Reports of Brig. Gen. Paul J. Semmes, C. S. Army, Commanding Brigade.
APRIL 27-MAY 6, 1863.--The Chancellorsville Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXV/1 [S# 39]
CAMP NEAR FREDERICKSBURG, VA., May 20, 1863.
Maj. JAMES M. GOGGIN,
MAJOR: I have the honor to report the part borne by my brigade in the late battles on the Rappahannock, at and near Fredericksburg:
On the morning of the 29th ultimo, the enemy having commenced crossing to the south side of the Rappahannock, at the mouth of Deep Run and near Pratt's house, below Fredericksburg, the Fiftieth Georgia Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel [F.] Kearse, and the Fifty-third Georgia Volunteers, Colonel Simms, were moved forward to the designated position of the brigade in reserve, with their left resting on the Telegraph road half a mile in rear of the heights overlooking Howison's house. The Tenth Georgia Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Holt, and Fifty-first Georgia Volunteers, Colonel Slaughter, being on picket opposite Falmouth, were ordered at night to rejoin the brigade. Here the brigade rested until the morning of the 30th ultimo, when, by order of Major-General McLaws, it was moved forward at 3 a.m., and occupied that portion of the line of battle lying back and south of Howison's house, its left resting on the battery immediately in rear thereof. The brigade remained in this position until sunset, when, in pursuance of orders, it was reported to Major-General Anderson, near Zoar Church, about 1 mile beyond the intersection of the Plank and old Turnpike roads leading from Orange Court. House to Fredericksburg, and 5 miles distant from the latter place, and, by direction of General Anderson, took position in line, with its left resting on Mahone's right, Mahone's left resting on the turnpike, getting into position after 1 o'clock a.m.
The enemy, who had been reported advancing in heavy force down the Turnpike and Plank roads, drove in General Anderson's pickets just at night. It was believed that he would attack early in the morning. Morning came, when it was discovered that the enemy had fallen back during the night.
At about 12 m., Friday, May 1, this brigade (with others) was ordered forward in pursuit. Having advanced more than a mile, the enemy's skirmishers were discovered. The brigade was then immediately formed into line, under a scattering fire from the enemy's infantry and artillery, in the following order, from right to left: Fifty-first, Tenth, Fifty third, Fiftieth Georgia Volunteers, and advanced a short distance, and halted in the edge of a wood overlooking open fields, in which the enemy was formed; being supported by Kershaw on my left and Mahone on my right, Mahone's left resting on the road. Soon the enemy's line of infantry was pushed forward. When within easy range, the order was given to commence firing. The enemy, after a sharp contest, retired a short distance, and took shelter under a crest, from which position he continued the fight, advancing once more only to be again promptly repulsed.
His cavalry essayed a charge on battery, posted in the road, and was driven back in disorder. After the fight had continued some little time, a strong line of skirmishers from the Tenth Georgia was thrown far forward, to the left of the Fifty-first Georgia, who, by an enfilading fire, contributed materially to the repulse of the enemy's lines.
It has been since ascertained that the United States Regulars, under Sykes, were here encountered. They were finally and handsomely driven from the field after a sharp contest of perhaps three-fourths of an hour, in which this brigade was the chief participant, the Fifty-first Georgia Volunteers receiving and repelling the main attack, and sustaining more loss than the balance of the brigade. It was here that Col. W. M. Slaughter, the gallant leader of the Fifty-first Georgia, received his deathwound early in the action, while by his own courageous example inspring his command with confidence in their ability to repel the foe. It was here, too, later in the action, that Lieutenant-Colonel [Edward] Ball, of this regiment, received a wound in the head, which disabled him, while in the performance of his duty, under the immediate eye of the brigade commander.
The manner in which the regiments of the brigade were handled by the regimental commanders on this occasion gave assurance of the qualities which they were so soon to be called on to display on one of the hardest fought fields of the war.
A list of casualties has already been forwarded.
After the repulse of the enemy, pursuit was again ordered. The road, the woods, and fields on either side, over which the enemy retired, were strewn with knapsacks, blankets, overcoats, and many other valuable articles. After continuing the pursuit for over 2 miles, the enemy's skirmishers were again encountered, covering what afterward proved to be his strongly intrenched position at Chancellorsville. Here, in pursuance of orders from Major-General McLaws, the brigade again took position in line of battle, as before, with its right resting on the turnpike and left on Kershaw, Mahone's left still resting on the road, and bivouacked for the night, throwing out a strong line of skirmishers to the front and flanks.
