Report of Col. Ferdinand Van Derveer, Thirty-fifth Ohio Infantry,
Commanding Third Brigade.
AUGUST 16-SEPTEMBER 22, 1863.--The Chickamauga Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXX/1 [S# 50]
HDQRS. 3D BRIGADE, 3D DIVISION, 14TH ARMY CORPS,
Chattanooga, Tenn., September 25, 1863.
Capt. Louis J. LAMBERT,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Third Division.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report the part taken by the Third Brigade in the action of the 19th and 20th instant, near the Chickamauga.
My command consisted of the Second Minnesota, Colonel George; the Ninth Ohio, Colonel Kammerling; the Thirty-fifth Ohio, Lieutenant-Colonel Boynton; the Eighty-seventh Indiana, Colonel Gleason; and Battery I, Fourth Artillery, First Lieut. F. G. Smith. Our effective strength on the morning of the 19th instant was 1,788 officers and men.
After a fatiguing march during the night of the 18th, and without any sleep or rest, while halting near Kelly's house, on the Rossville and La Fayette road, I received an order from Brigadier-General Brannan, commanding Third Division, to move with haste along the road to Reed's Bridge over the Chickamauga, take possession of a ford near that point, and hold it. I immediately moved northward to McDonald's house, and thence at right angles eastward toward the bridge. A short distance from McDonald's I formed the brigade in two lines, sent skirmishers to the front, and advanced cautiously, though without losing time, 1 miles. In the meantime brisk firing was progressing upon my right, understood to be maintained by the First and Second Brigades of this division.
Being without a guide and entirely unacquainted with the country, I am unable to state how near I went to Reed's Bridge, but perceiving from the firing upon my right that I was passing the enemy's flank, I wheeled the line in that direction and began feeling his position with my skirmishers.
About this time I received an order stating that the Second Brigade was gradually giving back, and that it was necessary I should at once make an attack. This we did with a will, the first line, composed of the Thirty-fifth Ohio on the right and the Second Minnesota on the left, moving down a gentle slope, leaving the Eighty-seventh Indiana in reserve on the crest of the hill. At this time the Ninth Ohio, which had charge of the ammunition train of the division, had not arrived. Smith's battery, composed of four 12-pounder Napoleons, was placed in position in the center and on the right of the line. The enemy having discovered our location, opened a furious fire of artillery and musketry, which was replied to promptly and apparently with considerable effect; for in half an hour the enemy slackened his fire, and his advance line was compelled to fall back. I took advantage of this moment to bring forward the Eighty-seventh Indiana, and by a passage of lines to the front carried them to the relief of the Thirty-fifth Ohio, which had already' suffered severely in the engagement. This movement was executed with as much coolness and accuracy as if on drill. Scarcely was the Eighty-seventh Indiana in line before fresh forces of the enemy were brought up in time to receive a terrible volley, which made his ranks stagger and held him for some time at bay. The Ninth Ohio, which I had previously sent for, arriving at this moment, I placed it on the right of my line. Still farther to the right a section of Church's battery and the Seventeenth Ohio, which had been ordered to report to me, were in position.
As the enemy slackened his fire, Colonel Kammerling, chafing like a wounded tiger that he had been behind at the opening, ordered his men to charge. Away they went, closely followed by the Eighty-seventh Indiana and the Seventeenth Ohio, the enemy falling back precipitately. The Ninth in this charge recaptured the guns of Guenther's battery, Fifth Artillery, and held them.
In the meantime the enemy, massing his forces, suddenly appeared upon my left and rear. He came forward, several lines deep, at a double-quick, and opened a brisk fire, but not before I had changed my front to receive him. My new line consisted of the Second Minnesota on the right, next one section of Smith's battery, commanded by Lieutenant Rodney, then the Eighty-seventh Indiana, flanked by Church's and the other section of Smith's battery, and on the extreme left the Thirty-fifth Ohio. The two extremities of the line formed an obtuse angle, the vertex on the left of the Eighty-seventh Indiana, and the opening toward the enemy. The Second Minnesota and the Eighty-seventh Indiana lay on the ground, and were apparently unobserved by the enemy, who moved upon the left of my lines, delivering and receiving a direct fire, Church opening with all his guns and Smith with one section. He advanced rapidly, my left giving way slowly until his flank was brought opposite my right wing, when a murderous and enfilading fire was-poured into his ranks by the infantry, and by Rodney s section shotted with canister. Notwithstanding this he steadily moved up his second and third lines. Having observed his great force as well as the persistency of his attack, I had sent messenger after messenger to bring up the Ninth Ohio, which had not yet returned from its charge, made from my original right. At last, however, and when it seemed impossible for my brave men longer to withstand the impetuous advance of the enemy, the Ninth came gallantly up in time to take part in the final struggle, which resulted in his sullen withdrawal. In this last attack his loss must have been very severe. In addition to the heavy fire of the infantry, our guns were pouring double charges of canister in front and on his flank, at one time delivered at a distance not exceeding 40 yards. During the latter part of the contest re-enforcements had arrived, and were by General Brannan, then present, formed in line for the purpose of supporting my brigade, but they were not actively engaged at this time.
