Report of Col. Joshua T. Owen, Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Infantry, Commanding Second Brigade.
DECEMBER 11-15, 1862.--Battle of Fredericksburg, Va.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXI [S# 31]
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE,
December 18, 1862.
Capt. E. WHITTLESEY,
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that, pursuant to orders from division headquarters, I moved my brigade, at 6.30 a.m. on the 11th instant, in the direction of General Sumner's headquarters.
After reaching a designated point, where my column would be covered from the enemy's fire, I halted until 3 p.m. By orders from General Howard, I moved my column in the rear of Colonel Hall's, and crossed the river at about 4 p.m., under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry. Taking position upon the left of the bridge and prolonging my line of battle upon the banks of the river. I deployed skirmishers to the left and front, and moved forward to take possession of the town simultaneously with Colonel Hall, who had taken position on the right of the bridge.
The streets perpendicular to my line were enfiladed by squads of sharpshooters and the enemy's batteries located upon the hill. The houses and churches contiguous to my route were filled with sharpshooters, which rendered great caution necessary. Much time was therefore expended, and but little progress made, before darkness rendered further operations injudicious.
After dislodging most of the sharpshooters, and advancing as far as Caroline street, I established my pickets and directed the regiment to sleep on their arms.
Men and officers of the brigade deserve much credit for the gallantry with which they discharged their several duties, and I desire to especially mention Capt. Charles H. Banes, Company E, Seventy-second Pennsylvania Volunteers: Lieut Robert Templeton, Company E. Seventy-first Pennsylvania Volunteers; Lieut. Michael Duffy, Company I, Sixty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Capt. Paul J. Hallowell, Company B, One hundred and sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, who commanded the skirmishers, for the judicious and successful management of their men, and the rapidity with which they dislodged the enemy.
Twenty-one prisoners were captured, most of whom belonged to the Twenty first Mississippi Regiment A number belonging to this and other regiments in Barksdale's brigade were killed and wounded by our fire.
On the morning of the 12th, pursuant to orders from General Howard, I took a position on the extreme right of the town, my brigade constituting the second line of battle, and threw out the Seventy-first Pennsylvania Volunteers as skirmishers to the front. During the day the command was subjected to a heavy fire of shot and shell; but, by keeping the men well under cover, little execution was done.
On the morning of the 13th, I was ordered by General Howard to hold my command in readiness to lead the attack upon the enemy's left, and had assigned to me Captain Hazard's First Rhode Island Battery.
By 10 a.m. my men were in line, waiting for the signal to move forward, and Captain Hazard ready to take his position at a designated point on my right. At this juncture I received orders, through Lieut. Charles Howard, on the general's staff, to move rapidly by the left flank toward the Plank road, in order to proceed to the front and support General French's and Hancock's divisions, which were being hotly pressed by the enemy.
At 12.20 p.m. I began to move my column, and proceeded out Hanover street in the direction of the Plank road. No sooner had the head of my column reached ------ street than spherical case and shell were showered upon us from a battery which completely enfiladed the street. Kirby's battery at this moment galloped up the street to support my attack, and took position on the outer edge of the town, at a distance, from the enemy's works of about 1,000 yards. The support of this battery highly elated the officers and men, and they moved forward with spirit and confidence, notwithstanding the terrible fire to which they were subjected.
At 1.10 I had deployed my column, and gave the word, "Forward, double-quick, march--guide center."
At this moment my horse was shot in the right shoulder, and had to be abandoned. As quickly as possible, after dismounting, I threw myself in front of the line, and called upon the brigade to come on, which they instantly did, when, from behind a stone wall at the base of the steep declivity; from rifle-pits on the face of the hill; from two batteries on either side of a large brick house at the top of a hill; from traverses on the right and left flanks of my line, and from a line of infantry drawn up on top of the hill, a most terrific fire was opened upon us. To my amazement, the two lines which I was told to support I found to have been almost entirely annihilated. I instantly ordered my men to halt and lie close to the ground. I dispatched Lieut. Eneas Dougherty, my aide-de-camp, to communicate to General Howard the immense strength of the works which I was ordered to take, and the impossibility of my being successful without more artillery and infantry. Just after the departure of my aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Stinson, of General Howard's staff, brought me orders to hold the position I then had, and re-enforcements would speedily be sent forward. I immediately directed Lieut. Robert S. Seabury, on my staff, to deploy three companies as skirmishers in the houses to my right and front, which enfiladed the stone wall and some of the rifle-pits on the face of the hill, which he did in gallant style. This disposition of my men materially checked the enemy's fire, but gradually the fire of his artillery and infantry began to converge upon the position held by my brigade.
