Battle of Williamsburg

Last updated June 18th, 2007 by Jenny
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No. 64. -- Report of Brig. Gen. Ambrose P. Hill, C. S. Army, commanding First Brigade, Second Division.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST BRIGADE, SECOND DIVISION, Bivouac on Chickahominy, May 10, 1862.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my brigade--composed of the Seventh Virginia Regiment, Col. J. L. Kemper; Eleventh Virginia, Col. Samuel Garland; the Seventeenth Virginia, Col. M.D. Corse, and the First Virginia, Col. Louis B. Williams--in the battle of the 5th instant, near Williamsburg -

The brigade was ordered under arms early on the morning of the 5th, and I was directed to take such positions on the Yorktown road that I might support either the right or left of our line as the occasions demanded.

A heavy fire of artillery having been directed for some time against the redoubts in front of Williamsburg, between 8 and 9 [o'clock] I received Major-General Longstreet's order to move my brigade forward to the support of Brigadier-General Anderson, occupying the redoubt known as Fort Magruder. The brigade was immediately put in motion, moved forward on the Yorktown and Williamsburg road, and halted to deposit knapsacks, while I sent forward my aide-de-camp, Capt. F. T. Hill, to report to General Anderson my advance and receive his orders.

In the mean time, accompanied by Captain Dearing, of the artillery, I rode forward to find covered approaches to Fort Magruder, the open ways being plowed by round shot and shell.

Just as I had finished this examination Captain Hill reported that General Anderson needed no support, and having received a request from General C. M. Wilcox to support him, I moved the brigade across the fields under a heavy fire of artillery, which was borne with all the steadiness of veterans, and formed it in line of battle in rear of the redoubts and in supporting distance of General Wilcox, reporting in person to General Wilcox my position and readiness to support him when needed.

At 10.30[o'clock] General Anderson sent me an order to move down to the woods occupied by General Wilcox, some 800 yards in front of my position, and assist in driving back the enemy, who had deployed in force. Very soon the firing began. General Wilcox having attacked, and my own brigade reached the scene of action, Colonel Kemper, of the Seventh, was directed to throw his regiment forward in line and engage the enemy. His men clashed in with a cheer, driving back the enemy, who were advancing, in consequence of the regiment in front having given way, and with admirable skill and coolness changed front as they fell back, and put his regiment in position behind a fence, facing the enemy, and within 45 yards of them. The Eleventh Virginia. Colonel Garland, was moved forward by the flank on the prolongation of Kemper's original line, with directions to clear his right, face to the left, and feel the enemy. The dense wood prevented an accurate estimate of distance, and Colonel Garland's three left companies were still in rear of Kemper, when the Eleventh was moved forward to the front. Major [Maurice S.] Langhorne was directed to take charge of them and form on Colonel Kemper's right. The Seventeenth. Colonel Corse, being next in order, was ordered to follow in rear of Colonel Kemper, and, moving forward with great steadiness and gallantry, its left wing was thrown forward, so that it was formed in a line of battle on Colonel Kemper's left and prolonging his line. The Seventeenth encountered a heavy fire in making this advance before the wheel was made and suffered severely. The First Virginia, Colonel Williams, having been placed under the orders of General Wilcox at his request, they were conducted to the fight on our extreme left. The position of my line was this: Two sides of a rectangle, seven companies of the Eleventh forming the short side, the three companies of the Eleventh, the Seventh, and the Seventeenth the long, the enemy being in the re-entering angle, facing the long side. A regiment of regular infantry--I think the First--had formed line immediately opposite, the Seventeenth, and were quietly awaiting its appearance when Colonel Kemper called my attention to them. We soon discovered they were enemies, when Colonel Kemper's regiment and a part of the Eleventh, at a rest behind the fence and a distance of 45 yards, poured into them a deadly volley, which distinctly marked the line of formation by the dying and the dead. The enemy, however, replied steadily and rapidly. The Seventeenth opened from the left, and Garland from the right was heard pouring in a continuous storm of lead. Then was the time, and Kemper's regiment was ordered to charge them, and, led by their gallant colonel, they bounded over the fence, Colonels Garland and Corse at the same moment, with that military quickness and intuition that proves the thorough soldier, advanced their own lines, and the enemy were forced back step by step--my own men eagerly pressing them--until the enemy reached an extensive field of felled timber, which afforded them excellent cover, and where, encouraged by their reserves and fresh troops, they rallied and again made a stand.

My brigade was now in advance, and was formed facing the new position taken by the enemy, at a distance from them of about 30 yards, the Eleventh on the right, the Seventh in the center, and the Seventeenth on the left.

The roar of musketry now became louder than ever and for some two hours was encouragingly kept up.

In the mean time the First Virginia, fighting its way through, had-marked its way around and joined the left of my line, the right wing of the Nineteenth Mississippi, Lieutenant-Colonel Lamar, intervening.

Reports were soon made me that our ammunition was being exhausted, and the enemy were again charged with the bayonet by the whole brigade and utterly routed. The superior nerve and enthusiasm of our men will ever drive them back when the bayonet is resorted to.

It was during this charge I saw Colonel Williams cheering his men on and nobly followed by them. I directed him to push the enemy with vigor, which he did, and following them up, in conjunction with one or two companies of the Ninth Alabama, captured a battery of eight guns just beyond the fallen timber. Colonel Williams, having but few men, requested Colonel [John B.] Strange, of the Nineteenth Virginia, who just then came up, to detail some men to secure the captured pieces, as also a color, which was left with the battery, and the inscription "To hell or Richmond" on it. This regiment, in conjunction with some others, still continued to advance, driving the enemy back. Colonel Williams fell severely wounded through the body about 6 o'clock, when the command devolved on Major [William H.] Palmer, who, though slightly wounded himself, held every position they had taken until directed to fall back after dark.

