HDQRS. THIRD DIVISION, NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Suffolk, Va., May 12, 1863.
SIR: On April 11, the alarm of the enemy's approach being given, in compliance with the orders of the major-general commanding, the troops of this division were called out under arms. The pickets along the northeastern front were strengthened; two companies of the Tenth New Hampshire were placed in Fort Halleck, where they remained until May 10; the troops under Colonel Dutton engaged in fortifying the river; the Twenty-first Connecticut and five companies of the Thirteenth New Hampshire at Fort Connecticut; the Fourth Rhode Island, One hundred and third New York, and the remainder of the Thirteenth New Hampshire at Fort Stevens were called in. Three companies, however, of the Thirteenth New Hampshire were ordered to remain at Fort Connecticut, with orders to observe the river, resist any attempt of the enemy to cross until the last moment, and then to fall back to Suffolk over the corduroy bridge across Broer's Creek, taking up the bridge. The troops remained under arms and on the alert during the night. The Second Brigade strengthened the south front between Forts Union and McClellan, and remained in this position until April 28, with the exception of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, which, on the 14th, was ordered to the river front, where it has since remained.
On the 18th General Harland was assigned to the command of the front from Fort Halleck to Battery Onondaga, and on the 28th the Eleventh and Fifteenth Regiments Connecticut Volunteers, and on the 29th the Sixteenth Connecticut Volunteers, reported to him.
On the 12th Col. A. H. Dutton, commanding the Third Brigade, was placed in command of the line of defenses included between Forts Jericho and Halleck, and at once set to work throwing up rifle-pits <ar26_302> and fortifying his position. Under Colonel Dutton's supervision the front between Fort Halleck and Battery Onondaga was very materially strengthened. Rifle-pits were thrown up, covering all the approaches by the Portsmouth road, and a second line on the west bank of Jericho Creek and Fort Dutton, on the left of Fort Jericho, was thrown up. He was relieved on April 18 by Brigadier-General Harland and assigned to the command of the river defenses between the mouth of Jericho Creek and Dr. Council's. The Eighty-ninth Regiment New York Volunteers was placed in Fort Montgomery, where it remained until May 6 with the exception of temporary absences.
On the 13th the Fourth Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers was ordered to report to Brigadier-General Corcoran and was stationed by him behind the breastworks on the left of Fort Union. It occupied this position until May 1, when it was relieved by the Ninth Vermont and placed on the line of river defenses near Fort Connecticut, where it now is. The One hundred and third New York was stationed on the 13th instant behind the breastworks to the left of Fort Union, a position which it held until May 6. The Ninth Regiment New York Volunteers was placed in Fort Nansemond, where it remained until relieved and sent North on May 3.
It is my painful duty in this connection to animadvert upon the course pursued by the Ninth Regiment New York Volunteers, who for the first time in their military history turned their backs upon the enemy, and, deaf to the appeals of the commander of the department, persisted in returning home, when every consideration of patriotism, honor, and pride called upon them to remain and share the dangers of battle with their comrades in the field. Most deeply do I regret that a regiment whose career since they entered the service two years ago has been most brilliant should at the close sully their glorious reputation by such an act; but it is due to truth to say that in my opinion the fault lies chiefly with the officers, and most of all with the commanding officer, whose whole course in this affair seems to have been actuated by personal pique and caprice.
On April 14, reconnoitering along the river, I discovered a battery of the enemy at Norfleet's farm, which in an engagement that morning with our gunboats had disabled the Mount Washington and repulsed the remainder. I found that this battery mounted four guns--two 20-pounder Parrotts and two brass 12-pounders; that it commanded completely a point directly opposite and extending out some distance from this side, and that a large party of the enemy was at work strengthening the battery and throwing up additional works and rifle-pits. I immediately sent for guns and troops, negroes and tools, which arrived in the course of the afternoon.
During the night I filled the point with sharpshooters to dispute the passage of the enemy in case he attempted to cross, and posted the Tenth New Hampshire and a section of artillery to check his farther advance in case he succeeded in driving our sharpshooters and effecting a lodgment on the point. Their position was strengthened with rifle-pits during the night. Two positions were selected for batteries, one near the base of and a little to the right of the point, since named Battery Kimball, distant some 1,200 yards from the enemy's battery, the other on the left side of the point, at the mouth of Broer's Creek, distant 900 yards from the enemy's battery, and since named Battery Morris.
