Numbers 159. Report of Bvt. Colonel Ralph Ely, Eighth Michigan Infantry, commanding second Brigade.
HDQRS. SECOND Brigadier, FIRST DIV., NINTH ARMY CORPS,
April 6, 1865.
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part
performed by my brigade in the occupation of Petersburg:
Pursuant to instructions from General Willcox my command was disposed for a charge at 4 a.m. on the 2nd instant. Two columns were formed for assault. The Second Michigan Veteran Volunteers, supported by the Twentieth Michigan Volunteers, was to assault on the left of the brigade; the First Michigan Sharpshooters, supported by the Forty-sixth New York Veteran Volunteers, was to assault on the right of the line. The Fiftieth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and Sixtieth Ohio Volunteers were held in reserve. At 4.05 a.m. I received orders to make the best demonstration possible. I immediately gave the necessary orders, and a brisk skirmish commenced along my whole line. The First Michigan Sharpshooters, Lieutenant-Colonel Nichols commanding, advanced rapidly and occupied the rebel line, where it rests on the Appomattox. These gallant men did nobly, but they were forced back by superior numbers, with a loss of forty-one killed, wounded, and missing. The total loss of the brigade in this affair was eighty-six. Sunday evening I directed that one of my staff should remain on the line during the night and watch closely the movements of the enemy. About 1.30 a.m. I notified the commanding officers of the First Michigan Sharpshooters and Second Michigan Veteran Volunteers to hold themselves in readiness to make a demonstration on the right of my front at 4 a.m. and perhaps sooner. I received orders at 2.30 through Captain Keyser to make a demonstration immediately, as a deserter had come in on Colonel Robinson's front and reported that the rebels had all left except the picket-line. I ordered Brevet Major Lounsberry, assistant adjutant-general, to awaken the command immediately and order the First Michigan Sharpshooters and Second Michigan to report to him on the picket-line for further orders. I instructed the major to form the two regiments as quickly as possible, to throw out scouts and a heavy skirmish line and occupy the main rebel works if possible. I directed that so soon as the balance of the brigade reached the abatis after the occupation of the main works the advance should move rapidly, but cautiously, forward and plant a color upon some public building in the city.
At 3.10 a.m., all being in readiness, the advance moved rapidly forward and occupied the main works of the enemy, when the boys gave three hearty cheers, reformed their lines, partially broken by the obstacles they had passed, and pressed forward. The advance pushed forward as rapidly as was possible under the circumstances, as it was necessary to keep scouts well out in front and on the flanks.
The ground was unfavorable for rapid movement, yet the flag of the First Michigan Sharpshooters was hoisted on the court-house at 4.28 a.m., and the flag of the Second Michigan on the custom-house a few moments later.
The left of my brigade moved slowly because of the necessity of keeping connection with the troops on my left. My whole command reached the vicinity of the court-house before 6 a.m. So soon as I saw my advance leave the rebel works and proceed forward I ordered the