of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, U. S. Army,
Commanding Sixth Army Corps
Battle of Chancellorsville
HEADQUARTERS SIXTH ARMY CORPS,
May 15, 1863.
Brig. Gen. S. WILLIAMS,
Army of the Potomac.
GENERAL: I respectfully submit the following report of the operations on the left:
On Tuesday, the 28th ultimo, in compliance with the orders of the commanding general, received that morning, the Sixth Corps moved to the vicinity of Franklin's crossing, near the mouth of Deep Run; the First Corps, Major-General Reynolds, to a position about 1 mile farther down the river, and the Third Corps, Major-General Sickles, took position slightly to the rear and between the positions of the First and Sixth Corps. All the troops encamped that night behind the heights, without fires, and concealed from the observation of the enemy. During the night the pontoons were carried to the river by hand. At the upper crossing, and shortly before daylight, Brooks' division, of the Sixth Corps, crossed in the boats, Russell's brigade taking the lead, and receiving the fire of the enemy's pickets and reserves. The enemy's rifle-pits were immediately occupied, and three bridges were rapidly laid, under the direction of Brigadier General Benham.
At Reynolds' crossing, 1 mile farther down, the passage was delayed by a severe fire from the enemy's sharpshooters, but was at length gallantly accomplished, General Wadsworth crossing with a portion of his division in the boats, and driving the enemy from their rifle-pits.
During the day, Wednesday, April 29, the command was held in readiness to cross, while the enemy was rapidly intrenching on his entire front, and occasionally shelling Reynolds' position, on the left.
On Thursday, the 30th, Sickles' corps was detached from my command, and ordered to the United States Ford, and during the night one of the bridges at the upper and one at the lower crossing were taken up, under orders from headquarters, and sent to Banks' Ford.
On Friday, May 1, at 5 p.m., an order was received from the commanding general to make a demonstration in force at 1 o'clock that same day; to let it be as severe as possible without being an attack; to assume a threatening attitude, and maintain it until further orders. It was already some hours after the time fixed for the movement, but the last clause of the order, as stated here, determined me to execute it without delay. Reynolds' corps was accordingly displayed in force; General Newton was directed to send one division of the Sixth Corps to Reynolds' support, to cover his bridges in case of an attack, and the Light Brigade across at the upper bridges, to support General Brooks, who was to display his force as if for advance. When these movements had been executed, an order was received countermanding the order for the demonstration.
The following day, Saturday, May 2, Reynolds' corps was withdrawn from my command, and ordered to proceed to headquarters of the army, at or near Chancellorsville, one division, General Wheaton's, of the Sixth Corps, being sent by General Newton to cover his crossing and take up his bridge. I was also ordered to take up all the bridges at Franklin's crossing and below before daylight. This order was received at 5.25 a.m., after daylight, and could not, of course, be executed without attracting the observation of the enemy, and leaving him free to proceed against the forces under General Hooker.
At 6.30 p.m. the order to pursue the enemy by the Bowling Green road was repeated, and my command was immediately put under arms and advanced upon the right, driving the enemy from the Bowling Green road and pushing him back to the woods. That night at 11 o'clock I received an order, dated 10.10 p.m., directing me to cross the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg immediately upon receipt of the order, and move in the direction of Chancellorsville until I connected with the major-general commanding; to attack and destroy any force on the road, and be in the vicinity of the general at daylight.
I had been informed repeatedly by Major-General Butterfield, chief of staff, that the force in front of me was very small, and the whole tenor of his many dispatches would have created the impression that the enemy had abandoned my front and retired from the city and its defenses had there not been more tangible evidence than the dispatches in question that the chief of staff was misinformed.