The works were pushed vigorously during the night. Battery Morris, constructed by Captain Beger, Second Wisconsin Battery, who, with three guns of his battery (10-pounder Parrotts), had been sent to <ar26_303> me by the order of the commanding general, was completed and the guns placed in position before 2 a.m. Battery Kimball was completed about midnight. Two 20-pounder Parrott guns, under Captain Morris, Ninth Regiment New York Volunteers, and one 3-inch gun of the Fourth Wisconsin Battery, also under his charge, were placed in position. Both batteries were screened by trees and underwood.
At daylight the next morning Captain Beger cutting away the trees which intercepted his fire, opened on the enemy s battery, firing percussion-shell from one gun, fuse-shell from a second, and case-shot from the third. In a few moments the enemy replied, firing briskly. Several of the 20-pounder shells passed through and through the frail parapet of Battery Morris. As soon as his whole attention was engaged with Battery Morris and the position of his guns ascertained from their fire, the screen was thrown aside from Battery Kimball and Captain Morris opened fire from all his guns, directing his whole fire on one piece of the enemy, and successively on two others, silencing all three in turn, Captain Beget meanwhile keeping up a hot and well-directed fire from his three guns in Battery Morris. At the end of two hours the enemy's fire slackened and became very feeble. In another hour he was entirely silenced.
During the action our sharpshooters, who had been placed on the point and on an island in the marsh to the right, kept up a fire which must have proved very annoying to the enemy's gunners, since it provoked one or two discharges of canister. The following night he withdrew his guns.
The only casualties were 3 drivers of Battery A, Fifth United States Artillery, wounded, 1 mortally. One of the 20-pounder Parrotts threw off its muzzle after firing twelve rounds and was replaced by a 3-inch gun from the Fourth Wisconsin Battery, a section of which had been sent to me and was kept in reserve.
The three days following every nerve was strained to put the river in a thorough state of defense. The military road already completed to Fort Connecticut was extended to Fort Stevens. Batteries and rifle-pits were thrown up on all the exposed points. The troops, as fast as they arrived, were sent into the trenches, and on the 18th the following was the disposition of the troops along the line of the river:
Lieut. G. B. Easterly, Fourth Wisconsin Battery, at Battery Kimball, with one 20-pounder Parrott and two 3-inch guns; Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, with one company of sharpshooters, holding position next below the mouth of Jericho Creek; Captain Beger, Second Wisconsin Battery, with two guns, in Battery Morris, supported by one company of the Twenty-fifth New Jersey Volunteers; Lieutenant Crabb, with one section of light 12-pounders; Lieutenant Schulz, with one section of 10-pounder Parrotts; the Tenth New Hampshire Volunteers, Ninth Vermont Volunteers, one company of the Twenty-fifth New Jersey Volunteers, and four companies of the Nineteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, under the command of Colonel Donohoe, Tenth New Hampshire Volunteers, holding position of Fort Connecticut, from Broer's Creek to Dr. Council's; Captain Morris, with two 20-pounder Parrotts in Battery Stevens, supported by Colonel Pease, One hundred and seventeenth New York Volunteers; Major Wheelan on the right of Colonel Pease, with four companies of Mounted Rifles, and five gunboats between the mouth of Broer's Creek and a point half a mile below Dr. Council's landing. Gunboats below West Branch; number not known. Two regiments of infantry, the Eighth Connecticut and Nineteenth Wisconsin Volunteers, six companies, and one section of artillery in reserve. <ar26_304>
On the 14th instant the enemy had planted a battery in the earth works on Hill's Point, and, in the engagement that ensued between them and our naval forces in the river, almost entirely destroyed the gunboat Mount Washington. After this action five gunboats returned to the Upper Nansemond, above Hill's Point, and it became evident that their safety required that this battery should be silenced, for the channel of the river runs within 50 yards of Hill's Point, and the action of the 14th showed conclusively that it would be almost certain destruction for any boat to attempt to run past. It was therefore with a view to deliver our gunboats from a dangerous position, as well as to annoy the enemy and to gain possession of an important point for future operations, that an expedition to cut out the battery was undertaken. The plan of operation, as arranged with Lieutenant Lamson, U.S. Navy, commanding flotilla, was as follows: Five hundred men were to embark on the gunboat Stepping Stones at Dr. Council's landing, proceed down the river, land on Hill's Point just above the battery, and charge the works with the bayonet. Lieutenant Lamson volunteered to land four boat howitzers to co-operate in this movement, and at his request was furnished with 40 men to man the drag-ropes.