Our dead and wounded were gathered up, and a new line, under the supervision of General Brannan, was formed. The enemy, however, made no further demonstration, and quietly withdrew. A small number of prisoners were taken, who reported that the force opposed to us was two divisions of Longstreet's corps, one commanded by General Hood. They fought with great obstinacy and determination, only retreating when fairly swept away by our overwhelming fire.
After the second withdrawal of the enemy, our empty cartridge-boxes were replenished from wagons sent on the field by the general commanding division. After resting my command for an hour or more, I was ordered to report to Major-General Reynolds. Immediately moving toward his position, we arrived near Kelly's house just before sundown, and there, by direction of General Brannan, went into bivouac.
At 8 o'clock the next morning, Sunday, the 20th September, 1863, my brigade was posted as a reserve in rear of the First and Second Brigades of the division, formed in two lines of columns closed en masse, where we remained for about an hour, slowly moving over toward the left for the purpose of occupying the space between the Third and Reynolds' divisions. Here I received an order to move quickly over to the left and support General Baird, who, it was said, was being hard pressed by the enemy.
I wheeled my battalions to the left, deployed both lines, and moved through the woods parallel to the Chattanooga road, gradually swinging round my left until when, in rear of Reynolds' position, I struck the road perpendicularly at a point just north of Kelly's house, near and back of his lines.
On approaching the road, riding in advance of the brigade, my attention was called to a large force of the enemy moving southward in four lines, just then emerging from the woods at a run, evidently intending to attack Reynolds and Baird, who were both hotly engaged, in the rear, and apparently unseen by these officers. I immediately wheeled my lines to the left, facing the approaching force, and ordered them to lie down. This movement was not executed until we received a galling fire delivered from a distance of 200 yards. At the same time a rebel battery, placed in the road about 500 or 600 yards in our front, opened upon us with two guns. My command continued to lie down until the enemy approached within 75 yards, when the whole arose to their feet, and the front line, composed of the Second Minnesota and the Eighty-seventh Indiana, delivered a murderous fire almost in their faces, and the Thirty-fifth and Ninth Ohio, passing lines quickly to the front, the whole brigade charged and drove the enemy at full run over the open ground for over a quarter of a mile, and several hundred yards into the woods, my men keeping in good order and delivering their fire as they advanced. The rebels fled hastily to cover, leaving the ground strewn with their dead and wounded. We took position in the woods, and maintained a determined combat for more than an hour. At this time I greatly needed my battery, which had been taken from the brigade early in the day by command of Major-General Negley.
Finding a force moving on my right to support us, and the enemy being almost silenced, I ordered a return to the open ground south of the woods; this movement was executed by passing lines to the rear, each line firing as it retired.
I learned from prisoners that the force we fought and put to flight this day was the division of the rebel General Breckinridge. That we punished them severely was proven by their many dead and wounded, among the former of which were several field officers, and among the latter one general officer of high rank.
I thence moved to a position on the road by the house near General Reynolds' center, and there remained resting my men and caring for my wounded for an hour or more. Although I had not reported to either General Reynolds or Baird, as ordered in the morning, I believe I rendered them very substantial assistance, and at a time when it was greatly needed.
About 2 o'clock, hearing heavy firing on the right of the line, and learning that the high ground in that direction was being held by General Brannan with a part of our division, I moved cautiously through the woods, and at 2.30 p.m. reported my brigade to him for duty. We were immediately placed in the front, relieving his troops, then almost exhausted. The position was well selected and one capable of being defended against a heavy force, the line being the crest of a hill, for the possession of which the enemy made desperate and renewed efforts.
From this time until dark we were hotly engaged. The ammunition failing, and no supply at hand, except a small quantity furnished by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, our men gathered their cartridges from the boxes of the dead, wounded, and prisoners, and finally fixed bayonets, determined to hold the position.
Here again the Ninth Ohio made a gallant charge down the hill into the midst of the enemy, scattering them like chaff, and then returning to their position on the hill.
