War of the Rebellion: Serial 080 Page 0528 OPERATIONS IN SE.VA. AND N.C. Chapter LII.

Search Civil War Official Records

The First Brigade of the First Division immediately followed the Second. The two filled the crater, seized part of the line of pits to the right, and began to cover themselves from the fire of the enemy's artillery, now opening from the crest in their immediate front.

Before all of the regiments of the last brigade of the First Division had left our line, at about 5 a.m., the Second Division commenced its advance on the right, the Second Brigade [General Griffin] leading. The distance to be traversed to reach the line of rebel works was 130 yards. The head of the column was somewhat deflected by the enemy's fire, and borne to the left, so that it struck the line near the crater, and the men of the two divisions became, in some degree, intermingled. Several attempts were made to advance, which resulted only in the gain of a little ground to the right. General Willcox had, meanwhile, thrown in part of a brigade to the left of the crater, the remainder halting till the First Division should advance. Part of the Second Brigade, Colonel Bliss [Second Division], was also thrown forward into the enemy's line. The other regiments were held until the lines should be partially cleared.

At about 6.30 a.m. orders were again sent to the division commanders not to halt at the works, but to advance at once to the crest without waiting for mutual support. General Potter's division [the Second] was at that time forming for an attack on the right, but under these orders its direction was changed to the front. Its formation in front of the lines was exceedingly difficult, owing to the heavy fire from the crest and from the troops the enemy had now brought up and placed behind the covered way in the ravine. The division charged and almost reached the summit of the hill, but, unsupported, it fell back, taking shelter behind another covered way on the right. Meanwhile the few regiments of that division that had not previously left our lines advanced, seizing for a considerable distance the enemy's lines on the right. General Willcox, on the left, found an advance impossible; his men dug from the ruins two guns and held the left flank. Peremptory orders from the commanding general directed me to throw in all my troops and direct them against the crest. Under these orders I directed the Fourth [colored] Division to advance, which division I had hitherto held back, under the belief that those new troops could not be used to advantage in the crowded condition of the portion of the enemy's line held by us. The column was thrown forward and advanced gallantly over the slope of the crater, though by this time the ground was swept by a steady fire of artillery and infantry. A part of the column was deflected to the right and charged and captured a portion of the enemy's line with a stand of colors and some prisoners. The division, disorganized by passing the pits, crowded with men of the other divisions, then reformed as well as was possible beyond the crater and attempted to take the hill; were met at the outset by a counter-charge of the enemy, broke in disorder to the rear, passed through the crater and lines on the right, throwing into confusion and drawing off with them many of the white troops, and ran to our own lines. The enemy regained a portion of his line on the right. This was about 8.45 a.m. But not all the colored troops retired; some held the pits, from behind which they had advanced, severely checking the enemy till they were nearly all killed.

I believe that no raw troops could have been expected to have behaved better. Before reaching the point from which they had formed to charge they had been shattered by the enemy's fire, broken by the exceedingly difficult passage of the enemy's lines, and disheartened by the inability of the other divisions to advance.