HDQRS. THIRD BRIG., THIRD DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS,
Suffolk, Va., May ---, 1863.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of recent operations:
Early in the month of April my command was constituted as follows: The Fourth Rhode Island and Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, stationed on the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, three-quarters of a mile north of Suffolk; the Twenty-fifth New Jersey Volunteers, on Jericho Creek, three-quarters of a mile northwest of the above, and the Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers, on the Nansemond River, 3 miles below Suffolk. The latter regiment had just commenced the work now known as Fort Connecticut, and on April 8 was joined by three companies of the ThirteenthNew Hampshire, under Major Storer.
On the 10th ultimo, information having been received that the enemy was advancing from the Blackwater, I was ordered to proceed, with the Fourth Rhode Island, the Thirteenth New Hampshire, and the One hundred and third New York, to a point on the Nansemond opposite the mouth of Western Branch, fortify the position, open direct communication with the Twenty-first Connecticut, and hold the entire line between the said point and the mouth of Jericho Creek, to prevent any crossing of the enemy. Below this point the river was safely held by gunboats. The command arrived at the point designated about midnight. At sunrise the work on the fortifications commenced; trees were felled, rifle-pits made, Battery Stevens commenced, and Lieutenant Bruce, of my staff, reconnoitered a site for a military road to the camp of the Twenty-first Connecticut. A road was already in progress from the latter camp direct to Jericho Creek, and only awaited the completion of a trestle bridge over Broer's Creek, under charge of Colonel Derrom, Twenty-fifth New Jersey.
On the evening of the 11th, however, orders were received to return instantly to Suffolk. No means of transportation being at hand, it became necessary to leave a considerable quantity of baggage and a small guard. The battalion of Major Storer was retained at Fort Connecticut, with instructions to maintain a strict watch on all sides to prevent a crossing of the enemy, if possible, and, if forced to retreat, to do so by way of the new road, destroying camp equipage, &c., and demolishing the trestle bridge. No attack being made, on the following day our position was strengthened. I was assigned to the command of the line of defense included between Forts Halleck and Jericho. On this line I threw up rifle-pits and posted the troops in the most advantageous manner for concentration upon any given point, while at the same time I held myself in readiness to support General Corcoran, on my immediate right, should his be the line attacked. Not thinking it safe to send a train of wagons for the abandoned baggage, I dispatched two or three at a time to Battery Stevens, and by this means transferred everything in safety from that point to my headquarters. Six men from the Fourth Rhode Island remained there permanently to observe the enemy. The baggage of the Twenty-first Connecticut was transferred by hand over Broer's Oreck and thence by wagons to its camp.
On the 12th the Fourth Rhode Island was assigned to the command of Brigadier-General Corcoran. <ar26_317>
On the 13th the Nineteenth Wisconsin was assigned to my command, and on the day following the Ninth Vermont also reported to me.
On the 15th my line of defense was extended to Battery Onondaga: at the mouth of Jericho Creek. It may suffice here to remark that all points of the defenses have been constantly strengthened each day since the commencement of the siege, all soldiers, including pickets, being required to labor day and night on the intrenchments.
On Tuesday, the 14th, the enemy having, from a battery nearly opposite the small-pox hospital, engaged and damaged the naval forces on the river, I was ordered to reconnoiter positions for counter batteries and superintend their construction. Under the supervision of the general commanding division I constructed Batteries Kimball and Morris, the Tenth and Thirteenth New Hampshire and Eighth Connecticut bivouacking near at hand as supports.
Early on the morning of the 15th these batteries, consisting of two 20-pounder Parrotts, two 3-inch rifled guns, and three 10-pounder Parrotts, being detachments from the Second and Fourth Wisconsin and Morris' Independent Batteries, opened fire, and by 10 o'clock the rebels ceased to reply.
On the 17th the Ninth Vermont Volunteers proceeded to Fort Connecticut. Meantime the military road from Suffolk to Fort Stevens had been completed by the Twenty-fifth New Jersey Volunteers, five companies of which regiment were in camp at Broer's Creek.
On April 18 General Harland superseded me in command of the troops on the Jericho, and I was assigned to duty on the 19th on the line of the Nansemond, making my headquarters at Fort Connecticut.
On the evening of the 19th the rebel battery of five guns at Hill's Point was captured by detachments from the Eighth Connecticut and the Eighty-ninth New York. The following is an account of the capture of the Hill's Point Battery on the Nansemond River:
Shortly before sunset the gunboats on the river and the four rifled guns at and near Battery Stevens (two 20-pounder Parrotts, Captain Morris, and two 3-inch ordnance guns, Captain Vallee) opened a terrific fire upon the rebel battery. Meantime detachments from the Eighty-ninth New York, Lieutenant-Colonel England, and the Eighth Connecticut, Colonel Ward, embarked on the gunboat Stepping Stones, Lieutenant Lamson, at a point about a mile above the battery. Protected by the artillery fire the gunboat boldly steamed down the river and ran close to the shore, about 200 yards above the rebel work--the shore at the point being an abrupt bluff. Immediately the troops disembarked, wading to their waists in water, ascended the bluff, and with loud cheers charged on the rear of the fort. Meantime the gunboat's crew had landed four boat howitzers, placed them in position, and opened on the fort. The enemy, taken completely by surprise, were able to discharge but two or three volleys of musketry and one gun, when our troops entered the work and captured the entire party, consisting of 7 officers and 130 men, with five brass guns and a large supply of ammunition.
