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Adjutant and Inspector General Reports
III. REPORT OF BREVET MAJOR MERRITT BARBER, ASSISTANT ADJUTANT GENERAL VERMONT BRIGADE.
Headquarters Vermont Brigade,Brevet Maj.-Gen. L. A. Grant:
April 15th, 1865.
Sir:--At your request I have the honor to report the part taken by this command in the engagement of the 2nd inst., which resulted in the capture of Petersburg.
The brigade moved out from camp at 11 o'clock P. M., passed through the line of works near Fort Welch, and was silently placed in position in column of regiments close up to the intrenched skirmish line captured from the enemy on the 25th of March. The order of the regiment in column from front to rear was as follows: The 5th Vt., Lieut.-Col. R. A. Kennedy, commanding; 2d Vt., Lieut. Col. A. S. Tracy commanding; 6th Vt., Maj. Wm. J. Sperry commanding; 4th Vt., Capt. George H. Amidon commanding; 3rd Vt., Brevet Col. H. w. Floyd commanding; 11th Vt., in two battalions, under command of Major George D. Sowles and Capt. D. J. Safford, respectively, the two being under command of Lieut. Col. Charles Hunsdon. By one o'clock A. M., the whole command had taken position and laid down to await the disposition of the troops upon the right and left. About 2 o'clock a heavy fire was opened along the entire skirmish line, which was vigorously replied to by the skirmishers of the enemy.
During this fire we were sadly grieved to learn that you have been severely wounded in the head by a minie bullet and would require immediate treatment.
The troops being in position and everything in readiness, at four o'clock A. M., precisely, the signal gun for the assault was fired from Fort Fisher, but owing to the heavy cannonading which had bee kept up at intervals during the night it was not understood. Soon however it was learned, that the troops on the right and left were waiting for us to advance. The command immediately moved forward over the works of the skirmish line and passed on steadily and silently until they had very nearly reached the first line of the enemy's intrenchments, where they were discovered by their skirmishers who delivered a weak and scattering volley and then fled. The alarm having been given and silence no longer necessary, a cheers, that has been heard on nearly every battle-field in Virginia, went up from ten thousand brave hearts and told the story to friend and foe, that the 6th Corps was on a charge and pushing for the main works of the enemy about five hundred yards in its front. After passing over about half the distance the enemy began to pour in a well directed musketry fire from the front and artillery fire from the forts on either hand, which completely enfiladed the line and caused it to waver. This was the most critical moment throughout the entire engagement. Day was just beginning to dawn and very soon the enemy would be able to discover our precise position and movements. They had also become apprised of the point of attack ans were apparently beginning to appreciate its importance and were hastening to meet it with all the strength at their disposal.
But to the credit of the command the hesitation was but momentary, and the troops again pushed forward with a determination that knew no such word as fail. The remaining portion of the ground was passed over under a most withering fire of musketry, but with gallantry that was never surpassed, and which betokened the victory subsequently won. Officers and men vied with each other in he race for the works, and all organization was lost in the eagerness and enthusiasm of the troops. The lines of abattis were brushed away like cobwebs and the men swarmed over the works with yells and cheers, that struck terror to the rebels flying in all directions. In crossing the ground in front of the abattis, the casualties were very numerous. Lieut. George O. French, 11th Vt., was instantly killed while gallantly cheering on his men, and Lieut. G. C. Hawkins, 3d Vt., acting adjutant 4th Vt., very dangerously wounded, while leading the men forward with an enthusiasm deserving of all praise. Brevet Maj. E.G. Ballou, ever conspicuous in engagements, was also wounded by a piece of shell and obliged to retire from the field, but returned during the afternoon. It is confidently believed that Capt. Charles G. Gould of the 5th Vt., was the first man of the 6th Corps who mounted the enemy's works. His regiment was in the first line of the brigade, and, in the charge, he was far in advance of his command. Upon mounting the works he received a severe bayonet wound in the face and was struck several times with clubbed muskets, but bravely stood his ground, killing with his sabre the man who bayonetted him, and retiring from the works only after his comrades came to his assistance and routed the enemy from their lines.
