Third division report, HumphreysReport of Brig. Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, U. S. Army, commanding Third Division.
HEADQUARTERS THIRD DIVISION, Camp near Fredericksburg, Va., December 16, 1862.
GENERAL: I beg leave to submit the following brief report of the part taken in the action of the 13th instant at Fredericksburg by the division under my command:
My division (about 4,500 strong), being massed in the vicinity of the Phillips house, received orders at 2.30 in the afternoon to cross the river and enter Fredericksburg, which being done, it occupied, by your orders, in quick succession three positions in that time. My troops were yet in the act of forming for the third time when I received an urgent request from Major-General Couch to support that part of his corps on the left of the Telegraph road, and almost at the same moment a staff officer rode up and informed him that General Griffin would re-enforce him. A few minutes later I was directed to do so, and without an instant's delay the Second Brigade, commanded by Colonel Allabach, the nearest in the field, was moved to the front, and orders sent by me at the same time to General Tyler, commanding the First Brigade, to follow and form on its right.
Subsequently, when forming the troops for the attack, Captain Randol, First U. S. Artillery, chief of artillery of my division, whom I had ordered to keep the artillery in some sheltered place, reported to me on the field for further instructions. I directed him to hold the artillery within supporting distance on the heights, so that in the event of any aid being required or disaster occurring he would be at hand to support or cover us. This direction he carried out promptly so far as the ground that was not already occupied by artillery admitted. I had not as yet seen any part of the ground occupied by the enemy or our own troops, and the necessity was so urgent that I could not take time to examine it. At my request an officer of General Hancock's staff (Captain Hancock) [p.431] accompanied me to the ground, first to a ravine crossing the Telegraph road, where the troops could form under partial cover; then to the high ground above, on which, some 200 yards in advance, were the troops I was to support, slightly sheltered by a small rise in the ground. One hundred and fifty yards in advance of them was a heavy stone wall, a mile in length, which was strengthened by a trench. This stone wall was at the foot of the heights in rear of Fredericksburg, the crest of which, running 400 yards distant from the wall, was crowned with batteries. The stone wall was heavily lined with the enemy's infantry.
The Second Brigade was quickly formed under my direction by Colonel Allabach, and then led by him and myself. It moved rapidly and gallantly up to General Couch's troops, under the artillery and musketry fire of the enemy. The nature of the enemy's line of defense could not be clearly perceived by me until I reached our line. The troops I was to support, as well as those on their left (I could not see those on their right from the interruption of the line by a road and the thick smoke), were sheltering themselves by lying on the ground. This example Colonel Allabach's brigade immediately followed, in spite of an effort to prevent it, and opened a fire upon the enemy. A part only of his men were able to reach the front rank, owing to the numbers already occupying the ground. The continued presence of the troops I was to support or relieve proved a serious obstacle to my success. As soon as I ascertained the nature of the enemy's position, I was satisfied that our fire could have but little effect upon him, and that the only mode of attacking him successfully was with the bayonet. This I resolved to do, although my command was composed of troops that entered the service in August. With great difficulty their firing was arrested, chiefly by the exertions of myself and staff, and Colonel Allabach, aided by Colonel Allen, Colonel Clark, and Captain Tyler. While this was being done, I sent a staff officer to General Tyler with instructions to bring his command to the left of the road in the ravine, and prepare it to support or take the place of Allabach's brigade, as the even might require. The charge was then made, but the deadly fire of musketry and artillery broke it, after an advance of 50 yards. Colonel Allabach reformed the brigade, a portion in the line from which the charge was made, and the remainder in the ravine from which they originally advanced.
The greater part of my staff were now on foot, having had their horses killed or disabled, my own being in the latter condition from two wounds. Mounting the horse of my special orderly (Damond, Sixth U. S. Cavalry), I rode to General Tyler's brigade to conduct it to the enemy, and while doing so received three successive orders from General Butterfield to charge the enemy's line, the last order being accompanied by the message that both General Burnside and General Hooker demanded that the crest should be taken before night. It was already growing dusky. General Tyler's brigade was not yet entirely formed, and was impeded in doing so by a battery of six guns, whose limbers occupied a part of his ground, and whose fire would have rendered it impossible for him to advance. With great difficulty I brought this battery to cease firing. Then, riding along the two lines, I directed them not to fire; that it was useless; that the bayonet alone was the weapon to fight with here. Anticipating, too, the serious obstacle they would meet with in the masses of men lying under the little shelter afforded by the natural embankment in front, before mentioned, who could not be got out of the way, I directed them to disregard those men entirely, and to pass over them. I ordered the officers to the front, and, with a hurrah, the brigade, led by General Tyler and myself, advanced [p.432] gallantly over the ground, under the heaviest fire yet opened, which poured upon it from the moment it rose from the ravine.
As the brigade reached the masses of men referred to, every effort was made by the latter to prevent our advance. They called to our men not to go forward, and some attempted to prevent by force their doing so. The effect upon my command was what I apprehended the line was somewhat disordered, and, in part, forced to form into a column, but still advanced rapidly. The fire of the enemy's musketry and artillery, furious as it was before, now became still hotter. The stone wall was a sheet of flame, that enveloped the head and flanks of the column. Officers and men were falling rapidly, and the head of the column was at length brought to a stand when close up to the wall. Up to this time not a shot had been fired by the column, but now some firing began. It lasted but a minute, when, in spite of all our efforts, the column turned and began to retire slowly. I attempted to rally the brigade behind the natural embankment so often mentioned, but the united efforts of General Tyler, myself, our staffs, and the other officers could not arrest the retiring mass. My efforts were the less effective, since I was again dismounted, my second horse having been killed under me. The only one of my staff now mounted was Lieutenant Humphreys, whose horse had been three times wounded. All the rest had their horses either killed or disabled, except one officer, who had been sent off with orders.