I was now directed by Brigadier-General Getty to assume command of the post and put it in a state of defense during the night. The force at my disposal for this purpose consisted of detachments of the Eighth Connecticut, Eighty-ninth New York, Tenth New Hampshire, and Ninth Vermont, in all about 700 men. The soldiers, although fatigued and fasting, worked with a most commendable zeal to intrench themselves, as we fully expected an attack in the morning.
To the two detachments first named especial credit is due. They had been under arms nearly all day, had most gallantly captured the <ar26_318> battery in the evening; had been a considerable time without food, and were drenched with the water through which they were forced to wade in landing, yet not a murmur was heard from them throughout.
I forward herewith a sketch from memory, showing the location of the rebel battery and the works thrown up for our own defense. Half an hour before daylight our preparations were nearly complete and the troops in position. The artillery was massed on the left, covering the point of disembarkation, three guns being in Battery A and one howitzer in Battery D. All were loaded with canister and directed to sweep the plain by which the enemy must approach. One howitzer was disabled, the trail of the carriage being broken. My design was to defend the entire line if possible, and if forced to abandon a portion to withdraw the troops on the right across the ravine and concentrate my entire force upon the left, which, besides being the strongest position, also covered the communication with the naval forces.
At early daylight a line of the enemy's skirmishers was discovered advancing about 1,000 yards distant. They covered themselves behind trees and fences and a few were observed entering a house a few hundred yards in front of our left.
About this time the One hundred and seventeenth New York, Colonel Pease, and a section of Gilliss' battery (A, Fifth U.S. Artillery) arrived and were duly posted, the latter in Battery C and subsequently in Battery B.
It now became apparent that the enemy did not meditate an attack, but contented himself with annoying our pickets by occasional scattering shots. I accordingly gave direction that the house above alluded to should be fired and the woods shelled. This being accomplished we were troubled no more.
During the day (20th) our troops continued to strengthen the defenses, but in the afternoon orders were received to evacuate the place. This was done by the assistance of the naval forces. The intrenching tools, artillery, limber-chests, &c., were placed aboard the gunboat Stepping Stones before dark, quakers being substituted in the batteries; but during the process the ebbing tide left the steamer aground, and fears were entertained that the enemy might attack us before she floated again, in which event the destruction of the vessel and the loss of much material might have resulted. Immediately after dark, however, the process of ferrying the troops across the river in row-boats commenced and was safely accomplished by midnight; meantime the steamer was got off' in safety. The evacuation was thus completed without the loss of a man or a single article of property.
In this connection I cannot forbear paying a tribute to the valor and energy of the naval forces under Lieutenant Lamson. This gallant officer has at all times shown himself most willing to render invaluable assistance to the land forces with men and material, tearlessly imperiling the safety of himself, his men, and his vessels.
The day following the evacuation of Hill's Point I was assigned to the command of all the troops on the Nansemond from Jericho Creek to Dr. Council's place. They consisted of the Tenth New Hampshire Volunteers, the Twenty-first Connecticut Volunteers, the Thirteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, the Eighth Connecticut Volunteers, the Twenty-second Connecticut Volunteers, theNinth Vermont Volunteers, Gilliss' battery (A, Fifth U.S. Artillery), three guns of Beger's (Second Wisconsin) battery, four guns of Vallee's (Fourth Wisconsin) battery, one 20-pounder Parrott (unassigned), and four guns captured from the enemy The Thirteenth New Hampshire replaced the Nineteenth Wisconsin, <ar26_319> which regiment, by command of General Getty, has been sent to Suffolk for disgraceful conduct. The infantry and artillery was advantageously posted along the river and the fortifications advanced daily. No action occurred previous to May 3 except continual firing between opposing batteries and pickets.
On the night preceding May 3, as a part of a combined movement, I was directed to send the Fourth Rhode Island Volunteers across the Nansemond at Hill's Point in row-boats, to march thence at daybreak and occupy the Suffolk and Smithfield road near its junction with the Providence Church road, communicating with the Twenty-first Connecticut at Reed's Ferry, on the West Branch; also to cross the Twenty-first Connecticut some 3 miles lower down with a section of Vallee's battery and a squad of cavalry. This force was to advance to Chuckatuck and communicate with the Fourth Rhode Island at Reed's Ferry.
