Next Page Site Map Previous Page

MAY 4-JUNE 2, 1864.--Operations on the south side of the James River, Va.
No. 52.--Report of Brig. Gen. Hiram Burnham, U.S. Army, commanding Second Brigade, of operations May 7-16.

[ar68_132 con't]

In the Field, Va., May 22, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my command during the recent engagements with the enemy:

In the movements of the 7th instant, to cut the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad, this brigade took the advance, with the exception <ar68_133> of a small force of cavalry. The command left camp at daybreak, and after proceeding about 4 miles in the direction of the railroad, encountered the enemy, strongly posted on rising ground, with a swamp and tangled growth of underbrush in their front. Here the cavalry was withdrawn, the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers thrown forward as skirmishers, and my other three regiments deployed in line on the right of the road. The enemy were at once engaged, and finally, after a skirmish of some duration, were pressed back upon the railroad by the skirmishers of the Eighth Connecticut, my whole line of battle moving up in support. Colonel Drake at this time moved his brigade into position on my left, and my command was moved farther to the right, the Eighth Connecticut being thrown forward in line of battle under a hot fire from the enemy's artillery, until they became warmly engaged with the enemy's line, which was posted behind the embankment of the railroad. The Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, Colonel Stevens, was thrown forward to support this regiment, the remaining two regiments being held in reserve. A ravine prevented the Eighth Connecticut from reaching the railroad, but Colonel Ward attacked the enemy with a well-sustained fire of musketry, and kept them warmly engaged for a considerable time, while the forces on our right reached and destroyed the railroad track. This object having been accomplished, the Eighth Connecticut was withdrawn without molestation from the enemy, upon whom it must have inflicted a severe loss, and with my brigade I covered the withdrawal of our forces from the railroad, holding an advanced position with the Tenth and Thirteenth New Hampshire Regiments until 6 p.m., when my whole force was withdrawn and returned to camp. The fighting of this day fell mostly upon the Eighth Connecticut, which sustained considerable loss, but behaved handsomely, driving the enemy in spirited manner wherever it met them.

My thanks are especially due to Col. J. E. Ward, commanding that regiment, both for his coolness and gallantry and the able manner in which he handled his regiment. I regret to say that he was wounded in the engagement, his injuries being sufficiently serious to deprive me of his services for the present. On the morning of the 9th instant my brigade again left camp, and with the other troops of the division moved out in the direction of Petersburg, passing over the same road which was taken on the 7th instant. The Petersburg and Richmond Railroad was reached without opposition from the enemy. In obedience to orders from General Brooks, I moved my command along the railroad in the direction of Petersburg, and encountered the enemy this side of Swift Creek. I at once drew my command up in line of battle on the left of the railroad, and with my skirmishers attacked the enemy and drove them across the creek. Subsequently I advanced my line nearly up to the Ship-pen house and sent forward one regiment, the Tenth New Hampshire, Lieut. Col. J. Coughlin, to support Hunt's battery, which moved into position between that house and the railroad, and shelled the enemy's bridges across the creek. My brigade now connected with General Marston's on my right, while my skirmishers extended well around toward General Martindale's command on the left. Being considerably annoyed by the enemy's sharpshooters on the opposite side of the creek to the left of the Shippen house, I strengthened my skirmish line with the two flank companies of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, armed with Sharps rifles, and ordered them <ar68_134> to drive the enemy out or silence their fire, which they soon did. Just at night I modified my line, by order of General Brooks, by placing the Eighth Connecticut, Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, on the right of the road, to fill a space between General Marston's brigade and my own. At about 11 o'clock at night the enemy in some force charged upon my pickets in front of the Shippen house, forcing them back some distance, when Lieutenant-Colonel Coughlin at the head of his regiment charged in turn upon the enemy, drove them back in confusion, and re-established the picket-line in its original position. At a later hour the enemy again attacked and drove in my skirmishers, when he was again met by Lieutenant-Colonel Coughlin and driven back, after a spirited skirmish. On the 10th a portion of my command was engaged in destroying the railroad track, my lines remaining unchanged until about 3 p.m., when, in obedience to orders from General Brooks, I withdrew my command as soon as General Marston had retired on my right and returned to camp. The enemy seeing the movement, threw a few shells at my skirmishers as they retired, but did no injury and made no attempt to follow us. On the 12th instant, in pursuance of orders, my command moved out from camp at 7 a.m. in the direction of the Richmond turnpike, and on reaching this pike moved up it in the direction of Drewry's Bluff. On encountering the enemy near Dr. Cheatham's house, my brigade was drawn up in line on the left of the turnpike with General Weitzel's on my right and the Third Brigade, Colonel Sanders, on my left. My skirmishers engaged the enemy, and the necessary dispositions having been made, they were ordered to advance, and the enemy were steadily pushed back for quite a distance, my line of battle moving up in support of the skirmishers. While the advance was being made the Tenth New Hampshire was much annoyed by a hot fire from a considerable body of the enemy stationed on the right of the road in the vicinity of some old barracks. Lieutenant-Colonel Coughlin promptly crossed the pike, charged the position with his regiment, drove the enemy from it, and captured some 20 prisoners. The advance was continued until the enemy was driven behind Proctor's Creek, the loss in my command being quite small. On the l3th skirmishing was resumed, the enemy being pressed steadily back, until in the afternoon my skirmishers had passed the Half-Way House, and arrived in front of the enemy's intrenchments. During the latter part of the afternoon the skirmishing was quite lively at times, the enemy making an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge my skirmishers from the woods in rear of Friend's house. In the evening, it being supposed that the enemy was evacuating his works in my front, by order of General Brooks, I directed the skirmishers to advance cautiously and feel of the enemy, and it was ascertained that a considerable force was still in front of me.