Directing General Tyler to reform his brigade under cover of the ravine, I returned to the portion of Allabach's brigade still holding, with the other troops, the line of natural embankment. At this moment some one brought me Colonel Elder's horse, the colonel having been dangerously wounded a short time before
My force being too small to try another charge, I communicated the result of the contest to General Butterfield, and received directions in return to bring the remainder of my troops to the ravine. This was accordingly done, the One hundred and twenty-third and One hundred and fifty-fifth Regiments, commanded by Colonels Clark and Allen, retiring slowly and in good order, singing and hurrahing. Colonel Allabach brought off the other regiments in equally good order.
Our loss in both brigades was heavy, exceeding 1,000 in killed and wounded, [footnote:] See revised statement, p.137. [end of footnote] including in the number officers of high rank. The greater part of the loss occurred during the brief time they were charging and retiring, which scarcely occupied more than ten or fifteen minutes for each brigade.
I beg leave to submit herewith the reports of Brig. Gen. E. B. Tyler, commanding First Brigade, and Col. P. H. Allabach, commanding Second Brigade, and to bring to you notice the officers mentioned by them who distinguished themselves by their gallant bearing. Among them are Colonel Gregory (slightly wounded), Colonel Frick, Colonel Elder (dangerously wounded), and Lieutenant-Colonel O'Brien, commanding regiments; Lieutenant-Colonels Armstrong and Rowe; Majors Thompson and Anthony, and Major Todd (who had his leg shattered and has since died); Colonels Allen and Clark, commanding regiments; Captain Porter, assistant adjutant-general (dangerously wounded), and Captain Tyler, and Lieutenant Noon, adjutant One hundred and thirty-third Regiment (killed on the field).
I also transmit the report of the acting chief of artillery, Captain Randol, to whom by acknowledgments are due for the prompt and skillful manner in which he executed the duties assigned him. The cool courage of Colonel Allen, One hundred and fifty-fifth Regiment; of [p.433] Colonel Clark, One hundred and twenty-third Regiment, and of Captain Tyler, One hundred and twenty-third Regiment, in bringing up the men to the charge and in conducting them from the field, fell particularly under my own observation, and I desire to bring their conduct to your notice.
I cannot express in too warm terms my indebtedness to the officers of my staff for the services they rendered me. The cool gallantry with which they aided in forming the troops, leading them to the charge, and rallying them when retiring; in conveying my orders over the field, and in seconding all my efforts to accomplish the object of our presence there, entitles them to some mark of approbation from some authority higher than mind. I beg leave, therefore, to mention their names: Capt. Carswell McClellan, assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenants Humphreys and Christiancy, aides-de-camp; Capt. Herbert Thomas, One hundred and twenty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, acting inspector-general; Captain Knowles, commissary of subsistance; Capt. A. Cavada, Twenty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, additional aide-de-camp, and Captain Behrer, One hundred and twenty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, additional aide-de-camp. Captain Thomas, when his horse was killed in the charge, joined his company, and, while leading it, was severely wounded. Captains Knowles and Rehrer and Lieutenant Humphreys were slightly wounded.
In conclusion, I cannot refrain from expressing the opinion that one of the greatest obstacles to my success was the mass of troops lying on our front line. They ought to have been withdrawn before mine advanced. The troops on their right and left would have prevented the enemy from advancing. Finding them lying there, the men of Allabach's brigade, who had never before been in battle, instinctively followed their example. Besides, they disordered my lines and were greatly in the way when I wished to bring the brigade to a charge. When General Tyler's brigade advanced, they, together with some of my own men of Allabach's brigade, not only impeded its progress, but converted it, as I have already stated, into a massive column too large to be managed properly. As soon as the troops were placed in the new positions they were directed to occupy, parties were sent out to bring in the wounded and dead, and the division ambulances and stretcher-bearers were dispatched upon the same errand. The latter, however, had scarcely any stretchers, the repeated requisitions for the same never having been filled. They were obliged to use shutters. The wounded were nearly all brought in before daylight, and some of the dead, but many of the latter were left upon the field. I ordered out burying parties on the following night, but it was extremely difficult to distinguish ours, and utterly impossible for the parties to bring off all who were lying there. The bodies of many of the men were, therefore, left there. Surgeon McKinney, One hundred and thirty-fourth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, acting medical director of the division during the sickness of Surgeon Knight, prepared hospitals in the town, and made every arrangement possible for the care of the wounded. They received prompt and skillful treatment, and the most careful attention at his hands, as fast as they were brought in. His conduct deserves great praise.
The detailed report of killed, wounded, and missing, with the statement of accounts, is not yet complete, but will be prepared and transmitted as soon as possible. For the present, I present a tabular statement of casualties, with a list of officers killed and wounded. The missing of the tabular statement are undoubtedly killed.[p.434]
Recapitulation of casualties in the division.
[footnote to 'Total':] But see revised statement, p.127. [end of footnote]
[source: Official Records series 1, volume 21, pages 430-434]