Reports of Col. D. H. Hamilton, First South Carolina Infantry, Provisional Army,
Commanding Regiment and McGowan's Brigade.
APRIL 27-MAY 6, 1863.--The Chancellorsville Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXV/1 [S# 39]
HDQRS. SECOND BRIGADE, LIGHT DIVISION,
Camp Gregg, Va., May 9, 1863.
Capt. R. H. FINNEY,
CAPTAIN: Necessarily I must make my report to you as to the part taken by my regiment (First South Carolina Volunteers) in the battles of the 2d and 3d instant, as the command of the brigade devolved upon me on the morning of the 3d instant, in consequence of the wounding of Brigadier-General McGowan.
At 10 a.m., April 29, in obedience to orders, I marched my regiment, with others of this brigade, to our old position on the Military road beyond Hamilton's Crossing, the same ground which we occupied on December 13, 1862, at the battle of Fredericksburg. Here we remained facing the enemy for forty-eight hours, who were drawn out in line of battle, with their skirmishers pushed well to the front.
At 4 a.m., May 1, we marched from this position, and, passing through the line of country in front of Fredericksburg, we entered the Plank road near the Tabernacle Church. Continuing along the Plank road, we reached a point within a mile of the enemy's line of works. After a short rest, we filed off by a road to the right of the Plank road, where our skirmishers became engaged with those of the enemy. We were likewise subjected to a fire of artillery. We did not become actually engaged, but dark coming on we lay down to rest on the edge of the woods, in the position on which our line of battle had been formed.
At an early hour the next morning (2d instant), I received orders to march my regiment off the ground, it being the determination that we should pass around the right flank of the enemy and get position in their rear. Our march was commenced, and we were subjected to the most trying ordeal to which any troops could be subjected. As soon as we reached the open ground, we were exposed in open and full view to the batteries of the enemy, and, under a deliberate and annoying fire, we passed these batteries in review. My regiment stood the ordeal well, and passed quietly and in good order across this exposed position. Projecting hills soon screened us from further annoyance, and our march was rapidly and successfully continued until we reached a position beyond Chancellorsville, in rear of the enemy's line of works. Here we found that General Rodes, commanding Maj. Gen. D. H. Hill's old division had been before us, completely clearing this part of the enemy's line and strewing the roads and fields around with their dead. Pushing forward rapidly, we reached, under a terrific fire of shell, by which several of my men were wounded, the position in rear of the enemy's breastworks and field fortifications near Chancellorsville. Here our line of battle was formed. After a short rest, I was ordered to advance in line, with Orr's Rifle Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers, on my left (the battalion of direction), and the Thirteenth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers on my right.
We commenced the advance about 11 p.m., but soon found ourselves entangled in an almost impenetrable thicket, where I found two regiments lying ventre à terre. I tried to get those men near me forward, but without success. Passing over their prostrate forms, I was pushing on, when my acting adjutant, Capt. T. P. Alston, came to inform me that the left of my regiment had become separated from me in the thicket through which we were forcing our way. I directed him to inform Capt. A. C. Haskell (Brigadier-General McGowan's assistant adjutant-gen-eral) of the fact and to ask for instructions. He returned to say to me that the Rifle Regiment had not continued the advance, and that they being the battalion of direction, the left of my regiment, ignorant that I was moving on, had awaited the movement of the Rifles, and that I was ordered to return to my position in the road, which I accordingly did, and at 12 p.m. (2d instant) filed out to the right of the Plank road, with the Rifles in front and the Thirteenth following me. Proceeding without noise and cautiously, we passed down to a dense pine thicket in front of the enemy's line of breastworks. After posting our line of skirmishers and pickets in front, we lay down to rest. Just at daylight Brigadier General Archer filed past us with his brigade and formed his line of battle on our right. Soon after, he came to me to inform me that he would advance in line with us, and, accordingly, when the order was given to advance, we started in line; but I had not advanced many paces before an order was given me, either by Brigadier-General McGowan or one of his staff, to oblique to the left. This separated us from Brigadier-General Archer's line; but as we cleared the woods the fire of the enemy was opened upon us, leaving us no time to look about us. With a shout of defiance we rushed forward, cleared the Yankee breastworks at a bound, and, pushing 100 yards or so to the front, engaged the enemy, who appeared to be collected in force on our right. Here we continued to fight for about a half hour, we in the open woods and the enemy behind their works.
