Report of Brig. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams, U. S. Army, commanding First Division, Second Corps.
Hdqrs. First Div., Second Corps, Army of Virginia,
Near Cedar Run, Va., August 16, 1862.
Major: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the division under my command in the action at this place on the 9th instant:
My division, since the transfer of Geary’s brigade, is composed of the brigade commanded by Brigadier-General Crawford (Twenty-eighth New York, Colonel Donnelly; Forty-sixth Pennsylvania, Colonel Knipe; Tenth Maine, Colonel Beal, and Fifth Connecticut, Colonel Chapman), and of the Third Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General Gordon (Third Wisconsin, Colonel Ruger; Second Massachusetts, Colonel Andrews, and Twenty-seventh Indiana, Colonel Colgrove). The Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania, nominally attached to this brigade, has been on detached service some months. A battery of artillery is attached to each brigade, and on this occasion Crawford’s brigade, which had been some time in advance at Culpeper, had, in addition, four pieces (Parrott’s) of Knap’s Pennsylvania battery.
With Gordon’s brigade I reached Culpeper about midnight on the 8th instant, and on the following morning received orders to move to the front without trains, and unite my division in the position taken up by General Crawford the previous evening. I arrived on the ground about 12 m., at the moment that the enemy opened with his artillery, which was speedily silenced by the fire of Knap’s battery. I dispatched a messenger at once to the major-general commanding the corps, with a brief account of the condition of affairs and of the nature of the position held. From this time to 3 o’clock p. m. there was very little demonstration on the part of the enemy, except some cavalry movements toward his right and an occasional interchange of shots with the cavalry under Brigadier-General Bayard.
In the mean time Gordon’s brigade had arrived with Cothran’s New York battery, and taken a strong, elevated position on our extreme right, from which, through the open field, any movement of the enemy in that direction could be observed and checked. The major-general commanding the corps also came up and assumed command. The arrival of general Augur’s division, taking up position on the left of the main road, releived two regiments of Crawford’s brigade, supporting batteries, and they were transferred to the right.
At this time (soon after the enemy had renewed his artillery firing) my division occupied nearly a continuous line along the bottom-land of Cedar Run, from the road to the elevated ground spoken of as the position of Gordon’s brigade, a distance of from 800 to 1,000 yards. A densely wooded ridge in front masked the whole line from observation, and the entire division lay almost without loss during the heavy cannonade which preceded the infantry attack. Skirmishers from both brigades occupied the wood in front and on the right-flank.
About 5 o’clock, by direction of the major-general commanding the corps, I ordered Crawford’s brigade to occupy the woods in front, preparatory to a movement which it was thought might relieve the left wing, severely pressed by the enemy, especially by a heavy cross-fire of artillery, one battery of which would be expose to our infantry fire from the new position. Five companies of Third Wisconsin, deployed as skirmishers, were by same orders attached to General Crawford’s command for this advance. The remainder of Gordon’s brigade was held in the original position to observe the right flank, and especially some woods a half mile or so on the right (which it was thought was a cover for rebel cavalry ), as well as to be in readiness to re-enforce Crawford’s brigade in case of necessity. Observing horsemen moving out and into these woods, I dispatched my personal escort (Company M, First Michigan Cavalry, Captain Dennison) to report to General Gordon, to be used in reconnoitering in that direction. Receiving urgent directions to hasten the movement of Crawford’s brigade, I dispatched Captain Wilkins, assistant adjutant-general, with orders to General Crawford to begin his advance as soon as the brigade was in line.
At this time this brigade occupied the interior line of the strip of woods in front of its original position. A field, varying from 250 to 500 yards in width, partly wheat stubble and partly scrub-oak underbrush, lay between it and the next strip woods. In moving across this field the three right regiments and the six companies of the Third Wisconsin were received by a terrific fire of musketry both from the underbrush, from the wheat field, and from the woods. The Third Wisconsin especially fell under a partial flank fire from the underbrush and woods, which swept its right companies with great destruction, and under which Lieutenant-Colonel Crane fell, pierced with several fatal wounds, and the regiment was obliged to give way. The enemy was, however, driven out of the open field by the other regiments and some distance into the woods, where, being strongly re-enforced, their fire became overwhelming. No better proof of its terrific character can be given than the fact that of the three remaining regiments which continued the charge (Twenty-eighth New York, Forty-sixth Pennsylvania, and Fifth Connecticut) every field officer and every adjutant was killed or disabled. In the Twenty-eighth New York every company officer was killed or wounded; in the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania all but 5; in the Fifth Connecticut all but 8. A combat more persistent or heroic can scarcely be found in the history of the war; but men of even this un-equaled heroism could not withstand the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, especially when left without the encouragement and direction of officers.
While the regiments were thus engaged, the Tenth Maine, Colonel Beal, had advanced across the fields nearer the road, and engaged the enemy with great vigor. Though suffering less in loss of officers than regiments farther to the right, its list of killed and wounded abundantly testifies to the persistent gallantry with which it fought, as well as to the outnumbering forces of the enemy it had to encounter. Anticipating the necessity of using Gordon’s brigade in support of Crawford’s, and yet reluctant to move it from its strong and most important position until the necessity was apparent, I had arranged with General Gordon a signal for his advance and with a staff officer of the major-general commanding to await orders before giving the signal.