Saturday morning came, and with it desultory skirmishing, sometimes growing quite sharp, which continued throughout the day, from which the brigade suffered some slight loss, which has already been reported. During the day the brigade, by order of Major-General McLaws, was moved farther to the left, Kershaw, who was on my left, having been ordered to rest his left on the Plank road, and Wofford, with his brigade, to occupy my position on the turnpike.
The orders of the major-general were then to engage the enemy with a strong line of skirmishers, well supported, so as to occupy his attention, while Lieutenant-General Jackson's corps was attaining his rear by making the circuit of Chancellorsville. The enemy's rear was at length attained near the close of the day, and the rumbling sound of musketry, at first distant and indistinct, grew more distinct, and continued to approach, showing that the enemy was being driven before our brave troops.
During the morning of Sunday, our skirmishers pressed the enemy more hotly, compelling his skirmishers to remain sheltered in their riflepits. As the day wore on, the battle waxed hotter on the enemy's rear and right, and at length the gratifying sight of his retiring columns, soon followed by large and confused masses of fugitives rapidly retreating in the direction of United States Ford, was presented to the view. At this juncture, Lieutenant-Colonel Holt, who, with his entire regiment, the veteran and gallant Tenth Georgia, were on skirmish duty, sent forward Lieutenant Bailey, Company A, of his regiment, with a flag of truce, and demanded the surrender of a party of the enemy still in their trenches. This demand was promptly acceded to by the surrender, with their arms, of the Twenty-seventh Connecticut and a detachment from another Connecticut regiment, with the colonel and other field and company officers, numbering in the aggregate 340, a number considerably exceeding the whole number of the Tenth Georgia present. Lieutenant-Colonel Holt, in his report, makes special mention of the conduct and services rendered by Captains McBride, Kibbee, and Leon, of the Tenth Georgia, while in command of the skirmishers of his regiment.
At about 8 a.m. the brigade received orders to move forward en échelon by battalion, in support of Kershaw's right, who had been ordered to advance and form a junction with the troops on his left, who were driving the enemy before them. The advance continued until the brigade reached the turnpike, near the brick house, at about 11 a.m., when, with others, it was recalled from the pursuit, and ordered to form on the south side of the road.
In a short time, orders were received from the major-general to move down the turnpike in the direction of Fredericksburg, to meet the enemy in strong force, who, under Sedgwick, was known to be hastening to the relief of Hooker's main army, which had just been so badly beaten and disposed of. Brigadier-General Wilcox, who, with his brigade, retired before Sedgwick in his advance from Fredericksburg, had halted and formed line across the Plank road at Salem Church, 3 miles distant from Fredericksburg. Arriving on the field, this brigade, by order, took position on the left of that of General Wilcox, Wilcox having only one of his regiments on the left of the road.
Marching by the right flank, the most rapid mode of forming--being on the right by file into line--was executed under the fire of the enemy, who were pressing forward his lines to the attack. The fire, at first slight, soon became severe. The two regiments of my left, the Fifty-third and Fiftieth Georgia, took position under a storm of bullets. Position was never more gallantly taken or more persistently and heroically held. The battle of Salem Church raged from this time without intermission on my front for two hours, the enemy's main attack being directed against my left, the Fifty-third and Fiftieth Georgia, re-enforcement after re-enforcement being pressed forward by him during the continuance of the fight.
This battle was one of the most severely contested of the war. Every regiment of the brigade came up to its full measure of duty. The brunt of the battle fell upon this brigade. Beyond my left there was only desultory firing, and beyond my right much firing did not extend far beyond and to the right of the road, whilst the roar of musketry raged furiously along my front.
The Tenth and Fifty-first Georgia made a most gallant charge in support of a charge made by one or more of Wilcox's regiments, driving the enemy in confusion 500 or 600 yards back upon his reserves, the men pressing forward with enthusiastic shouts, and shooting the enemy's men down at almost every step, attaining a position within 100 yards of his reserves, drawn up behind the brown house. Lieutenant-Colonel Holt was here ordered to rally his regiment for the purpose of storming the enemy's position and batteries, but, finding my handful of men left entirely without supports, I at length gave the order to retire to the line of battle, which was done with deliberation.
