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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Battle of Eltham After Action Reports- Part Four

No. 7. 
Report of Brig. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, U. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade. 

Near West Point, Va., May 7, 1862. 

SIR: I have the honor to report that in the engagement which occurred to-day I was in command of the center and left wing of our forces. it was apparent soon after the commencement of the engagement that the efforts of the enemy were to be directed mainly against our right wing, and at the request of General Newton I sent re-enforcements to him, consisting of the Fifth Maine Volunteers, the Sixteenth and Twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, which are attached to the brigade under my command. The brigade of General Dana and the Ninety-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, of my brigade, were retained on the left.  
All of our troops, so far as my observation extended, behaved with great coolness and bravery. The First Massachusetts Battery, under command of Captain Porter, is entitled to great credit for the accuracy of its fire.  
I am greatly indebted to Capt. H.C. Rodgers, Captain Hopkins, Captain Sturdevant, and Lieutenants Wead and Shannon, members of my staff, all of whom were actively engaged during the entire day; also to Lieutenant Harbert, Fourth New Jersey Volunteers, and Lieutenant Landon, adjutant Seventh Michigan Volunteers, who volunteered their services as staff officers and proved of great assistance to me. 

        I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
     H.W. SLOCUM,
Brigadier-General Volunteers. 
                    Capt. E. SPARROW PURDY,
        Assistant Adjutant- General.

No. 8. 
Report of Brig. Gen. John Newton, U. S. Army, commanding Third Brigade. 

                                          HEADQUARTERS THIRD BRIGADE,
                                                            West Point, Va., May 8, 1862. 

