Report of Brig. Gen. James B. Ricketts, U. S.
Commanding Second Division, of operations August 17-September 4,
Including Engagement at Thoroughfare Gap and Battle of Bull Run.
AUGUST 16-SEPTEMBER 2, 1862
Campaign in Northern Virginia.
HEADQUARTERS SECOND DIVISION, THIRD ARMY CORPS,
Hall's Hill, September 4, 1862.
Col. E. SCHRIVER,
Chief of Staff.
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the report of operations of my division from the 17th of August, when directed by you to retire to the east side of Cedar Mountain, to this date:
On the 18th the command was ordered to retire from near Mitchell's Station in the direction of Culpeper, and at 11 p.m. the baggage and supply trains having preceded the division, and the march much impeded by roads blocked by trains of other corps, delaying our crossing at Rappahannock Station until after sundown on the 19th. Pursuant to orders from the major-general commanding, on the 20th two regiments, Third Brigade, with a section of Matthews' Pennsylvania battery, under General Hartsuff, recrossed the river and occupied the heights commanding the ford, the rest of the brigade remaining on the north side of the river. The First Brigade, under General Duryea, with Leppien's Maine battery and two sections of Matthews' Pennsylvania battery, was stationed on the heights on the north side of the river. The Second Brigade, under General Tower, with Hall's Maine battery, stretched up the river on the right, the Fourth Brigade, under Colonel Thoburn, First Virginia, being held in reserve. During the night a trestle bridge was constructed, and the morning of the 21st the remaining regiments of the Second [Third] Brigade, with Thompson's Pennsylvania battery and the other sections of Matthews' Pennsylvania battery, crossed to the south side of the river, and skirmished with the enemy during the day.
On the 22d Hall's Maine battery did good execution against the guns of the enemy. During the night a heavy rain swept away the trestle bridge and endangered the railroad bridge, causing the withdrawal of the Third Brigade on the 23d under the excellent fire from Matthews', Thompson's, and Hall's batteries, which were then posted on the heights commanding the railroad bridge, supported by the First Brigade, and a brisk artillery fire was kept up for several hours, until ordered to destroy the bridge and retire.
I would here mention the untiring exertions of Brigadier-General Hartsuff, who, although much prostrated by severe illness, continued manfully to do his duty, and also regret the severe wounding of Lieutenant Godbold, Matthews' battery, whose leg was here taken off by a shell. The destruction of the railroad bridge and the arduous duty of protecting the rear were intrusted to Brigadier General Tower, who performed it with admirable skill, and the night closed in a bivouac on the road toward Warrenton.
On the 24th the division passed through Warrenton, and took position on the road to Sulphur Springs.
On the 25th moved toward Waterloo, resting about 4 miles from Hedgeman's River.
The 26th was occupied in a reconnaissance near the crossing at Sulphur Springs.
The 27th, retired from that position to Gainesville.
On the 28th, being ordered to "assist Colonel Wyndham, who at 10.15 a.m. reported the enemy passing through Thoroughfare Gap," marched from New Baltimore through Hay Market, where the troops were relieved of their knapsacks to hasten the movement; but before reaching the Gap, about 3 p.m., met Colonel Wyndham's skirmishers retiring before the enemy, already in possession. Fully realizing the importance of gaining this point I pressed the division forward, although in a wearied condition, determined to effect the object if possible.
The road was entirely obstructed by felled timber, which delayed bringing the batteries into position; the Third Brigade in advance, then commanded by Colonel Stiles, Eighty-third New York, supported by the First and Fourth Brigades, the Second Brigade being held in reserve. The men moved forward gallantly, but owing to the nature of the ground, the strongest positions being already held by the enemy, we were subjected to severe loss, without any prospect of gaining the Gap, although successfully maintaining our ground until dark, when I ascertained the enemy in superior force were turning both right and left, in the endeavor to surround us. Then, considering our position untenable and all efforts to take the pass unavailing, I dispatched two messengers to you with this report, and retired toward Gainesville for the night, where, hearing from General King he was to retire at 1 a.m. from the pike toward Centreville, and not hearing from you, while considering the position critical, as subsequently proved by the inquiry made by rebel officers as to who ordered that retreat, which defeated their anticipations of capturing the entire division, by their overpowering numbers outflanking us, I retired by the way of Bristoe, and effected a junction with the corps on the evening of the 29th, bivouacking on the field of Bull Run within range of the enemy's guns.
