General Thomas F. Meagher's

  Fair Oaks Report


Camp Victory, June 4, 1862.

On Saturday, May 31, early in the forenoon, we of the Second Brigade, Richardson's division, Sumner's corps d'armée, being encamped at Tyler's farm, heard considerable firing in front. This firing continuing to increase in rapidity and loudness during the day, about 1 o'clock p.m. I took the liberty of ordering the several regiments of my command to place themselves under arms immediately, anticipating that an order would at any moment reach me from the headquarters of the division, directing me to proceed with all dispatch to the scene of action. This order had been issued not more than ten or fifteen minutes before Captain Norvell, the assistant adjutant-general of the division, arrived at my headquarters, and directed me, by order of Brigadier-General Richardson, commanding division, to get my brigade instantly under arms and march at a moment's notice. This order, as I have already stated, had been anticipated, and fifteen minutes after Captain Norvell communicated to me the order of the general commanding our division, I directed Captain McCoy, assistant adjutant-general of my brigade, to report that my brigade was in marching trim and awaiting his further orders. These orders, which mostly had reference to the peculiar line of march over the Chickahominy which we were to observe, and which directed a slight divergence from the line of march to be preserved by the brigades under the command of Generals Howard and French, the First and Third Brigades of our division-- these orders returned with Captain McCoy, and my brigade was immediately put on the march.

The march, in strict compliance with special instructions, was executed in the lightest possible marching order, the men taking with them in their haversacks only two days' cooked rations, and being disencumbered of their overcoats, knapsacks, and blankets. The march was performed with unremitting celerity, ardor, and eager readiness for action. I mention this particularly from the fact that on the line of march we met several soldiers and other parties returning from the field of action, who informed us that the Federal arms had met with a severe reverse, and that as some New York troops were implicated it was specially incumbent on us to redeem the honor of our State and the fortunes of the day.

It was between 9 and 10 p.m. when the head of our brigade entered on the scene of that day's terrible conflict, and we were apprised of the fact and it was impressed upon us startlingly by the appearance of numbers of surgeons and chaplains with lanterns in hand searching over the ground to the right and left of our advance in column for the dead and wounded, who they said were scattered in every direction around. The surgeon of my brigade, two of the chaplains, and the quartermaster of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, First Lieut. P. O'Hanlon, were here requested to give their services in the humane search after and relief of the victims of the battle-field. In half an hour after the brigade, having carefully looked to and secured their arms, laid down on the open field, the first time to rest for that day.

A little after daybreak Sunday morning, having learned that the enemy were in full force in the wood surrounding the field where we were bivouacked, I was on the alert, and with my staff was in the saddle by 4 o'clock a.m. The Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, under the command of Col. Robert Nugent, and the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, under the command of Lieut. Col. Patrick Kelly, temporarily commanding, were under arms and ready for action the same hour. The men had scarcely partaken of some hard biscuit and water when a brisk firing in front of our position informed us of the immediate presence of the enemy. General Richardson, commanding the division, at once directed my brigade to prepare for action. This order, as the march of the previous afternoon and night, was executed with the, utmost alacrity and enthusiasm. Whilst in line of battle and awaiting further orders General Sumner, commanding the corps d'armée in which our brigade is incorporated, appeared on the ground, accompanied by his staff, and riding in front of our ranks addressed a few words of encouragement and confidence to our men, reminding them that they had been held back ever since they joined the service, but now their time had come.

In the mean while the firing in the woods fronting the field on which, in the midst of the dead and dying of the previous day's battle, we were drawn up for action, increased in volume and intensity, and it was at this moment that I received orders to throw the first regiment of my brigade, Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, upon the railroad a little below where it wits drawn up in line of battle. This order was executed promptly and dashingly, a pretty brisk fire opening on the regiment from the woods and one or two detached houses as they deployed to the left in line of battle on the railroad. Shortly after this movement had been executed by the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers was ordered to proceed by a flank movement to the left and occupy the railroad on the left of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers, which regiment prolonged its line of occupation on the left of the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers. The Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers had to push its march through a tangled underwood, encumbered with fallen and decayed trees, interspersed with heavy patches of mire and swamp. The regiment was conducted to its position by Capt. J.P. McMahon, of my staff, who was specially detailed that morning on the staff of General Richardson, commanding division.