SIR: I have the honor to report the result of the action with the enemy on the 7th instant:
Early on the morning of that day, the division having landed at this place the night previous, I made, as far as time permitted, an examination of the ground upon which we had landed, and aided by information obtained from Captain Jay, of the Twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, whose gallant conduct during the day deserves honorable mention, I became satisfied that the map of the locality furnished is was entirely incorrect in a military point of view,in consequence of which it became necessary to change the location of my brigade to the right of the position, which, with the approval of the general commanding the division, was done at once.  
A little before 9 a.m. the pickets commenced firing on the front of the right of our position, and I immediately directed Captain Hexamers battery to harness up and proceed to that point. Pickets then signaled the enemy approaching in large force, with cavalry and artillery, upon the right, which was occupied by my brigade. I immediately disposed of the infantry and Captain Hexamer's battery so as to prevent the debouch of the enemy's cavalry and artillery upon the plain occupied by our forces. In the mean time the firing of musketry in front became very quick and rapid and in heavy volleys, indicating the presence of a large force before us. After a gallant and obstinate resistance our pickets and several reconnoitering parties which had been sent out were driven in by overwhelming forces. The pickets fell back in good order, and, being re-enforced by two regiments, were again sent forward. By 11 a.m. the force of the enemy engaged had become so great that my men were forced back to the edge of the woods, retiring slowly and in excellent order.  
Being now satisfied that the attack was made by the enemy with serious intentions and in full force I threw into the woods in front of the right four regiments, with directions to feel the enemy and maintain their ground at all hazards. I am happy to say that this was effected, and that for three hours, until 3 p.m., when the action terminated, my position was firmly held, when the enemy slowly retired.  
My object from the commencement was to hold the woods in front of the right, through which the only practicable road to our position passed, and to prevent the enemy deploying his cavalry and artillery upon the clear space; and in this, owing to the steadiness of the infantry of the division and the skill and efficiency of the batteries of artillery, under the command of Captain Hexamer and Lieutenant Upton, I was successful.  
General Slocum, who commanded the left and center of the division, generously furnished me with all the assistance I required, the enemy not having seriously attempted his position. The troops engaged on our side were the Thirty-first and Thirty-second New York Volunteers, six companies of the Eighteenth New York, three companies of the Sixteenth New York Volunteers, three companies of the Twenty-seventh New York Volunteers, the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, six companies of the First Jersey, and the Fifth Maine Volunteers. 
All the troops engaged behaved with great steadiness, and I will only particularize the Thirty-first New York Volunteers, Col. Calvin E. Pratt, and the Thirty-second New York, Col. Roderick Matheson, who suffered the severest losses. The Thirty-first charged the enemy in the woods and drove them before them until they gained an advantageous position, which, supported by the First New Jersey, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel McAllister, they heroically maintained until the end of the action against greatly superior numbers of the enemy. The Thirty-second New York made a brilliant advance, driving superior forces with the bayonet for a considerable distance through the woods, until their progress was arrested by the enemy's reserves and a battery of artillery, when they retired slowly and in good order to their position. I may add that the Eighteenth New York, Col. W. H. Young, advanced firmly upon the enemy, received several volleys at close range, and, singular to state, without losing a man or without firing a shot in return. The steady advance of this regiment on my left, supported by the Fifth Maine, Colonel Jackson, was of great service. The Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Colonel Gosline commanding, behaved very well, bringing on the action with the enemy and keeping him well occupied.  
Our loss in the action was 200 killed, wounded, and missing; that of the enemy I have no means of ascertaining. I am under great obligations to Col. A.T.A. Torbert, of the First New Jersey, general officer of the day, for re-enforcements which he brought up from time to time during the day, and to Captain Platt, who commanded the battalion of artillery engaged, for his efficient services.  
I regret to add a long list of killed and wounded amongst the officers. engaged. Captain Heiss, of the Thirty-first New York, with a single company in front of a regiment of the enemy, disdaining to retire, was killed, whilst his two lieutenants, Klein and Schickhardt, were wounded, the former mortally and the latter severely. Of this one company all the non-commissioned officers save 1 were killed, and 40 privates killed and wounded, evincing a degree of heroism which is worthy of all praise.  
Captain Fuller, of the same regiment, who was intrusted with the duty of protecting the left flank, repulsed with great loss three companies of the enemy who made that attempt, in which service Lieutenant Babcock, of his company, was mortally wounded. Captain Fuller speaks in the highest terms of this lamented officer, and of his second lieutenant, A. E. King. Lieutenant Pross, of same regiment, was killed, and Lieutenant Frossard badly wounded, whilst advancing boldly upon the enemy. Captain Sloan, of same regiment deserves the highest mention for his bravery, coolness, and judgement during the action.  
Of the Thirty-second New York Captains Young amid Brown and Lieutenant Wallace were killed whilst urging their men forward against overwhelming forces. Colonel Matheson, commanding this regiment, speaks in the most exalted terms of the gallantry displayed by these lamented officers, and also of Lieutenants Twaddell and Stone, who were severely wounded whilst leading their commands against the enemy.  
Captain Curtis, of the Sixteenth New York, whilst bravely leading two companies in a charge, was shot in the left breast and severely wounded.  
Captain Beattes,1 of the Ninety-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, was severely wounded in the shoulder whilst performing his duty. 
Many instances of heroism amongst the officers and men have been brought to my notice, but where they are so numerous the report must be necessarily incomplete.  
I cannot close this report without making honorable mention of the gallantry and efficiency of my staff, Capt. James E. Montgomery, assistant adjutant-general; Lieuts. Samuel W. Waldron, Jr., and William Russell, Jr., aides de-camp, and Capt. James K. Scofield, commissary, who were actively employed during the day in transmitting my orders through the heaviest fire.  
Captain Montgomery, in transmitting orders, had his horse shot under him and was made prisoner by the Hampton Legion, from whom he afterward escaped.  
The enemy committed inhuman barbarities upon some of the wounded. One was found with his throat cut, and another bore the marks of eight bayonet stabs in his body.  
I have no means of ascertaining correctly the force of the enemy. We know, however, that it was at least General Whitings division, including the Hampton Legion. Besides this a large body of the enemy, at least 20,000 strong, were supporting the attacking force.  
The attack which they made was evidently with a view to prevent the division molesting their line of retreat from Williamsburg to Richmond, and to drive us into the river if they obtained the advantage.  
The battle lasted from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. The gunboats rendered efficient service by throwing shells into the enemy at a distance of 2 miles.  
From coincidence of reports received before and after the battle there is no doubt that this was a well-planned and desperate attempt on the part of the enemy.  
I omitted to mention that Captain Gilmore, who commanded the three companies of the Sixteenth New York engaged, has received the commendation of his superior officer for the skill and gallantry displayed during the action.  
Besides the mangling of bodies the enemy is reported on reliable authority to have rifled the persons of the wounded and dead of all articles of value and to have taken portions of their clothing. The enemy was not only repelled in his attempt upon our position, but at the end of the day we occupied with our troops a position in advance of that held at the commencement of the action. 

               I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
            Brig. Gen., Gomdg. Right Wing General Franklins Division. 

                     Capt. E. SPARROW PURDY,
                                   Assistant Adjutant- General.

1 breveted Major in 1869 for his actions this day.

Union general and Norfolk, Virginia native John Newton

Erastus Sparrow Purdy, who after the war served in the Egyptian army and is buried in Cairo.

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