On the morning of the 14th I advanced my brigade and occupied the works of the enemy in my front, which were found to have been evacuated during the night. The enemy had retired to some powerful earth-works on the right of the pike, from which he opened a warm artillery fire upon my command as it moved up to occupy the deserted line of works. I deployed my command in line under the cover of the works, my right resting on the turnpike, and my left connecting with Colonel Sanders' brigade. I remained in this position during the 14th and 15th, changing the works, so that they <ar68_135> formed a good line of defense for my command. During these two days some skirmishing occurred in my front, the details of which are unimportant.

On the morning of the 16th instant my command was under arms at 3.30 o'clock. Immediately after daylight the enemy commenced an attack upon our lines. My brigade was shelled quite severely, while the enemy made a furious attack with his infantry on the troops to the right of the pike. Our forces here having been withdrawn, the attack gradually extended to the left, and in the course of an hour my brigade became considerably involved in the fight. My skirmishers were driven in after an obstinate resistance, bringing with them 20 prisoners. The attack now became more furious, when Lieut. Col. M. B. Smith, commanding the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, on the extreme right of my brigade, next to the pike, after making but feeble resistance, abandoned the line of fortifications in a very discreditable manner, and ordered his regiment to fall back, which it did in considerable confusion. The remaining three regiments met the attack of the enemy, and, pouring a withering fire of musketry upon him, drove him back in confusion. The attack was again renewed, the enemy attempting to carry the position by a furious charge, but he was again repulsed, with a heavy loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. I think, on this occasion, that some telegraph wire which I had ordered to be strung on the stumps in front of our position had a good effect in throwing the enemy into confusion as he charged my position. The fight continued to rage hotly, my command holding its position with great tenacity, with the exception that the line of the One hundred and eighteenth New York was somewhat modified to protect the right flank of the brigade, which was strongly threatened by the enemy. At about l0 o'clock the brigade was withdrawn to the edge of the woods, by order of General Brooks, the enemy at that time having been driven completely from our front, my brigade, besides heavy loss inflicted upon him in killed and wounded, bringing off rising 100 prisoners. Soon after the brigade was withdrawn to the Half-Way House, my skirmishers being left to hold Friend's house, and the woods to the left of that house, which they did until late in the afternoon. The Tenth New Hampshire Volunteers was left at the Half-Way House to support a battery, and my other three regiments were drawn up in line on the right of the turnpike, forming the extreme left of the Eighteenth Corps. At about 3 p.m. an advance of the whole line was ordered, in which the brigade participated, meeting with no resistance from the enemy. Subsequently, having been rejoined by the Tenth New Hampshire, and my skirmishers left to hold Friend's house, I marched to camp, in obedience to orders from General Brooks.

In this entire series of engagements my loss was 418 officers and men. I think the endurance and bravery displayed by the men of this command very creditable and worthy of commendation.

I take pleasure in bringing to your favorable notice Col. A. F. Stevens, of the Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers; Lieut. Col. John Coughlin, of the Tenth New Hampshire Volunteers; Lieut. Col. George F. Nichols and Maj. C. E. Pruyn, One hundred and eighteenth New York Volunteers, for the tenacity and bravery with which they held their positions in the engagement of the 16th instant. Major Pruyn, of the One hundred and eighteenth New York Volunteers, commanded his regiment in this battle after the wounding <ar68_136> of Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols, and brought the regiment off with ranks well closed and every man in his place, notwithstanding the fact that that regiment had lost nearly 200 men in killed and wounded. The gallant conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Coughlin, of the Tenth New Hampshire, on the night of May 9 at Swift Creek, and also in charging the enemy on the 12th, is worthy of special mention. I have also to bring to your notice the good conduct of Maj. J. F. Angell, of the Tenth New Hampshire, who commanded my' skirmishers on the night of the 13th in front of the enemy's works, on which occasion he was severely wounded. I have already mentioned the gallantry of Col. J. E. Ward, of the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, and the good conduct of his regiment in the engagement of the 7th. There are numerous other instances of gallant and meritorious conduct which can only be enumerated in a special report for that purpose.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding.


Assistant Adjutant-General.


Itinerary of the Second Brigade, First Division, Eighteenth Army Corps, May 4-31.(*)

May 4.--The brigade embarked on transports at Yorktown and set sail for Bermuda Hundred.

May 5.--Arrived at that place.

May 6.--Disembarked.

May 7.--Fought the enemy on the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad.

May 9 and 10.--Were engaged with the enemy at Swift Creek.

May 12 to 15, inclusive, skirmishing with the enemy along the Richmond and Petersburg turnpike and in the vicinity of Drewry's Bluff.

May 16.--The brigade participated in the battle of Proctor's Creek; returned to camp at Bermuda Hundred at night.

May 27.--Moved camp back near landing at Bermuda Hundred.

May 29.--Embarked on transports.

May 30.--Arrived at White House and disembarked.

May 31.--Marched to camp near New Castle.