It appears from the report of Lieut. Col. Patrick Kelly, commanding the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, that a countermand was given to his regiment by some staff officer of the corps whilst it was forcing its way through the wood to take its position on the left of the Fifth New Hampshire Volunteers. This led to some slight confusion, and the two leading companies of the regiment, not having heard the countermand, deployed from the wood on the railroad, and gallantly sustained the fire of the enemy until, the countermand being recalled, they were vigorously supported by the other eight companies of the regiment. The two companies maintaining themselves so creditably until supported by the main body of the regiment were commanded respectively by Capts. William Horgan and Michael Eagan. Whilst the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, under command of Colonel Nugent, and the Eighty-eighth, under Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly, were thus deploying to the right and left on the railroad the one through a field intercepted by stumps and exposed to a flanking fire from the enemy on the right and the other regiment forcing its way through the swampy woods on the left, the brigades of Generals Howard and French were splendidly maintaining the front of our position in advance of the railroad and holding the enemy in check.

Thus it was that those two regiments of my brigade acted as a reserve and came to the support of those brave troops that had to stand the brunt of the battle of the 1st of June. The Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers had to display itself in an opening before they reached their position on the railroad which was exposed to the unobstructed fire of the enemy from the woods, forming a semicircle in front of the line on which the regiment was deploying. In other words, the line of battle of the Eighty-eighth was the chord of resistance to the arc of the enemy's fire. At the central point of the chord there stood a farm-house, which during the action was used as a hospital for the wounded of the regiment specially detailed at this point and any other of either army who were wounded in proximity to it and who could be brought in.>

I regard the conduct of the Eighty-eighth, under the circumstances l have mentioned and in the position I have described, as being especially effective and entitled to distinctive commendation. Had the Eighty-eighth winced from this position; had they faltered or been thrown into confusion when proceeding to the railroad; had the two companies of this regiment, which were for some minutes isolated, not sustained the fire of the enemy, I believe the issue of the day adversely to the Army of the Potomac would have been materially influenced. The conduct of the Sixty-ninth was incomparably cool. The officers and men of the regiment stood and received the fire of the enemy whilst they delivered their own with an intelligent steadiness and composure which might have done credit to, and might perhaps have been looked for in, the mature troops of more than one campaign. The creditable and memorable conduct of the Sixty-ninth on this occasion was, in my opinion, owing in a great measure to the soldierly bearing and fearless tone and spirit of Colonel Nugent, who, standing close to the colors of his regiment, over and over again repeated the order to fire on the enemy. The fire of the two regiments, in a word, was so telling, that the enemy, although in considerable force and evidently bent on a desperate advance, were compelled to retire, leaving their dead and wounded piled in the woods and swampy ground in front of our line of battle.

Our success was made manifest by the fact that the officers of the brigade engaged on the occasion were occupied soon after the cessation of the firing, and are still engaged, in the humane work of searching after the wounded and burying the dead.

For further particulars, of which I cannot pretend to be personally cognizant, I refer you with pleasure to the reports of the officers commanding the two regiments of my brigade engaged on the day in question. They themselves, it appears: find it difficult to particularize those of their respective commands who distinguished themselves by their coolness and fearlessness during the action. I myself refrain from any discrimination of the kind, lest I might do injustice to those who, equally brave and bold as those who seemed to me most conspicuous, might have been no less deserving of notice and honorable commemoration, but whose claims escaped my observation in the excitement of the engagement. I cannot, however, close this report without mentioning in sincere terms of praise the conduct of the surgeons of my brigade those of the Sixty-ninth and Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, as also that of the brigade surgeon, J. H. Taylor; their attention to the wounded being unremitting even in the very heat of the conflict, and whilst it was dangerous for them to discharge their duties. It is a source to me of the greatest satisfaction that the brigade which I have the honor to command can reckon with confidence on the services of such skillful, daring, and intrepid surgeons.

Were it usual in such reports to speak of them, I would have more than sufficient reason to acknowledge the courage and the heart with which the chaplains of the brigade stood by their charge in the hour of danger and consoled those who fell.

In making this report I find but one circumstance which diminishes the pleasure I feel in speaking so laudably of those whom I have the honor to command, and this circumstance is the withdrawal of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, commanded by Col. John Burke, which regiment, between 11 and 12 o'clock p.m. of the 31st of May, on our march from the camp at Tyler's farm, were ordered by General Richardson, commanding division, to fall back and defend the batteries of the division that were impeded in the mud and could not be brought to the front without assistance. These orders were executed by the Sixty-third New York Volunteers with promptness and full efficiency, and I but imperfectly convey the conviction of its comrade regiments of the brigade in saying that the participation of the Sixty-third New York Volunteers in the dangers of the day would have added to whatever credit the rest of the brigade has had the fortune to acquire.

I am happy to inform you that in killed and wounded the brigade has only lost 2 officers Lieutenants King and O'Connor, Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, of whom the former died yesterday morning and the latter lies severely though not mortally wounded) and something less than 50 men.

The list of casualties, however, is at present necessarily imperfect Every step will be taken to render a correct one as speedily as possible.

I have the honor to be, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, Commanding Brigade.


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