Official Report of Lieutenant-Colonel William L. De Rosset, Third North Carolina, during the Seven Days Campaign.
Report of Lieut.-Col. William L. De Rosset, Third North Carolina Infantry, of the battles of Ellison's Mill, or Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mill, and Malvern Hill.
Headquarters Third North Carolina Troops,
Camp near Richmond, Va., July 11, 1862.
General: Owing to the death of Col. Gaston Meares, it becomes my duty to report the part which my regiment took in the late great battles before Richmond:
On Thursday, June 26, at 2 a.m.,we took up the line of march for the Chickahominy River at the Mechanicsville Bridge. Preparatory to an advance I was ordered to organize and take command of a battalion of skirmishers, composed of one company from each regiment in the brigade: Company B, Captain Brown, First North Carolina; Company B, Captain Thruston, Third North Carolina; Company - Captain Beck, Forty-fourth Georgia, and Company -, Captain Hall, Forty-eighth Georgia.
I was soon ordered to reconnoiter the bridges, and "to advance to Mechanicsville, in conjunction with a line of skirmishers from General A.P. Hill's division, on the left of the pike."
Before I had crossed the river the brigade was advanced down the road, and with my battalion in front crossed the bridges and took position on the left of the brigade, as it was not intended to use them as skirmishers, and prepare to advance in line of battle to charge the batteries at Ellison's Mill, on the right of the pike, which proved to be about 1 mile distant. The movement was made in good order and at double-quick. Being on the extreme left and Colonel Meares next on my right the charge was ordered, and this portion of the line went up directly in front of the batteries. Upon reaching the top of a hill, about 200 yards from the battery, this portion of the line was thrown into considerable confusion by the rapid and precipitate retreat of a large portion of one of the Georgia regiments; which one I have been unable to learn.
The left of the skirmish battalion, being rallied by Captain Thruston, continued to advance until it reached the mill race in the ravine, about 80 yards from the battery. Only about 40 men being left with me and the darkness and confusion preventing my learning the position of the line, I deemed it prudent to place them under cover, and by a flank movement to the right took shelter in a dense wood, just beyond which and under cover of a hill I found almost the entire brigade, it having fallen back from the ravine.
Here I was ordered to send the companies composing my battalion to their different regiments, and Colonel Meares being still absent with a portion of two companies, I reformed the regiment and took position in the skirt of a woods about 300 yards from the battery. Colonel Meares came up in about an hour with the other companies. We held this position until 2 a.m. on the 27th, when we took up the line of march to Mechanicsville.
Our loss in this engagement was 8 killed, and 39 wounded, including Major Savage, wounded in the left hand early in the engagement and left the field.
The fire here was very heavy, and I can only account for our small loss by the fact that the artillery fire was very high. Most of the casualties occurred at the extreme range of grape shot, and but few after we reached the most exposed point.
During the forenoon of Friday, 27th, we rested at Mechanicsville and were under a heavy fire of shell, but without accident. About 11 a.m. we again took up the line of march by the road to ---- and arrived at Cold Harbor, or Gaines' Mill, about 3 p.m. Here we were ordered to advance in line of battle and take position on the left, as I understood to prevent a movement against that flank. The regiment lay for two hours under a very severe fire of every description, but by some mischance Colonel Meares moved off without my knowledge with all of the regiment except three companies, which were left with me. The woods here were a dense undergrowth and prevented any movement being seen, and not receiving or hearing any order, I was left with about 60 men, as above stated. The fire becoming more and more severe, and not knowing where to seek my regiment, I reported to you, and received instructions to act upon my own judgment, when I withdrew my small force from under fire about the time that the firing ceased and rested for the night, joining my regiment early the following morning. None of the regiment was actively engaged, but, being held as reserve and sheltered, our loss was small. Killed, 1; wounded, 15.
Saturday and Sunday, June 28th and 29th, we were bivouacked near the river at the Woodbury or Grapevine Bridge.
On Monday morning at an early hour we advanced across this bridge and came into the Williamsburg road near Savage Station , on the York River Railroad. Proceeding down this road we halted at White Oak Creek, where the artillery was engaged until night.
Tuesday morning, July 1, we crossed White Oak Bridge and marched to ----farm, where the enemy had taken position. The line being formed, an advance was ordered, and my regiment moved forward through a dense jungle up the hill to a road just in front of and within 600 yards of the enemies' batteries. From the fact that several of my companies had to move by a flank and file around the thickets, when we reached the road they were in considerable confusion. Here, after firing several rounds, we learned that a regiment of our own troops was in advance of us, and an order to cease firing was given. They were then ordered to lie down to protect themselves. While in this position, with little or no protection but what the naked ground afforded, we were exposed to a most terrific fire of every description, as the wounds testify, from the enemy, and I fear several volleys were fired into us by a regiment of our own troops in the rear, from which we suffered much.
About 6 p.m. a request came from Captain Brown, commanding First North Carolina, to re-enforce him, as he was hotly pressed. Colonel Meares gave the order to move by the left flank, and led off down the road, followed by myself and about 100 men. About the same time that this movement was made the order was given on the right to fall back, which we did not hear, and which accounts for the small number of men which went with us.
Our gallant colonel had not moved more than 30 paces before he was instantly killed by a fragment of a shell in the head. No more cool, brave, and able officer lived, and his loss to the regiment and his country is irreparable. His body was carried from the field immediately and sent to his family in North Carolina, under charge of Adjt. W.A. Cumming.
Our loss was heavy: Killed, 23; wounded, 112; missing, 7. For a complete list of casualties I would refer to the accompanying papers.
My officers behaved with great coolness and gallantry, and where all acted well and performed their whole duty I can make no distinction.
I am indebted to my senior captain (S.D. Thruston) for valuable advice and assistance, he having acted as field officer from the time that Major Savage was wounded.
We started from camp with 605 enlisted men and 28 commissioned officers, and received additions to the ranks of convalescents from camp of about 40 men.
The men I consider equal to any emergency and they will always be found at their posts.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Wm. L. De Rosset,
Lieutenant-Colonel, comdg., Third North Carolina Infantry.
Brig. Gen. R.S. Ripley,
Commanding Fifth Brigade, General D.H. Hill's Division.
Series I, Vol. XI (Part II) Ch. XXIII. Pgs. 657-659.