At 5.30 p.m. on April 19, detachments of 130 men from the Eighth Connecticut and 140 men from the Eighty-ninth New York embarked on the Stepping Stones at Dr. Council's landing. A canvas screen, which effectually concealed the men, was drawn up all around the deck, and the boat pushed off and steamed rapidly down the stream. As she approached the battery not a shot was fired or a sound heard to indicate the presence of the enemy. He was waiting, with all his guns double-shotted with canister, until the vessel should come abreast and within 50 yards of his battery. At 300 yards above the battery Lieutenant Lamson headed his boat inshore, but striking on a spile she glanced off, and, borne on the ebb-tide, was on the eve of shooting in front of the battery, when Lieutenant Lamson, with admirable presence of mind, reversed the paddle-wheels and backed her aground. The men jumped off from both ends of the boat up to their waists in mud and water, scrambled hastily ashore, and with a cheer dashed for the battery. In an instant Lieutenant Lamson had landed his howitzers and followed. The enemy, apprised of our approach by the cheers, opened a hot fire of musketry, and was enabled even to reverse and fire one of his guns; but seeing himself cut off, and receiving one or two discharges of canister from Lamson's howitzers, he surrendered. The capture of 5 guns, 7 officers, and 130 men, the liberation of the five gunboats above, and the occupation of a point of vital importance to the enemy and an admirable point of operations for us were the results of one of the most brilliant achievements of the war. Our loss was 4 killed and 10 wounded.
The battery taken, our whole attention was turned to fortifying the position and preparing for attack. The boat howitzers were placed in battery just above the landing place in a position to sweep the plain in front over which the attacking party must pass, rifle-pits were commenced, and pickets thrown out. Col. A. H. Dutton was placed in command. Five companies of the TenthNew Hampshire Volunteers, a detachment of 60 men of the Ninth Vermont, Colonel Pease, One hundred and seventeenth New York, with four companies of his regiment, and Lieutenant Crabb, Battery A, Fifth U.S. Artillery, with gun detachments to man the captured pieces, were sent over to re-enforce the position, and by morning a formidable line of rifle-pits and batteries was erected. <ar26_305>
The boat howitzers were withdrawn and re-embarked on the arrival of Lieutenant Crabb. Contrary to expectation the morning dawned without an attack. A section of Battery A, Fifth U.S. Artillery, under the command of Lieutenant Murray, and the remainder of the One hundred and seventeenth New York were sent across. The day was spent in fortifying and strengthening the position. No demonstration was made by the enemy during the day with the exception that in the morning a line of skirmishers advanced across a field and afterward withdrew.
In compliance with the order of the major-general commanding, given upon my representations, the position was evacuated on the night of the 20th. The movement began soon after dark. The artillery, intrenching tools, surplus ammunition, &c., were embarked on the Stepping Stones, and the troops ferried across and landed on the marsh opposite by the West End and by small boats. The picket line was held to the last moment, and at 12.30 o'clock the last load crossed over undisturbed by the enemy, who during the whole evacuation scarcely fired a shot or gave the least annoyance.
After the capture of Hill's Point Battery nothing of special importance occurred until May 3. The enemy's sharpshooters caused considerable annoyance to our pickets and working parties; nevertheless the works were pushed vigorously, every available man being sent into the trenches.
On the 18th the enemy opened fire from two heavy guns in sunken batteries on the West Branch, a few hundred yards above Hill's Point; but the capture of Hill's Point on the 19th exposed them to a similar fate and necessitated their withdrawal. They were withdrawn on the night of the 19th.
On the 24th the Ninth Vermont, Eighth Connecticut, and the Nineteenth Wisconsin Volunteers were ordered by the major-general commanding to report to General Dodge to take part in a reconnaissance under direction of General Corcoran. They returned the following morning.
