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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports

1864 Report

Appendix F

HEADQUARTERS SMITH'S DIVISION,
May 10, 1862.

CAPT.: I have the honor to report, for the information of the Brig. Gen. commanding Fourth Army Corps, that on the morning of the 4th inst., soon after daylight, General Hancock rode up to me bringing two contrabands, who informed me that the works in front of us had been evacuated. I immediately directed General Hancock to call for a few volunteers from each regiment of his brigade to cross the dam in front of us, and made the necessary dispositions of my artillery and infantry to cover as much as possible the crossing of these men, in case the work should still be occupied. Before, however, the troops arrived at the points designated, at about 5.30 a.m., Lieut. Custer, Fifth Cavalry, and Capt. Read, assistant adjutant-general to General Brooks, had crossed the dam and taken possession of the works. The Fifth Vermont being near at hand, I ordered it forward at once to occupy the works, and other regiments were immediately ordered in as a support.

Work was immediately commenced on the dam to make it passable for artillery and cavalry, and at about 7 a.m. the squadron of cavalry under my command was thrown across the dam and ordered to the front to reconnoiter. Information was soon received from Capt. Chambliss, commanding the squadron, that he had come up with the rear guard of the enemy, consisting of a large force of cavalry and a force of infantry. Capt. Chambliss was ordered to retire, as I was then in no condition to support him, and the information was telegraphed to the general-in-chief and the generals commanding the left wing and 4th Corps.

About 8 o'clock my artillery began to cross.. I immediately ordered a battery with General Hancock's brigade forward to support the cavalry. About this time a dispatch was received from the general-in-chief ordering me not to engage the enemy, as he had made arrangements for cutting them off. Capt. Chambliss had, however, been cautiously following their retreating rear guard, and by the time I overtook the advance, about 11.30 a.m., it was within a mile of the Yorktown and Williamsburg road. Here I received a positive order from General Sumner to halt, and occupied myself pushing reconnaissances to ascertain whether we could turn the head of Skiff Creek, the bridge over which had been burned (and in the endeavor to put out the fire Lieut. Custer had burned his hands), and also to ascertain if a practicable route could be found to the Yorktown road, the road directly in front of us being impassable. Both these reconnaissances were successful.

At about 6.30 p.m. the order to advance was given. Before the first line got fairly into the woods I took the responsibility of halting the third line, ordering it to remain in support of the artillery, and as a reserve for the other troops to fall back upon in case they were driven in. On finding the utterly impracticable nature of the woods in front of us I endeavored to find General Sumner, to get authority to halt the troops, but failing in that, I sent an aide to find General Hancock to order a halt. I then sent to General Heintzelman, stating the circumstances, and asking him to authorize a halt. The reply came back that he was expecting General Hooker to attack on the left, and under the circumstances could not give the requisite authority.

About 8 o'clock, while endeavoring to get the troops of the right wing into order, I was very much relieved by hearing from General Hancock that, failing to communicate with me, he had taken the responsibility of halting the left wing. The right wing was immediately ordered to bivouac in the open field where it then found itself, and I then proceeded to look for General Sumner, whom I afterward found in the woods with Generals Hancock and Brooks. I then received instructions with reference to posting the reserve brigade and to be ready to attack the works at daylight. The reports of Generals Hancock and Brooks and Capt. Chambliss with reference to the operations of their respective commands this day are herewith inclosed.

At daylight on the morning of the 5th it was raining hard, and while waiting for sufficient light to get into the woods to reach General Sumner I was informed by him that he had ordered the command to retire, as some of the regiments were without rations. I then proceeded to post the command in its new position, and while doing so learned that the enemy's works (reported the night before to be a single line open in the rear) consisted of a line of inclosed redoubts, extending to our right as far as the eye could reach. I immediately asked that engineer officers of the command might be ordered to make a reconnaissance. Capt. Stewart, of the Engineers, detailed for this duty, made a reconnaissance to the right of Fort Magruder, but from the nature of the ravines and the flanking power of the redoubts found no suitable point of attack. In a conversation with Capt. Stewart he told me that a negro had informed him that there was a road across a dam on our right, leading to Williamsburg, a distance of about 3 miles. I then asked him to take four companies from my command as an escort, and proceed to make an examination as to the correctness of this report. A little after 10 a.m. Capt. Currie, my assistant adjutant-general, returned to me from Capt. Stewart, and reported that a redoubt had been found apparently unoccupied, commanding a dam which was practicable for artillery to cross. This report was immediately made to General Sumner, who insisted on Capt. Stewart being sent for. On Capt. Stewart's arrival, to confirm his previous report, I received permission to order a brigade forward to take the work if possible, and General Hancock was immediately detached for that purpose. In addition to the orders received from General Sumner he was ordered by me to go as far as prudent in his own estimation.

Later in the day I received an order to detach a brigade from the division to the support of General Hooker. General Brooks was ordered for this purpose, but I went back to expostulate against the breaking up of my command, and to ask that I might go with the two remaining brigades of the division to re.enforce General Hancock, who had sent in word that he had already taken two forts. Permission was granted, and the remainder of the division was being drawn out on the road when I received orders not to proceed, but to place my troops in a position to resist an attack on the ground we then occupied. This was done, but later in the day I again urged that I might be allowed to proceed to the support of General Hancock as the most expeditious mode of terminating the attack upon the left. This request was denied. About 12 m. four pieces of Capt. Mott's battery were ordered into position in front of the Vermont brigade, more to annoy and distract the enemy than with the hope of accomplishing any permanent good. The object seemed to have been attained. Still later in the day Lieut. Farquhar arrived with a message from General Hancock. He was immediately sent to the commanding general with a renewal of the request so often made. Permission was again granted, and again the troops were on the road, when the order was given to place them in position to resist an attack upon the position then occupied. About 5 p.m., the general-in-chief arriving on the field, re-enforcements were at once ordered, and I joined General Hancock in time to get the troops posted just before dark.

The report of General Hancock will show the various messages sent me by him during the day and the answers returned by order of the commanding general. To the engagement of General Hancock's command (consisting of the Fifth Wisconsin, Sixth Maine, and Forty-ninth Pennsylvania, of the First Brigade, and the Thirty-third New York and Seventh Maine, of the Third Brigade), which took place in the afternoon, I cannot pretend to do justice. The brilliancy of the plan of battle; the coolness of its execution; the seizing of the proper instant for changing from the defensive to the offensive; the steadiness of the troops engaged, and the completeness of the victory are subjects to which I earnestly call the attention of the general-in-chief for his just praise. The accompanying sketch, made by Capt. West, acting topographical engineer of the division, will serve to define General Hancock's position. Capt. Ayres' report will be found with the accompanying documents.

Very respectfully,
WM. F. SMITH,
Brig. Gen. Commanding Division

Capt. C. C. SUYDAM,
A. A. G., 4th Corps,
Army of the Potomac.

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