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10th Vermont Infantry
Battle of Monocacy
Burlington, Vt., May 10, 1893.
My Dear Brother:--At your request I submit the following report of that part of the Monocacy battle that relates to the operation of the Union troops on the west bank of the river, July 9th, 1864:
Early in the morning, with one Second Lieutenant (whose name I have never been able to recall for twenty years, although diligent inquiry has been made) and seventy-five men of our regiment, I was ordered to report as skirmishers, to Captain Charles J. Brown, commanding Cos. C and K, First Maryland Regiment, Potomac Home Brigade, near the block-house, on the west bank of the Monocacy river. He and his two hundred men had just entered the service for one hundred days, to repel this invasion, and knew nothing of actual service. I was sent to General Wallace's headquarters, on the hill east, for orders, which were to hold the two bridges across the river at all hazard, and prevent the enemy from crossing. No intimation was made that the wooden bridge might be burned. General Ricketts' division was in two lines of battle in our rear, on the south bank of the river some of the Ninth New York Heavy Artillery picket were at our left, near the north end of the wood bridge, making some over three hundred men in all, on the west bank, and we were the only Union troops on that side of the steam, confronted with General Ramseur's division of Confederate troops. We faced north and west to cover a triangle, the north line of which was three hundred and fifty yards from the railroad bridge to the turnpike bridge over the railroad; the west line one hundred and fifty yards from the last point named to the wooden bridge over the river; the base of the triangle was about one-third of a mile along the west bank of the river, in a curse. When the enemy advanced, about 3.30 A.M., along the pike from Frederick City, Captain Brown allowed them to come within fifteen or twenty rods of our position, thinking they were Union troops because dressed in blue clothing which they had recently captured at Martinsburg. I stoutly protested, telling him our friends were behind us. He was convinced when one of his men was killed and several wounded; then he turned to me in disgust and insisted upon my taking command. I assumed command instantly; brought up my Tenth Vermonters to this point, and after a severe fight of about one hour, the enemy retired. I knew nothing of the situation, or plan of battle, except as apparent to the eye. The natural advantages of cover and position were in our favor. The main body of the enemy moved around to our left; crossed the river at a ford one mouth south-west, compelling General Ricketts to change front to the left and advance his line to the west of the pike. This left us a part of the main line of battle, without any support in our rear. About 11 A.M. a second and much severer attack was made upon our right and rear, by which they intended to cut us out, take us prisoners, cross the railroad bridge and turn General Ricketts' position. This movement was plainly visible to Generals Wallace and Ricketts from a hill in my rear, who watched its progress with intense interest and anxiety. General Wallace afterwards wrote me concerning this noon attack, thus: "With General Ricketts at my side, on the bluff behind you, I saw the Confederates appear in your front and thrown out a line of skirmishers. Their movement was like the opening of a fan, and when it was finished, their line on both flanks was much in excess of yours. Immediately upon their advancing, the enemy made haste to plant batteries in position, and in a very few minutes we were under a heavy fire which passed over your heads to us on the hill. Keeping our places, however, we watched your engagement with the enemy. Your people held their position with great tenacity. I remember of telling General Ricketts that I feared you were so much absorbed in the contest that the enemy would have an opportunity to turn your position, cut you off; and while we were speaking about it, I saw them send a strong detachment behind some trees (along the river bank) which intercepted your view of their operation. Could they have made the cover unseen by you, you would have inevitable gone up. Ricketts and I watched the result with intense interest. Fortunately you discovered the movement in time and retired from the position. Your management was admirable."
Anticipating a flank attack, I had, on assuming command, sent pickets up and down the river, who warned me of this movement that was entirely hidden from my view, so that I drew back my men to the west end of the railroad bridge, faced to the north, repelled the attack, then resumed my former position on the pike, which we held until the final retreat about 5 o'clock. In the early part of this noon attack, the wooden bridge over the Monocacy river was burned, without notice to me. At the same time the Ninth New York pickets were all withdrawn, also without notice. I sent to the field officer who should have been on the spot personally directing all these movements, for instructions, but received none. I received no orders from any source after the first gun was fired in the morning. Being only a First Lieutenant, it was a new experience to be thus suddenly thrown into such a responsible position, where authority must be used, and great risk taken. We had to watch the movements of our division on our left, as well as the enemy in our front. My Heavenly Father answered prayer for divine guidance and calmness. The third and last attack began about 3.30 P.M. The situation was critical; the enemy came upon us with such overwhelming numbers and desperation that it seemed we should be swept into the river the place of the Ninth New York pickets at my left hand had not been filled, for want of men. The hundred-day men at my right were melting away, and went over the iron bridge to rifle-pits on the east bank of the river. Nevertheless we fought for over an hour and kept back a much larger force than ours. Apprehending an advance at my left, I sent Corporal John G. Wright, Co. E, Tenth Vermont, through the corn-field, to examine and report. He was killed at once. Immediately the enemy were seen passing around my right, to cut us off from retreat by the iron bridge. At the left, over the rive,r our division was retreating; and the division headquarters flag was crossing the track in our rear. We must leave now, or never. Our noble band of Vermonters stood by me till I gave the order to retreat, when we kept together and crossed the railroad bridge, stepping upon the ties, there being no floor. The enemy were at our heels, and before we could get away from the bridge had laid violent hands upon five of my own company (D) close around me, beside others, and taken them prisoners. One man fell through the bridge to the river, forty feet below, and was taken to Andersonville. When we passed the rifle-pits at the east end of the iron bridge, Captain Brown and his men had gone. Those of our number who escaped rejoined our regiment about midnight.
The only report of this action on the west bank of the river on file in the War Department is from the Captain C. J. Brown referred to. No report was asked of me, and it never occurred to me to make one.
The War Department sent a medal of honor engraved thus: "The Congress to Capt. George E. Davis, Co. D, 10th Vermont Vols., for distinguished conduct in the battle of Monocacy, Md., July 9, 1864."
GEO. E. DAVIS.
Military Record: DAVIS, GEORGE E., Burlington; commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Co. D, Tenth Vermont Infantry, 8/5/62; prom. 1st Lieut., Co. D, 1/26/63; wounded 9/19/64 and 10/19/64; prom. Captain 11/2/64; mustered out 6/22/65.
Source: E. M. Haynes, "A History of the Tenth Regiment, Vt. Vols., with Biographical Sketches," Second Edition, (Tuttle company, Printers, Rutland, 1894), pp. 413-5.
1892 Revised Roster.
Photograph, contributed by John Gibson