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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1863 Report
Appendix B

HeadQuarters First Vermont Brigade
May 6, 1863.

Peter T. Washburn, Adjutant and Inspector General:

Sir: -- The 1st Vermont Brigade has again met the enemy, and done honor to the State.

After the storming of the heights of Fredericksburg on the 3d inst., we were ordered forward upon the plank road, to join the main army. About three miles from Fredericksburg, the advance met, and became hotly engaged with reinforcements marching to the support of the force just driven from the heights.

The Vermont Brigade arrived in the midst of the battle, and was immediately ordered to take position on the left, to repel any flank attack in that direction. With skirmishers well in front, five REgiments of the Brigade were deployed in line, -- the 2d Vermont being held in reserve. In that position we remained during the night.

In the morning it was wound that other reinforcements had come up from the left, taken possession of the heights, and passed to our rear, completely cutting us off from Fredericksburg. We immediately changed direction to the rear, facing towards Fredericksburg.

The disposition of troops, at this time, was as follows: There was one brigade in our front, a large portion of which was deployed upon the skirmish line, which occupied a crest overlooking a ravine, between us and the rebel forces.

Just in the rear of the Brigade thus deployed, was another small ravine in which was a thin skirt of woods. Just in the rear of this ravine, behind a crest of slight swell of ground, the Vermont Brigade took its position, and constituted a second and strong line of defense. The 5th Vermont, Lit. Col. Lewis, was posted on the extreme right, and considerably in front, to support a section of artillery. That position being to the right of the Brigade in our front, two companies were thrown out as skirmishers. The 3d Vermont, Col. Seaver, was o the right of the main line, and the 6th Vermont, Col. Barney, was to the left of the 3d. Between the 3rd and 6th was a battery. The 2nd Vermont, col. Walbridge, occupied the left of the 6th, and the 26th New Jersey, Lieut. Col. Martindale, was on the left of the 2nd. The 4th Vermont, Col. Stoughton, was posted on the extreme left, and considerably to the front, in the edge of a thick pine wood, in a position commanding a ravine and open space in front. In this position we awaited the attack.

The attack commenced a few minutes past 5 P. M., upon Gen. Brooks' skirmishers, to our right. This proved a feint, as the main attack was soon made in strong force directly upon our front. Long lines of rebel infantry, one after another, charged down the slop into the ravine in front of our pickets. One rebel battery after another unmasked and opened fire. The left of the main attack bore directly down towards the 5th Vermont, and its skirmishers retired, fighting inch by inch.

The pickets or skirmishers of the other Brigade were driven in. As soon, however, as the enemy's lines had gained the crest from which the pickets had been driven, they bore to the left to gain the woods, and to separate us from the river. The section of artillery, near the 5th Vermont, retired, having exhausted their ammunition.

Lieut. Col. Lewis immediately threw forward the right of his regiment upon the crest, and poured into the advancing lines a terrible cross and enfilading fire, causing great havoc in their ranks. Still they went on, yelling like demons. The 5th Vermont continued its fire, with great rapidity, upon their flank and rear, until another column, further to the right, came bearing down to the rear of the 5th, threatening to cut it off. Seeing this, Lieut. Col. Lewis, agreeably to previous instructions, drew off his regiment by the flank, passing round, through a depression, to the right of the 3d Vermont.

While this was being done, and the lines in our front were giving way, the 26th New Jersey was ordered to the front and right, and the 2d Vermont was moved to the left, so as to occupy the place left by the 26th. The 3d Vermont was also moved up to take the former position of the 2d, thus leaving the 6th Vermont and the battery on the right. the 26th broke and gave way, and the enemy gained the woods in front of the 32d, and were advancing directly upon them, when the 2d rose and poured upon them a well directed fire, and continued it with such rapidity as to resemble volley immediately upon volley. The 26th passed away from the front, so that the 3d opened, and with the 2d, poured its leaden hail full upon the already confused masses of the advancing hosts. The enemy were here checked, broken and held at bay. Still farther to the left, as the enemy advanced, the 4th Vermont became engaged. As the enemy advanced obliquely, the 4th would have been exposed to a cross fire, but Col. Stoughton, with great coolness, threw back his right wing, presenting a bold front, and poured into them a terrible fire. Still on they went, gaining the ravine in front of the 4th, and at the same time a force farther to the left came up, driving in our front lines, threatening to cut us off from the river.

Col. Stoughton now changed front forward to his original position, and poured in fresh volleys, holding the enemy's lines in check. In the mean time the 5th Vermont had arrived from the right, and been posted behind a crest, to support the 2d.

Seeing that Cols. Walbridge and Seaver were able to hold their front, and that the enemy were pressing to turn our left, I ordered the 5th further to the left, and to a position completely commanding the ravine, should the enemy succeed in flanking the 4th.

At this time the roar of battle was terrible. the roar of cannon and rattle of musketry surpassed all description. The enemy had three times our number in front, but the Vermont regiments stood firm and unbroken, hugging closely to the crest, and literally presenting a wall of fire.

Baffled in their efforts to break through our lines and perceiving that the battery on our right had left its position, the enemy rallied and made an attempt to turn our right. But the 6th Vermont were there.

The rebels, not knowing what awaited them, rushed desperately forward, and nearly gained the crest, when the 6th rose and poured a terrible volley into their quivering ranks, and then immediately charged upon them, down the slope through the ravine, on to the crest in front, from which our front line had been driven.

In the meantime, Lieut. Col. Martindale had rallied the 26th and charged down with the 6th.