The order to cross at Fredericksburg found me with my entire command on the south side of the river, ready to pursue by the Bowling Green road. To recross for the purpose of crossing again at Fredericksburg, where no bridges had been laid, would have occupied until long after daylight. I commenced, therefore, to move by the flank in the direction of Fredericksburg, on the Bowling Green road, General Newton taking the advance, followed by the Light Brigade and Howe's division. A sharp skirmish commenced as the head of the column moved from the immediate vicinity of the bridges, and continued all the way to the town, the enemy falling slowly back. At the same time, a sudden attack was made upon the pickets in front of the Bernard house. When the head of the column entered the town, four regiments from Wheaton's and Shaler's brigades were sent forward against the rifle.pits, and advanced within 20 yards of the enemy's works, when they received a sudden and destructive fire. An immediate assault was made, but repulsed by the fire of the rifle-pits and the batteries on the heights. It was evident that the enemy's line of works was occupied in considerable force, and that his right, as it appeared from reports from General Brooks, extended beyond my left.
It was now daylight, and batteries were placed in position to shell the enemy until the troops could be formed for another attack.
General Gibbon was ordered to cross the river as soon as the bridge opposite the Lacy house was completed, and about 7 o'clock proceeded to take position on my right. General Howe was directed to move on the left of Hazel Run, to turn the enemy's right. Upon advancing as directed, he found that the works in his front were occupied, and that the character of the stream between his command and that of General Newton's prevented any movement of his division to the right. General Gibbon, upon moving forward to turn the left of the enemy, was checked by the canal and compelled to halt. Nothing remained but to carry the works by direct assault.
Two storming columns were formed, composed as follows:
Right column, commanded by Col. George C. Spear, who fell while gallantly leading it: The Sixty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, Major Dawson, and the Forty-third New York, Colonel Baker. This column was supported by the Sixty-seventh New York (First Long Island), Colonel Cross, and the Eighty-second Pennsylvania Volunteers, Major Bassett, under command of Colonel Shaler.
Left column: The Seventh Massachusetts, Colonel Johns, who fell, severely wounded in the assault, and the Thirty-sixth New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Walsh.
Line of battle, Colonel Burnham: The Fifth Wisconsin, Colonel Allen, as skirmishers; Sixth Maine, Lieutenant-Colonel Harris; Thirty-first New York, Colonel Jones, and the Twenty-third Pennsylvania, Colonel Ely, this latter regiment volunteering.
The columns moved on the Plank road and to the right of it directly up the heights. The line of battle advanced on the double-quick to the left of the Plank road against the rifle-pits, neither halting nor firing a shot until they had driven the enemy from their lower line of works. In the meantime the storming columns had pressed forward to the crest, and carried the works in the rear of the rifle-pits, capturing the guns and many prisoners. These movements were gallantly executed under a most destructive fire.
In the meantime Howe advanced rapidly on the left of Hazel Run, in three columns of assault, and forced the enemy from the crest in front, capturing five guns. The entire corps was at once put in motion and moved in pursuit. Considerable resistance was made on the next series of heights, but the position was carried without halting. A section of horse artillery on our right occupied every successive crest upon our line of march, and much annoyed our advance.
At Salem Chapel the enemy were re-enforced by a brigade from Banks' Ford and by troops from the direction of Chancellorsville, and made a determined resistance. Brooks' division formed rapidly across the road and Newton's upon his right, and advanced upon the woods, which were strongly held by the enemy. After a sharp and prolonged contest, we gained the heights, but were met by fresh troops pouring in upon the flank of the advanced portion of the line. For a short time the crest was held by our troops with obstinate resistance, but at length the line was forced slowly back through the woods. The advance of the enemy is checked by the splendid firing of our batteries, Williston's, Rigby's, and Parsons'. Wheaton still holds his position on the right, gallantly fighting. On the left the troops are rapidly reformed, and, after a short interval, again advance upon the woods. The enemy is once more forced back in much confusion on our right, but steadily resisting on the left.
This was the condition of things when night put an end to the battle. The troops rested on their arms until morning.
During the night the enemy were re-enforcing heavily, and our wounded, as far as was practicable, were collected and sent to Fredericksburg.
