October 25 to November 1, 1864.
- By the left flank-the fight on Boydton Plank Road
-- the Tenth sent in
-- at it hot and heavy
-- we are flanked
-- on to Libby —‘give ‘Em canister’
-- fall of Lieut. Smith and Private Atkinson
-- running the gantlet
-- fall of Lieut. Granger
-- Drawal of the Corps
-- synopsis of General Hancock's Report.
Having marched some distance to the rear, we came to a halt in a large field near Fort Bross.
This was a fort at the extreme left of our rear line of defences, near the Norfolk Railroad.
Here we were joined by more artillery and two divisions of infantry.
No further movement was made Tuesday, and we lay whiling away the time, hearing and circulating ‘yarns’ as to the destination of the prospective move.
The battery wagon and forge were sent to City Point
, which gave color to the story that all non-combatants and superfluous materiel
were to be sent thither, that a small picket was to hold the main line, while the rest of the army, cutting loose under Hancock
, was to march upon, seize and hold the Southside Railroad.
In apparent accord with this theory the Battery
, in common with the other troops mentioned, started toward the left and camped near ‘Yellow Tavern
on the Weldon
Before broad daylight, Thursday morning, October 27th, the march was resumed, and with flankers well out the column proceeded slowly and cautiously in a southwesterly direction.
Early in the forenoon sounds of skirmishing reached the ear, a sure index that our advance was likely to be warmly opposed.
The enemy's outposts were met and driven inland their picket line captured with a small earthwork.
The advance was then continued still more cautiously, and anon cannonading was heard.
At noon we were brought to a stand-still, and parked at close intervals on the left of the Dabney's Mill road (over which we had been marching) where it meets the Boydton Plank Road
. Battery K parked in our company.
From this position we were enabled to watch the fight going on between one of our batteries (Beck
's ‘C & I,’ 5th Regulars) and some Rebel guns; but when the shells from the latter came whistling along not far overhead, or, plunging into the ground uncomfortably near, indicated that the troops massed and massing here were visible to them, we lay a little lower.
'Twas but a moment, however, for we are wanted at the front, and leaving caissons behind, out upon the Plank Road
dash the pieces at a lively trot.
We have a half-mile run before us ere getting into position, and no sooner are we fairly on the road than we become the object of warm attention from the enemy's guns, whose shells crash through the trees and fence by the roadside as we go. But on we press, galloping up the rise in the road just south of where it meets the White Oak Road
, and wheel to the right into a field, unlimbering near a barn.2
We are opposite the entrance of the White
Map of Boydton Plank Road, or Hatcher's Run battlefield, October 27, 1864|
Oak Road, along which the right of Lee
's line afterwards ran when Sheridan
fought so famously for Five Forks
On the corner of it and the Plank Road
stands (or stood) an unpretentious woodcol-ored hostelry, known as Burgess' Tavern or house.
But these particulars in the landscape were noted afterwards.
Now, other business is in hand.
We at once join battle with the enemy's batteries posted across the Run
near Burgess' Mill.3
These we have about succeeded in silencing when the enemy open a flank fire upon us with some guns posted about eight hundred yards up the White Oak Road
We immediately direct the most of our efforts in that direction, and it is not long before we have them silenced.
We had succeeded Beck
's Battery in this position.
They had exhausted their supply of ammunition, and had gone to the rear for more, and we continued the contest after their departure, unaided.
But now a more important factor in the fray moved to the front.
It was Gibbon
's Division, commanded by General Egan
Its left covered the White Oak Road
, and from thence the line crossed the Plank Road
extending around towards our right.
It was making preparations to carry the bridge over Hatcher's Run
, which crossed the Plank Road
not more than five hundred yards in our front, and take the rifle-pit and guns beyond.
was detached with the centre section to the north of the barn, for the purpose of covering the bridge more effectively while the advance was making.
In this position his guns expended all their
ammunition except the canister, and Sergt. Currant
was dispatched to Lieut. Granger
to see about getting up more.
