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Doc. 14. the Army of the Potomac.

Brigadier-General Peck's report.

headquarters Peck's division, Harrison's Point, July 11, 1862
Captain C. C. Suydam, Assistant Adjutant-General, Fourth Corps:
sir: I have the honor to report that I assumed command of this division at White Oak Swamp, on the twenty-fourth of June, 1862, in compliance with orders from Headquarters Army of the Potomac.

The division consisted of two brigades, one of which, commanded by General Wessells, was at the headquarters at White Oak Swamp. The other, under General Naglee, was guarding the entrenched line between the railroad and Bottom's bridge, distant some four-and-a-half miles. A squadron of cavalry and nine pieces of artillery were at the headquarters, and four pieces of artillery near Bottom's bridge.

On assuming command, I proceeded to make a personal examination of the whole of the White Oak Swamp, commencing at the pickets of General Couch, and also of the Chickahominy, up to and beyond the railroad bridge. My conclusions were that the swamp offered but a slight defence against enterprising infantry. During my stay at that place, I kept several hundred choppers employed in closing up, with trunks of trees and other obstructions, all the fords and passages. An abatis was constructed across the open area in front, and the timber slashed extensively on the right and left. By cutting certain timber on the right, three large clearings were connected and brought under the guns of the batteries. At last one-half mile of [77] rifle-pits was constructed, adding materially to the strength of the position. A small work was ordered, across the railway, near a screen of timber, on the right of General Naglee's line; also a general slashing of timber in his front. A redoubt, on the road from Bottom's bridge, was found in a half-finished state, which I directed to be completed. The whole country beyond the White Oak Swamp, in the direction towards Richmond, New Market, and the Chickahominy, and also the territory across Bottom's Bridge, was most thoroughly covered by cavalry patrols, under the general direction of Captain Keenan. From him I had information of the movements of General Wise, with his force of some five thousand of all arms, his headquarters being near New Market.

Late on the twenty-sixth, I was advised that the enemy had crossed the Chickahominy, in large force, for the purpose of cutting our communications. Early on the twenty-seventh, I proceded to Bottom's Bridge and made a careful reconnoissance of all the approaches, in conjunction with General Naglee, which resulted in ordering the construction of a redoubt for ten or twelve guns at the bridge, close to the river; an epaulement for three guns was also ordered on the railroad. I reinforced General Naglee with Colonel Hovell's regiment, placing it at the battery below Bottom's Bridge. Lieutenant Morgan's regular battery was sent to General Naglee, also all the entrenching tools at my command. A squadron of cavalry for special service was asked for on that part of the line. The reported crossing of Jackson with sixty thousand men proving too true, I deemed it advisable to guard the whole line to the extent of my ability, from Bottom's Bridge to the White Oak Swamp. By a thorough examination, I found a line of high bluffs commanding all the approaches from Chickahominy Swamp. Four different sites were selected for lines of rifle-pits, and the work commenced; one was completed and Colonel Lehman's regiment placed in position that night.

The instructions from headquarters to destroy Bottom's and the railroad bridge, in case an attack should be made in overwhelming force, I communicated to General Naglee, and the necessary preparations were made therefor. The important order “to hold the road to the James river over White Oak Swamp at all hazards,” was received and carried out to the letter.

During the evening, Captain Fitch's battery, Colonel Russell's Seventh Massachusetts volunteers and General Woodbury's engineer force, joined for duty at my headquarters. Parties, under discreet officers, were sent down the Chickahominy, with instructions to burn all bridge structures, and to proceed as far as Jones' Ford, if possible. General Woodbury was employed in preparing bridge structures to be thrown across the White Oak at or before daylight. He was furnished with men and implements, and every facility afforded for the discharge of his duty. A large force was employed during the night clearing the obstructions in the road leading to the bridge. Reports were made to the headquarters Fourth corps at intervals of half hours.

On the twenty-eighth, at daylight, I received instructions from headquarters, Fourth corps, to throw my immediate command across the White Oak Swamp, and seize strong positions so as to cover most effectually the passage for other troops. So soon as the bridge was passable I moved General Palmer, (who had joined me with his brigade,) Russell's regiment leading a squadron of cavalry, and Regan's and Fitch's batteries of artillery, forward, to a position of much strategic importance, some four miles in advance towards Richmond, covering the junction of the Quaker, New Market, Charles City, and other principal roads. General Woodbury, at my request, accompanied General Palmer, and made a hasty reconnoisance of the position. Having placed Wessell's brigade, with Lieutenant Mink's battery, in movement to support General Palmer, I proceeded in advance with Captain Keenan to make a careful reconnoisance of the country between the main road and the White Oak Swamp. After placing Colonels Rose and Dunkee's regiments on the right of the road, and the Sixty-second New York, Colonel Niven, far to the right, towards the swamp, in advance of Palmer's line, for the purpose of covering an important road, I examined the dispositions of General Palmer, which met my approval. The remainder of Wessell's brigade, with the artillery, were placed in reserve. Soon after General Couch came up with his division, and after examining and approving the dispositions, placed his command in position. Lines of pickets were established, but every precaution was taken to prevent any information from reaching the enemy.