The following morning, at an early hour, I was informed that a column of the enemy, 15,000 strong, coming from the direction of Richmond, had occupied the heights of Fredericksburg, cutting off my communications with the town. Expecting a movement of this kind, I had already formed Howe's division in line of battle to the rear. General Howe promptly extended his left to the river, and admirably checked an effort of the enemy to cut us off from Banks' Ford, where a pontoon bridge had been laid the day previous. In this affair he captured 200 prisoners and a battle-flag.
While these things were occurring on my left, I received a dispatch from the major-general commanding, informing me that he had contracted his lines; that I must look well to the safety of my corps, preserve my communications with Fredericksburg and Banks' Ford, and suggesting that I fall back upon the former place, or recross, in preference, at Banks' Ford, where I could more readily communicate with the main body. To fall back upon Fredericksburg was out of the question. To adopt the other alternative, except under cover of night, was equally so, for the enemy still maintained his position on Salem Heights, and was threatening my flank and rear from the direction of Fredericksburg. My line was formed with the left resting on the river, about midway between Fredericksburg and Banks' Ford, thence extending slightly beyond the Plank road, when it turned at right angles to the right, following the direction of the Plank road for a mile, and then again turning to the right at right angles, and recrossing the Plank road in front of Salem Heights, my right resting where it had been placed in the engagement of the previous evening. A line of battle of such length was necessarily weak, yet to contract it would inevitably provoke immediate attack from vastly superior forces.
Batteries were skillfully posted by Colonel Tompkins, chief of artillery, to maintain the weaker points, and rendered invaluable service.
Thus, fronting in three directions, I was compelled to await attack, determined to hold the position until dark and then fall back upon Banks' Ford. A dispatch from the major-general commanding had informed me that he could not relieve me, as he was in position in which he hoped to be attacked, and that he was too far away to direct my operations.
Subsequent dispatches directed me to hold a position on the right bank of the river until the following morning. During the day there was more or less skirmishing on the whole front, and in the evening a most determined attack was made upon Howe's line, for the purpose of cutting our communication with the river, and at the same time Brooks was attacked farther toward the right. The attack on Brooks was readily repulsed, chiefly by the skirmish line and the firing by the battery of McCartney's (First Massachusetts) battery. That on Howe was of a more determined character, being made en échelon of battalions and in columns. It was gallantly resisted by our infantry by a counter charge, while the artillery of the division played with fearful effect upon their advance. At length our line was forced back upon the left, and General Howe directed his right to retire to a less advanced position. The movement was quietly executed, the enemy still pressing fiercely on his front.
Wheaton's brigade and two regiments of the Light Brigade had been sent from the extreme right to his support, and Butler's battery (G, Second U.S. Artillery)was sent rapidly by a road through the wood to his rear. The division reformed promptly, the batteries keeping up a most effective fire upon the wood. The advance of the enemy was checked, his troops were scattered and driven back with fearful loss, and the new position was easily maintained until nightfall. Several hundred prisoners, including 1 general officer and many others of rank, and 3 battle-flags, were captured from the enemy in this engagement.
As soon as it was dark, Newton's and Brooks' divisions, with the Light Brigade, fell rapidly back upon Banks' Ford, and took position on the heights in that neighborhood and in the rifle-pits. When these movements were completed, Howe was directed to fall back, and at once abandoned his position and moved to the river, taking position on Newton's right.
On Tuesday, the 5th, at 2 a.m., I received the order of the commanding general to withdraw from my position, cross the river, take up the bridge, and cover the ford. The order was immediately executed, the enemy meanwhile shelling the bridges from commanding positions above us, on the river. When the last of the column was on the bridge, I received a dispatch from the commanding general countermanding the order to withdraw. My command was on the left bank it could not recross before daylight, and must do it then, if at all, in face of the enemy, whose batteries completely commanded the bridges. I accordingly went into camp in the vicinity of the ford, sending an adequate force to guard the river and watch the ford.
