War of the Rebellion: Serial 068 Page 0215 Chapter XLVIII. SOUTH SIDE OF THE JAMES.

Search Civil War Official Records

required a halt until the brigade should come up. General Ransom reached the ground about the same time with it, and ordered me to resume command of it, turning over the command of the skirmish line. Just as General Ransom arrived a canon shot announced the proximity of the enemy. An advance was ordered, and we proceeded about half a mile. General Ransom ordered a regiment to be detached to the right of the skirmish line, to form line of battle at or nearly at right angles to it, the remainder of the brigade to be deployed across the turnpike, so that one and a half regiments should be on each side. The haste with which the brigade had been assembled and marched from the intrenchments by the senior colonel without previous warning left the pickets (one-fifth of the command), besides the detachments and guards over the artillery and in the redans, to follow. These overtook their commands at intervals during the day. My brigade was formed for attack by General Ransom's orders as follows: From right to left as enumerated, Fontaine's, Fifty-seventh Virginia, in line of battle at angle with rest of the line; White's, Fourteenth, deployed as skirmishers across an open, plowed field; a line of skirmishers from Fifty-third, Ninth, and Thirty-eighth behind this last-mentioned line; Aylett's, Fifty-third (six companies), Phillips', Ninth (six companies), Cabell's, Thirty-eighth (eight companies). Gracie's skirmish line connected with mine (the Fourteenth) near the turnpike, a company or two extending to the right and beyond it. A movement by Gracie to the left caused this detachment to be separated from the rest of his line, and uncovered my from to the left of the turnpike. It was discovered and by my order reported to General Ransom, who directed me to throw out additional skirmishers to relieve this fragment and to cover my front, and informed me that Gracie would close in and connect with it. It was thus that the skirmish line of the three left regiments was formed. When this arrangement was nearly completed on my part, and before Gracie's line had connected, the attack was signaled and the line moved. The Fifty-seventh was placed under command of Colonel R. H. Chilton, inspector-general. The Fourteenth was taken charge of by one of General Ransom's staff, or some one acting as such, no formal order in either case having been given me.

The enemy in large force was strongly posted on a ridge nearly at right angles to the turnpike, and had begun to fortify the position. On his left front was an open field; the remainder of his front, as far as it was developed, was densely wooded to the bottom of the hill, where there was a thick morass. The sides and top of the ridge were covered with a tangled underwood-a growth of young oak and hickory, with fallen timber, and in parts an abatis just begun. Two lines of battle extended across the open fields and into the woods about 1 1/2 miles long. I was unable to ascertain the enemy's force in artillery.

An advance of 100 yards brought us in contact with the enemy, whom we drove steadily before us, keeping as strict lines as the nature of the ground would permit. It was impossible to see more than a few paces; a captain could rarely see his whole company, a colonel never his whole regiment, at one glance. To add to these difficulties the woods were fired early in the action, and the smoke and flames driving into our line blinded us and deranged the precision of movements. I believe the distance between the combatants rarely exceeded 50 paces, often not 20.