The successful charge of the brigade above alluded to having been accomplished, the Seventeenth Virginia halted on the ground from which the enemy had been driven, and Colonel Corse was directed to refill his cartridge boxes from those of the enemy's dead, who were plentifully and opportunely strewn around.

Colonels Kemper and Garland, finding their line somewhat confused from the charge, withdrew their regiments back to the edge of the woods and there reformed them, refilling cartridge boxes from those of the enemy.

This was about 5 o'clock, and General Colston coming up with his brigade, his regiments were sent forward and to the right and my brigade were allowed to lie down in line, though exposed to heavy fire all the time. The time was employed also in taking off our wounded and gathering some small-arms lying around us and in the fallen timber.

About 7 o clock I received the order of Major-General Longstreet, through General Pickett, to withdraw my brigade from the field, and thus ended victoriously for us on the right one of the most obstinately-contested battles ever fought.

My own brigade was actively and constantly engaged in the front for seven hours. Many of my men fired over 60 rounds of cartridges, and for two hours longer we were lying passive under a heavy fire, ready to spring to it again should the enemy rally to the fight. We drove the enemy from every position he took, captured all his knapsacks, and never suffered him to regain an inch of lost ground. My own brigade was fortunate in taking seven stands of colors, about 160 prisoners, and shared with the Ninth Alabama the honor of taking eight pieces of artillery.

Our loss has been heavy, and the Eleventh, Colonel Garland, suffered most severely. His regiment ever pressed forward where the chance of winning glory seemed most dangerous. But all the regiments fought with a heroism that, if persisted in, must ever drive back the foe from our soil.

My aide-de-camp, Captain Hill, bore my orders with promptness.

My brigade surgeon, Dr. M. M. Lewis, was untiring in his attentions to the wounded, and richly deserves this slight mention.

Private John C. Hunt, of Company L, Third Virginia Cavalry, one of my couriers, made himself remarked by his activity and cool courage under fire.

The whole brigade did its duty, and when that is said all is said.

Colonel Kemper, of the Seventh, was conspicuous throughout for his daring and energy.

Colonel Garland, of the Eleventh, though wounded early in the action, refused to leave the field, and continued to lead his regiment until the battle was over, and his example had a most happy effect in showing his men how to win the victory.

Colonel Corse, calm and equable as a May morn, bore himself like a true soldier throughout.

Colonel Williams, being separated from the brigade, acted pretty much throughout the day upon his own judgment, and I have to thank him for the admirable manner in which he handled his regiment.

My field officers--Lieutenant-Colonels [David] Funsten, [W. T.] Patton, [Morton] Marye, and Majors [M. S.] Langhorne, [Arthur] Herbert, [William H.] Palmer, and [C. C.] Flowerree---were brave, active, and energetic in the discharge of their duties.

Among those who by the fortune of war were most prominently brought forward and noticed 'are Captain Simpson, Cadet J. Herbert Bryant, acting adjutant; Color-Sergeant Hatcher, and Color-Corporal H. H. Bradley.

Private Travers, of Company H, took a stand of colors with his own hands.

This regiment mourns the loss of three gallant officers----Captain Humphreys, Lieutenants Addison and Carter--all of the Seventeenth.

Captain Mitchell, of the First, received the swords of two officers, and Cadet Thomas H. Mercer, assigned to the First, was remarked both by his regimental commander and myself for coolness and daring.

Corp. Lee M. Blanton, though wounded in the head, refused assistance, and himself captured General Patterson's carpet-sack, with his commission, and took 2 prisoners to the rear.

Adjt. J. Lawrence Meem, of the Eleventh, was indefatigable in his endeavors to secure the victory, and aided greatly the result.

Private James D. Walkup, of Company K, captured a stand of colors.

Adjutant Starke, of the Seventh, is particularly mentioned by his colonel for his efficiency and gallantry, as well as Sergeant. Major Tansill, Sergeant Dutcher, and Private Mays, acting color-bearer, who had his flag shot from his hand twice and twenty-seven bullet-holes through it, but who continued to bear it bravely to the last.

I cordially indorse Colonel Kemper's high encomiums upon the conduct of Mr. Camp Beckham, late a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute. His conduct was the admiration of all who saw him, and this chance was often presented me.

My thanks are due to Captain Charles Pickett, of General Pickett's staff, for efficient aid at a critical moment.

Lieutenant-Colonel [L. Q. C.] Lamar, of the Nineteenth Mississippi, volunteered to serve under my orders, having become separated from his brigade, and was eager to bear his part in the day's fray, nobly seconded by the right wing of his regiment. He rendered me most efficient service.

I append herewith a list of the killed and wounded.(*)

All of which is respectfully submitted.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

A. P. HILL,Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Capt. G. MOXLEY SORREL, Assistant-Adjutant General.

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About the Document

By an act approved June 23, 1874, Congress made an appropriation "to enable the Secretary of War to begin the publication of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, both of the Union and Confederate Armies," and directed him "to have copied for the Public Printer all reports, letters, telegrams, and general orders not heretofore copied or printed, and properly arranged in chronological order." This compilation will be the first general publication of the military records of the war, and will embrace all official documents that can be obtained by the compiler, and that appear to be of any historical value.