At this point I lost many men and one noble officer, Lieut. E. C. Du Bose, Company L, who fell dead while distinguishing himself by his gallantry and coolness.
The enemy, finding our right unsupported, commenced an advance upon their abandoned breastworks in our rear. The regiment (Rifles) on my right perceiving this, fell back to the breastworks, leaving my regiment exposed to a flanking fire. This being the case, I ordered my regiment to retire to the breastworks, which they did in good order. Here we commenced fighting, but the firing was difficult, from, the fact that the enemy did not show themselves in the front, but continued to advance on our right, partially screened from view by the inequalities of the ground. It, was only occasionally that I could obtain a view of them, and whenever sixth opportunity offered I availed myself of it by firing by battalion. Holding this position for upward of an hour, we were re-enforced, or rather encumbered, by a portion of General Colston's command, for, instead of pushing rapidly to the right and occupying the position beyond, they took refuge (many of them) in rear of my line, and annoyed my regiment much by firing over their heads, in some instances wounding my men, and in one instance killing one of my best subalterns, Lieut. C. P. Seabrook, Company H, who was shot and instantly killed by a shot fired from the rear.
By this time empty cartridge-boxes were beginning to be the prevalent condition of my regiment. I asked for a supply, and was told that it could not be just then furnished. I asked Capt. A. C. Haskell, assistant adjutant-general, whether it was not possible to obtain it, for that I did not know what I should do, as the enemy were advancing on the right, and that I could not meet them with empty guns. In about fifteen minutes after this, the line on my right gave way, and I saw a stream of the enemy pouring over the breastworks, so there was nothing left me but to retire, which I did, the Rifle Regiment having passed to the rear before me.
In making this movement the two left companies of my regiment, in the noise of the firing, did not hear the command, and remained with those regiments of the brigade on the left of my position, and did not rejoin me for several hours after. I fell back with my regiment to a road in rear, where I met Brigadier-General Colston rallying one of the brigades of the division which he commanded (Trimble's). I applied to him to obtain ammunition, which was soon furnished. At this point I found myself in command of the brigade, as both Brigadier-General McGowan and Col. O. E. Edwards, Thirteenth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers (senior colonel), were wounded.
The further report of the part taken by my regiment in these battles will be continued by Capt. W. P. Shooter, Company E, who, as senior captain, took command of my regiment. To him and to Capt. T. P. Alston, my acting adjutant, I feel much indebted for their efficiency, gallantry, and coolness under the heaviest fire to which I have ever been subjected among the many battles in which I have been engaged.
I cannot praise too highly the conduct of all of my officers and of the men generally, who were as calm and obedient to orders as if they were upon an ordinary drill instead of being hotly engaged in one of the most sanguinary battles of the war.
Below I append lists of killed, wounded, and missing. I carried into battle 300 men, and lost one-third of my numbers.
Command Killed Wounded Missing Total Company A ---- 5 ---- 5 Company B 2 13 ---- 15 Company C 1 10 2 13 Company E 2 17 ---- 19 Company F 1 8 ---- 9 Company G ---- 11 ---- 11 Company H 1 12 ---- 13 Company I 2 4 2 8 Company K 2 4 ---- 6 Company L 1 4 ---- 5 Total 12 88 8 104
I am, captain very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. G. HAMILTON,
Colonel, Comdg. Second Brigade, Light Division.
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, LIGHT DIVISION,
Camp Gregg, May 20, 1863.
Capt. E. H. FINNEY,
CAPTAIN: In consequence of the wounding of Brigadier-General McGowan and Col. O. E. Edwards, Thirteenth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, early in the day on the 3d instant, I found myself in command of this brigade. It will be unnecessary for me to recapitulate the movements of the brigade on the march, as I have already, in giving a report as regimental commander, detailed those of my own regiment (First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers), which will cover those of the brigade previous to our reaching the enemy in rear of their line of works beyond Chancellorsville.
