Note. These photo’s can be enlarged by clicking on them.
No. 55. Report of Brigadier General Winfield S. Hancock, U. S. Army, commanding First Division.
HEADQUARTERS HANCOCK'S DIVISION,
Falmouth, Va., December 25, 1862.
MAJOR: During the evening of the 10th instant, I was instructed to send two regiments of infantry, the Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Chapman commanding, and the Sixty-sixth New York Volunteers, Lieutenant-Colonel Bull, commanding, to the Lacy house, immediately opposite Fredericksburg, in order that they might serve as a protecting party to the engineers engaged int he construction of the pontoon bridges, which were to be erected there in the course of the ensuing morning, and to march with the remainder of my division, at 6 a.m., to a point on the railroad near the bridge over which the division was to cross the Rappahannock.
These orders were complied with, the troops being massed by 8 a.m. on the 11th at the place designated, and the two regiments detached arriving at the Lacy house shortly after midnight. During the operations of the 11th instant, Lieutenant-Colonel Chapman, of the Fifty-seventh New York Volunteers, was severely wounded. Many valuable officers and men, in the aggregate 150, were killed and wounded in these two regiments while they were engaged in protecting the working parties.
Late in the afternoon of the 11th instant, orders were received to cross the river at Fredericksburg, by the third bridge. The division moved to effect that object, but, finding that the bridge was not completed, the troops were ordered into bivouac.
The next morning, the 12th instant, at daylight orders were received to march the entire division into Fredericksburg across the second bridge.
At 8 a.m. the division had arrive at that bridge and commenced the passage, the troops of General French's division crossing the upper bridge at the same time. My division was then formed in line of battle, on the street nearest the river, with the left resting on the third bridge, over which the Ninth Corps then commenced marching. French's division formed the second line in my front, and Howard's the first line, in a street nearer the enemy.
At a later hour orders were received to march by the left flank across Hazel Run, thence down the Rappahannock, forming in the rear of General Franklin's grand division, my division taking the lead, and each division of the corps marching in three parallel lines of brigades, the Ninth Corps marching parallel to us, and between our line and the river. To perform this maneuver it became necessary to erect bridges over Hazel Run. Three bridges were constructed. Subsequently it was determined to defer this movement until the next morning.
About 8 a.m. on the 13th instant, I was notified by Major-General Couch, commanding Second Army Corps, that General French's division would attack the enemy in front of the town, and that my division would support him. The formation for the attack was prescribed int he orders received: Brigade front, intervals between the brigades of 200 paces. I first relieved the pickets of General French's division by two regiments of my own, instructing them, however, to reform and join in the assault after General French's skirmishers had driven in the opposing pickets.
At 12 m. General French commenced the attack by a could of skirmisher, followed by Kimball's brigade, and subsequently, at intervals by his other two brigades. My division followed that of General French, without intervals, so long as we moved by the flank. The difficulty of the movement consisted in the fact that we had to march for a considerable distance by the flank through the streets of the town, all the time under a heavy fire, before we were enabled to deploy; and then, owing to obstacles-among them a mill race-it was impossible to deploy, except by marching the whole length of each brigade by the flank in a line parallel to the enemy's works, after we had crossed the mill-race by the bridge.
The troops then advanced, each brigade in succession, under a most murderous fire of artillery and musketry, the artillery fire reaching the troops in a destructive manner in the town, even before they had commenced the movement. The distance to overcome by the way the troops were obliged to march before reaching the enemy's works was probably 1,700 yards. It took an unusually long time to advance that distance, as the planking of one of the bridges was found to be partly taken up, requiring the men to cross on the stringers.
Colonel Zook's brigade was the first in order. As soon as it had formed line, it advanced to the attack with spirit, passing the point at which the preceding troops had arrived, and being joined as it passed by the brave regiments of Kimball's brigade and some other regiments of French's division. It failed, however, to take the stone wall, behind which the enemy was posted, although our dead were left within 25 paces of it. These troops still held their line of battle in front of the enemy and within close musketry range.