The losses of the Sixth Corps in these operations were 4,925 killed, wounded, and missing. We captured from the enemy, according to the best information we could obtain, 5 battle-flags, 15 pieces of artillery--9 of which were brought off, the others falling into the hands of the enemy upon the subsequent reoccupation of Fredericksburg by his forces-and 1,400 prisoners, including many officers of rank. No material of any kind belonging to the corps fell into the hands of the enemy except several wagons and a forge that were passing through Fredericksburg at the time of its reoccupation by his forces.
I must add, in closing, that the conduct of the troops from the first crossing of the river until our return to Banks' Ford was such as to merit my heartiest approbation.
To Major-General Newton, commanding Third Division, and Brigadier General Brooks, commanding First Division, I am indebted for excellent counsel and for the gallant and spirited manner in which they carried out their orders.
To Brigadier-General Howe, for his determined bravery in resisting repeated charges of an overwhelming force of the enemy, the safety of the command was greatly indebted.
To General Gibbon I am indebted for his effective support in the engagement of Sunday morning.
The gallant conduct of Colonel Burnham, in leading the Light Brigade to the assault on the rifle-pits in rear of Fredericksburg, is worthy of the highest admiration.
It is no disparagement to the other regiments of the corps to say that the steadiness and valor of the Sixth Maine, Fifth Wisconsin, Seventh Massachusetts, and the Vermont Brigade could not be excelled.
The skill and personal gallantry of Brigadier-Generals Bartlett, Wheaton, Russell, and Neill, Colonels Grant, Shaler, William H. Browne, Thirty-sixth New York, and H. W. Brown, Third New Jersey, displayed in the management of their respective brigades, deserve the special notice of the commanding general.
Colonel Browne, of the Thirty-sixth New York, I regret to say, was severely wounded in the action of Sunday afternoon, and the command of the brigade devolved upon Col. H. L. Eustis, who is specially mentioned by his division commander for gallant service.
Colonel Brown, of the New Jersey Brigade, was also wounded, and the command of the brigade passed to Colonel Buck, Second New Jersey. He, too, fell, wounded, and the command devolved on Colonel Penrose, Fifteenth New Jersey. Both these officers performed their duties with admirable coolness.
I desire also to call the special attention of the commanding general to the officers named in connection with the assault on the heights of Fredericksburg.
For a further mention of officers who deserve his notice, I respectfully refer to the reports of division commanders, herewith transmitted.
To the following-named officers of my staff I am indebted for prompt and efficient assistance rendered at all times during the operations I have reported, and often under circumstances of exceeding danger and confusion; Lieut. Col. M. T. McMahon, assistant adjutant-general and chief of staff'; Col. C. H. Tompkins, chief of artillery; Lieut. Col. J. Ford Kent, inspector-general, slightly wounded in the action of Sunday morning; Maj. C. A. Whittier, aide-de-camp; Maj. T. W. Hyde, provost-marshal and acting aide-de-camp, Maj. H. H. Janeway, acting aide-de-camp; Capts. R. F. Halsted and H. C. Pratt, aides-de-camp; Lieut. J. N. Andrews, commissary of musters and acting aide-de-camp, and Lieut. H. W. Farrar, acting aide-de-camp, taken prisoner while carrying an important order.
The management of the artillery, under Colonel Tompkins, was singularly effective.
The difficult details of the commissary and quartermaster's departments were excellently conducted by Lieut. Col. C.W. Toiles, chief quartermaster, and Capt. J. K. Scofield, chief commissary. Those officers are entitled to much credit.
I notice with particular approbation the arrangements made for the care and prompt removal of the wounded by Surg. Charles O'Leary, medical director of the corps, and Surg. Charles F. Crehore, medical inspector. These arrangements were carried into effect by Capt. W.H. Robinson, chief of ambulance corps.
I respectfully request that the regiments and batteries of the corps be permitted to inscribe "Fredericksburg" and "Salem Heights" on their colors. It is an honor they have bravely earned.
I am, general, very respectfully, your
Major-General, Commanding Sixth Army Corps.
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