At sunrise on the 30th I was ordered by you to send two brigades to report to General Kearny, and conducted the First Brigade, General Duryea; Fourth Brigade, Colonel Thoburn, which relieved a portion of General Kearny's division. General Duryea's brigade advanced in the woods, driving the enemy along the line of the old railroad excavation until directly under their guns, the Fourth Brigade a little retired on his right. While occupying this ground General Duryea was subjected to a heavy fire of artillery and infantry, in which he received a slight wound and severe contusion from a shell, but remained at his post animating his men, who behaved admirably. It was in this heavy fire that my aide, Captain Fisher, while with his usual zeal, acting under orders, had his horse shot under him, and was taken prisoner. The Second and Third Brigades, under General Tower, with the four batteries, occupied our left.
While thus disposed I received the order to "Forward my division" from the right on the road leading from Sudley Springs to New Market, and follow along that road "in pursuit of the enemy." I gave this order, and reported to General Heintzelman as directed, when informed that the enemy were following up the already advanced brigade, and confident that they had no intention of retiring, so reported personally to you, and was then directed to abandon pursuit and resume my first position, where the brigades were soon exposed to a galling cross-fire.
General Tower, commanding Second and Third Brigades, was detached to the extreme left with Hall's and Leppien's Maine batteries. This portion of the division most gallantly endeavored to maintain their position, suffering severely, until General Tower fell seriously wounded, and the loss of officers and men was very great.
The engagement now became general from right to left. I moved Thompson's battery to the extreme right of the line to dislodge the enemy, but was outnumbered in guns, and withdrew it to unite with Matthews' battery on the right of Stevens' division, to aid in checking the enemy's advance, which was now pushed along the front. Their loss in men and horses entirely disabled these batteries, and, in connection with the casualties among the commanding officers, compelled the division to retire toward night, making a desperate stand at Mrs. Carter's house, used for a hospital, which proved unavailing against the superior force.
On the 31st we remained at Centreville, supplying the exhausted division. The Fourth Brigade was here detached, and the commanding officer, Colonel Thoburn, being wounded, I have been unable to obtain his report, but respectfully submit the casualties in the First, Second, and Third Brigades.
On the 1st of September we took up position on the Aldie road, acting in conjunction with General Reno's division, and held this point until the 2d September, when, in compliance with orders, we fell back to Hall's Hill, near Washington.
In recapitulating the services of the brigade commanders I would make particular mention of Brigadier-General Duryea, commanding First Brigade, for his noble conduct at Thoroughfare Gap and his indomitable courage displayed at Bull Run while holding a trying position.
I desire to express my especial obligations to Brigadier-General Tower, commanding Second Brigade, for his indefatigable zeal and valuable services on all occasions, particularly at Thoroughfare Gap and at Bull Run, where he was detached with two brigades and their batteries, and highly distinguished himself. I commend the conduct of Colonel Root, Ninety-fourth Regiment New York Volunteers, who, although painfully wounded at Bull Run, continued on duty.
The Third Brigade, although early deprived of their efficient commander, Brigadier-General Hartsuff, behaved admirably. I particularly noticed Colonel Coulter, Eleventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, whose regiment bore the brunt of the engagement at Thoroughfare Gap.
Colonel Thoburn, First Virginia, commanding Fourth Brigade, deserves high commendation for his valuable services. Captains Matthews' and Thompson's Pennsylvania batteries and Captains Leppien's and Hall's Maine batteries deserve to be mentioned not only for their uniform attention to their duties, but for their efficiency throughout the 30th August. My thanks are due to the officers of my staff, Capt. John W. Williams, assistant adjutant-general; Capt. W. Fisher, aide-de-camp, and Capt. B.W. Richards, aide-de camp, who severally exhibited a high degree of efficiency and personal bravery.
Surg. N. R. Moseley, medical director, was untiring in his exertions and care of the wounded.
Maj. William Painter showed remarkable zeal and energy; also Acting Ordnance Officer Lieut. M. S. Smith, Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers.
JAMES B. RICKETTS,
Brigadier-General Volunteers, Commanding Division.
Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
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