At two P. M., I ordered Colonel Fairman's New York regiment and two sections of Fitch's battery to proceed to Long's Bridge to destroy what remained of it, and prevent the enemy's crossing in that quarter. A detail of two hundred infantry was sent, with a section of artillery, to Jones' Bridge, with similar instructions. About this time the Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania volunteers, Colonel Hovell, was established as an outpost on the Charles City road, to cover the debouch of the crossing of the White Oak Swamp at Bracket's Ford. Infantry and cavalry pickets were established in advance of this.

In this connection, I would mention that the Ninety-second New York, Colonel Anderson, was left on duty at the White Oak Swamp bridge. At this time, in consequence of the numerous detachments along the Chickahominy and White Oak Swamp, my force in hand was reduced to less than one thousand four hundred. An abatis was ordered to be cut in front, but not much progress was made, for want of tools. The day passed without disturbance, which I attributed in a great degree to the precaution I had taken of having the provost guard over every house within a distance of two or three [78] miles, with instructions to prevent any person leaving his premises.

About nine A. M., on the twenty-ninth, some of Wise's cavalry dashed into the camp in a reckless manner, cheering, and were received with a volley, which resulted in the death of the Major, and capture of some twenty-five, among whom was Captain Ruffin. The troops lay in position all day, awaiting in anxious suspense the movements of the enemy, somewhat encouraged by the arrival of supports from the White Oak Swamp, at six P. M. My command was relieved by that of General Slocum, and in obedience to orders from General Keyes, took up the line of march to James river, where it arrived in safety, with its train and artillery, at nine A. M. on the thirtieth, having been on the road, without sleep, in expectation of meeting the enemy, the whole night.

Malvern Hill.

I placed Wessell's brigade in position not far from Turkey Creek, Naglee's brigade not having joined. The enemy having commenced his attack upon the columns en route, my command was placed in line of battle by General Keyes about 3:30 P. M., on the extreme right, and entrusted with the defence of the reserve artillery. For a long time it was the only command on the ground. Early on the first of July, General Slocum was placed on my left (Malvern Hill), and in conjunction with him arrangements were made for the defence of our portion of the line.

During the day my detachments at Turner's and Long's Bridge, and Jones' Ford, were compelled to withdraw, to avoid being destroyed by the overwhelming force on the opposite side of the Chickahominy. They reported the enemy had already crossed at Jones' Bridge in considerable numbers.

rear guard.

At midnight I was advised that the army would immediately commence its movements to Harrison's Landing, some seven miles, and that my command would constitute the rear guard. After consultation it was deemed best, in case of there being only one road, that the brigades of Wessell and Naglee should cover the rear alternately, with the needful supply of artillery. At half past 1 A. M., I was in my saddle aiding General Wessell in forming his line of battle on the heights, a short distance this side the headquarters of General McClellan. Miller's battery only was retained ; all the principal by-roads were picketed with cavalry. Naglee's brigade was formed about a mile in the rear, on a commanding position. Stationing myself in the road, I gave my entire time and personal attention to the supervision of troops, batteries, and trains. Long trains of wagons and ambulances converging from every quarter towards the road, it became a very important question how to dispose of them, under my instructions, which were, to operate with reference to the rear of the artillery and troops, and not with reference to the trains, save the leaving of a single regiment in their rear. The plan which I adopted was this: that there should be one unbroken line of troops and batteries on one side of the road; and that the trains should move in like manner on the other side. That so long as the troops moved the trains could move; but that upon any detention of the troops the wagon trains must be halted. Batteries, ammunition, and hospital wagons had the preference. When extensive openings bordered the road, steps were taken to shorten up the trains by moving in several columns. Reports frequently came in of the movements of the enemy in various quarters, and on the reception of one of these, General Smith formed line of battle for some time to co-operate with me.

About twelve o'clock M., Colonel Averill passed by with his fine command, bringing up everything from the direction of Turkey Creek, in excellent order and time. As every command, ambulance, wagon, and straggler, had gone by the rear guard, I directed General Wessell to draw in his pickets and detachments, and move on and take up a position in the rear of General Naglee. About five o'clock P. >M., it was evident that, owing to the terrible condition of the roads, the whole country being flooded with water, which had poured down upon the clay soil uninterruptedly since early in the morning, that the train could not reach its destination that night, and, without protection, would fall into the hands of the enemy rapidly advancing.

