Tarheels During the Civil War

Monday, November 29, 2010

Official Report of Roswell Ripley for Seven Days Battles

Report of Brigadier General Roswell Ripley on the Seven Days battles around Richmond.

Hdqrs. Fifth Brigade, D.H. Hill's Division,
Near Richmond, Va., July 11th, 1862.

Major: I have the honor to report that on the morning of Thursday, June 26, the brigade under my command, consisting of the First and Third Regiments North Carolina troops and Forty-fourth and Forty-eighth Regiments of Georgia Volunteers, marched from its position near the Williamsburg Road, about 5 miles from Richmond, to a point in the vicinity of the batteries commanding the bridge over the Chickahominy River, on the Mechanicsville turnpike.
With other troops at that point the brigade lay waiting orders until near 4 p.m., when it was ordered to cross the Chickahominy in advance of the division, and effect a junction with the troops of Maj. Gen. A.P. Hill's command, then moving down the Chickahominy in the direction of Mechanicsville. The order was executed and the infantry crossed at once, forming line of battle across the road leading to the village, about half a mile in advance of the bridge. Upon communicating with Gen. A.P. Hill I was informed that the enemy had a strong and well-served battery and force in position near Ellison's Mill, something over a mile to the east of the road, to attack which he had sent Brigadier-General Pender's brigade by the right and other troops to the left, and it was arranged that my brigade was to co-operate. The enemy had opened on the Mechanicsville road and was rapidly verifying the range. My brigade changed front and advanced to the brow of the hill opposite the enemy's battery, expecting, if possible, to use artillery in the attack. While the troops were in motion I received orders to assault the enemy from General Lee and also from Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill, the latter of whom directed me to send two regiments to support General Pender, on my right, and attack the battery in my front with the remainder of my force. The Forty-fourth Georgia, under Col. Robert A. Smith, and the First North Carolina, under Col. [M.S.] Stokes,  marched at once to the right, while the Forty-eighth Georgia, under Col. [William] Gibson, and  Third North Carolina, under Colonel [Gaston] Meares, moved to a position in front of the enemy on their left.
Meanwhile the passage of the Chickahominy by the artillery had been impeded by the broken bridges, and night coming on and it being deemed important to attack the position at once, the advance was ordered along the whole line. General Pender's brigade and the two regiments of my own advanced rapidly on the right, while the remainder of my command moved against the front, driving back the enemy from his advanced positions and closing in upon the batteries and their heavy infantry supports, all of which poured upon our troops a heavy and incessant fire of shell, canister, and musketry. The ground was ragged and intersected by ditches and hedges and covered with abatis a short distance in front of the position to be assaulted. A mill-race, with scarped banks, and in some places waist deep in water, ran along the front of the enemy at a distance ranging from 50 to 100 yards. To this position our troops succeeded in advancing, notwithstanding the fire of the enemy was exceedingly heavy and our loss extremely severe. Of the Forty-fourth Georgia Col. Robert A. Smith and Lieutenant-Colonel [John B.] Estes fell wounded, the former mortally, besides 2 captains and 10 lieutenants killed and wounded. Of the First North Carolina Colonel Stokes was mortally, and Lieutenant-Colonel [John A.] McDowell severely, wounded, and Major [T.L.] Skinner killed, with 6 captains and lieutenants of the regiment killed and wounded, including the adjutant. The Forty-eighth Georgia and Third North Carolina had a more advantageous position, and suffered less severely than the former regiments, although the Third lost its Major (Edward Savage), wounded. The loss of non-commissioned officers and privates was heavy in the extreme, amounting in the Forty-fourth Georgia to 321 and in the First North Carolina to 133.
Near dark Capt. A. Burnet Rhett's battery of artillery, attached to my command, succeeded in crossing the broken bridges over the Chickahominy, and was located directly in front of the enemy at about 1,200 yards distance. Captain Rhett opened an effective fire, and soon relieved our infantry from the storm of shell and canister which had been poured upon them. It was soon re-enforced by another battery, and a fire was kept up on the enemy until late in the evening.
Some time after nightfall, after the cannonade, our troops were withdrawn to a point of woods a few hundred yards' distance, near the angle of our line of battle, which position was held by the Third North Carolina and Forty-eighth Georgia and a portion of General Pender's brigade. The fragments of the First North Carolina and Forty-fourth Georgia were rallied some distance in the rear under some difficulty, owing to the loss of all their field and many of their company officers, who fell while gallantly performing their duty.
During the night the enemy was engaged destroying and removing his stores, but the darkness and the intricacies of the position prevented an attack by our troops.
