91st PA at Fredericksburg

91st at Fredericksburg: Corps reports

Fifth Corps report, Butterfield

Report of Brig. Gen. Daniel Butterfield, U. S. Army, commanding Fifth Army Corps.

COLONEL: The Fifth Army Corps, under my command, broke camp on the morning of December 11, and marched to the left bank of the Rappahannock. The divisions moved in three separate lines, the Second Division (General Sykes) on the right by the Stafford road; the First Division (General Griffin) on the left, and to the left of the road passing from camp to the Phillips house, and the Third Division (General Humphreys') in the center, on a route to the right of that taken by General Griffin.

In compliance with instructions previously received, the approaches to a position at the river had been selected and assigned to the divisions as above. The artillery moved in the rear of the divisions, with the exception of two batteries, Hazlett's battery (D), Fifth U.S. Artillery, and Waterman's battery (C), Rhode Island Artillery, which had been detached by order of the chief of artillery of the Army of the Potomac. The commands were provided with three days' cooked rations, in haversacks, and forage for the animals with batteries. The command bivouacked on the nights of the 11th and 12th near the river bank, waiting completion of the bridges and crossing of the troops preceding.

About 2 p. m. on the 13th, we were ordered to cross the river. Three divisions crosses on the pontoon bridges laid opposite Fredericksburg immediately, in the following order: Sykes' on the right, Griffin's on the left, and Humphrey's in the center. Upon our arrival in Fredericksburg, the streets were somewhat obstructed.

At about 3 p. m. Griffin's division was ordered to the rear of Fredericksburg, in front of the enemy's works, to support General Sturgis' command. A few moments after, in compliance with orders received, he relieved General Sturgis. General Humphreys moved up to the junction of Hanover street and the Orange turnpike, General Sykes close in his rear. General Humphrey's division was formed on the left of the Culpeper road by brigade front; General Sykes on the right of the Culpeper road.

I was ordered to attack and break the enemy's line and carry the heights to our front. The crowded state of the streets of Fredericksburg prevented the crossing of all the artillery. Such portions of it as had crossed the river, including Hazard's battery, which was formed in the street, on the left of Hanover street, were placed in position on the right and left of the point of attack, and ordered to open a concentrated fire upon the enemy's lines during the formation of the infantry, as heretofore stated.

[page 400] The enemy was posted on his first line securely behind a stone wall near the foot of a crest, which was covered with batteries. The position of those batteries enabled the enemy to direct a severe cross-fire of artillery upon the heads of the columns. The enemy's position was one of exceeding strength, and his troops were well protected. During all the movements and formations the columns were subjected to a heavy fire. While endeavoring to force their way with powder and ball, no apparent advantage was gained. Orders were given to carry the heights with the bayonets. General Sykes was ordered to form a column of attack on the right of Humphreys. The attack of Humphreys' and Griffin's divisions was made with a spirit and efficiency scarcely, if ever, equaled in the records of this war; but the attack was made against a position so advantageous and strong to the enemy that it failed.

General Humphreys' division having been repulsed, fell back. General Sykes was immediately ordered to change his dispositions, to cover his own ground and that upon which Humphreys had attacked. General Humphreys was ordered to form in the rear of him. General Griffin fell back, but shortly after advanced to the extreme front, which he had gained, and held his position. The reports of the division commanders set forth in detail the order and character of their respective movements. Sykes' division was directed to hold the line in the rear of the ditch (marked B on the map [footnote:] Not found. [end of footnote] accompanying this report). General Griffin continued the line on the left, connecting with the Ninth Army Corps; Allabach's brigade, of General Humphreys', in the rear of Major Andrews' brigade, at a point marked F on the map, and Andrews' and Stockton's brigades, at a point marked C on the map.

Late at night I received orders from the major-general commanding to have these troops take an advanced position, where some portions of General Couch's corps were lying down in front of the ditch, which position was accordingly taken. The brigades of Colonel Buchanan and Major Andrews, in General Sykes' division, and Colonel Stockton's, in General Griffin's, held this line within close range of the enemy's position behind the stone wall (marked D on the map), for twenty-four hours following, on the 14th. A more severe test of the discipline and efficiency of those commands could not have been made.

At noon on the 15th, that portion of Fredericksburg bounded by Hanover Street on the left, and the Rappahannock River on the right, was assigned to me, to be put in a state of defense and held. General Whipple's division was ordered to me for this duty.

The different portions of the line of defense were apportioned according to the strength of the various divisions: General Whipple on the right, from the river to the junction of the canal and Fall Hill road; General Griffin on his left, to Fauquier street; General Humphreys on General Griffin's left, to Amelia street, and General Sykes on General Humphreys' left, to Hanover street, his left connecting with the command of General Couch, who had been intrusted with the remaining portions of the defenses of the town. General Warren was charged with the construction of the barricades and earthworks. [footnote:] See No. 193, p. 429. [end of footnote] Captain Weed, chief of artillery of the corps, was charged with the distribution and disposition of the artillery.

As soon as darkness permitted, the work was carried on as rapidly as the limited number of implements at hand and to be obtained would allow. No work could be done before dark.

[p.401] The divisions were assigned to various portions of the town, in accordance with the orders given them to move to the proper relief or support without confusion.

At about 10 o'clock at night, the main body, assigned to the portion of the town on the left of Hanover street, was withdrawn, and the defense of the entire town was assigned to me. I was directed to relieve the pickets on the left of Hanover street.