About 3 p.m. a heavy column was sent to advance upon the railroad to my left, and, having deployed, marched gallantly toward the enemy's lines. I directed my men to rise and hold themselves in readiness to advance simultaneously with the line upon my left. But scarcely had we begun to move when this new line staggered, reeled, and fell back in confusion under the awful fire which was poured in upon it. Once it rallied, and moved again to the front, dismayed but not defeated. Again it gave way and tell back toward the town. I directed my men again to lie down, which they did, and my line remained unbroken.
At this juncture Captain Hazard's First Rhode Island Battery galloped to the front, came into battery about 150 yards in my rear, and opened an effective fire upon the enemy. Immediately after him came a column of infantry much stronger than the first, and advanced in line of battle, with its right considerably overlapping my left. Now the decisive hour had come; the enemy had relieved the regiments posted behind the stone wall and the men in the rifle-pits, and an additional battery had been brought to bear upon this position. His troops were being rapidly massed upon the top of the hill, and a more terrific fire than any before was opened upon our lines. Unfortunately that portion of the advancing line which overlapped my left began to fire confusedly over and at my men, still in a recumbent position. Under these circumstances it was impossible for me to get my men upon their feet as quickly as I desired, and before I was able to silence the fire in my rear, this line broke and fell back. Twice it was reformed by the per-serial exertions of two general officers, whom I afterward learned to be Generals Hooker and Humphreys. Each time it was reformed it advanced a little beyond where the other advance had been made, but each time the line was broken, and finally fell back to the town. Captain Hazard's battery, which had done good service in enabling me to hold my position, had suffered severely in men and horses, and retired also to the town.
I still maintained my position, and continued a fire upon the enemy until night closed in, and both sides rested on their arms. I threw out my pickets to the front on a line in advance of any point to which troops had approached during the day. I remained with my brigade upon the ground until relieved by a brigade of regulars, under command of Colonel Buchanan.
The Seventy-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Markoe commanding, did not take part in the engagement, having been detailed on most important picket duty, which, I have reason to believe, was performed with the ability which has always distinguished this regiment.
I regret to say that the One hundred and twenty-seventh Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, which had been temporarily attached to my brigade, fell back when the lines to my left were broken; and as Colonel Jennings, its commander, whom I understand was wounded, has made me no report, I can say nothing of their conduct, except that which came under my personal observation--that the officers and men acted well until the period' of their retiring.
On Sunday, the 14th, I detailed the Seventy-first and One hundred and twenty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers on picket duty, agreeably to orders.
On Monday, the 15th, pursuant to orders, I moved my brigade and took position on the right of Willcox's corps, to support it in the contemplated attack on the left. On that night, at about 8 o'clock, I was ordered to recross the river, which I did, and returned to our former camp ground.
I refer you to the reports of the regimental commanders for a list of their officers who distinguished themselves, and will close my report by expressing my obligations to Colonels Baxter and Morehead and Lieutenant-Colonel O'Kane for their valuable assistance; to their field and staff officers and their line officers for the promptness with which all my orders were obeyed, and to my assistant adjutant-general, Lieutenant Ferdinand M. Pleis, and to my two aides-de-camp, Lieut. Eneas Dougherty and Robert S. Seabury, for their intelligent and prompt conveyance to different points of such orders as were issued.
I desire also to speak of the conduct of this veteran brigade, which has borne a distinguished part in nine general engagements. It is entitled to, and I trust will receive, that consideration which its long service and uniform good conduct merits.
Permit me to speak in the highest terms of the First Rhode Island Battery, and to thank Captain Hazard, his officers, and men for their timely, bold, and efficient services in my support.
I desire to return my thanks to Lieutenants Stinson and Atwood, on the general's staff, for their intelligent conveyance to me of General Howard's orders under the most trying and perilous circumstances.
In conclusion, permit me to express thankfulness to God for the comparatively small loss of men and officers which I suffered.
The loss in the brigade was 27 killed, 209 wounded, and 29 missing. Total, 265.
I remain, yours, respectfully,
JOSHUA T. OWEN,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
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