The Fifty-third and Fiftieth Georgia did not join in this charge. The order was sent to them, but they failed to receive it. During this time these regiments were still hotly engaged with the enemy, and exhibited unsurpassed stubbornness and gallantry under repeated assaults of greatly superior numbers, driving the enemy entirely from the field and closing the fight, the Fifty-third Georgia capturing the national colors of the Second Rhode Island Volunteers.
The Fiftieth Georgia, to get into position, was compelled to mount a wattled fence within not more than 60 yards of the enemy's line, which it accomplished in the most gallant style. This regiment exhausted nearly or quite 60 rounds of ammunition. Lieutenant-Colonel Kearse, its gallant commander, notified me during the battle that his ammunition was running low. Immediately Captain Ellis, assistant adjutant-general, bore him an order to replenish his ammunition if possible from the ordnance train, and, if this could not be done, still to continue the fight, and exhaust what ammunition he had, and then retire immediately in rear of Mahone's right, which was some 50 yards in rear of that part of my line. Captain Ellis was also instructed to notify Brigadier-Gen-eral Mahone and the regimental commander of his right regiment that the Fiftieth Georgia might have to retire after exhausting its ammunition, in order that there might be no confusion. The enemy was signally repulsed, however, and the Fiftieth Georgia retired about 30 yards in rear of Mahone's right, to a sheltered position, after which there was little or no firing, the enemy having disappeared and the combat ceased.
The loss of the brigade in this battle was severe, a detailed statement of which has already been forwarded.
By the enemy's own confession his loss was heavy. Of the 5,000 lost by Sedgwick, which is admitted by the enemy, after counting liberally for his losses at Fredericksburg and in his retreat across the river and elsewhere, not less than nearly one-half must have occurred in my front. During the operations of the 1st, 2d, and 3d instant, 595 prisoners were captured by the brigade, and 1,489 small-arms, with a number of accouterments, &c., 1,136 of which arms, together with the accouterments, &c., having been previously reported by Lieutenant Semmes, brigade ordnance officer.
After the details herein given, it is deemed unnecessary to dwell upon the heroic conduct of both officers and men, who covered themselves with glory, fully sustaining the high reputation to which my old brigade was fairly entitled by its uniform good conduct and valor displayed on many bloody fields. Upon no field of the war in which the brigade has been called to participate has it ever found itself behind any other. It has always kept pace with the foremost, moving forward with steadiness and coolness, under an inspiration which rendered every man capable of heroic deeds, with no thought of defeat, but always confident of victory. It may be well imagined that such regiments contributed little to swell the number of skulkers and fugitives.
Captain Ellis, assistant adjutant-general, although not well, and Lieutenant Cody, volunteer aide-de-camp, deserve special mention for services rendered and coolness and gallantry displayed throughout the entire operations. Although much exposed, I am gratified to say that they escaped unharmed. Lieut. W. S. Davis, Tenth Georgia, acting assistant inspector-general, was not so fortunate. I regret to report that Lieutenant Davis, while bearing an order, received a frightful wound in the face, which will disable him for months. With this regret is mingled the pleasure felt in bearing testimony to his uniform good conduct and gallantry on these and other fields. My orderly, Private[A. A.] Morris, Company E, Tenth Georgia, also deserves special notice for the valuable service which be rendered me by the alacrity, coolness, and courage which he displayed in bearing orders to different parts of the field.
In closing this report, it is meet to acknowledge the goodness and mercy of God in conducting me safely through these and similar perils.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
PAUL J. SEMMES,
HEADQUARTERS SEMMES' BRIGADE,
May 22, 1863.
Maj. JAMES M. GOGGIN,
MAJOR: In compliance with the order of the major-general of this date, calling for a report of standards lost or captured by our command in the recent engagements, I have the honor to state that no colors were lost by my brigade, but that the Fifty-third Georgia Volunteers, Colonel James [P.] Simms, captured the national colors of the Second Rhode Island Volunteers. I had not, until this moment, received the order from the major-general, and now hasten to comply with it.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
PAUL J. SEMMES,
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