No. 27. Report of Brigadier General David B. Birney,
U. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade.
HDQRS. BIRNEY'S BRIGADE, KEARNY'S DIVISION, Camp near Williamsburg, Va., May 6, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to report that after a wearisome march of six hours on yesterday through deep mud and drenching rain, my brigade being heavily burdened with knapsacks,haversacks,and shelter-tents, I received an order from General Kearny to relieve the troops under my command from all incumbrance and move forward to the scene of action, some 3 miles distant, as rapidly as possible. Leaving under guard all incumbrances, the brigade, although jaded and wearied, moved forward as rapidly as the roads would permit. On nearing the front, by order of General Heintzelman, through Captain McKeever, I detached the Third and Fourth Maine Regiments, and proceeded with the Thirty-eighth and Fortieth New York Regiments to the front. When I received the front, under General Kearny's orders I deployed the Thirty-eighth and right wing of the Fortieth New York Regiments to the right of the road, and relieved opportunely fragments of regiments that had been in the fight. They marched steadily to the front, and drove the enemy, after a furious contest, from the woods. They fell back over fallen timber and opened a destructive fire from rifle pits. They were supported by their batteries, which poured a well-aimed and destructive fire into our ranks. The Thirty-eighth and right wing of Fortieth New York behaved nobly, and maintained their position.
During the contest the Thirty-eighth New York Regiment, under Colonel Ward, were ordered down the main road, in advance of the Michigan regiments, and piercing the enemy's center to carry the rifle pits by the flank, and the left wing of Colonel Riley's regiment, Fortieth New York, were ordered in like manner to follow the Thirty-eighth New York to take the enemy in the rear. I sent with this wing Captain Mindil, of my staff, and under General Kearny's presence he led them to the dangerous position assigned them. Captain Gesner, of the left wing, and Captain Mindil behaved well under the terrible fire that greeted them, and led the brave officers and men under them gallantly and worthily.
Night coming on put an and to the pursuit, and amidst the darkness and rain we waited the morning.
During the night the Third and Fourth Maine, that had been previous to the contest detached by order of General Heintzelman, reported to me for duty in front, and by order of General Kearny I moved them to the front to relieve the Thirty-eighth and Fortieth New York Regiments. I pushed them on to the enemy's works, found them deserted, and troops to the left of us in possession.
My brigade has lost several gallant officers and many brave men in the contest. Annexed you will find list of killed, wounded, and missing.* Where so much gallantry was displayed it is difficult to select those most deserving of notice. To Colonel Ward and Captains Mindil and Gesner fell the good fortune to lead the most important charges, and they were well supported by the gallant officers and men under them. Colonel Riley well maintained his position, and executed the orders with coolness and efficiency.
*Embodied in return,p.450.