The latter force crossed, as directed, under command of Major Crosby, and marched to Chuckatuck, his progress being constantly impeded by the enemy's skirmishers, who resisted his advance with tenacity although in small force. Reaching Chuckatuck he did not consider it safe to send a detachment to Reed's Ferry, and therefore proceeded to that place with his entire column. Not meeting the Fourth Rhode Island at that point, as expected, and having no other means of communicating with co-operative forces---the Reed's Ferry Bridge being burned--he marched down the West Branch to the Nansemond, losing some half a dozen men. His march was impeded from beginning to end by the enemy's skirmishers, but his movements were continued regardless of obstacles. His regiment behaved with great gallantry. While already nearly exhausted with fatigue and picket duty it performed in twelve hours a march of 18 miles, 8 miles of which were through an enemy's country, drove its opponent before it, and brought in 16 prisoners, including 1 officer. For further details of Major Crosby's march I refer to his graphic report, herewith forwarded.
Meantime Lieutenant-Colonel Buffum, with the Fourth Rhode Island, 250 strong, occupied the opposite shore before daybreak, but not being familiar with localities disembarked by mistake half a mile above Hill's Point. I had urged upon him the importance of taking a guide, which, however, he declined to do, pleading a perfect understanding of the position. I joined his command at daybreak and instantly saw the misfortune that might have resulted from his error had the enemy occupied Hill's Point in any force, as, by holding the intrenchments there thrown up by me on April 20, they might have easily kept us away We, however, immediately occupied the place, driving out about a dozen rebels. I now formed line of battle, threw out skirmishers, and advanced. Immediately the enemy opened fire from behind fences and trees. We drove them about three-quarters of a mile, to the edge of a forest which completely environed the position from shore to shore. Here their fire was so rapid that I halted to study the position. I drew their fire in volleys two or three times to determine their force, which I estimated at from 200 to 400. Between me and them there was a quarter of a mile of open ground, over which we could not have advanced without tremendous loss. I then threw skirmishers into the timber on the right and there also discovered the enemy in greater or less force. It seemed therefore that to advance farther would insure my being cut off from Hill's Point and perhaps captured. I therefore fell back and proceeded to the gunboat Barney to consult with Captain Cushing. Here it was reported that the enemy had 500 men at Le Compte's <ar26_320> house, about half a mile to the right of my advance: between me and Reed's Ferry.
It now occurred to me that if the main advance from Suffolk was successful the force opposed to me would be intercepted between General Getty, the West Branch, and myself, and I accordingly resolved to attract their attention by continual skirmishing. Captain Cushing kindly supplied me with a boat howitzer and a detachment of sailors. Colonel Pease, One hundred and seventeenth New York, also sent me, at my request, 100 men, and I once more advanced, driving the enemy to the skirt of the woods. Skirmishing continued for a couple of hours, when the enemy brought artillery and opened fire upon me. My howitzer having expended its ammunition I again retired with slight loss.
During the engagement the officers of the regiment behaved with great coolness and bravery, and there were individual instances of gallantry among the men, but I regret to state that the mass of the men exhibited an aversion to exposing themselves, a willingness to retreat, and a contempt for good order that I scarcely expected in a regiment of two years' experience and which has five battles inscribed upon its flag.
At about 3 p.m. I received a dispatch from Major Crosby announcing his success. I therefore meditated a joint movement of the two regiments upon the enemy near Le Compte's house, which I was assured would result successfully though involving considerable loss; but learning that the Twenty-first Connecticut was utterly exhausted and without food for man or horse I concluded to await orders from the general commanding. After dark, by order of General Getty, I withdrew the troops from Hill's Point, bringing over also some valuable pieces of timber, which I found useful the following day.
On the 4th the enemy retired altogether from our front, and I withdrew Major Crosby's force. The horses and artillery were embarked by the aid of an improvised floating wharf which I constructed out of row-boats and loose timber.
Ever since the commencement of the siege I have been generally well seconded by the officers and soldiers under my command. All have nobly done their duty, but some have done more. Among these I take pleasure in mentioning Maj. H. B. Crosby, of the Twenty-first Connecticut, who has always shown himself a zealous, industrious, brave, and trustworthy officer. I would also specially commend Colonel Derrom, Twenty-fifth New Jersey, to whose ability as an engineer the service is much indebted; Colonel Donohoe, of the Tenth New Hampshire, to whom I am indebted for valuable co-operation in superintending the river defenses; Major Storer, of the Thirteenth New Hampshire; Captains Brown and Reed, of the Fourth Rhode Island, and Lieutenant Bruce, of my staff, for their faithful and soldierly deportment in the various trying scenes in which they separately participated. I am indebted for repeated and valuable favors to Lieutenants Cushing and Lamson, U.S. Navy, commanding flotilla. I also take pride in calling the attention of the general commanding to the general admirable behavior in action of the three new regiments of my brigade. 1 transmit herewith a list of casualties in my brigade.(*)
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
A. H. DUTTON,
Capt. CHARLES T. GARDNER,