to roll up some logs near by for a cover, and was directing this when the two regiments just alluded to suddenly moved, without orders, some 300 yards forward, forming a line somewhat at an angle with the main line, having the mill site, say, at the apex. To the right and front of the site was a thick grove of small pines, covering the left of the Third Division. General Pearson, commanding the re-enforcements, says (and for the above reasons, their being masked by the pines, it may well be so) that the Third Division fire struck his troops. Those two regiments then broke. About this time a retrograde movement commenced along the whole line, I presume without and against all orders and authority, though I have recently seen an editorial in a Philadelphia paper which, speaking as though by authority, says that the Third Division came back by command. Between Dabney's Mill and the open ground in front of our breast-works are several ridges, with marshy ground in the valleys between. I seized upon the occasion of arriving on these ridges to use every effort, assisted by my staff and messengers, to halt the troops and form lines, well satisfied from the favorable nature of the ground that, could this be done, the enemy could be repulsed. I succeeded in one case in halting quite a force, but the main mass to my right sweeping along, the contagion spread to those who had halted and they could not be held.
On arriving at the open, whilst halting and forming the troops, a line of the troops was brought up in rear, when, some little agitation occurring in the edge of the woods and a few persons riding out at a gallop, this line behind mine lost presence of mind and fired into mine. I think my men were justified in not remaining there; numbers of them were struck. When I pushed forward at first to support the left of the Third Division, I supposed General Gwyn, the most of whose brigade was disorganized by the cavalry, would rejoin as soon as he got his men together. He seems not to have found the direction, and to have gone forward in the woods quite to my left. This accounts for his finding himself without anyone on his right or left. This command (General Gwyn's) had a fight in the woods, doubtless with the troops of the enemy which attacked ours on the Vaughan road as they were endeavoring to pass around us to join the enemy near Dabney's Mill. The troops with me struck them and pushed them at the double-quick. In fact, my division fought on an extended front and held the ground covered by it, beginning with my first brigade on the Vaughan road and running around to Dabney's Mill. At one time (when I sent for re-enforcements) there was a strong effort made by the enemy to push through to the (our) left of the mill site. That effort was foiled with the assistance of those re-enfocements. It will be seen that I arrived at the mill site with quite a small force, mostly Maryland troops. When the line gave way there was no panic in these troops; they had not fired for some time, and I am persuaded to believe were out of ammunition. Whether the troops on my right (the question is asked in the indorsement) were justified in falling back, I am not prepared to say, though I had received the impression that they were overborne by superior numbers. I gave my attention to my own command. It did not, and certainly would not have been justified in falling back alone.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. B. AYRES,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding Division.
Bvt. Colonel FRED. T. LOCKE,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Fifth Army Corps.