I placed Wessell's brigade in position on the other side of Kimagen's Creek, with Miller's battery and seven small companies of cavalry. The brigade of Naglee, he being unwell, was placed in supporting distance this side of the creek. Soon after, the enemy opened with artillery upon the train for the purpose of creating contusion and stampeding the animals. Two additional regiments were sent to reinforce General Wessell. Judicious dispositions were made by him, and every step taken to keep the train of wagons moving through the night across the creek. At daylight on the third, the crossings of the stream were well nigh impassable, the rain having continued through the night. The drivers and animals were exhausted by want of food and great exertion, and the prospect for the balance of the train being passed was exceedingly dubious. New roads were cut through the woods, teams were doubled and fresh ones sent for. The enemy's pickets were around us, and his advance columns not far distant; doubtless held in check by the fire of the gunboats.

The work proceeded slowly but surely through the day, and at seven o'clock P. M. on the third I had the proud satisfaction of reporting for the information of the headquarters Army of the Potomac that the last vehicle had crossed the creek. The opinion is ventured that the history of military operations affords no instance where [79] a train of like magnitude and value was moved so great a distance in the presence of the enemy, and in the face of so many material obstacles, with so trifling loss.

As soon as the train was fairly out of the way I brought the rear guard to this side, where I established my line of battle, along the crest of the creek, my left resting on the James river. On the fourth I called the attention of the General-in-Chief to the advantages of this line, and after an examination he was pleased to adopt it. The timber on the opposite side has been slashed down to the James, also in the ravine and up to the crest of the creek on one side, which is lined with rifle-pits and batteries. Numerous roads have been cut, giving free communication between the reserves and the front.

General Ferry, with Thirty-ninth Illinois, Thirteenth Indiana, Sixty-second and Sixty-seventh Ohio regiments, was assigned to my division on the sixth instant. The record of these troops in the Shenandoah Valley is highly creditable, and gives promise of brilliant conduct when opportunity offers.

General Naglee was entrusted with a highly responsible and trying command at Bottom's Bridge and the railroad, which he discharged with zeal and fidelity. His troops at Dispatch Station were brought in at the night time. His batteries and sharp-shooters inflicted severe punishment upon the enemy when pressing upon the approaches to the bridges. In consequence of the absence of General Naglee no report has been received from that brigade, and I am embarrassed with respect to the details thereof. His report, as soon as received, will be sent forward to accompany this.

General Wessell has labored most faithfully, night and day, since I joined the division, and displayed the greatest interest in the service, under very critical circumstances. In the midst of difficulties and dangers his judgment seemed most reliable..

General Palmer led the advance from the White Oak Swamp, and made excellent dispositions, of which I am happy to make mention. Colonel Russell, Seventh Massachusetts, was in advance of the advance as usual, and exhibited his anxiety to meet the foe with his fine regiment.

Colonels Farniman, Ninety-sixth New York; Lehman, One Hundred and Third Pennsylvania; Rose, Eighty-first New York; Belknap, Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania; and Lieutenant-Colonel Durkee, Ninety-eighth New York, are all meritorious officers who have rendered the country good service, and exert a salutary influence upon their troops. Colonel Greggs, Eighth Pennsylvania cavalry, was of great assistance in these movements, scouring the country and watching the enemy. Captain Keenan, Eighth Pennsylvania cavalry, deserves especial notice for untiring and valuable services. When he was in the saddle no movement of the enemy escaped his eye. Lieutenant C. H. Morgan, Fourth artillery, displayed extraordinary zeal, pushing on many miles from Bottom's Bridge to join the advance to James river. He is an officer of merit.

As usual, all the members of my staff were active, and rendered great assistance. It is due to Surgeon A. B. Crosby, that I should acknowledge his untiring devotion to the sick and the wounded. That he should have deemed it necessary to tender his resignation is to be much regretted.

The artillery under Captains Regan, Miller, Brady, Fitch, Lieutenants Morgan and Mink, was in excellent condition and responded promptly to every call of duty. With such batteries I felt confident of more than ordinary success in any encounter with the rebels.

The severe labors that have devolved upon me since taking the division have prevented my finding out many deserving of notice, and I desire to thank every officer and soldier in the command for the cheerful and faithful manner in which they have discharged duties incessant and arduous, by day and by night. Chickahominy and White Oak Swamp will bear evidences of their industry for generations. While the late severe service has not been so brilliant as that which fell to other troops, it will even be deemed honor enough to have been a member of that division which held the troops of Jackson at bay across the Chickahominy, destroyed all the bridges, which led the advance of the Army of the Potomac from White Oak Swamp, and covered the rear safely during the great strategic movement from (Malvern Hill) Turkey Creek to Harrison's Point.

I am, very respectfully

Your obedient servant,

John I. Peck, Brigadier General, commanding Division.

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Naglee (13)
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John I. Peck (3)
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