This, events immediately subsequent prevented.
We of the other sections had now ceased firing, and were watching the charging party with eager interest.
They press on quite steadily without serious opposition, and have almost reached the bridge,4
when a sharp musketry fire breaks out in the woods to our left rear, and the line is immediately faced about.
We are flanked and cut off
!is our first thought.
What else can it mean?
The stoutest heart trembles at the possibilities of the immediate future.
We can stand a hot fire from the front when allowed to give in return, and feel as comfortable as the situation warrants; but to be so sharply and unexpectedly assailed in the rear, is weakening to the strongest nerves.
The roar of musketry increases, and the whiz of bullets coming up from the fray5
makes us anxious for the order to fire to the rear; and soon it comes from Sergeant Townsend
, in the absence of Lieut. Granger
At once we send Hotchkiss
percussion shells crashing into the woods at point-blank range, for the enemy are less than three hundred yards distant. But just as we have become engaged in dead earnest, the guns across the Run
, relieved from the pressure of the charging party, treat us to a fire from the flank, whereat, taking advantage of a temporary lull in our new front, we turn and give them a good pounding.
The roar soon breaks out again behind, and feeling that the most is at stake in that direction,
we direct our fire thitherward anew.
At this time, a body of infantry,6
having advanced by our left down to the woods in our front shortly before, came falling back through the guns.
We remonstrate with them, but all to no purpose.
A colonel says he cannot rally his regiment.
One of our men, David R. Stowell
, cries out to some of the Eleventh Massachusetts infantry that he recognized, ‘Shame on you, boys!
Will you leave the old Tenth Battery to fight it out alone?’
Then going to the color-bearer he demands the flag, declaring he will lead them on himself, while Lieut. Granger
draws his sword and endeavors to stay the retreating wave.
When they see that we remain steadfastly at our posts, making no sign of retreat, some of the more courageous step out and call on their comrades to halt and save these guns.
For a moment the line falters, but a moment only, for the Rebel
artillery across the Run
increasing its fire at this time, dispels the little resolution they had mustered; again the line sways backward and we are alone.
‘What shall we do, Lieutenant
asks some one. ‘Give them shell!’
‘We can whip them alone.’
And we do
give them shell, for now their line appears to view, stretching through the woods, and the leaden messengers multiply.
As we spring to the work with the utmost vigor, Sergeant Townsend
coolly watches the Rebel
guns in the opposite direction.
At their every flash he shouts ‘down!’
and down it is until the shell howls past, when we are up and in business again.
But their shooting is poor, for their shells all go over us.
‘We have fired the last shell, Lieutenant
,’ is heard from the Fourth Detachment
‘Then give them canister!’
is the immediate response, as immediately obeyed.
While in the discharge of this command, Daniel W. Atkinson
Two man on the Fourth Detachment gun, is shot through the lower part of the abdomen, and falls to the ground with an agonizing groan.
In a few moments he is dead.
Thus perished a brave soldier, a professed Christian and true man who had occupied the post of No.
Two since the organization of the Battery
, and who had thus sealed with his blood the cause he had upheld from the beginning with peculiar earnestness.
We pause here to note further, that during the previous winter he had said he did not expect to survive the war, and in the forenoon of this particular day he had given directions to some of his more intimate comrades in regard to the disposal of his effects in case he should fall.
As the troops halted from time to time, he was several times seen, apart from the column, reading the Scriptures, or on his knees in prayer.
What is that something
which has on so many occasions, and notably during the war, so accurately foreshadowed to the individual impending personal events, except it be a revelation from Deity?
The cases of this description on record are as numerous as they are remarkable.
But no one leaves his post to minister to the dying.
When a nation's life's at hazard,
We've no time to think of men.
Our extremity goads us on, each thinking his turn may be next, and determined to give the enemy the benefit of what ammunition there is left before he
now rides up and reports the centre section brought off according to orders received from Gen. Egan
Being without ammunition, the guns stand by the barn unserviceable.
