HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
November 1, 1864.
Lieut. Col. T. S. BOWERS,
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit, for the information of the lieutenant-general commanding, and at his request, the subjoined outline of the movements of this army since the commencement of the campaign. The losses of commanders from the casualties of battle and expiration of service, the continuous operations that have been carried on almost without interruption, have precluded the possibility of any subordinate reports either being made out or transmitted to these headquarters. The following narration is, therefore, made principally from memory and from such personal notes and documents as were at hand. It is necessarily brief and imperfect, and will undoubtedly in time be found to contain errors both of omission and commission. For these I must ask the indulgence of my brother officers and soldiers, with the assurance that when subordinate reports are received and time is given me it will be my duty, as well as my pleasure, to prepare a detailed report, which shall bear testimony to their gallantry and devotion to their country, so signally exhibited on this remarkable campaign, which I think I can, without exaggeration, pronounce as one unparalleled in military history for its duration, the character of the operations, and the number of battles fought. Early in May the Army of the Potomac, under my immediate command, consisted of the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps of infantry, commanded, respectively, by Major-Generals Hancock, Warren, and Sedgwick; the Cavalry Corps under the command of Major-General Sheridan; a reserve park of artillery under the direction of Brigadier-General Hunt, chief of artillery, and under the immediate command of Col. H. S. Burton, Fifth U. S. Artillery: an Engineer Brigade and pontoon train under Major Duane, Engineers; also a large park of supply wagons under the charge of Brig. Gen. Rufus Ingalls, chief quartermaster. The army occupied a position on the north bank of the Rapidan, confronting the Confederate army under General Lee. The latter, composed of the corps of Longstreet, Ewell, and Hill, with Stuart's cavalry, occupied a strong position on the south bank of the Rapidan, well protected in front by field-works, with its left flank covered by the Rapidan and the mountains near Orange Court-House, and its right flank guarded by an intrenched line extending from Morton's Ford to Mine Run.
The lieutenant-general commanding having directed a movement to turn the enemy's right flank, the army was put in motion on the 4th of May as follows: The Fifth Corps, followed by the Sixth, was directed to cross at Germanna Ford and advance to the Old Wilderness Tavern on the Orange and Fredericksburg turnpike; the Second Corps, followed by the Artillery Reserve, crossed at Ely's Ford and was directed to take position at Chancellorsville. Each column was preceded by a division of cavalry that were directed to push well out to the front and flanks and feel for the enemy. The park of supply trains was assembled at Richardsville, guarded by a division of cavalry, and crossed after the troops, moving to Chancellorsville. These movements were all executed as directed, and the various corps of the army having crossed the Rapidan without opposition, occupied the several positions assigned them early in the afternoon of the 4th. It having been determined to turn well the enemy's right flank to avoid the intrenchments of Mine Run, the army was put in motion the next day in the same general relative order. About 7 a.m., the head of the Fifth Corps column being near Parker's Store, on the Orange and Fredericksburg plank road, information was received that the enemy had appeared on the Orange pike.
Orders were immediately sent to Major-General Warren to halt his column, concentrate his command on the pike, and when his troops were in hand to immediately attack any force in h-is front. At the same time the Sixth Corps was ordered to move and take position to the right of the Fifth, taking such wood roads as could be found and joining in any attack the latter might make. One division (Getty's) of the Sixth was sent to the Orange plank road, where the Brock road intersects it, to hold this crossing at all hazards till the arrival of the Second Corps, ordered up from Todd's Tavern. About noon Major-General Warren had gotten into position on the pike and attacked vigorously with the divisions of Griffin and Wadsworth. This attack was at first quite successful, Griffin driving the enemy (Ewell's corps) some distance back on the pike, but, as, owing to the dense thicket and want of roads, the Sixth Corps had not been able to get into position, Griffin's flank was exposed as he advanced, which the enemy taking advantage of, Griffin was compelled partially to withdraw, having to abandon two pieces of artillery. Wadsworth was also driven back. In the mean time Crawford's division, which had the advance in the morning, was withdrawn to the right toward the pike and was formed on the left of Wadsworth, one brigade advancing with Wadsworth. When Wadsworth was compelled to retire Crawford was for a time isolated, but was drawn in, not, however, without the loss of many prisoners. Getty, on arriving on the Orange plank, found our cavalry being driven in by Hill's corps, and had just time to deploy on each side of the road, delivering a volley into the advancing enemy, which checked his progress until the arrival of the head of Hancock's column at about 2 p.m. So soon as Hancock arrived he was directed to attack with Getty, which was done at first successfully, the enemy, however, offering stubborn resistance. Mott's division, Second Corps, gave way, when Brig. Gen. Alexander Hays, in going to repair the break in the line, was shot dead while gallantly leading his command in the thickest of the fight. The enemy's columns being seen moving over to the Orange plank road, Wadsworth's division and Baxter's brigade of the Fifth Corps were sent in that direction to take position and attack in conjunction with Hancock. They did not arrive, however, in time before dark to do more than drive in the enemy's skirmishers and confront him. Toward evening the Sixth Corps made its way through the dense thicket and formed connection with the Fifth, but nothing decisive was accomplished by either corps.