At sunset, 2d instant, we reached that part of the field which had been cleared by Brigadier-General Rodes, scattering the enemy in every direction. Passing beyond, we were drawn up in line, by order of Brigadier-General McGowan, on the Plank road, the Fourteenth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers being deployed, and covering our front as skirmishers. Here we were subjected to a heavy fire of shells, which was annoying but did not do us a great deal of damage.
After remaining here until about 11 o'clock, orders were given for an advance of the brigade, Thirteenth South Carolina Volunteers on the right, First South Carolina Volunteers next, and the Rifle Regiment (Orr's) on the left (directing battalion). The attempt was made, but either in consequence of the impossibility of advancing through a thick and almost impenetrable pine thicket, or from a change of orders, the order was countermanded.
At 12 o'clock midnight the brigade was marched to a position in front of the enemy's breast works, with Brigadier-General Lane on our left and Brigadier-General Archer on our right. At sunrise the advance was commenced. The brigade, however, obliqued too much to the left, separating our line from that of Brigadier-General Archer, and somewhat overlapping the right of Brigadier-General Lane. So soon, however, as the ground was clear before us, the four regiments engaged (First, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Orr's Rifles) dashed at the enemy's first line of breastworks. Clearing them with rapidity, the brigade passed about 100 yards to the front, and engaged the enemy, who appeared to be collected in strength on our right. Up to this time Brigadier-General McGowan was active and courageous in urging on the brigade, exposing himself without any sort of regard for his own safety. The last that I saw of him his huge form was towering from the top of the breastworks which we had just passed. He was soon after, unfortunately, wounded, but, I am happy to say, not dangerously. The brigade soon became very hotly engaged, particularly the two right regiments (First and Orr's Rifle Regiment). The enemy, finding our right open and unsupported (Brigadier General Archer having lost his connection with our line from our having obliqued to the left in advancing from the cover of the woods), pressed on to pass round our right flank and get possession of the breastworks in our rear. This being apparent to the two right regiments (First and Orr's Rifles), they fell back to the line of breastworks, and continued to fight the enemy, who, if they had pushed vigorously forward, could at once have driven us out, as that portion of the works was unoccupied for some time; but such a deadly fire was poured into them whenever they showed themselves, that their immediate advance was checked.
While fighting at the breastworks, I learned that Colonel Edwards, Thirteenth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, had assumed command of the brigade. From him I did not receive many orders, as he was, I regret to say, soon very severely wounded, as likewise my gallant young subaltern, Lieut. James T. Proctor (Company C, First Regiment), whom I had just before detailed to act as his assistant adjutant-general, and who, after a very few moments of duty, lost his leg.
We had not fought for any great length of time when a portion of Major-General Trimble's division, commanded by Brigadier-General Colston, came to re-enforce us on the right; but from their hesitancy in taking the position, and encumbering us in the rear, they were but of little use, and the enemy soon commenced pouring over the breastworks on our right. My regiment (First South Carolina Volunteers) and Orr's Rifle Regiment being out of ammunition, without the means of replenishing it, and our flank exposed by the enemy occupying the line (the prolongation of ours) to the right, it was deemed best to retire for the time, which was done, falling back a short distance to a road in the rear. As commander of my own regiment, I found Brigadier-General Colston rallying some of his own troops' to him I reported, asking that my regiment might be supplied with ammunition, which was furnished me. The Rifle Regiment (Orr's) soon joined me.