The darkness and the wearied condition of both officers and men of the command incident to exposure and the duties performed since breaking camp, made this a severe task upon them. Generals Griffin and Humphreys were withdrawn from the right and assigned to the line from Hanover street to the left. General Sykes and General Whipple covered the line from which the other two divisions were withdrawn. The alacrity with which these orders were obeyed was most praiseworthy.

At 3.30 a. m. orders came to withdraw the command from Fredericksburg and recross the river, covering the withdrawal of the bridges. Captain Weed was directed to move all the artillery immediately; the provost-guard ordered to patrol the town; wake up all stragglers; search all alley-ways and by-ways, and make every possible exertion to get all absentees to their commands. Precise and detailed orders in writing were given for the withdrawal of the forces. Under direction of General Sykes, one of this brigades covered the whole. This order was carried out in the most admirable manner. No confusion occurred; no haste or disorder.

Contrary to my understanding, and without notice, the engineers in charge took up two of the pontoon bridges before all the troops directed to cross them had done so. This action necessitated a change in the order of withdrawal, which was made properly and without confusion. It was a most fortunate circumstance that this unwarrantable blunder caused no confusion. The bridges were immediately ordered to be relaid, and the crossing continued successfully.

Colonel Buchanan's brigade, of Sykes' division, crossed last, at about 8 a. m., in most excellent order. Several boat-loads of stragglers were brought over after the taking up of the bridges, which was completed at 9 a. m. My command was two hours longer in retiring from the position in front of the enemy to the left bank of the river than it was in crossing from the left bank on the 13th and engaging with the enemy. I can give no better commentary than this upon the spirit which animated all in the performance of their duty.

The accompanying sketch [footnote:] Not found.[end of footnote] will illustrate fully the positions of attack, the lines of defense, and enemy's line, &c., alluded to in my report. The reports of the division commanders furnish in detail the movements executed by them.

I regret to state that, by the neglect of duty of a subordinate officer, on picket duty, of General Humphreys' division, and the failure to comply with precise orders given, Captain Lentz's company [E], of the Ninety-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, were left unrelieved on picket. The gallant behavior of Captain Lentz and his men, his successful withdrawal of all but a small portion of them, is set forth modestly in his report, hereto annexed and marked C. This officer deserves an acknowledgment and reward for his conduct.

[p.402] The report of General Whipple's operations while under my command will reach you through General Stoneman, his corps commander. I can only bear testimony to the cheerfulness and energy with which he and his command devoted themselves to the arduous duties imposed upon them. It remains for me to allude to the conduct of the Fifth Army Corps during these movements.

I hardly know how to express my appreciation of the soldierly qualities, the gallantry, and energy displayed by my division commanders, Generals Sykes, Humphreys, and Griffin, their subordinates, and commands. General Sykes only too lightly estimates the fine behavior of his men in his official report. I would respectfully call attention to it. General Humphreys personally led his division in the most gallant manner. His attack was spirited, and worthy of veterans. Made as it was by raw troops, the value of the example set by the division commander can hardly be estimated. General Griffin's command was sent to relieve General Sturgis', of General Wilcox's corps. This, with my presence, and the other two divisions, during the attack; my lack of knowledge of the position of the enemy previous to the actual commencement of my attack, separated me a portion of the time during the afternoon of the 13th from its movements. Its gallant behavior is attested in the reports of casualties, the detailed reports of the operations, and the positions to which it advanced under such difficulties. I recommend that Generals Sykes, Humphreys, and Griffin should receive proper recognition for their services during these operations.

My detailed report seems hardly necessary, when I recall the fact that almost every movement was made under the special eye and direction of Major-General Hooker, who personally knew and witnessed the behavior of my command, and who directed most of the movements executed by the corps during the engagement. His presence gave spirit and encouragement to the troops in this most difficult task. During the absence of a portion of my own staff, by a mistaken impression of where the command was to attack, no orders having been received previous to the arrival of the divisions on the field, I received the most valuable assistance from Major-General Hooker's staff. Their gallant services will never be forgotten.

General Warren is entitled to honorable mention and reward for his energetic and efficient services in the duties intrusted to him, heretofore alluded to in this report.

Capt. S. H. Weed, chief of artillery of the corps, for his energy, bravery, and skill exhibited throughout the whole operation, deserves the favorable notice and reward due a gallant soldier.

To my own staff I owe recognition and mention of their services. Lieutenant-Colonel Locke and Major Kirkland, of General Porter's staff, were present with me during the whole of the operations of the 13th, and behaved with great gallantry. Major Kirkland had his horse shot under him. Captain Tucker, Eighteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, acting aide-de-camp, was severely wounded in the arm while in the discharge of his duties, and deserves special mention for his services. To the others of my staff, Surg. R. O. Craig, medical director of the Fifth Army Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel Bartram, Captains Sterling and Ryder, Lieutenant Perkins, and Mr. Kernys, volunteer aide-de-camp, I owe recognition for their valuable services.

I am, very respectfully, yours, &c.

DANL. BUTTERFIELD, Brigadier-General, Commanding.
Lieutenant-Colonel DICKINSON, Assistant Adjutant-General, Center Grand Division.

Inclosure [Captain Lentz's report]

[Official Records series 1 volume 21 pages 399-403]

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revised 1 June 02
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