The Irish Brigade next advanced to the assault. The same gallantry was displayed, but with the same results. Caldwell's brigade was next ordered into action, and, although it behaved with the utmost valor, failed to carry the enemy's position. All the troops then formed one line of battle, extending from a point a little distance to the right of Hanover street, in a line nearly parallel to the enemy, with the left thrown back, the extreme left extending about the front of two regiments to the left of the railroad culvert. This line was held during the entire day and until it was relieved, some of the regiments not coming off the field until 10 o'clock the following morning. This line was held for hours after the troops had exhausted their ammunition, and after the ammunition of the killed and wounded within reach had been expended. Shortly after the last of my brigades came into action, it appeared as if the front crest of the enemy's hill might have been taken had there been other troops at hand, for the enemy were at that time running from their rifle-pits and works on the crest directly in front of our right. But by the time Howard's troops were ready to attack, the enemy had repaired this, and making a strong attack at the same time toward our left, it became necessary that a portion of that division should be detached toward that flank. After this hour it appeared to me, although reports were occasionally received that we were gaining ground, which led us to hope it might prove true, that, our object having failed, the only thing to be done was to maintain our front line by constantly supporting it until darkness covered the scene.
At one time, about 3 p.m., the enemy essayed an attack in column down Hanover street, and advance within 150 yards of our front line. The leader being killed, the column was dispersed. Several gallant attacks by Howard, Sturgis, Humphreys, Griffin, and others were afterward made in support of these brave troops, who could not advance and would not retire. These subsequent attacks, although conducted with spirit, failed to produce any more serious impression upon the enemy.
Late in the evening three companies of Colonel Owen's brigade relieved three companies of the Fifty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, of my division, which had exhausted their ammunition.
No ground was held in advance of our line, nor did any soldiers fall nearer the enemy than those of the regiments of my division and those of Kimball's brigade, of French's division. It seemed that the defenses of the enemy were too powerful to be taken by an assault of infantry. One serious difficulty in the advance was in the nature of the obstacles already referred to and the fact that a number of substantial fences intervened, which were required to be pulled down before the troops could continue their advance. Each of theses fences destroyed the unity of at least one brigade. These obstacles naturally caused brigades and regiments to lose somewhat their solidity of organization for an assault, for all these operations were conducted under a terrific fire.
The bravery and devotion of the troops could not have been surpassed, as an evidence of which it is but necessary to mention the losses incurred. Out of 5,006 men, the maximum taken into action by me, the loss was 2,013 men, of whom 156 were commissioned officers. It will be observed that the losses in some of the regiments were of unusual severity, such as is seldom seen in any battle, no matter how prolonged. These were veteran regiments, led by able and tried commanders, and I regret to say that their places cannot soon be filled.
Although the division failed to carry the enemy's heights, it lost no honor, but held the ground it took, and, under the most discouraging obstacles, retained it until relieved after the action was over. It will be impossible to mention in this report the names of all those who were distinguished. For those I refer to the reports of brigade and regimental commanders; still, it is due to their valor that I should mention those brigade and regimental commanders who performed the most important parts, and whose commands, in their heroic efforts, most severely suffered.
On learning this fact, I directed him to return with all the men who were not disabled in his brigade. The general returned at once, and explained to me that he had understood that the transfer of the remnant of his brigade across the river was sanctioned by me.
The next morning, before the hour at which we were ordered to support the Ninth Corps in the meditated attack of that day upon the enemy's works, the brigade returned, numbering 240 men, all that could be collected up to that time.
The circumstance of the retiring of this brigade across the river, after it had been withdrawn from the battle, which I very much regretted at the time, although in no wise affecting the conduct of the brigade in action (it behaved with great spirit), is candidly and fully explained by General Meagher in his accompanying report.
The strength of this brigade when the action commenced was 92 officers, and 1,323 enlisted men. Its loss was 53 commissioned officers and 488 men.
Colonel S. K. Zook, commanding Third Brigade, led his brigade with spirit, remaining on the field until the close of the fight. He had a horse shot under him during the contest. At the commencement of the engagement this brigade numbered 92 commissioned officers and 1,440 enlisted men. Its loss was 38 commissioned officers and 491 enlisted men killed and wounded.
Colonel Edward E. Cross, commanding the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, severely wounded, behaved in the handsomest manner. The conduct of his regiment was heroic; refusing to yield any ground, his brave officers and men died where they stood. This regiment numbered 23 commissioned officers and 280 enlisted men when it went into action; 17 officers and 165 men were killed and wounded. This regiment had five commanders during the action, the first four having been killed or wounded.
Colonel Nelson A. Miles, severely wounded, commanding the Sixty-first
Colonel Dennis Heenan, commanding the One hundred and sixteenth Pennsylvania Volunteers, was wounded severely. His regiment suffered heavily, and, although comparatively young in the service, behaved handsomely. This regiment marched on the field with 17 commissioned officers and 230 enlisted men. Its loss was 12 officers wounded and 77 men killed, wounded, and missing. The fourth officer in command during the battle brought the regiments off the field, the others being disabled.