Orders were given on the night of the 5th for each corps to attack promptly at 5 a.m. the next day. I was advised by the lieu-tenant-general commanding that the Ninth Corps, Major-General Burnside, was ordered up and would attack at the same hour, going in between the Orange plank road and the turnpike. On the 6th, the attacks were made as ordered, but without any particular success on the part of either the Fifth or Sixth Corps. On the plank road the attack of Wadsworth's and Getty's divisions and Hancock's corps was quite successful, and the enemy was driven up the road in confusion and disorder for more than a mile, when, Longstreet's corps coming up, the tide of battle was turned, and our victorious line was forced back to its former position on the Brock road, the gallant Wadsworth falling mortally wounded while exerting himself to rally the retiring columns. The brave Getty was also severely wounded early in the action, though refusing for some time to leave the field.
Soon after Hancock fell back; about 2 p.m., Burnside attacked toward the Orange plank road to the right and in advance of Hancock's position, but the enemy being able to meet the assault with his whole force, Burnside was unable to produce any impression, and after evening withdrew and took a position between the Second and Fifth Corps. Just before dark the enemy moved a considerable force around the right flank of the Sixth Corps, held by Ricketts' division, and, in conjunction with a demonstration in front, succeeded in forcing this division back in some confusion, making prisoners of Generals Seymour and Shaler and a number of men. This substantially terminated the battle of the Wilderness, for the next day, May 7, Hancock advancing found the enemy had withdrawn from his immediate front, and on pushing forward found him in a strong intrenched line near Parker's Store, connecting with his intrenched line on the turnpike.
On the 5th, Wilson's division of cavalry moved from Parker's Store toward the Catharpin road, and when the infantry was concentrated to meet the advancing enemy Wilson became isolated and was attacked by the enemy's cavalry. He, however, succeeded in cutting his way through and rejoining Sheridan.
On the 6th, Sheridan held the left flank and rear of the army, repulsing all of Stuart's attempts to penetrate around our flanks, and on the 7th, concentrating his command at Todd's Tavern, Sheridan attacked and drove for some distance the enemy's cavalry, inflicting on him severe losses.
The lieutenant-general commanding, on the 7th, directing a further movement toward Spotsylvania Court-House, the army was put in motion on that night, the Fifth Corps, preceded by the cavalry, moving on the Brock road, followed by the Second and the Sixth Corps on the Orange plank and turnpike, preceded by the trains and followed by the Ninth Corps. In order to clear the roads it was necessary to move the trains by daylight, which undoubtedly gave notice to the enemy; for early on the 8th of May Warren met Longstreet's corps on the Brock road, near the crossing of the Po River, prepared to dispute the passage. Warren immediately attacked with Robinson's division, that gallant officer being severely wounded early in the action, pushing the enemy back and taking position in front of him near the Block house. The Sixth Corps was ordered up to take position on Warren s left, and the Second Corps posted at Todd's Tavern. All the corps were engaged at different times during the day, Miles' brigade, Second Corps, repulsing and driving a brigade of the enemy who attacked him at Corbin's Bridge. Wilson's division of cavalry succeeded in getting into Spotsylvania Court-House, but it being impossible to get the infantry up to support him, he had to withdraw.