Scarcely has the Lieutenant
reported ere he tumbles from his horse, shot through the bowels— a mortal wound.
The situation is now a critical one.
We are contending alone and momentarily expecting the Rebel
line to emerge from the woods, when we find the last round of ammunition is expended.
We have done our worst, and there is nothing left us but to limber up and accept the inevitable.
So sponge-staff, rammer, and handspike,
As man-of-wars men should,
We placed within their proper racks,
And at our quarters stood.
We draw off, taking our wounded lieutenant with us, and halt near the barn, expecting to be ‘scooped in’ by the enemy very shortly.
‘Let us keep together, boys, so as to go to Richmond
together,’ remarks a cannoneer, thus indicating the fate which all are momentarily anticipating.
Near by, lying low behind a hastily improvised line of rails, boards, etc., is a line of infantry, Egan
which has retired to this position from their advance, and a part of the Third Division.
Affairs as we see them now seem utterly hopeless.
We have heard nothing from the rear in all this time, have no tidings as to what the result of the flank attack was; but learning that the enemy hold the Plank Road
between us and headquarters at the caissons, we naturally suppose ourselves and neighbors hopelessly cut off. But soon a staff officer appears galloping down the road, at which Lieut. Granger
declares that he will take the risk and responsibility of withdrawing—the risk of encountering the enemy, and the responsibility of leaving without orders, as there is no one present from whom to receive them.
So the drivers and cannoneers are mounted, and the horses are started to the rear on the gallop.10
We draw a lively fire from the Rebel
skirmish line as we pass, which, it seems, still commands the road.
But we escape uninjured, although the dead and wounded of the afternoon's fray are strewn along the course, and we have the satisfaction of finding our men and caissons safe and where we left them.
We then learn why
the enemy did not swing around and gobble us up, as we had expected them to do. It seems
that the left of the Rebel
column under Gen. Heth
's Corps, our old antagonist, under orders from Lee
to cross Hatcher's Run
and attack Hancock
's right, in pursuance of this order suddenly issued from the woods about 4 o'clock P. M., and fell upon a part of Mott
Their point of issuance was near the junction of the Boydton Plank
with the Dabney's Mill Road
, near where our caissons and Battery K were parked.
The caissons were immediately hurried out of the way, and brave Battery K unlimbering its guns at close intervals, opened fire to the rear, double-shotted with canister, doing good execution upon the enemy, while, simultaneously, our shells raked across them, adding to the warmth of their situation.
These circumstances, with others given in detail further on, caused the larger part of the Rebels
to again seek cover in the woods.
Several hundred of their number, however, did not do so, but remained fighting, apparently unconscious that they were left alone, until by the advance of the First Minnesota under Maj. Mitchell
of the staff, they were cut off and surrendered.11
Our supply and ambulance trains stood parked in the field with our caissons, and all under fire.
There was no safe rear in this fight, for the enemy nearly surrounded us, and Hampton
's cavalry was still behind us across the Plank Road
, stoutly opposed by the valiant Gregg
with inferior numbers.
Having exchanged our empty limbers for full ones from the caissons, we are again ordered into position, this time in the field across the Plank Road
, where we go into battery prepared to fire to the rear, that apparently being considered the direction in which our greatest danger lay, as the enemy were pressing Gregg
Soon after this a cheer was heard from the front It was Egan
's Division charging to the rear, retaking full possession of the road and contiguous territory.
It was now about sunset, but the sun was obscured from view by threatening clouds, and other trials were in store for us. A Rebel battery (probably the one we had silenced from our position at Burgess' Tavern), located up the White Oak Road
, not more than twelve hundred yards distant, and apparently supposing our troops to be massed near or marching down the Dabney's Mill Road
, opened a random fire in that direction.