On the 27th instant a new battery of the enemy was discovered some distance west of Norfleet's house, and on the morning of the 28th it opened fire on the Swan and Commerce, two unarmed steamers which passed down the river from Suffolk.
On April 30 the enemy opened fire from a battery of three heavy guns at Le Compte's house on the West Branch. After a short engagement with the gunboats and the two 20-pounder Parrotts, under Captain Morris, in Fort Stevens, the battery was silenced.
On May 2 I received orders to make a reconnaissance on the Providence Church road the following day.
The operations of the 3d instant constituted a reconnaissance designed to ascertain the number and position of the enemy's force and his movements. They were threefold. The main force was to advance on the Providence Church road, while two expeditions were to cross the Nansemond below at different points, seize Reed's Ferry, and feel the enemy's left. The One hundred and third and Eighty-ninth Regiments New York Volunteers, supported by the Twenty-fifth New Jersey and Thirteenth New Hampshire, crossing the bridge over the river, deployed as skirmishers on the right and left of the road and advanced, driving the enemy back from position to position until he took refuge in his rifle-pits and batteries. Hasbrouck's battery followed along the road, and, with the assistance of Davis' battery, kept silent the enemy's artillery. Major Wheelan, with four companies of the Mounted Rifles, followed «20 R R--VOL XVIII» <ar26_306> Hasbrouck's battery but was not brought into action. The Connecticut regiments, Eleventh, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth, under General Harland, followed and supported the advance, relieving the advance regiments as they exhausted their ammunition and holding the ground already gained; Colonel Onderdonk's cavalry, the One hundred and forty-third. One hundred and forty-fourth, and One hundred and seventieth Regiments New York Volunteers, constituted the reserve, under the command of Colonel Mclvor, of the One hundred and seventieth Regiment New York Volunteers.
The enemy was found strongly posted at the forks of the Providence Church and Reed's Ferry roads. An earthwork on his left rested on a swamp, from which strong rifle.-pits extended across his whole front and rested on his right on a branch of the river. It will be seen that the position could not be turned, and to carry it a direct assault had to be made on the front, which, even if successful, must inevitably have resulted in a great sacrifice of life. It was determined, therefore, on consultation with the major-general commanding, that the objects of the reconnaissance, in revealing the position and force of the enemy, were attained as far as was possible under the circumstances, and therefore nothing remained but to withdraw with as little loss as possible. Accordingly, the rifle-pits on the enemy's side next the drawbridge were manned by the One hundred and seventieth New York Volunteers, and the whole force was rapidly and quietly withdrawn without the loss of a man. The movement was completed by 9 p.m. and the bridge taken up.
We lost in this engagement Col. Benjamin Ringold, of the One hundred and third Regiment New York Volunteers, a most gallant and valuable officer, who fell at the head of his regiment late in the afternoon.(*)
Meanwhile the Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers crossed in boats at Hill's Point at daylight and advanced across the field toward the woods, but, encountering a superior force of the enemy advantageously posted in the woods, they were compelled, after considerable skirmishing, to withdraw upon Hill's Point, from whence they were withdrawn to this side the following night. The Fourth Rhode Island was assisted by a boat howitzer from the Commodore Barney and by a detachment of the One hundred and seventeenth New York Volunteers. The Twenty-first Connecticut, a section of Vallee's battery, Fourth Wisconsin, and a sergeant and 10 men from the Mounted Rifles, under command of Major Crosby, of the Twenty-first Connecticut, crossed the river near Sleepy Hole, with the assistance of the gunboats, and advanced to Chuckatuck, where they drove out some 300 of the enemy's cavalry, part of which retreated on the route leading to Isle of Wight and the remainder on the road leading to Everett's Bridge, some 3 miles above Reed's Ferry. Skirmishing all the way, they pushed forward to Reed's Ferry, which they occupied after a brisk skirmish, in which they captured a lieutenant and 15 men. Being unable to communicate with our forces on the left, the Fourth Rhode Island, or the main advance, Major Crosby, moved down the left bank of the West Branch to the Nansemond and took up an intrenched camp, from which he was withdrawn the following day. He lost 2 killed and 4 wounded.
On May 5 the commanding general published General Orders, No. 31, announcing the retreat of the enemy.