On the 9th of May the Fifth and Sixth Corps continued pressing the enemy, developing his position, and seeking for points to assault. During these operations the distinguished and beloved Major-Gen-eral Sedgwick, commanding Sixth Corps, fell, and Brigadier-Gen-eral Morris, of the same corps, was wounded. Early in the day two divisions of the Ninth Corps had been moved to the Fredericksburg road, and, finding the enemy on it, had handsomely driven him across the Ny, losing on the 10th the distinguished Brigadier-General Stevenson. |
In the evening the Second Corps moved up from Todd's Tavern, taking position on the right of the Fifth Corps, and sending Mott's division to the left of the Sixth Corps. On this day, the 9th of May, Sheridan, with the Cavalry Corps, moved southerly, with orders to engage the enemy's cavalry, and after cutting the Fredericksburg and Central railroads to threaten Richmond, and eventually communicate with and draw supplies from the forces on the James River.
On May 10 the enemy was pressed along his whole front. Early in the morning Gibbon's and Barlow's divisions, Second Corps, were crossed over the Ny, with the view of turning the enemy's left flank. He was found, however, so strongly posted and guarded by the Ny, that these divisions were withdrawn. Barlow, being in rear, was vigorously attacked by Heth's division, whom he handsomely repulsed, but in retiring was compelled to abandon a piece of artillery that became jammed in some trees in a narrow road. On the withdrawal of Gibbon, he, together with Birney, in conjunction with the Fifth Corps, assaulted unsuccessfully the enemy's line. During this operation Brigadier-General Rice, of the Fifth Corps, ever distinguished for personal gallantry, fell mortally wounded. Late in the evening Upton's brigade, Sixth Corps, assaulted and successfully carried the enemy's line in his front, capturing guns and 900 prisoners, but, not being supported by Mott on his left, Upton was compelled to withdraw after dark, abandoning the guns. Mott succeeded in forming connection with the Ninth Corps, which had moved up to his left from the Fredericksburg road.
On the 11th, finding the enemy's left so well guarded, arrangements were made to attack his center at a salient point. For this purpose Wright was directed to extend his left, concentrate on that wing, and be prepared to assault. Hancock, with the Second Corps, was to move during the night to the left of Wright, and assault the salient at daylight. Warren was also to make an assault to keep the enemy in his lines, and Burnside, with the Ninth Corps, was ordered to assault on the extreme left.
At daylight of the 12th, the Second Corps gallantly assaulted and carried the salient, capturing Major-General Johnson and Brigadier-General Steuart of the Confederate army, with over 3,000 prisoners, 20 guns, and numerous colors. Hancock immediately reformed his command, and was advancing to the enemy's second line, when he was attacked furiously by the enemy, who desperately endeavored all day to recover his lost position and guns. In this affair Brig. Gen. A. S. Webb was severely wounded. Wright, with the Sixth Corps, on Hancock's right, sustained his share of this battle--one of the bloodiest of the campaign. In view of the great exertions of the enemy, Warren, after failing to succeed in his assault on the right, was moved to the left to the support of Wright and Hancock. Burnside assaulted on Hancock's left, but without any other decisive results than keeping occupied a large force of the enemy.
On the 13th, it was ascertained that the enemy, failing to recover his lost ground, had retired to an inner and shorter line. Having fully settled this fact by reconnaissances, dispositions were made to turn his right flank. During the night of the 13th, the Fifth, followed by the Sixth Corps, was moved over to the Fredericksburg road. The 14th of May was occupied in placing these two corps in position. The enemy was found very strongly posted on the Fredericksburg road in front of the Court-House, and it was deemed inexpedient to attack at this point. During this day Upton's brigade, Sixth Corps, was attacked and compelled to retire from an advanced position it held, but the ground was immediately retaken by Ayres' brigade, Fifth Corps, in conjunction with supports from Neill's division, Sixth Corps.