Two earthworks, one to the right of the ravine, containing four guns, and the other to the left, containing two guns, were here captured. After crossing the works the brigade pushed forward to the crest of the hill in the rear, where a short halt was ordered for the purpose of reforming. The organization obtained here was very incomplete, owing to the eagerness of the troops to pursue the enemy, who were making for the woods in the rear, but with such organization as it had, the brigade, turning to the left, moved forward about half a mile and halted at the edge of a dense wood to reform. The brigade was here formed in single line in numerical order from right to left, the 11th connecting with the third division, and about half a mile distant from and inside of the enemy's works. The lines being formed, the whole command pushed forward vigorously through the thickets, swamps and pine woods, soon losing all organization again in the eagerness of the men to surpass each other in the pursuit of the enemy, who were being pursued so closely that they could scarcely fire a shot, and appeared to have given up all idea of resistance and were only desirous to be taken prisoners. In this manner the pursuit continued for about four miles in a direction nearly parallel with the works, until Barley's house, near Hatcher's Run, was reached, where the brigade was halted for a few minutes and then moved to the left and formed in column of regiments just inside the works.
Words are inadequate to express the conduct of the troops in this second charge. Every man appeared to consider himself a host, and singly or in squads of three or four they charged upon whatever obstructions came in their paths. Brevet Major E. Wales of the 2d Vt., with two men, captured a piece or artillery, turned it upon the enemy, and the shell with which the piece was charged went howling through the woods after the very men who had prepared the compliment for us. Maj. Sperry of the 6th Vt., and Lieut. Bailey of the 11th Vt., assisted by a few men, captured two pieces and turned them upon the flying rebels. Being unable to procure primers the pieces were discharged by firing a musket into the vent of the piece. In this manner twelve rounds were fired, when a section of artillery coming up the guns were turned over to its commander.
Capt. Tilden of the 11th Vt., with about a dozen men captured two pieces of artillery, eleven commissioned officers and sixty-tow enlisted men of the 42d Miss. regiment. Sergt. Lester G. Hack, Co. F, 5th Vt., dashed into a squad of rebels who had gathered around a beautiful stand of colors, and, with a humanity as praiseworthy as his daring, knocked town the color bearer, seized the colors as he fell, and rushed on to another portion of the field. Corporal Charles H. Dolloff, Co. K 11th Vt., also captured a battle flag, supposed to be that of the 42d Miss.
About 9 o'clock A. M. the brigade was again put in motion and moved back along the line of works, past the point at which the lines were penetrated in the morning, and formed about three miles south of Petersburg, on the left of a road leading to the city, the spires of which were plainly visible in the distance. The ground between this formation and the city consisted of a series of hills and marshy ravines, and the enemy were distinctly seen making every disposition of their troops and artillery to content our advance. The brigade formed in single line from right to left as follows, 11th, 2d, 3d, 5th, 6th, 4th; a skirmish line was advanced under Capt. Safford of the 11th, and the command then moved forward, its right resting on the road. The enemy poured in a very heavy fire of shot and shell from a battery on our right, which completely enfiladed our lines, and a perfect hailstorm of canister from a battery of four guns planted in the garden of the Turnbrell house, where General Lee had his Head-Quarters, directly in front. Brevet Col. Floyd, commanding 3d Vt., threw forward a few men as skirmishers, with orders to advance on the double quick and shoot the horses of the battery to prevent its being removed. This daring feat was accomplished with perfect success, the brigade in the meantime wheeling to the left and rapidly closing in upon the guns. The command of the battery, finding it impossible to escape with his guns, raised a white flag, when Col. Floyd ordered the firing to cease and pressed forward to receive his surrender. At the same time Capt. R. Templeton of the 11th Vt. with a small squad of men came up gallantly from the right flank on the double quick to contest with Col. Floyd the capture of the guns. Just at this moment the skirmish line of the 1st brigade of this division coming up on the left and not observing the white flag opened fire on the battery, when the men turned and fled. THe guns were immediately taken possession of and a guard from the brigade established over them.
DUring this charge Capt. Morey of the second Vt., was instantly killed by a canister shot from this battery, and Lieuts. Humphrey and Tilden of the 4th were severely wounded. They were brave officers and were doing their duty nobly when they fell.
