History of Lane's North Carolina brigade.

By Brigadier-General James H. Lane.

No. 2.

Battles around Richmond-report of Brigadier-General Branch.

headquarters Fourth brigade, Light division.
Major R. C. Morgan, Assistant Adjutant-General:
Major — On Tuesday, June 24th, I received orders from General Lee to take a position on the Chickahominy, near Half Sink, Wednesday evening and cross the river and take the road to Mechanicsville as soon as I should be informed by General Jackson that he had crossed the Central railroad. In my written orders, it was stated that General Jackson would cross the railroad at three o'clock Thursday morning, and allowing one hour for the transmission of the message, I was under arms and prepared to cross at 4 o'clock A. M. on Thursday. Not having received any intelligence from General Jackson, and General Lee's orders to me being explicit, there was no danger of my mistaking a false movement; [2] but, after eight o'clock in the morning, I received from you a written order in these words: “Wait for Jackson's notification before you move, unless I send further orders.” Up to this time my brigade was in the open fields near the banks of the stream, and in full view of the enemy's pickets on the other side. To deceive them as to my purpose, I now marched it back half a mile in the direction of my camp at Brooke church and masked it in the woods. At a few minutes before 10 o'clock A. M., I received from General Jackson a note informing me that the head of his column was, at the moment of his writing, “crossing the Central railroad.” In less than ten minutes my column, which had been resting on its arms for six hours, was in motion and soon reached the north bank of the Chickahominy.

Placing the Seventh North Carolina regiment (Colonel R. P. Campbell) at the head of the column, with a section of Colonel Marmaduke Johnson's battery, and throwing forward the picket companies of that regiment, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Haywood, as skirmishers, I turned sharply to the right and directed my course down the river. The enemy retired before us, and offered no resistance until we approached Atlee's station, on the Central railroad. At that point a stand was made, but they were forced to flee precipitately, leaving behind a cavalry guidon, which fell into the hands of the Seventh regiment, and much personal baggage. Thence onward they resisted our advance at every favorable point, but with no other effect than to retreat without checking my march. Near Crenshaw's the road on which the column commanded by Major-General Ewell was advancing, and that on which I was advancing, approached within one-fourth of a mile of each other. The heads of our columns reached this point simultaneously; and after a short personal interview between General Ewell and myself, we proceeded on our respective routes. After dislodging the enemy from several ambuscades, with only a small loss to my command, I reached Meadow Bridge road, where I learned from stragglers that Major-General Hill had crossed the Chickahominy without opposition, with the remainder of the division, and gone on towards Mechanicsville, then distant about one and a half miles. A courier from the General soon assured me of the correctness of the information, and having drawn in my skirmishers, I made all haste to join him at Mechanicsville. My brigade reached the field about sunset, and halting it I rode forward over the field to report to the General for orders. I did not [3] find him, but simultaneously with my return, he rode up, and after a short time ordered me to proceed with a guide to the part of the field occupied by the remainder of the division. Marching my brigade over a broad extent of cleared ground, swept by the artillery of the enemy, I reached the designated point at dusk, and having no time nor sufficient light to reconnoitre the ground, I placed my command in a field to support a battery on my left, which seemed to be doing good service and to be much exposed. There we slept in line of battle.

Early Friday morning the enemy opened a heavy fire of artillery and long range musketry on my line from their redoubts and rifle pits; but as they attempted no advance, my men were ordered to lie on the ground, and the injury inflicted was small. About eight o'clock, by order of General Lee, I occupied a piece of ground in front of Brigadier-General Archer, but finding myself strong enough to hold both, did not abandon my former position.

About 9 o'clock I was ordered by Major-General Hill, “as soon as you see any movement on the right or left, or hear heavy musket firing, advance also, and storm the creek.” My brigade was immediately formed for the assault, and learning Brigadier-General Anderson, of Major-General Hill's division, had crossed the creek above the enemy's works, I was in the act of advancing to storm the redoubts in front of me, when I learned that the enemy had evacuated them. Crossing the creek and turning to the right through the woods, I passed Nownilly's mill and fell into the road by which the remainder of the division were pushing the enemy. On the by-road, passing Nownilly's mill, the evidence of a rout and precipitate flight were most striking. On reaching Cold Harbor, I was ordered by you to take position across the road, connecting with General Gregg on the left and General Anderson on the right. Before reaching the point designated by you, I encountered the enemy in great force. Colonel Campbell (Seventh regiment) promptly engaged them, and whilst I was placing the remainder of the brigade in position, I received from General Hill an order to move two regiments into action by the left flank and to hold the other three in reserve. In compliance with the order, the Seventh and Twenty-eighth North Carolina were ordered to take position on the left of the road, whilst the Thirty-seventh, Thirty-third and Eighteenth were held in reserve, in a ravine about one hundred and fifty yards in their rear. Receiving no further orders from you in regard to the reserve, and finding the pressure [4] greater than my two regiments could sustain, the remaining three regiments were placed in action on the right of the road. My brigade held its ground with heroic tenacity, but must have been driven back, by overwheming forces, but for the timely arrival of reinforcements. The Seventh regiment, having been the first engaged, and having remained constantly under heavy fire, suffered most severely in officers and men. Colonel Reuben P. Campbell, who might be justly classed among “the bravest of the brave,” fell while bearing in his hands the colors of the regiment. Brave and. honorable as a man and skillful as an officer, his loss to the brigade is irreparable.

