Tarheels During the Civil War

Monday, February 28, 2011

Official Report of Jubal Early for Battle of Williamsburg

Report of Brig. Gen. Jubal A. Early, C.S. Army, commanding brigade.

Lynchburg, VA., June 9, 1862.

Major: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of my brigade on Monday, May 5 last, near Williamsburg:
In accordance with orders received the evening before, my brigade was in readiness to take up the line of march from its camp west of Williamsburg toward Richmond at 3 a.m. on the 5th ultimo, but having been detained by the difficulty with which the brigades, with their trains, that preceded it, moved off, about or a little before noon, just as my regiments were formed for the purpose of commencing the march, I was directed by Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill not to move my infantry; and in a short time I was ordered by him to march back and report with my regiments to Major-General Longstreet at Williamsburg, which I did, having with me my brigade proper, consisting of the Fifth North Carolina Regiment, commanded by Col. D.K. McRae; the Twenty-third North Carolina Regiment, commanded by Col. John F. Hoke; the Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment, commanded by Col. William R. Terry, and the Thirty-eighth Virginia Regiment, commanded by Lieut. Col. Powhatan B. Whittle; to which were attached the Second Florida Regiment, commanded by Col. George T. Ward, and the Second Mississippi Battalion, commanded by Lieut. Col. John G. Taylor.
After reporting to Major-General Longstreet my command, by his orders, was halted in the open space in rear of the college building, where it remained until some time between 3 and 4 p.m., when I was ordered by General Longstreet to move to the support of Brigadier-General Anderson, of his division, at or near Fort Magruder, and to send a messenger to let him know that I was coming. I immediately put my command in motion, moving as rapidly as the condition of the streets would permit, and sent my aide, Lieut. S.H. Early, to inform General Anderson of the fact. Before reaching Fort Magruder I was met by Lieutenant Early, who informed me that General Anderson was not at the fort, but somewhere to the right, where his troops were engaged with the enemy, and that Brigadier-General Stuart, who was in charge at Fort Magruder, requested that I should send four regiments to the right and two to the left of the fort. Before this movement could be executed General Longstreet himself overtook me, and directed me to carry the whole of my brigade to a position designated by him, to the left and rear of Fort Magruder, and await further orders. I proceeded in that direction, General Longstreet himself going to the right in the direction of a heavy musketry and artillery firing which was going on. In a few minutes, and before my command had proceeded far toward its destination, I received an order from General Longstreet, through on of his staff officers, to send him two regiments, which I obeyed by sending him the Second Florida Regiment and the Second Mississippi Battalion, under the command of Colonel War, of the Second Florida Regiment. With the remainder of my command, being my brigade proper, I proceeded as near as practicable to the position designated by General Longstreet on the left and rear of Fort Magruder, and formed my regiments in line of battle on the crest of a ridge in a wheat field, and near a barn and some houses, with a wood some 200 or 300 yards in front, in which position we were not in view of any body of the enemy, though we were soon informed by the firing from a battery in or beyond the woods toward Fort Magruder that a portion of the enemy were in our front.
In a short time Major-General Hill arrived, and having ascertained that the enemy had a battery in front of us, he informed me that he wished me to attack and capture the battery with my brigade, but before doing so he must see General Longstreet upon the subject. General Hill and myself, with my aide, Lieutenant Early, then rode to the front to see if what appeared to be a small stream at the edge o the woods would offer any obstacle to the advance of my brigade, and having ascertained that it would not, General Hill went to the right to see General Longstreet, and I proceeded to inform my regiments that they would, upon the return of General Hill, advance to the attack of the enemy's battery and troops in front, and to give them directions as to their conduct. In a short time General Rains' brigade came up and took its position just in rear of a close to my brigade, and some pieces of artillery also came up, which I was proceeding to place in position, but General Hill returned and, after informing me that the attack was to be made, himself posted the artillery so as to cover the retreat of my brigade should it be compelled to fall back.
As soon as General Hill had completed his dispositions he gave the order to the two regiments on the right to move forward, which I presume was intended for the whole brigade, but the order was not heard by me or the regiments on the left; but seeing the regiments on the right and General Hill with them, I ordered the other two regiments to move forward, and the whole brigade was thus put in motion, the Fifth North Carolina Regiment being on the right, next to it the Twenty-third North Carolina, then the Thirty-eighth Virginia, the Twenty-fourth Virginia being on the left. General Hill being on the right accompanying the brigade, I placed myself on the left with the Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment for the purpose of directing its movements, as I was satisfied from the sound of the enemy's guns that this regiment would come directly on the battery. The brigade advanced through the wheat field and then through a thick woods, about half a mile in all, when it came upon an open field in view of Fort Magruder, at the end of which farthest from the fort the enemy had taken position with a battery of six pieces, since ascertained to be Wheeler's New York battery, and some two or three pieces from another battery called Kennedy's, which were supported by a brigade of infantry, under the command of Brigadier-General Hancock. In this field were two or three