This was the last stand made by the enemy outside of the line of defences immediately surrounding Petersburg. The command moved forward to the bank of heroic creek (about a mile outside of the suburbs of the city) under an enfilading fire from the batteries on either hand and a desultory fire of sharpshooters posted in the inner defences. A few of the sharpshooters of the 4th Vt., who were on the extreme left of the brigade, crossed the creek of a fallen tree, crept up the precipitous bank on the opposite side, and soon silenced the battery on the left.
The men being now worn out by want of sleep, having eaten nothing since the night previous, and completely exhausted by the labors of this long day, were withdrawn to a ravine to the right of the road and the brigade reformed and moved again to the left of the Nottingham house, where it three up intrenchments and went into camp for the night. I then, sir, reported to your for orders at the Turnbrell house, occupied during the past winter by Gen. Robert E. Lee as his Head-Quarters, where the Head-Quarters of the Vermont brigade were established for the night.
After you were wounded, the command of the brigade was turned over to Lieut. Col. Tracy of the 2d Vt., who led the assault on the enemy's works with a gallantry that was worthy of the troops under his command. Too much praise cannot be awarded to this gallant officer for the manner in which he handled the command in that most trying of all moments--the first shock of a desperate battle. Lt.-Col. Chas. Hunsdon of the 11th Vt. is also deserving of great credit, not only for gallantry in the assault, but for marked energy in assisting to reform the brigade after it had passed the enemy's works.
When it was reformed here, the command was turned over to Brevet Col. Charles Mundee, Ass't. Adj't. Gen'l. of the division, who led it in person with most conspicuous gallantry throughout all the subsequent movements. WIth perfect confidence that the troops under his command would follow where ever he would lead the way, he pressed forward in front of the line of battle with a perfect disregard of all danger, and by his example, as well as by the skill with which he handled the command, contributed in a very great degree to the glorious achievements that day performed by the Vermont brigade.
When the troops were moved into position for the night the command was again turned over to Lieut. Col. Tracy.
Captains Bonett, Sessions and Baxter, and Lieut. Lewis, of your staff, are entitled to the highest consideration at your hands for the manner in which they performed the arduous duties of staff officers during the day. The horses not coming up, they were obliged to be on foot, but notwithstanding all difficulties, they were everywhere present throughout the entire day, cheering on the men, re-forming the lines, preserving the connections of the regiments, and helping on by precept and example the operations of the day.
Sergt. Thomas McColley deserves particular mention for the gallantry with which the colors of the Vermont brigade were sustained in front of the foremost line throughout the entire engagement. I trust that his services will meet with suitable recognition.
The honor of being the first to break the enemy's line is confidently claimed by this brigade. Being the guiding brigade of the charging column, its position was nearest the enemy's line and most advantageous to reach the works before the troops on the right or left. The commanders of the 5th, 6th and 11th regiment each claim, that the colors of his command was the first planted on the works, but owing to the darkness prevailing at the time the lines were reached, and the distance between the points at which these colors were placed on the works, it is impossible to decide the delicate question. There is no question however that the honor belongs to the Vermont brigade.
The captures of the command during the day consist of two battle flags, nineteen pieces of artillery, horses, mules, harnesses and equipments, great quantities of Quartermaster's and medical stores, and several hundred prisoners. Owing to the enthusiasm of the troops and the rapidity with which the brigade was maneuvered, but little attention was given to procuring credit for the captures to which the command is entitled.
Is is impossible for any one individual to do credit to all the operations of the command on account of the extended field over which they were carried on. The troops could not be restrained from pushing out in all directions from the lines in pursuit of adventures, and in this they contributed very materially to the success of the day, not only in capturing prisoners and preventing organization of the enemy at any point, but also in destroying and capturing large quantities of means of transportation and of stores which were of great value to the enemy.
Such as are here narrated are but the general features of the part taken by the command in the engagement for the possession of petersburg, and it is by no means claimed, that it comprises all the achievements performed on that day by the Vermont brigade.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
M. BARBER, Brevet Major and Ass't Adj't. Gen'l.