The enemy having been driven from the field, my brigade bivouacked near it. During the march of Sunday and Monday in pursuit of the enemy, nothing noteworthy occurred until Monday afternoon about two o'clock, when I was ordered by Major-General Hill to mask my brigade in a wood to the right of the road. I remained in that position, when the shells of the enemy's artillery commenced falling near us, and I was ordered to proceed and attack. Having no guide and no knowledge of the enemy's position, I took the direction whence came the shells, which carried me to the right of the road. Forming my line of battle in a cleared field, and advancing we soon encountered the enemy, and drove them for nearly a mile. This was done under the fire of two batteries--one of which we silenced and the other of which enfiladed the left of my line. After proceeding about this distance, the enemy's force rapidly accumulated as they fell back, and finding that the enemy extended much beyond my right flank, no further advance was attempted. At dark I placed my brigade in bivouac on the edge of the battlefield, and having reported to Major-General Hill through a member of my staff, was ordered to remain there until daylight, and then return to the point from which I had started into battle on the previous afternoon. In this engagement, I had the misfortune to lose Colonel Charles C. Lee, of the Thirty-seventh regiment. A thoroughly educated soldier and an exemplary gentleman, whose life had been devoted to the profession of arms, the service lost in him one of its most promising officers.

During the afternoon of Thursday I received marching orders, and after proceeding a short distance down the road on which we had previously been moving, was ordered to return to camp. I was returning, when a heavy fire of artillery and small arms on the left showed that attack had been made on Malvern hill, and it [5] was clear that our forces were being driven back. Orders were given to me to move in quickly to the support of our forces engaged, and I did so at a double-quick across the fields. On arriving near the field of battle, a staff officer of some of the commands engaged volunteered to direct me to the position in which I could render much service. Under his direction, I had posted two of my regiments and was in the act of posting the remainder, when I ascertained that I had been misled. Taking the troops I still had present with me, I proceeded towards the left, and reached a position near the enemy's batteries, but still too far for my short range guns and in full range of their artillery. Making my men lie on the ground, they remained in the position until the firing from our side had ceased; then collecting my brigade, I returned to my camp of the morning. Thus ended the actual fighting of this memorable week — the enemy having, during the night, evacuated Malvern hill. During the whole of it, officers and men alike had been without cooking utensils or their baggage. My loss was about seven hundred and fifty in killed and wounded, and about fifty missing. A list of the names having been furnished, a more precise statement in this report is not deemed necessary.

Colonels Lane and Cowan, and Lieutenant-Colonels Haywood, Barbour, Hoke and Purdie, all of whom commanded their regiments during the whole or part of the week, merit especial commendation. There are many officers whose good conduct would cause me to take pleasure in making special mention of them, but it is necessary that I confine myself to commanders of regiments, referring, as I do, to their reports for the names of officers under them who distinguished themselves. I take pleasure in recommending to the favorable consideration of the Government those thus mentioned.

My staff suffered in an unusual degree. My Assistant Adjutant-General, Captain W. E. Cannady, had been with me since my appointment to the command of a regiment, and in all situations had shown himself true and faithful. After leaving Mechanicsville, he was obliged to return to the hospital, and before the close of the expedition died of typhoid fever. My Aid-de-Camp, W. A. Blount, was severely wounded at Cold Harbor, and Lieutenant Francis J. Hawks, Assistant Engineer, was severely injured on Tuesday. My Ordnance Officer, Lieutenant James A. Bryan, though instructed to remain with his train in the rear, placed it in charge of an assistant and continued with me on the field throughout the expedition. [6] My Quartermaster, Joseph A. Engelhard, did the same as soon as it was possible.

All the gentlemen named bore themselves with marked gallantry and devotion. Captain Marmaduke Johnson's battery was attached to my brigade until so much disabled in action as to render it necessary to order it to the rear for repairs. I have reason to think that it performed very important service, but as it was not under my eye, and I have received no report from the Captain, I am not able to report the particulars of its action.