On the 7th, Field Orders, No. 14, were issued, disposing the troops of this division as follows, which positions they now occupy: The Second <ar26_307> Brigade, General E. Harland, from Fort Halleck to the mouth of Jericho Canal; the Third Brigade, Col. A. H. Dutton, on the river, from the mouth of Jericho Creek to Battery Stevens; the First Brigade, Col. H. S. Fairchild, in reserve along the line of Suffolk County road from Jericho Canal to Calhoun's; the artillery in the batteries along the river.
The amount of work performed by troops on this line, taken in connection with the great amount of picket duty necessitated by the extent of the line and the incessant watchfulness imposed by the presence of the daring and enterprising enemy in great force, is astounding. On the front, from Fort Halleck to Battery Onondaga, there have been thrown up 3,434 yards of rifle-pits and 308 yards of parapet, 7 feet high and 7 feet in thickness on top. On the river line, 4,398 yards of rifle-pits, 1,944 feet of parapet, with an average height of 8 feet and thickness of something over 10 feet on top, were constructed. In addition to which some 10 miles of entirely new roads, including several bridges over impassable creeks and marshes and miles of corduroying, were made. Much of the work was done under the fire of the enemy's sharpshooters, who proved exceedingly annoying during the whole course of the siege. These results could not have been obtained had I not had the efficient support of Colonels Dutton and Pease, commanding the upper and lower defenses respectively, and their officers and men. Both of these officers worked day and night.
Colonel Dutton, in addition to his duties as a commanding officer, was also obliged to assume those of an engineer, and personally laid out and constructed many of the most important works on this line.
Lieutenant Murray, of Battery A, Fifth U.S. Artillery, was also of great service in constructing works. Fort Lamson and a battery next below Dr. Council's was laid out by him.
The services of Colonel Derrom, in constructing roads and bridges, were of the utmost value. Without the bridge constructed by him across Broer's Creek it is doubtful whether the line of the river could have been held with the small force at my disposal.
Colonel Stevens, also, of the Thirteenth New Hampshire, is deserving of credit. Both Colonels Stevens and Derrom displayed zeal, judgment, and courage on the 3d instant.
The whole deportment of the troops was excellent; with a single exception there was no complaint. Every order was obeyed with the utmost cheerfulness, and the same men who came off picket duty in the morning went on fatigue duty at night without a murmur.
The artillery is especially deserving of great credit. Captain Morris, Ninth New York Volunteers, with a battery of 20-pounder Parrotts, with the assistance of three 10 pounder Parrotts of Captain Beger's battery, silenced most effectually the enemy's battery at Norfleet's, and afterward rendered good service silencing his batteries at Le Compte's.
The services of the signal officers, Lieutenants Thayer and Murray, were great, and rendered always cheerfully and promptly.
I cannot close this report without acknowledging the important services rendered by the naval forces co-operating in the river, a tribute which they have richly merited. Lieutenants Cushing and Lamson and the officers and men of their commands have shown that in their country's service they know no fear, and that the old breed of naval heroes is not extinct; but to Lieutenant Lamson in particular, whose gallantry exhibited in his engagements at Norfleet's and at Hill's Point has been fully equaled by the willingness and desire he has shown on all occasions to co-operate with the land forces and to do everything <ar26_308> for the good of the service, my thanks are due. But in acknowledging the services of meritorious officers I must not omit those of my own staff. To their services I am myself a witness, and with great pleasure am I able to state that in every emergency they have responded to the call made upon them with alacrity and willingness. Captain Gardner, assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenants McKechnie and Faxon, aides-de-camp; Dr. Humphreys, medical director, and Lieutenant Herbert, ordnance officer, did their whole duty, and in this is comprised everything.
Capt. Hazard Stevens, assistant adjutant-general, whose distinguished services and conduct have been acknowledged in previous reports, was particularly conspicuous throughout the operations above recited. On all occasions, whether in the discharge of his legitimate duties in the trenches, reconnoitering, or on the field under the enemy's fire, he evinced an earnestness and devotion worthy of emulation and deserving the highest praise.
I append lists(*) of officers and men of the Eighty-ninth New York and Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, who participated in the storming of the enemy's battery at Hill's Point; also reports of brigade, battery, and regimental commanders. Lists of casualties already transmitted.(+)
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. W. GETTY,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Maj. B. B. FOSTER,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Suffolk, Va.