This signal was given as soon as orders were received, but observing some preparatory movement at the time, I dispatched two staff officers to hasten up the brigade. General Gordon put his brigade in movement at double-quick as soon as the order was communicated. I had myself moved toward his position, but on my way, finding Colonel Ruger, Third Wisconsin, rallying his broken regiment, I joined him in the effort, and had soon the satisfaction of seeing his command united to Gordon’s brigade, and the whole moving promptly and gallantly to the support of their overpowered companions of the First Brigade.
As Gordon’s brigade reached the interior edge of the first wood it was received by a tremendous fire of the enemy from the opposite woods and from the undergrowth to the right and front. It was evident that the enemy had been strongly re-enforced, and greatly outnumbered us. The brigade, however, firmly maintained its position and checked the farther advance of the enemy, with a terrible loss, however, in officers and men, especially in the Second Massachusetts, Colonel Andrews, which fell under the heaviest fire of the enemy, and maintained its position with marked coolness and courage. Satisfied that it would be impossible to hold, especially after dark, our advanced position, which was exposed to be outflanked by the greatly superior numbers of the enemy, I went in person to the major-general commanding the corps with explanations, and, receiving his instructions, I ordered the brigades to withdraw.
It was already dusk. General Gordon brought off the remnant of his brigade, and took up his original position, which he held until relieved by General Ricketts’ division. General Crawford’s brigade, having lost in three regiments every company officer, necessarily withdrew in broken ranks, bringing with them, however, the colors of every regiment, around some of which brave men, without officers, rallied and fought with a heroism hardly found in the records of war. The commander of the brigade was amongst the last of his command to leave the field. He subsequently collected the thinned regiments of the brigade in rear of its original position, and afterward by superior order took post for the night in rear of the re-enforcing column.
I inclose herewith a list of casualties in the division,* and a tabular statement of the number taken into action,+ showing a loss of 78 officers and 1,144 enlisted men, nearly one-third of the number engaged. This record is the strongest commendation that can be presented of the gallantry and good conduct of both officers and men. Among those reported missing some wounded probably have fallen into the hands of enemy. Most of them, I regret to be compelled to believe, must be numbered with the killed.
Upon reoccupying the field of battle it was found necessary from the intense heat to hurry the burials, and most of the dead were interred by details of men who did not know or could not recognized them.
I refer to the reports of commanders of brigades and regiments and to that of Captain Best,+ U. S. Army, chief of artillery, for further details of the action, as well as for such commendation of officers and men as especial instances of good conduct merited. The prompt, ready, and zealous co-operation of Generals Crawford and Gordon, commanding brigades, demand especial commendation.
I beg leave also to bring to the notice of the major-general commanding the corps the efficient and valuable aid of my personal staff —Capt. William D. Wilkins, assistant adjutant-general, who, I regret to add, was taken prisoner near the close of the action; of Capt. E. C. Beman, commissary of subsistence; of First Lieut. Samuel E. Pittman, aide-de-camp; of Capt. B. W. Morgan, Forty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, division provost-marshal and volunteer aide —all of whom were untiring in their efforts to forward promptly my orders. I desire also especially to bring to your notice the very valuable services of Surg. A Chapel, division medical director. At the commencement of the action he selected and prepared as far as possible a general depot for the wounded at a house near General Gordon’s position. At this depot were collected several hundred of our wounded, who received during the night the able professional services of Surgeon Chapel and his assistants, and early the following morning were carefully sent back to the hospitals in Culpeper. The prompt and judicious conduct of Surgeon Chapel has been the subject of praise by officers and men.
Nor can I close my report without a reference to the sad record of the killed and wounded of the field officers engaged. In the Twenty-eighth New York Volunteers, Crawford’s brigade, Colonel Donnelly is mortally wounded, Lieutenant-Colonel Brown severely wounded Major, Cook severely and a prisoner. In the Forty-sixth Pennsylvania Colonel Knipe severely wounded, Lieutenant-Colonel Selfridge twice slightly, though not reported, Major Mathews severely. In the Fifth Connecticut Colonel Chapman wounded and a prisoner, Lieutenant-Colonel Stone dangerously and a prisoner, Major Blake wounded and a prisoner. In Gordons’s brigade Lieutenant-Colonel Crane, Third Wisconsin, killed, and Major Savage, Second Massachusetts wounded and a prisoner. More faithful and valuable officers no service can boast of. The loss, temporarily it is to be hoped in the cases of wounded and prisoners, will be severely felt in the divisions. Of the subordinate officers who have fallen or suffered from wounds a record will be found in the reports herewith forwarded. Many of the wounded are disabled for life. It is to be hoped that a grateful country will not forget their services nor their sufferings.
In conclusion, I congratulate the major-general commanding the Second Corps on the substantial success which followed the efforts of his gallant command to arrest and hold in check the confident advance of a greatly superior force of the enemy.
I have the honor to be, with great respect, major, your obedient servant,
A. S. WILLIAMS,
Brigadier-General, Commanding First Division.
P. S. —The good conduct of my mounted orderlies, who in the necessary absence of my staff were used in transmitting my orders, deserve notice. I would especially report as faithful and efficient men Private S. S. Beach, Second Massachusetts Volunteers, clerk in Adjutant-General’s Office; Corpl. Charles C. Wilcox, Privates Beecraft, Chatterson, Connelly, Petticrew, Dwight, Smith, John Robinson, and Watson, of Company M, First Michigan Cavalry.
A. S. WILLIAMS,
Maj. D. D. Perkins,
A. A. A. G., and Chief of Staff, 2d Corps, Army of Va.
*Embodied in revised statement, p. 137. [Report No. 2.]