I beg leave to say, in conclusion, that it was a week of hard fighting and hard marching with my brigade, presenting few incidents to be committed to paper. I herewith present reports from the commanders of my regiments, to which I ask the attention of the Major-General commanding the division.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

L. O'B. Branch, Brigadier-General.

Report of Colonel Cowan.

headquarters Eighteenth regiment N. C. Troops, near Richmond, Va., July, 1862.
General — I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of this regiment under my command in the recent battles around Richmond.

Our march across the Chickahominy, on the morning of Thursday, June 26th, and down its northern banks to Mechanicsville, having been conducted under your personal diretion, it is not necessary to refer to its incidents.

We reached Mechanicsville Thursday afternoon in time to participate in the attack upon the batteries which commanded that crossing, but were not prominently engaged. Thursday night we were ordered to defend the batteries planted upon the position which had been taken from the enemy, from any attempt that might be made to retake them during the night. Consequently we slept upon our arms in the immediate vicinity, with the proper picket force out on all sides; but no demonstration was made by the enemy. Friday morning, at dawn of day, he opened upon us with his artillery, and the fire was continued until his position was turned and he was thus forced to abandon it. In all these engagements, however, my men were but little exposed, and my loss was very slight — only three men being wounded by the explosion of a shell. [7]

Friday afternoon, at four o'clock, we were put into the fight at Cold Harbor. By your order, my line of battle was formed on the right of the road, and in this order I advanced through the dense woods in which the enemy was posted. A small ravine, deep and boggy, compelled us to flank still farther to the right. By this means I became separated from the remainder of the brigade (which had been formed on the left), and for a long time was wholly without assistance in my attempts upon the enemy's position. Again and again was that position assailed, and again and again were we repulsed by vastly superior numbers. Regiment after regiment sent into the same attack shared the same fate; and it was not until late in the afternoon, when the continuous arrival of fresh troops had given us somewhat an equality of forces, that any decided impression was made upon the enemy. His position was carried in that late general charge which swept his whole army from the field in a perfect rout. In his flight I was perfectly satisfied with the conduct of my regiment. The position of the enemy was such that we were exposed to a heavy fire from the flank as well as from the front; and though the regiment was frequently broken and compelled to fall back, yet I did not once lose the command of it. The men reformed with great alacrity, and my commands were obeyed with the promptness, if not the precision of drill. My loss, in killed and wounded, was sixty-eight. Nothing but the thickness of the woods saved us from total destruction in our first unassisted effort upon the enemy's position. Saturday we were engaged in burying the dead. Sunday morning we crossed to the south of the Chickahominy in pursuit of the enemy. Monday we continued the pursuit until we engaged the enemy at Frazier's farm. Here my regiment joined the brigade in a series of charges upon the enemy's batteries. Without a sign of faltering, shouting the battle cry of “Stonewall,” which they adopted of their own accord, they advanced across two open fields in face of a perfect shower of grape and musketry, until they reached the small ravine, traversed by a fence, within a short distance of the enemy's line of battle. Taking advantage of this slight shelter, they maintained themselves in this position until the arrival of reinforcements, when they joined in the general charge which won the batteries. My loss here was very heavy-killed and wounded, one hundred and fifty men; among them, First Lieutenant W. A. Houstin, of Company I, and my Sergeant-Major, A. Dunmore, both of them young [8] men of brilliant prospects, and as gallant, as daring, as devoted to the cause as any officers in the Confederate servive.

Tuesday, at Malvern hill, we were marched to the field, but were held in reserve, and had no opportunity to deliver a fire. Three of my men, however, were killed by fragments of shell. My total loss has been 224 in killed and wounded — a detailed statement having already been furnished you. When it is stated that I entered.the series of battles with less than four hundred men, it will be seen that the proportion is very heavy.

That there were many stragglers from the field of battle is not to be denied. There have been stragglers from every field since the war began. As a general rule, however, it appeared to me that the men fought throughout the whole army as if each individual were, thoroughly impressed with the belief that it was necessary that we should be victorious in the field before Richmond. Amid this army of heroes, I have no reason to be dissatisfied with my regiment. Whether on a march or in the field, exposed to fatigue and privation, in the midst of danger and in the face of death, they were cheerful and obedient, prompt and daring. No order was given that they did not cheerfully and faithfully attempt to execute. Where all behaved well, it is difficult to make distinction. My field and staff did their whole duty. Still, I desire to make special mention of my Lieutenant-Colonel, Thomas J. Purdie. He was everywhere in the thickest of the fight — cool and courageous — encouraging the men and directing them in their duty. His services were invaluable. I desire also to make special mention of Captains Savage, Barry, McLaurin and Byrne. They were all conspicuous in the discharge of their duties, and all wounded on the field — the last three very seriously, Captain Byrne having lost an arm.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant, &c.,

Robert H. Cowan, Colonel Commanding Eighteenth North Carolina Troops.

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