We say a random fire, for had not we been screened from view by intervening woods, a foggy mist that had set in would have covered us. But if we had been in full view, and not half as far away, they could not have done better shooting, for every shot raked the Battery from right to left
,undoubtedly due to our being at about the limit of their range.
It would not have been wise to answer them, they being at the circumference of the circle, as it were, thus letting them know that we were still at its centre, and perhaps drawing a hotter fire in our direction.
But whether or not this was the reason governing the commander, no orders were received by us to reply, and so we lay by the guns hugging the ground until torrents of rain and pitchy darkness caused the ‘wicked (foe) to cease from troubling.’
We had not undergone this ordeal unscathed.
Hiram Pike was thrown to the ground by the concussion of a shell.
Another struck and disabled both wheels of the fifth piece, a fragment of it wounding private Alfred C. Billings
in the lip, and two pieces entering the head of Michael Farrell
A ‘close call’ was made for John P. Apthorp
, whose canteen strap was cut by a shell as he lay by the fourth piece; but sadder than all, and as a climax to the horrors that had accumulated around us, a fragment of an exploding shrapnel entered the breast of Lieut. Granger
, inflicting a mortal wound.
By his fall we were left without a commissioned officer, and our prospects looked dismal enough.
As soon as our condition was reported at headquarters, Lieut. Smith
of Battery K was detached to take charge of us, and Lieut. Dean
of the Sixth Maine was detailed to assist him.
When darkness had fairly settled down, all firing had died away, and from the surrounding
territory there came up wails from the wounded and dying, not all of whom had been brought off the field.
It was with great difficulty that places could be found in an ambulance for our wounded officers, so crowded were these conveyances.
The Union loss in this battle was fourteen hundred and fifteen.
Of these, six hundred and twenty-five were missing.12
The enemy's loss exceeded this, by their own admission.
Affairs becoming quiet, we spread our tarpaulins, and lying down, doubled them over us for shelter and warmth, while we attempted to catch a little sleep in anticipation of the next move.
It was nearly 11 o'clock at night when we were aroused, and ordered to ‘limber up’ preparatory to moving out. As we had expected to remain on the field and renew the contest next morning, this was an unlooked for order, but retracing our way through
Where the Battery stood Oct. 27, 1864|
mire and water, we emerged at Yellow Tavern
just as the sun was breaking through the clouds.
There we lay till noon, going thence to the camp in the rear line occupied by us on the return from Reams
Station; thence, on the evening of the 29th, to Fort Stevenson, inside which we pitched our tents.
Thus ended the Battle of Hatcher's Run
, or Boydton Plank Road as it is sometimes called, which closed active operations on this part of the line for 1864.
Our total loss was two officers mortally wounded, one private killed and two wounded, and seven horses shot.13 Lieut. Granger
died in the hospital at City Point
, October 30th, and Lieut. Smith
at the same place, October 28th.
In the death of Lieut. Granger
we felt that we had lost our warmest friend.
When he was struck down (it was after dusk), he asked to have all the men gather at his side that he might take them by the hand and bid them good-bye.
He expected, then, to expire in a short time.
He thanked us all for standing by him so well, told us to look out for the Battery
after he was gone, and get Lieut. Smith
off the field if possible.
A brave soldier!
None could be braver!
A true, warm-hearted friend!
His goodness of heart and equity of government won the manliest affection of all, and as we looked upon that prostrate form for the last time, the stoutest hearts gave way in tears.
He fell far short of the ideal military hero, never seeming at home on parade, but in the earnestness of battle his coolness was unsurpassed.
The following notice of his death appeared in some paper (I think the Barre Gazette) shortly afterwards, written by a hand unknown to me, but the tribute seems so well merited, I insert it here entire.
In the death of Lieut. Smith
lost a most efficient officer.
He was a man of dauntless energy and decision of character, and whatever he undertook was sure of accomplishment.
