The two flank companies of Capts. James M. Perrin and Joseph J. Norton were thrown forward as skirmishers, under the command of Captain Perrin. The companies of Captains Miller and Miles M. Norton followed in support. The four leading companies were all under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Ledbetter. The charge was made at the double-quick, the column of six companies being deployed into line after reaching the open ground. A most destructive fire of musketry and artillery in front and in flank did not check the charge, which was continued for several hundred yards across the open ground and into a wood where several regiments' of the enemy were posted. The battery, which was the object of the charge, had been withdrawn. The regiment, on reaching the woods, commenced firing on the enemy's infantry and drove them on, many of the men engaging in hand-to-hand conflicts with the bayonet and with clubbed rifles. A strong body of New York Zouaves now made a hot attack on the left wing and flank of the regiment. They were repulsed and brought to a stand by a steady and well-directed fire from a party which, on the spur of the moment and with marked presence of mind and skill, Lieutenant Higgins formed to check them. Colonel Marshall, finding that no support was sent to him from the rest of the brigade, now, too, hard pressed on its own front, ordered his regiment to fall back, and reformed it in the wooded hollow some distance to the right of its original position, where a North Carolina regiment, which just then came up, and aided in holding the ground.
Of 537 men carried into action Colonel Marshall's regiment lost 81 killed and 234 wounded. Nearly all of this loss occurred in the charge just described.
I refer to Colonel Marshall's report for the names of the many gallant officers mentioned by him, both those who fell on the field and those who passed safe through.
I have to remark that in the two leading companies deployed in open order the loss was not so heavy in proportion as in the other companies. I have no doubt that by drawing the fire of the enemy those companies rendered the loss in the whole regiment less than it otherwise would have been.
While the First Rifles were thus engaged the First and Twelfth Regiments, although relieved from the enfilading fire of the battery on the right, had a hard struggle to maintain their ground against the superior forces in their front. The Twelfth was able at one time to gain some distance in advance in the open field, but Colonel Barnes found it necessary to withdraw and reform his line on or near his original ground in the hollow. Two of the companies of this regiment at first-McMeekin's and Erwin's, afterward relieved by Bookter's and Company G, Lieutenant Garvin commanding-had during the halt in the hollow been deployed as skirmishers in advance to watch the enemy. The two last named only resumed their places in line after the return to the hollow, and at this time, in consequence of the difficulty of the ground, the right of the Twelfth got in rear of the left of the First, and there was much danger in such a thicket of the first suffering from the fire of that portion of the Twelfth behind it, until Colonel Hamilton interposed and prevented it. The Twelfth advanced again abreast with the First, and the two regiments fought bravely to maintain the ground, but suffered great loss, and were compelled to fall back with some disorder.
In the First Regiment all the members of the color guard were shot