At about 12 o'clock Colonel Colquitt's brigade advanced to within supporting distance of my command.
At about 2.30 on the morning of the 27th my own and Colonel Colquitt's brigade were relieved by Generals Featherston and Pryor, and moved to a position near and beyond Mechanicsville, on the turnpike, where they remained, under a fire of shot and shell from the enemy's batteries along that road until the latter were turned by our troops in advance or silenced by our artillery. The brigade then moved forward with the division on the road to Cold Harbor, and was held for a short time in reserve after arriving at that point. It then consisted of the Third North Carolina and Forty-eighth Georgia, with a battalion of the First North Carolina, under Capt. H.A. Brown, and but a fragment of the Forty-fourth Georgia, which had been sadly cut up. Some portions of both the latter regiments were, as I have been informed, ordered by General Lee to act as a guard at the Chickahominy Bridge, on the Mechanicsville turnpike.
In the afternoon the brigade was ordered to the front to take position on the left of the line, which had been formed, and moved to the point designated. The country was densely wooded, and in some places covered with morass, and the movement was executed with some difficulty. In searching for position for the command I found some portion of our own troops already in front of the line which I was to occupy, and receiving a message from Brig. Gen. R.H. Anderson that support was required, I sent the Forty-eighth Georgia to the right of the position occupied by our own division to act in that capacity. The Third North Carolina and the battalion of the First remained upon the left. During the various movements in the thick woods and swamps a certain portion of the Third North Carolina became separated from the body of the regiment.
During this while the brigade, as well as the rest of the division, was under a heavy fire of artillery, but suffered comparatively little, being sheltered from view and partially from fire. 
Before dark the masses of the enemy appeared in the vicinity of the command, apparently endeavoring to turn our left. In this he was checked by the fire of our artillery and the charges made upon him by troops of different divisions and brigades in succession. These, from the nature of the ground, were more or less separate movements. The battalion of the Third North Carolina, under Colonel Meares, and of the First North Carolina, under Captain Brown, took part, doing good service. The Forty-eighth Georgia, from its position, was masked by the troops in front and did not get into close action.
The loss in this battle from the brigade was comparatively small.
During the night the troops remained on the field, and moved early the following morning, with the division in advance, toward the Grapevine Bridge, which had been destroyed by the enemy in his retreat during the night. It bivouacked within 1 1/2 miles of that point during Saturday and Sunday.
On Monday, July 1, it moved with the division early across the repaired bridge, and followed the route of the enemy's retreat until he was found in position on the farther side of White Oak Swamp Creek. Here it was brought to withing supporting distance of the artillery of the division, which engaged the enemy until night-fall, driving him from his position and enabling the pioneers to repair the bridge, over which we crossed on Tuesday morning, and followed the retreat of the enemy until our army came up with him in position at Malvern Hill.
Taking different positions during the morning, in the afternoon the brigade advanced, under orders from the major-general commanding division, through a heavy fire of artillery, to a dense wood in close proximity of the enemy's position, where it lay for a time in reserve.
At about 5 o'clock it was ordered to take position in a jungle near the hill upon which the enemy was established and to the left of General Anderson's brigade, which it did in the following order: The Forty-eighth Georgia was on the right, the Third North Carolina, the Forty-fourth Georgia (about 170 men of which had rallied and been brought by Captain Beck and other officers), and the First North Carolina on the left under Lieutenant-Colonel [William P.] Bynum, of the Second, who had been detached from the command of the First Regiment.
In obedience to the orders of General Hill I ordered a reconnaissance of the enemy's position, and found him immediately in our front in strong force, with a battery well advanced toward us and supported by strong lines of infantry. The number of his guns could only be judged of by the rapidity of his fire, owing to the nature of the country.
At about 6.30 or 7 o'clock an attack was made by the troops on our right, and we were, with the other brigades in advance, ordered by General Hill to move forward at once and attack the enemy. Gordon's and Anderson's brigades were on my right, and the troops of the three mounted the hill in a gallant manner. At its brow our troops were met with a furious fire of shot, shell, and musketry; officers and men fell fast, but they maintained their ground, opening and keeping up a severe fire upon the enemy in return, before which his advanced battery fell back and his troops wavered. He pressed hard upon our left, however, and while moving his regiment to its supports the gallant and accomplished Col. Gaston Meares, of the Third North Carolina Regiment, fell. Meanwhile Garland's and Colquitt's brigade had been advanced and made good the action on the right.