Although a rigid disciplinarian, there may truly be said of him what Gen. Garfield
said of Gen. Thomas
, that he rendered that same exact obedience to superiors which he required of those under his command, and those who knew him most intimately assert that under that mantle of sternness beat one of the warmest of hearts.
He, too, was a thoroughly brave man in action, and never cooler than in his last battle.
The following synopsis of Gen. Hancock
's report of this movement will throw light over much of the foregoing:
's Division, commanded by Egan
's Division were withdrawn from the intrenchments on the morning of the 25th, and massed in the rear.
' Division stretched out and occupied their places.
At 2 P. M. they moved along the rear to near Fort Du Chesne on the Weldon Road
It was expected they would bivouac on the Vaughan Road
The order of movement prescribed that the troops should move down the Vaughan Road, cross Hatcher's Run, thence by Dabney's Mill to the Boydton Plank Road, thence to the White Oak Road, again crossing Hatcher's Run, and finally that I should strike the Southside Railroad.
Gregg's Division of cavalry was placed under my command, and was to move on my left flank by way of Rowanty Creek and the Quaker Road. . . . . The march was somewhat delayed by obstructions in the road, and the head of Egan's column reached Hatcher's Run very soon after daylight, and Egan at once made his arrangements to force the crossing. . . . . The enemy was posted in a rifle-pit on the opposite bank.
Smythe's brigade carried the works with a loss of about fifty men.15 Egan now moved on towards the Boydton Plank Road. . . .
As soon as we emerged into the clearing at the Plank Road the enemy opened fire on us from near Burgess' Tavern, and from our left, having apparently a section of artillery at each place.
Beck's Battery of the Fifth Artillery soon silenced the fire of the section at the tavern . . . . Preparations were at once made for continuing the march by the White Oak Road. Gen. Egan's Division moved down the Boydton Road for the purpose of driving the enemy across the Run.
Mott's Division was put in motion for the White Oak Road.
and a brigade of cavalry sent down to relieve Egan in order that he might follow Mott.
At this juncture, 1 P. M., Meade
ordered a halt.
pressed the enemy across the Run
soon arrived on the field.
was now ordered to deploy to the right, to connect with the Fifth Corps, which was moving this way.
Meanwhile the enemy was not idle.
He placed nine guns in front of Egan on the north bank of the Run, and five more about
eight hundred yards from Egan's left on the White Oak Road, from which he opened a very annoying artillery fire.
Beck, with four guns, replied gallantly. . . . More important events directed my attention from this point, though Granger's Battery, Tenth Massachusetts, was sent forward to relieve Beck, that the latter might replenish his ammunition. . . . . Knowing the views of my superiors, I had determined to assault the bridge and gain possession of the high ground beyond.
Gen Egan, whose division occupied the crest of the ridge near Burgess' Tavern, had been entrusted with the necessary preparations. . . . . . McAllister's Brigade of Mott's Division was still in line of battle facing the approaches from the upper bridge.16 The remaining brigade of Mott's Division,17 General Pierce's, had been moved up to support a section of Beck's Battery under Lieut. Metcalf, which was in position on a secondary ridge, about midway between Mott and Egan . . . . . Constant firing had been heard on my right, which was attributed to Crawford's (Fifth Corps) advance.
Becoming uneasy, I ordered two regiments of Pierce's Brigade to advance well into the wood and ascertain what was there.
Lieut. Stacy of my staff was sent to Gen. Crawford to inform him that I was about to assault the bridge, for which preparations were complete.
A section of Granger's Battery had been advanced to cover the bridge; the artillery had already opened, and a small party of the One Hundred and Sixty-fourth New York, the advance of the storming party, had pushed across the bridge, capturing a 10-pound Parrott gun. Just at this time, about 4 o'clock P. M., a volley of musketry immediately on my right, which was followed by a continuous fire, left no doubt that the enemy was advancing.
The small force of Pierce's Brigade in the woods was overrun by weight of numbers, and the enemy broke out of the woods just where Metcalf's section was placed.