The enemy were utterly routed. They gave way in great confusion, and many of them were taken prisoners. the ground in front of the 2d, 3d, and 6th was literally covered with the rebel dead and wounded. So far as this point was concerned, a complete victory was gained: but on the left the enemy was still pressing to cut us off from the river.

I ordered the 2d, 3d, and 6th Vermont, and the 26th New Jersey, from the positions they held, and the ground they had so nobly won, to form a new line to the left and nearer the river. Not knowing what danger was on the left and being conscious of having gained a splendid victory, the Colonels commanding these regiments, at first questioned the authenticity of the order, but upon being informed that the order was imperative, they quickly changed position as directed. At thos pint of time the enemy was making a desperate attempt to force our left. He had gained the woods to the left of the 4th and 5th, and fearing for the safety of the 4th, which was now almost unsupported, I withdrew that regiment, and it was placed in support of Butler's Battery, from Newton's Division, whose timely arrival and deadly fire assisted in checking the enemy's advance at that point. Darkness now came on and the battle ceased, the enemy having been completely foiled in his attempt, by the remarkable coolness and brilliant conduct of the Vermont troops.

Not knowing the strength of the force between our left and the river, I formed a new line in s strong position, prepared to repel any attack. The Regiments in this new line, were formed from left to right, in the following order, to wit: the 5th, 6th, 26th, 3d, 2d and 4th. The 5th was deployed as skirmishers, its left resting on the river. In this position the Brigade held the front, while the balance of the Corps fell back to Banks' Ford, where bridges had been constructed to cross the river. The Brigade then slowly retired, its skirmishers following in the rear. Upon arriving near the Ford, the Brigade formed a new line of battle, and sent skirmishers far to the front (which had now become our rear).

The skirmish line being attacked, the 2nd, 3d and 6th Vermont regiments were sent out to support the skirmish line. The balance of the corps crossed the river, then these regiments and the skirmish line followed. To Col. T. O. Seaver, 3d Vermont Volunteers, acting as General Officer of the day, is due the credit of bringing off these three regiments. to Maj. C. P. Dudley, 5th Vermont Volunteers, under the direction of Col. Seaver, is due the credit of safely bringing off the skirmish line, the last squads crossing the river in boats, after the bridges were partially removed.

So far as space will admit, this is a faithful account of the part taken by the Vermont troops in the battle of Banks' Ford. It was a terrible struggle. If we believe what intelligent prisoners informed us, the rebel Gen. Lee was present directing the attack. He skilfully massed and hurled against us a terrible force, fully expecting to annihilate or capture the whole corps. No less than three corps of the rebel army were engaged, and no less than three Brigades fought the "Green Mountain Boys" to wit: a Louisiana, a North Carolina and a Mississippi Brigade, each consisting of four regiments.

The Louisiana and North Carolina Brigades must have been nearly annihilated. The Colonel commanding the Louisiana Brigade, whom we captured, admitted that we had taken and killed and wounded the most of his brigade. The number of prisoners actually captured must have been over one thousand, but owing to the imperative order withdrawing the4 2nd, 3d, and 6th Vermont, and 26th New Jersey, only about four hundred were brought away, among whom were one Brig. General, one Colonel commanding brigade, several Lieut. Colonels, Majors and Line Officers.

Too much praise cannot be awarded to the officers and men, for their excellent conduct. They could not have done better. Vermont may well be proud of them all. the men did their duty, and the officers were there to direct and encourage.

Not an officer failed to come to time. Not a man straggled from the ranks. And when a regiment moved, it did it with almost the precision of an ordinary drill. It would be impossible, and almost invidious, to particularize, but I cannot fail to speak i the highest terms of praise of Col. Walbridge, 2d Vermont, Col. Seaver, 3d Vermont, Col. Stoughton, 4th Vermont, Col. Barney, 6th, and Lieut. Col. Lewis of the 5th Vermont. Nor can I fail to mention in the same strain the gallant services performed by the officers of my Staff, -- Capt. A. Brown, 4th Vermont Volunteers, Acting Assistant Inspector General; Lieut. C. H. Forbes, 5th Vermont Volunteers, Acting Assistant Adjutant General; Lieuts. J. J. Bain, 2d Vermont, and F. J. Butterfield, 6th Vermont, Acting Aids-de-Camp, and Lieut. Horace French, 3d Vermont, Acting Provost Marshal, --all of whom rendered the most efficient aid. They were everywhere in the thickest of the fight, wherever needed, faithfully delivering and carrying out my orders. This was also true of the at the battle of Fredericksburg.

Lieut. A. Austin, 5th Vermont Volunteers, Acting Quartermaster of the Brigade, is also entitled to great credit for supplying the command with rations and other necessaries, and for safely keeping charge of the baggage of the Brigade.

Nor ought I fail to speak of the gallant dead. Capt. Ainsworth of the 6th Vermont fell while gallantly leading on his men.

The loss of the Vermont troops was, considering all the circumstance, very slight indeed. There were 17 killed, 118 wounded and 44 missing, in all 179. The loss inflicted upon the enemy was probably five times that number. A list of the killed, wounded and missing is herewith forwarded.

Let not the mothers, wives and sisters of Vermont weep for the fallen. Their graves are on the fields of battle, while their spirits find "congenial joys in the fields of the blessed."

	I am, General,
		Very Respectfully,
			Your Ob't Servant,
				L. A. Grant,
					Col. Com'd'g Brigade.