidently heavily re-enforced and appeared to be maneuvering for a favorable position from which to make an assault. The enemy's gun-boats continued to shell our position from guns throwing 9-inch shell, with, however, but slight damage, when, at about midday, I perceived the enemy's preparations for an assault on my right, I hastily moved the larger portion of my First Brigade from the left to the extreme right of my position, which was my weakest point.
During the night previous the Third Division had made good progress in strengthening the position. A strong rifle-pit, with log traverses, had been thrown up on the left and along the center, but the right had no such protection. My command from the time that they entered the work in the morning had been busily engaged in strengthening and extending this line of defense, which, when completed, would make Battery Harrison an inclosed work. Before this portion of the line could be completed the enemy, at about 12.30 o'clock noon, threw himself in three lines upon my right, at the same time opening with two full batteries of field guns upon my center and left. I reserved my fire until they had emerged from the chaparral through which they advanced, when I opened a most effective fire of musketry. At the same time I replied to his artillery with the half battery mentioned in report of operations for the 29th, but with small effect. This battery had, under direction of the chief of artillery, been placed under a different commander from that of the previous day, and the officer now in command reported to me almost immediately after the action commenced that he was out of ammunition. Such carelessness on the part of a commissioned officer is extremely reprehensible, and I regret that circumstances which occurred an hour later have rendered it impossible for me to report the designation of the battery or the name of the officer. I directed that the guns should be withdrawn by hand, it being impossible to bring horses into the work, and sent a staff officer to corps headquarters for a full battery and a capable officer. Brevet Major-General Weitzel, who had now assumed command of the corps, promised me every assistance. The enemy's furious onset had been in the meantime repulsed with musketry alone, driving him to cover, and leaving an immense number of dead and wounded in front of my right. He, however, quickly reformed, and with his accustomed yell tried the same position a second time. Finding that my ammunition was getting low, I had a few moments before sent a staff officer with an order to bring up a wagon from my ordnance train. The wagon came just at the right time, during the second assault, and was driven up to the sally-port of the fort by Capt. John Brydon, One hundred and eighteenth New York Volunteers, and acting ordnance officer of the division, and kept there until the action was concluded. `t was in full view and but a short musket-range from the enemy, yet Captain Brydon gallantly held his mules, three of which were shot while he was thus occupied, while Lieutenants Burbank and Cook, of my staff, distributed the ammunition to the command. I mention this circumstance thus particularly because it was owing to the promptness with which my order was obeyed and the gallant manner in which it was executed that my command was enabled to repulse the enemy's second and his successive assaults.
During the progress of this second attempt to carry our position, I received a musket-ball in the right arm, which shattered the bone above the elbow and necessitated my removal from the field and amputation on my arrival at the hospital. A moment later Captain Kent, acting assistant adjutant-general, who was on the way to inform the senior colonel that he commanded the division, was struck by a musket-ball in the leg, incapacitating him for further duty, making the fourth officer of my staff disabled during the two days' operations.
My report of the operations of the division must necessarily close here, but I cannot close the report without a slight tribute to the steady valor and gallant bearing of the officers and men of this division, which I have had the honor to command. Among the officers who were noted for gallant bearing, and whose names have not appeared in the report, are Lieut. Col. J. B. Raulston, Eighty-first New York Volunteers, and Col. E. M. Cullen, Ninety-sixth New York Volunteers, both of whom were conspicuous in the charge on Battery Harrison; Lieut. W. S. Hubbell, Twenty first Connecticut Volunteers, and acting assistant adjutant-general, Third Brigade, who was severely wounded through the shoulder while taking a party of prisoners to the rear which he had captured during the second day's operation, and Capt. C. Clay, Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers; and I would recommend that those officers also be promoted for gallant conduct.
The record will scarcely show an instance where so small a body of men carried so strong a position as the works on Chaffin's farm, and after a loss of one man in five held their position without assistance against all attempts to dislodge them by an enemy vastly superior in numbers and nearly all coin posed of fresh troops.
The whole number of pieces of artillery captured by my command in the works on Chaffin's farm, including Battery Harrison (now called Fort Burnham, in honor of the gallant and lamented general), was 22.
I wish in connection with this report to favorably mention the members of my staff--viz, Capt. William L. Kent, Twenty-third Massachusetts Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general; Capt. M. B. Bessey, Twenty-fifth Massachusetts Volunteers, acting assistant inspector-general; Capt. L. N. Converse, Second New Hampshire Volunteers, assistant provost marshal; Capt. John Brydon, One hundred and eighteenth New York Volunteers, acting ordnance officer; Captain Male, One hundred and thirty-ninth New York Volunteers, aide-de-camp; First Lieut. C. W. Cook, Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers, chief of pioneers; First Lieut. William J. Ladd, Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, assistant commissary of musters; First Lieut. William B. Burbank, Seventeenth Vermont Volunteers, aide-de-camp; Second Lieutenant Fenton, Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers, acting assistant provost-marshall--for meritorious conduct, and I have the honor to ask that their just claims for promotion may be favorably considered.Geo. J. Stannard,
Brevet Major-General of Volunteers.
Source: The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume XLII/1, pp. 797-801.