Metcalf changed front and fired a few rounds, and the part of Pierce's Brigade in support endeavored to change front, but was unable to do so successfully, and most of the brigade was driven back in confusion, rallying at the Plank Road,—the section falling into the hands of the enemy.
At the first sound of the attack, I sent Maj. Mitchell . . . to
Gen. Egan, with orders for him to desist from his assault on the bridge
had already done so.
I do not think the enemy comprehended the situation exactly.
He pushed rapidly across the ridge, resting his right across the Boydton Plank Road, and, facing south.
De Trobriand's Brigade was quickly formed just in front of the Dabney Mill Road, with Kerwin's brigade of dismounted cavalry on its left.
Roder's (K) and Beck's batteries were opened on the enemy.
Maj. Mitchell, in returning from Gen. Egan, found the enemy in possession of the road.
and taking the first Minnesota of Rugg's Brigade, Second Division, opened fire on him. This was, perhaps, the earliest intimation he had of the presence of any considerable force in his rear, and he immediately directed a part of his fire in that direction.
Gen. Egan swept down on the flank of the enemy, . . . . while the line formed along the Dabney Mill Road advanced at the same time. . . . . Some of the new troops faltered, but were speedily re-formed.
The general advance of Egan was, however, irresistible.
and the enemy was swept from the field with a loss of two colors and several hundred prisoners . . . . The captured guns were retaken, and were soon afterwards drawn off the field. . . . . Almost simultaneously with this attack the enemy commenced pressing our left and rear heavily. . . . The enemy in front had hardly been repulsed, when the fire in rear became so brisk that I was obliged to send Gen. Gregg all of his force I had used to meet the attack in front as well as another of his brigades.
The attack on Gregg was made by five brigades of Hampton's cavalry. . . . . Between 6 and 7 P. M. I received a despatch from Gen. Humphreys, stating that Ayres' Division of the Fifth Corps had been ordered to my support, but had halted at Armstrong's Mill, which was as far as it could get. The despatch also authorized me to withdraw that night if I thought proper; but stated that if I could attack successfully in the morning with the aid of Ayres' and Crawford's divisions, the Major-General commanding desired me to do so. Though these reinforcements were offered to me, the question of their getting to me in time, and of getting ammunition up in time to have my own command effective in the morning, was left for me to decide; and I understood that if the principal part of the fighting in the morning would be thrown upon these reinforcements, it was not desired that they should be ordered up. They would at least have been called upon to do the fighting until my own command
could have replenished their ammunition, which I was quite certain would not be in time to resist attack at an early hour in the morning.
Reluctant as I was to leave the field, and by so doing lose some of the fruits of my victory, I felt compelled to order a withdrawal rather than risk a disaster by awaiting attack in the morning only partially prepared.18
Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac.
Oct. 25. One recruit received—Timothy Herlehy
Two horses shot by order E. L. Smith
Battery K, 4th U. S. Ar'ty, A. A. I. G.
Oct. 26. Corp. G. A. Pease
sent to general hospital.
Lieut's Granger and Smith
and Privates A. C. Billings
wounded and sent to hospital.
, leg broken also sent to hospital.
Lieut. E. L. Smith
Battery K, 4th U. S. Art'y and Lieut. Deane
, 6th Me. Art'y temporarily attached.
Seven horses shot in action.
Hiram Pike slightly wounded.
Oct. 28. Lieut. Asa Smith
died at general hospital City Point, Va.
, from effects of wound received Oct. 27. Lieut. Granger
sent to general hospital also Billings
Oct. 29. Capt. Sleeper
returned to duty front leave of absence since Aug. 25. Lieut. Wm. G. Rollins
returned to duty from ammunition train.
Oct. 30. Private C. A. Mason
dropped from the rolls Oct. 23 is taken up. Lieut. E. L. Smith
returned to Battery K, 4th U. S. Art'y. One horse died—effects of wounds.