Colonel Richard S. Bostwick, commanding the Twenty-seventh Connecticut Volunteers, bore himself worthily. His regiment had joined the division but a few days before the action, and on the day of the engagement had 270 men on picket who were not in the fight. His battalion behaved in a highly creditable manner. They took position in the front line, fighting under great discouragement, their arms being unreliable. The strength of this battalion at the commencement of the assault was 24 commissioned officers and 360 enlisted men. It lost 6 commissioned officers and 107 men in killed and wounded.
Major Joseph O'Neill, a brave officer, commanding the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, was wounded. His regiment numbered 17 officers and 145 enlisted men when the assault began. Its loss was 7 officers and 37 enlisted men killed and wounded. This regiment had two commanders during the day, the first having been wounded.
Captain Julius Wehle, a brave soldier, was killed while leading his regiment, the Sixty-sixth New York Volunteers, Lieutenant Colonel James H. Bull, commanding the same regiment, having been mortally wounded the day previous. This regiment numbered 13 commissioned officers and 225 enlisted men at the commencement of the action. Its loss was 6 officers and 78 enlisted men killed and wounded. This regiment had four commanders during the engagement, the first three having been killed or wounded.
In seventeen regiments, comprising my division in this action (sixteen battalions, two regiments having been for some time past consolidated in one), 25 commanding officers were killed or wounded and removed from the field during the engagement.
Of the artillery of the division, Captain R. D. Pettit's battery of rifled guns was detached from my command and placed in position on the heights overlooking Falmouth. His battery was constantly engaged during the action, but, as it was not under my command, I have had no report. The battery of 12-pounder brass guns (Company C, Fourth Artillery), under command of First Lieutenant Evan Thomas, of that regiment, crossed the river with the division, and on the day of the battle was placed near the railroad depot, where it continued unemployed, although under a severe fire until late in the afternoon, when this zealous young officer, receiving an order for another battery to proceed to the front, in its absence moved forward with his battery, and took a very advanced position upon the plain, opening with effect upon the enemy, using shrapnel. His position was thought to be too far in advance, on account of the enemy's musketry, and he was ordered to retire with his battery. This battery, for the time being, was under the orders of the commander of the corps, and was directed by the chief of artillery of the same.
The valor of the troops was so marked in the action that I can safely state that, had the enemy met us in an open field, the contest would have been decided in our favor in a very short time. Scarcely any troops could have withstood the onset of our men.
The following officers of my personal staff (I have only selected those who were highly distinguished) deserve well of their country: First Lieutenant W. G. Mitchell, W. D. W. Miller, acting aide-de-camp; Second Lieutenant J. M. Rorty, ordnance officer and acting aide-de-camp, and Second Lieutenant H. P. Ritzius, provost-marshal and acting aide-de-camp. They were exposed to the fire of the enemy throughout the day, and behaved in the most gallant manner. As an evidence of their dangerous services, I may be permitted to mention that three of them were wounded and four of their horses shot.
Surg. L. M. Knight, Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, chief medical officer of the division, is entitled to commendation for his arduous and faithful services in his care of the wounded. Captain C. H. Hoyt, division quartermaster, reported to me on the field, and conducted himself with spirit. Also the acting division commissary, Captain Balloch, is entitled to credit for his efficiency, and for his conduct in Fredericksburg during the occupation of that place
My personal orderlies having been much exposed during the engagement, I wish to mention them for their good conduct on the field. Their names are as follows: Corpl. Owen McKenzie, Company K, Sixth New York Cavalry; Private Thomas Watson, Company K, Sixth New York Cavalry; Private James Wells, Company K, Sixth New York Cavalry; Private John Harper, Company K, Sixth New York Cavalry.
I have heretofore transmitted a nominal list of casualties and a tabular statement of the same, and now transmit a rough sketch* of the field, together with the reports of brigade, regimental, and battery commanders.
On the morning of the 14th, the division was directed to support the Ninth Corps in a meditated assault upon the enemy's works. That assault was, however, subsequently abandoned. Although shattered from the contest of the day previous the troops were ready again to perform their duty.
On the night of the 15th, the division recrossed the river to Falmouth, and occupied its previous camps.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
WINF'D S. HANCOCK,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.