For an hour and a half before dark the attack was one of unexampled fury, line after line of fresh troops being hurled against our position with a heroism and persistency which almost dignified their cause. At length night ended the struggle, and the enemy, having suffered a terrible loss, retired from our immediate front. During the latter part of the day the position directly on our right had been held by the division of Brigadier-General Steedman, but which early in the evening had been withdrawn without our knowledge, thus leaving our flank exposed. From the silence at that point Brigadier-General Brannan suspected all might not be right, and ordered me to place the Thirty-fifth Ohio across that flank to prevent a surprise. This had scarcely been done before a rebel force appeared in the gloom directly in their front. A mounted officer rode to within a few paces of the Thirty-fifth Ohio and asked, "What regiment is that?" To this some one replied, "The Thirty-fifth Ohio." The of-ricer turned suddenly and attempted to run away, but our regiment delivered a volley that brought horse and rider to the ground and put the force to flight. Prisoners said this officer was the rebel General Gregg.
At 7 p.m. an order came from Major-General Thomas that the forces under General Brannan should move quietly to Rossville. This was carried into execution under the direction of Captain Cilley, of my staff, in excellent order.
During the whole of the two days' fighting my brigade kept well together, at all times obeying orders promptly and moving with almost as much regularity and precision as if upon drill. They were subjected to a very severe test on the 19th, when, being actively engaged with the enemy, another brigade (not of this division) ran panic-stricken through and over us, some of the officers of which shouted to our men to retreat or they certainly would be overwhelmed, but not a man left the ranks, and the approaching enemy found before him a wall of steel. Private Savage, of Smith's battery, struck one of the retreating officers with his sponge and damned him for running against his gun.
Our loss in the engagements of both days amounts to 13 officers and 132 men killed, and 25 officers and 581 men wounded, and 5l missing, the total loss being 802 men and officers.
Doubtless many of those enumerated among the missing will be found either wounded or killed. There was no straggling, and I have little doubt those not wounded or killed will be found prisoners in the hands of the enemy.
It is a noticeable fact that the Second Minnesota had not a single man among the missing or a straggler during the two days' engagement.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of my officers and men. Without exception they performed all that was required, much more than should have been expected. Where all did so well it seems almost unjust to make distinctions. More gallantry and indomitable courage was never displayed upon the field of battle.
The attention of the general commanding the division is particularly called to the conduct of Col. James George, Second Minnesota; Col. Gustave Kammerling, Ninth Ohio; Col. N. Gleason, Eighty-seventh Indiana; Lieut. Col. H. V. N. Boynton, commanding Thirty-fifth Ohio; and First Lieut. Frank Guest Smith, commanding Battery I, Fourth Artillery. These officers performed every duty required of them with coolness and great promptness, and by their energy and gallantry contributed much to the favorable result which attended every collision with the enemy. Such officers are a credit to the service and our country.
Smith's battery rendered great help in the action of the l9th, and was ably and gallantly served, Lieutenant Rodney being conspicuous in the management of his section.
Captain Church, of the First Brigade, with one section of his battery, fought well and is entitled to credit for the assistance he rendered me on the 19th. I cannot refrain from alluding to the reckless courage and dash of Adjutant Harries, Ninth Ohio. My staff upon the field consisted of Capt. J. R. Beatty, of Second Minnesota, acting assistant adjutant-general; Capt. Oliver H. Parshall, of the Thirty fifth Ohio, and Capt. E. B. Thoenssen, Ninth Ohio, acting aides; Capt. C. A. Cilley, Second Minnesota, brigade topographical engineer; and First Lieut. A. E. Alden, brigade inspector. For efficiency, personal courage, and energy their conduct deserves more than praise. They exposed themselves upon all occasions, watching the movements of the enemy, carrying orders, rallying the men, and by every means in their power contributing to the success of the brigade. Captain Parshall was killed early in the action of the first day. He was a brave, noble soldier, an upright gentleman, and carries with him to the grave the love and regret of many friends. Captain Thoenssen was missing the evening of the second day, and I believe was captured. Captains Beatty and Cilley had each two horses shot under them. There are many names particularly commended for courage and good behavior, for which I respectfully refer to reports of regiments and the battery.
We have lost many gallant officers and men, a list of whom is herewith furnished you. In the charge made by the Ninth Ohio on the 19th, when they recaptured the battery of the regular brigade, their loss in killed and wounded was over 50.
I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
FERDINAND VAN DERVEER,
Colonel, Commanding Third Brigade.
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