Before beginning the fight, the regiment was formed in line of battle facing the Plank road from Fredericksburg to Orange Court-House. Different regiments of the First Division of the Eleventh Corps were in the same manner posted on our right and the Sixty-first Ohio on our left.
At about 5.30 p. m. the regiments on our right were suddenly attacked in very great force by the enemy, and his attack was directed on our right flank and back. The regiment on our right broke through the ranks of the Seventy-fourth Regiment in such a manner that the regiment got at once thrown in such disorder that a restoring of order was an utter impossibility. The first we ever knew of the enemy was that our men, while sitting on their knapsacks and ready to spring to their arms, were shot from the rear and flank. A surprise in broad daylight, a case not yet heard of in the history of any war, was so complete that the men had not even time to take their arms before they were thrown in the wildest confusion. The different regiments on our right were in a few minutes all mixed up with the Seventy-fourth. The enemy pressed heavily. Some guns of Dieckmann's battery in front, without firing a single shot, broke through the whole mixed crowd, and the regiment could, under such circumstances, do nothing else but retreat through the woods.
Preserving as much order as possible, I led the regiment back behind a rifle-pit near the old headquarters of Major-General Howard. About 50 paces in front of this rifle-pit, right near the road, I found Major-General Howard, who was crying, "Stop; face about; do not retreat any farther!" This was well said, but impossible to be done. The troops were entirely mixed up, the panic was great, the enemy pressed heavily, the rifle-pits in the rear was already glittering with bayonets, and occasional shots from behind were showing the greatness of the danger of trying to rally to rally the troops in front of the pit. To obey the order of Major-General Howard at this moment and at this place would have been certain useless destruction to every man of my regiment. The rifle-pit alone and nowhere else was the right place for rallying the troops. There the greatest order was soon restored, and the regiment awaited calmly the approach of the enemy. Different regiments were on our right and left. On our right I remember the One hundred and nineteenth and Sixty-eighth New York Regiments, all well rallied again. We were soon furiously attacked, but the enemy was hand fought bravely, but renewed attacks of superior forces and flank movements of the enemy made all the troops on our left fall back. Our artillery, too, retreated, and broke through the rifle-pits and through our ranks. The troops on our right, too, withdrew, and the Seventy-fourth Regiment, nearly left alone, could not keep up the defense any longer, and consequently retreated. A part of the men, as it does always happen, got separated from the main part of the regiment and retreated on their own hook.
The main part of the regiment retreated in the greatest order up to a point near Major-General Hooker's headquarters, where the whole again, some few stragglers excepted, who joined during the night and next morning.
At roll-call, held at about 10 p. m., 60 men were missing; of these 3 officers and 16 men are positively either killed or wounded, the rest taken prisoners or missing.
I have the honor to take this opportunity to mention to you the