general thomas f. meagher's

peninsular campaign report No. 1


In Camp at Harrison's Landing, James River, Va., July 2, 1862.

GENERAL: In obedience to your order that I should report to you as the officer in superior command of the Union troops engaged in the action which took place yesterday I have the honor to submit to you the following statement of the circumstances in which the brigade under my command participated and of which I was personally cognizant:


Shortly after 6 o'clock p.m., being seated at the headquarters of General E. V. Sumner, commanding the corps d'armée in which my brigade is incorporated, being ordered to do so by that officer, I dispatched two of my aides, Lieut. John J. Gosson, of the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers the first regiment of the brigade, and Lieut. Temple Emmett, of the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers the fourth regiment of the brigade, with orders to hurry up the four regiments composing the brigade, and to advance them as quickly as possible to the front, and to report to you. These regiments, being the Sixty-ninth New York Volunteers, the Sixty-third New York Volunteers, the Eighty-eighth New York Volunteers, and the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers, which has been recently assigned to the brigade, had been in position in line of battle from an early hour, occupying and extending along a ravine to the right of the headquarters of Sumner's corps, and so protecting in some measure the right flank of the army, which was still further and efficiently protected by the divisions under the command of Generals Sedgwick and Smith.


The line occupied by the regiments under my command along this ravine was held by them with marked coolness and firmness under an incessant shower of shell and round shot from the batteries of the enemy, and it is but simple justice for me to say that under an unremitting fire of some hours they exhibited a composure and steadiness which was only equaled by their eagerness to engage the enemy more actively and immediately. The orders communicated by the aides I have mentioned were promptly and enthusiastically obeyed. Advancing <ar13_73>from the ravine by a flank march they deployed into line of battle in the field immediately in front of the headquarters of General Sumner, the Sixty-ninth, under the command of Col. Robert Nugent, forming the first line of attack; the Eighty-eighth, under the command of Maj. James Quinlan, forming the second line; the Sixty-third, under the command of Col. John Burke forming the third line, and the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers, being under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Barnes, forming the fourth line, Col. Ebenezer Pierce having been previously wounded whilst coolly and gallantly sustaining his regiment in their position on the previous day at the passage of the White Oak Swamp in support of Hazzard's battery, and in co-operation with the other regiments of the brigade.


The advance of the regiments with a rapid step, displaying their colors, was marked by an alacrity and enthusiasm which found their expression in vehement cheers, which had the effect of rallying several fragments of regiments that had, after bravely sustaining themselves under an overpowering fire, been forced to retire from the front. A few minutes previous to our entering upon the immediate scene of action my brigade had the good fortune to meet you, general, accompanied by your staff, and you will permit me to say even in this report, which is addressed particularly to you, that your presence and directions were such as to increase the ardor and render still more efficient the disposition of the regiments, for whose good name and success I was at that moment responsible.


Closely under the fire of the enemy we were met by Brigadier-General Butterfield, who, grasping the distinctive green flag of the leading regiment of the brigade, exhibited the ardor of a general who was personally interested in its honor, and thereby renewed and re-excited the spirit of the advance. Coming in contact with the enemy, the Sixty-ninth poured in an oblique fire upon them with a rapid precision and an incessant vigor which had the effect of almost instantly staggering and silencing for some moments a fire which seemed to be almost overwhelming.


In the mean while the Eighty-eighth were thrown forward to the left of the Sixty-ninth, and their rapid and impetuous movement had the effect of outflanking the enemy and perfecting the success which the Sixty-ninth had already to so important an extent achieved. The oblique line thus formed by these two regiments was maintained with decisive resolution until the enemy fell back from the range of fire.


The other two regiments of the brigade the Sixty-third New York Volunteers and the Twenty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers firmly preserved the second line of attack under a fire which was all the more trying to them inasmuch as they were not in a position to return or resist it, but at this time I ordered up the Twenty-ninth to support Major Robertson's battery. Shortly after an officer, who represented and stated himself to be an aide of General McClellan, rode up to me, and desired me earnestly to detail one of my regiments to accompany and support a battery of artillery, which was then going to relieve another, the ammunition of which had been exhausted.