From the 15th to the 17th of May the army was employed in constant reconnoitering and skirmishing, developing the enemy's position and learning the ground; also in establishing a base at Aquia Creek, sending the sick and wounded there, and drawing therefrom necessary supplies. On the 19th, the Second and Ninth Corps were moved to the left, the former in reserve, the latter taking post on the left of the Sixth. Ewell's corps of the enemy attempted in the afternoon to turn our right and get possession of the Fredericksburg road. His attack was gallantly met by a division of heavy artillery, new troops, under Brig. Gen. R. O. Tyler, who, being re-enforced by Crawford, of the Fifth, and Birney, of the Second, promptly repulsed and drove Ewell back, inflicting heavy losses on him. Some of Ewell's forces, pushing to the rear on the Fredericksburg road, met Ferrero's division (colored troops) by whom they were checked and repulsed.
On the 20th of May the Second Corps, with a small force of cavalry, under Brigadier-General Torbert, were pushed through Bowling Green to Milford. Torbert had a handsome affair with some of the enemy's infantry, who disputed his passage of the bridge at Milford. Torbert carried the bridge and drove the enemy, capturing over 100 prisoners. May 21, 22, and 23 were employed in moving the army from Spotsylvania Court-House to the North Anna River. In this movement the Sixth Corps was the rear guard, <ar67_193> and on the afternoon of the 21st, when about retiring from Spotsylvania, the enemy attacked in force and were handsomely repulsed by Russell's division. On the 23d, on reaching the North Anna near the railroad crossing, Birney's division, of the Second Corps, carried some advanced works the enemy held on the north bank, and secured intact the bridge of the Telegraph road. The Ninth Corps confronted and skirmished with the enemy at Ox Ford, while the Fifth, crossing at Jericho Ford, was attacked by the enemy, all of whose assaults were repulsed. May 24, 25, and 26 were spent on the North Anna. The Second Corps on the left having two divisions on the south side, the Ninth Corps in the center with one division on the south side, and the Fifth and Sixth on the south side extending over to Little River and crossing the Central railroad. During this time portions of the Second, Fifth, and Sixth Corps were engaged destroying the Fredericksburg railroad and the Central road.
On the 25th, the Cavalry Corps rejoined the army, Major-General Sheridan having successfully accomplished the object of the expedition for which he was detached. Leaving on the 9th of May, on the 10th he reached Beaver Dam Station of the Central road, destroying 10 miles of the road, 2 locomotives, 3 trains, and a large amount of stores, estimated at over 1,500,000 rations, overtaking and recapturing about 400 of our men, who were being marched to Richmond as prisoners. Crossing the South Anna at Ground Squirrel Bridge, Ashland Station was captured at daylight of the 11th of May, and the depot, 6 miles of the road, a train, and large quantity of stores destroyed. Hearing the enemy was massing his cavalry at the Yellow Tavern, General Sheridan proceeded there, and attacked, and after an obstinate battle drove the enemy 4 miles, mortally wounding Generals Stuart and Gordon, capturing 2 pieces of artillery and taking between 200 and 300 prisoners. Having gained the Brook pike, a force charged across Brook Run, capturing the enemy's first line of works, but desisted from attacking the second line across the Mechanicsville pike. Crossing the Meadow Bridge, driving the enemy from his front, and repulsing an attack on his rear of infantry from the city, Sheridan proceeded to destroy the railroad bridge over the Chickahominy, and then moved to Haxall's Landing, which he reached on the 14th of May. Remaining here three days to refit, he started on his return on the 17th, reached Baltimore Store on the 18th; on the 21st, destroyed two bridges and some track near Hanover Court-House, encountered and drove the enemy's cavalry across the Chickahominy on the 21st, and crossed the Pamunkey, at White House, on the 23d May, reaching Milford and rejoining the army on the 25th May. On the 26th, Wilson's division crossed the North Anna, above Jericho Ford, and assisted the infantry in destroying the Central road. On the night of the 26th May Sheridan, with two divisions of cavalry, supported by Russell's division, Sixth Corps, moved down the Pamunkey, and by noon on the 27th seized the crossing at Hanovertown and threw a bridge there.