Here I learned for the first time that Colonel Edwards was wounded. I assumed command of that portion of the brigade which was with me, and soon resumed the advance. Finding the breastworks occupied by our own troops, 1 was ordered by Brigadier-General Colston to march the portion of the brigade which had joined me across the Plank road, and occupy the position commanding the flank of the line of breastworks held by our troops. Here I took position, and remained under an irregular but severe fire of shell for two hours, expecting every moment to be engaged with the infantry of the enemy, as scattering bullets were occasionally reaching us, and sometimes heavy firing was heard immediately in our front. Gradually the fire slackened. I was left without further orders, and, finding the brigade of Brigadier-General Pender in my rear moving out into the Plank road, I reported to him for orders, and learned that he was in command of the Light Division, both Maj. Gen. A. P. Hill and Brigadier-General Heth having been slightly wounded. After a short time we received our rations, replenished our ammunition, and, being rejoined by the rest of the brigade--which had been with Col. A. Perrin, Fourteenth South Carolina Volunteers--I marched the brigade, under orders of Brigadier-General Pender, to a position on the left of the Plank road, and was established on the front line of his division, facing eastward (on Sunday afternoon, 3d instant), holding, as he informed me, the key of his position, and which I was ordered by him to hold at all hazards and to the last extremity. Throwing out skirmishers to the front and covering my entire line, we prepared to bivouac and obtain such rest as we might in a swamp, with dead, dying, and roasted Yankees (the woods having taken fire just after the battle of that day, 3d instant); but our rest was considerably interrupted by our skirmishers becoming engaged with those of the enemy.
On Monday (the 4th), I was ordered to remove the brigade to a position in rear of the one held by me during the afternoon and night before. Here I had breastworks rapidly thrown up, six companies covering my front as skirmishers, and scouts sent out to reconnoiter the position of the enemy. From these scouts I learned early in the evening that the enemy were making no demonstration on their right and in my front. During this night I could hear the moving of their artillery and wagon trains down toward Banks' Ford, and so reported it to Brigadier-Gen-eral Pender, with my impression that they were moving off, which subsequent events proved to be correct. Nothing of further moment occurred beyond our pushing my skirmishers, by a wheel of their line to the left, upon and against the right flank of those of the enemy.
I beg to speak of the efficiency of Major [E.] Croft, Fourteenth South Carolina Volunteers; Major [Isaac F.] Hunt, Thirteenth South Carolina. Volunteers, and Captains [A. P.] Butler and [William T.] Haskell, of the First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, and Captain [D. R.] Duncan, Thirteenth Regiment, South Carolina Volunteers, while respectively in command of skirmishers.
To Capt. T. P. Alston, First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, who acted as my assistant adjutant-general, I feel myself under great obligations for his untiring zeal and efficiency. He was ready at all hours to go to any position, either to the skirmishers in front, or along the line. His calm, courageous bearing won my admiration and esteem, and to his intelligence and ready perception of his duties my labors, which would have been arduous in being placed suddenly in command of the brigade, were lightened by his aid.
After remaining at our intrenched position, we marched off on Wednesday, the 6th instant, and returned to this camp on Thursday, 7th instant.
It remains now but to speak of our losses. They were heavy (lists of which have already been forwarded to division headquarters, Briga-dier-General Pender), and among them I regret to announce the death of Col. James M. Perrin, Orr's Rifle Regiment, who was mortally wounded while gallantly fighting his regiment at the breastworks, on Sunday, May 3. Colonel Perrin was one of the captains of my old regiment (First South Carolina Volunteers), and on duty with me in South Carolina previous to my coming to Virginia in 1861. Since then he has at various times been under my command. A more zealous or efficient officer could not have been found in this command. Noble, brave, and pious, he lived to win the admiration and esteem of his friends, and, we will trust, died to receive the reward of a life spent in the strict discharge of every duty.
I beg to inclose the reports of the Thirteenth, First, Fourteenth, and Orr's Rifles, South Carolina Volunteers. The Twelfth Regiment South Carolina Volunteers was not engaged in the battles, but was detailed as a guard to prisoners, and on Monday, May 4, was sent off to Richmond with upward of 2,000 prisoners, and did not return to the brigade until two days after our return to this camp.
I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
D. H. HAMILTON,
Colonel, Commanding Second Brigade, Light Division.
Return of Casualties in McGowan's.
Command Killed Wounded Missing Total 1st South Carolina (Provisional Army) 12 88 4 104 1st South Carolina Rifles 20 91 2 113 12th South Carolina ---- 2 ---- 2 13th South Carolina 6 84 1 91 14th South Carolina 8 137 ---- 145
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