redoubts previously built by our troops, of at least on of which the enemy had possession, his artillery being posted in front of it near some farm houses and supported by a body of infantry, the balance of the infantry being in the redoubt and in the edge of the woods close by. The Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment, as I had anticipated, came directly upon the battery, emerging from the woods over a fence into the field within musket range of the farm houses at which the battery was posted. This regiment, without pausing or wavering, charged upon the enemy under a heavy fire, and drove back his guns and the infantry supporting them to the cover of the redoubt mentioned and of the woods and a fence close by, and continued to advance upon him in the most gallant manner. I looked to the right to see if the other regiments were coming up to the support of the Twenty-fourth, but not observing them doing so, I sent orders for them to advance.
These were anticipated by Colonel McRae, of the Fifth North Carolina Regiment, who was on the extreme right of my brigade, and marched down with his regiment, as soon as it was possible for him to do so, to the support of the Twenty-fourth and the attack of the enemy, traversing the whole front that should have been occupied by the other two regiment.
Having received a very severe wound shortly after the charge made by the Twenty-fourth on the enemy's battery, I became so weak from loss of blood and suffered such excruciating pain that I was unable to direct the operations of the brigade, and was compelled to retire from the field just as the Fifth North Carolina Regiment, under the lead of its gallant colonel, made its charge upon the enemy's artillery and infantry, but its conduct has been reported to me by impartial witnesses. This regiment, in conjunction with the Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment, made an attack upon the vastly superior forces of the enemy, which for its gallantry is unsurpassed in the annals of warfare. Their conduct was such as to extort from the enemy himself the highest praise; but these regiments were not supported by the other two regiments of the brigade.
The Twenty-third North Carolina Regiment, it seems from the report of its commanding officer, was ordered by General Hill to change its front before it got through the woods, which brought it in rear of the Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment, but it never got out of the woods. The Thirty-eighth Virginia Regiment, it seems started to obey my order, though it was so late in doing so that before it got fairly under fire the Fifth North Carolina and Twenty-fourth Virginia had been ordered by General Hill to retire. Had these two latter regiments been properly supported they would unquestionably have captured the enemy's artillery and routed his infantry. As it was, the enemy was compelled to withdraw the most of his pieces from the field, and these two regiments did not give way, notwithstanding the fearful odds against them, until ordered to retire by General Hill. As a matter of course they suffered severely, their loss being heaviest while falling back.
A number of valuable officers were killed in both regiments. The Fifth North Carolina Regiment lost its lieutenant-colonel, J.C. Badham, a most excellent and gallant officer. It lost also several captains and lieutenants while gallantly performing their duty. The Twenty-fourth Virginia Regiment did no suffer so severely in killed, but Captain Jennings and First Lieutenant Radford, two officers of great worth, were killed on the field, and Captain Haden was mortally wounded.
A number of prisoners were taken in these two regiments owing to the fact that in retiring through the woods back to the position from which they had advanced they lost their way and fell into the hands of a body of the enemy that was in the woods.
Returns of the killed and wounded in these two regiments were sent to me, but it has been since ascertained that they are so inaccurate that I forbear to send them, and must refer to the regimental commanders for correct returns.
So well did the officers and men of these two regiments do their duty that it would be invidious to discriminate; but I may be permitted to mention especially the gallant conduct and undaunted courage displayed by the field officers of both regiments: Col. D.K. Mcrae, Lieut. Col. J.C. Badham, and Major Sinclair, of the Fifth North Carolina, and Col. Williams R. Terry, Lieut. Col. Peter Hairston, and Maj. Richard L. Maury, of the Twenty-fourth Virginia, all of whom proved themselves eminently worthy of the positions held by them in their regiments. Of these officers, unfortunately, Lieutenant-Colonel Badham was killed on the field and Col. William R. Terry and Lieutenant-Colonel Hairston were severely wounded.
I do not wish to be understood as casting reproach upon the Twenty-third North Carolina and Thirty-eighth Virginia Regiments, both of which have since that time encountered the enemy on another field and suffered heavily.
I have received no report of the part taken by the Second Florida Regiment and the Second Mississippi Battalion, on the right, the only reports to me being lists of the killed and wounded. I have no doubt they performed their duty well.
On the list of killed in the Second Florida Regiment is found the name of its colonel, George T. Ward, as true a gentleman and as gallant a soldier as has drawn his sword in this war, whose conduct under fire it was my fortune to witness on another occasion. His loss to his regiment, to his State, and to the Confederacy cannot be easily compensated.
My regular aide, First. Lieut. S.H. Early, and young Mr. John Morrow, of Richmond, a volunteer aide, were both on the field under fire and discharged their duties admirably.
Accompanying this report are copies of reports of some of the regimental commanders.
My own report has been delayed thus long because I have been unable to undergo the labor of writing it.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J.A. Early,
Brigadier-General, P.A.C.S.
Maj. J.W. Ratchford,
Assistant Adjutant-General.

Series I Vol. XI (Part I) Ch. XXIII Pgs. 606-609

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