Darkness, however, was rapidly approaching, and, not knowing the extent of the enemy's suffering, the troops fell back to the road near the brow of the hill; other portions withdrew to the cover of the rising ground, and the night coming on, there was much confusion from the loss of officers and the nature of the country. Dense, dark, and in many places marshy, observation could reach but a short distance, quick movement was impossible, and in the din of battle the voice could be heard but a few yards.
Fresh troops were ordered forward, and the troops of the brigade were collected in parties by such officers as they fell in with. A portion remained in the vicinity of the field during the night, and the remainder, with portions of other brigades of the division having been collected, were retired a short distance on the Charles City road. During the night the enemy fell away from the hardly contested field.
On Wednesday morning the brigade was reformed at the church in front of the battle-field and with the division, whence it marched a short distance to the bivouac, at and near which it remained until the movement of the 9th to its present vicinity.
The movements and actions of the brigade under my command during the six days' operations of the army being but a constituent portion of those of the division and army, a more detailed report is believed unnecessary.
The aggregate force which entered the series of engagements on June 26 was 2,366, including pioneers and the ambulance corps. Of this our loss has been 45 officers and 844 non commissioned officers and privates in killed, wounded, and missing, the latter class numbering but 30. Seven out of 11 field officers fell killed and wounded while leading on their regiments, and of the 7, 4 are dead. To the memory of these the country will give that meed of consideration which is the reward of brave men battling in such a cause as ours.
Three colonels of four, all brave and accomplished officers- Col. M.S. Stokes, of the First North Carolina; Col. Gaston Meares of the Third North Carolina, and Col. Robert A. Smith of the Forty-fourth Georgia- have sealed their devotion with their lives. Their conduct on the field was beyond praise, and in their loss their regiments and the service have suffered severely. Maj. Skinner, of the First North Carolina, died in a like manner. Lieutenant-Colonel McDowell, of the First North Carolina, and Lieutenant-Colonel Estes (the former severely and the latter slightly) were both wounded in the front of the battle. Of the surviving officers, Colonel Gibson and Lieut.-Col. R.W. Carswell, of the Forty-eighth Georgia, led their regiment in the actions in which it was engaged. Lieutenant-Colonel De Rosset and Captain Thruston, acting field officers of the Third North Carolina, behaved with credit to themselves, and made good, to as full extent as possible, the loss sustained in their gallant colonel. Capt. H.A. Brown, of the First North Carolina, rallied the troops of his regiment, with other officers, after all the field officers had been lost, and led the regiment until relieved by Lieutenant-Colonel Bynum. Capts. J.W. Beck and Samuel P. Lumpkin, of the Forty-fourth Georgia, marched with the brigade with the fragment of the regiment on the 27th and served through the subsequent actions. But 179 of this regiment were unhurt at the action at Ellison's Mill of those who entered.
I was attended during the engagements by my staff, Capt. Leo D. Walker, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieut. F.G. Ravenel, aide-de-camp. Lieutenant Ravenel, after behaving with most distinguished gallantry at Ellison's Mill and Cold Harbor, was killed while leading on the troops of the right of the brigade, in the very front, at the battle of Malvern Hill. Of all who have fallen during this series of engagements none braver have sealed their devotion to our cause. Major Mitchell, brigade commissary, was also on the field and rendered valuable services.
In conclusion I beg to remark that the troops of this brigade, arriving at Richmond just after the battle of Seven Pines, were ordered immediately to the front, and performed picket and outpost duty, with slight intermission, until the march toward Mechanicsville. Two of the regiments, the First and Third North Carolina, had been some time in service but not in action. The Forty-fourth and Forty-eighth Georgia were new troops, and it is perhaps to be regretted, as the whole were brigaded for the first time, that some more opportunity could not have been afforded for perfecting their organization and discipline as a brigade. Nevertheless, the mass of the troops did their duty well, and although there were exceptions, from respect to those gallant officers and men who upheld bravely the honor of their flag, those who strayed from the field of duty I leave to their own consciences and the condemnation of their comrades.
I have the honor to inclose a return and lists of the killed and wounded and the reports of regimental commanders so far as they have been received.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 
R.S. Ripley,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Series I, Vol. X1. (Part II) Chapter XXIII, Pgs. 647-651.

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