On the 27th and 28th, the army moved and crossed the Pamunkey; the Fifth and Ninth Corps at Hanovertown, the Second and Sixth at Hundley's Ford. On the 28th, Sheridan had a sharp engagement with the enemy's cavalry, meeting them at Haw's Shop, but driving them back to the crossing of the Totopotomoy, where he maintained his position till relieved by the Second Corps. On the 29th, Hancock advanced on the road from Haw's Shop to Atlee's Station, driving the enemy into his works on the other side of the Totopotomoy. Warren took position on the Shady Grove Church road, skirmishing with the enemy. Wright moved on the right of the Second Corps, occupying for a time Hanover Court-House, and then closing in to the left. On the 30th, the Ninth Corps moved between the Second and Fifth Corps, pushing out on the road to Pole Green Church. Late in the evening the enemy attacked Warren near Bethesda Church, and attempted to turn his left, but were foiled and repulsed. To relieve Warren, Hancock was ordered to attack, when Barlow carried the first line of rifle-pits occupied by the enemy on the opposite side of the Totopotomoy.
On the 31st, Wilson's division of cavalry moved to Hanover Junction and destroyed the railroad bridges over the Anna River, at the same time defeating and driving away the enemy's cavalry sent to intercept him. Sheridan with two divisions was sent to occupy Cold Harbor, driving the enemy out of that place. Sheridan reporting himself pressed at Cold Harbor, was directed to maintain h-is position at all hazards, which he did manfully till Wright, with the Sixth Corps, and Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith, with troops from the James River, via White House, could join him. These arrived on the 1st of June, relieving Sheridan, when both Wright and Smith attacked the enemy, taking parts of a line he was holding and forcing him back to another line.
On the 2d of June the Second Corps was moved to Cold Harbor, and took position on the left of Wright, who was on the left of Smith. Burnside was drawn in to Bethesda Church, and Warren extended to the left to connect with Smith. In executing this operation, both Warren and Burnside were attacked, repulsing and punishing the enemy, but losing some prisoners by the flanking of their skirmish line. Wilson, returning from Hanover Junction, demonstrated on Burnside's right. Sheridan held the lower crossings of the Chickahominy, and covered the roads to the White House, now the depot for supplies.
At 4 a.m., June 3, a vigorous assault was made by the Second, Sixth, and Eighteenth Corps. Barlow's division, Second Corps, carried a part of the enemy's line on our extreme left, but before Barlow could be re-enforced, the enemy rallying compelled him to withdraw.
The assaults of the Sixth and Eighteenth Corps being unsuccessful, about 11 a.m. offensive operations closed. In the mean time Burnside had gained some advantage, reporting he had carried an advance line of the enemy. The losses on both sides in this attack were severe. In the afternoon the enemy attacked Burnside and Warren, with no more success than we met in the morning. The army was directed to intrench in its then position, close up [to] the enemy's main line of works. About 9 p.m.. the enemy made an assault on Gibbon's division, Second Corps, and was easily repulsed. During the day Wilson, operating on our extreme right, turned the enemy's left, attacking and forcing him back, taking a number of prisoners.
On June 4, Burnside reporting the enemy withdrawn from his front, the Ninth Corps was drawn in and posted between the Fifth and Eighteenth. On the 6th, the Fifth Corps was withdrawn and massed in rear of the center, and on the 7th, the Second Corps, being extended to the Chickahominy, two divisions of the Fifth were sent to extend as far as Dispatch Station, on the York River Railroad. At this date two divisions of cavalry, under Sheridan, were sent to Gordonsville to destroy more effectually the Central railroad, and communicate, if practicable, with the forces operating in the valley. On June 12 the movement Was made to the James, the Fifth Corps, preceded by Wilson's division of cavalry, moving on the night of the 12th, seizing the crossing at Long Bridge, and early on the 13th taking position on the Long Bridge road, where it crossed the White Oak Swamp. At this point Wilson's cavalry and Crawford's division repulsed all attempts of the enemy to advance on this road. The Second Corps followed the Fifth, withdrawing from Cold Harbor on the night of the 12th, crossing at Long Bridge, and reaching the James at Charles City Court-House on the evening of the 13th. The Second Corps having passed, the Fifth was withdrawn to the James, and Wilson's cavalry posted so as to cover the approaches from the White Oak Swamp to the James. The Sixth and Ninth Corps crossed at Jones' Bridge, and the trains by a bridge at Cole's Ferry. The troops under Maj. Gen. W. F. Smith, temporarily serving with the Army of the Potomac, were relieved and removed on the night of the 12th to the White House.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. G. MEADE,