Having only the Sixty-third at my disposal for this duty I at once ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Fowler to accompany and support the battery in question. Col. John Burke, commanding the Sixty-third, having been severely wounded immediately on our coming under the musketry of the enemy and taken to the rear, the command of his regiment devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel Fowler. This officer, however, undertook to disobey the order I issued to support the battery, alleging that he was under special orders issued by you, general, and that mine were consequently without weight. Seeing the importance of having a strong support to the battery, which was rapidly proceeding, to establish the success of the day, and having no doubt whatever that the officer representing himself as an aide of the general-in-chief had the authority which he professed to have, I insisted on Lieutenant-Colonel Fowler immediately executing the order I had given. He refusing to do so, I at once placed him under arrest, and directed Captain O'Neil, the next senior officer of the regiment, to assume the command, and to have the disputed order instantly complied with. I feel extremely gratified in being able to inform you that under the command of Captain O'Neil the gallant Sixty-third promptly supported the battery, which but for them would have been left without support, and standing by it until its work was done, it was withdrawn by orders from the general commanding the corps. They sustained it ably and devotedly.


Night had fallen and darkness had almost obliterated the lines of the contending forces, the desperate fire of which was still violently main-rained, when Colonel Nugent, coming up to me, declared his inability to maintain his position much longer, his ammunition being exhausted and his arms rendered well-nigh unserviceable from the incessant firing of his men, and he begged of me at once to have his ammunition replenished and his regiment relieved until such time as his fire-arms would be so sufficiently cooled as to render them efficient. My aides being at the time with the other regiments of the brigade I did not hesitate to go at once, and as speedily as it was possible for me to ride to the headquarters of the general commanding the corps, with the view of obtaining what seemed to me an important relief for Colonel Nugent and his brave and brilliant regiment. On my way to these headquarters I had the good fortune of meeting Colonel -------, of General McClellan's staff, who most kindly accompanied me to General Sumner. The general directed me, in case the firing had completely ceased and all was tranquil and assured in front, to withdraw all the regiments of my brigade and re-establish them in the position they occupied previous to their advance upon the enemy. Shortly after 9 o'clock p.m. I withdrew my brigade, in conformity with this order, finding everything perfectly satisfactory in front of our line, and our officers and men, despite of the fatigue and excitement they had undergone, in high confidence and spirits. This, general, is all that I have to relate in connection with my brigade serving under your command during the afternoon of the 1st of July.


In justly reporting to you the excellent conduct of the brigade which I have the honor to command, the eagerness with which it rushed to the conflict, and the steadiness and fearlessness with which it bore itself under the closing fire of the enemy that day, I have to mention with sincere and deep regret that the brigade sustained in the death and disabling of many brave officers and men a loss which as yet it is not in my power accurately to estimate. The list of casualties will be furnished as speedily as it is possible to render it exact. In the mean time it is with a good deal of pride, mingled with pain, that I have to mention the wounding of Colonel Burke, of the Sixty-third, so seriously as to incapacitate him and deprive his regiment and the brigade of his intelligent and faithful services, whilst leading his men into the battlefield. With a pride and pain no less sincere and heartfelt I have to report that Capt. Joseph O'Donoghue, of Company C, Eighty-eighth Regiment; Lieutenant Reynolds, of Company A, Sixty-ninth Regiment, and Lieut. Francis J. Hackett, of the Eighty-eighth, are amongst those zealous and brave young officers who suffered most severely in the action.


There are many deaths amongst the men, of which I think it my duty to make especial mention of that of Sergeant Haggerty, of the Sixty-ninth, whose brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Haggerty, fell at the head of the Sixty-ninth New York Militia at the battle of Manassas, and whose noble example of patriotism and soldiership it was the passion of Sergeant Haggerty to emulate.

In closing this report I have to acknowledge with grateful satisfaction the energetic and gallant conduct of Capt. William H. Hogan, Lieuts. John J. Gosson and Temple Emmett, whose labors on the field in directing and sustaining the movements of the brigade were incessant and most effective.


Lieut. James B. Turner, also of my staff, having asked permission to rejoin his company in the Eighty-eighth, behaved in a manner which was in admirable keeping with the brillant character of the chivalrous young regiment.


The bearing of Colonel Nugent, of the Sixty-ninth, was a guarantee, whilst it was an inspiration from the resolute and resistless bravery of his regiment. Maj. James Quinlan, who commanded the Eighty-eighth Regiment, proved himself fully worthy of the command which devolved upon him.


But I must confine this enumeration of gallant officers who preeminently distinguished themselves on the occasion to those whose official position in the brigade renders it no disparagement to others to have them specially mentioned.




General E. V. SUMNER,

Commanding Second Corps d'Armée.


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