Report of Got. Jesse A. Gove, Twenty-second Massachusetts Infantry, of operations April 4-12.
HDQRS. TWENTY-SECOND MASSACHUSETTS REGIMENT,
Camp before Yorktown, Va., April 12, 1862.
CAPTAIN: In compliance with circular from brigade headquarters of this date, requiring commanders of regiments to send in written reports of the events embraced within the time from Camp New Market to the present, &c., I have the honor to make the following statement:
Pursuant to instructions received in the evening of April 3, on the morning of the 4th instant I struck camp and formed my regiment in column at 6 a. m., ready to move at the appointed hour. The brigade of which my regiment formed a part was delayed at the bridge across the southeast branch of Back River from that hour until 8.25 o’clock, partly in consequence of the passing column of General Morell’s brigade, which in the general order was to march at 5 a. m., and partly by the baggage train of General Morell’s and division headquarters. At [p295] length we crossed the bridge, and reaching Big Bethel, formed in column of divisions and closed in mass, and halted about an hour to await the repairing of the bridge. Resuming our march on the Yorktown road we proceeded about 5 miles to Howard’s Creek, which we crossed at 5.30 p. m., and bivouacked for the night. Our baggage trains did not arrive until 2 o’clock the next morning.
At 7 a. m. on Saturday, the 5th instant, took up our line of march in the direction of Yorktown through thick woods for some distance, and over a bad road, rendered almost impassable by a heavy rain, which continued to fall until about 11 a. m. After marching some 6 miles heard firing just in front, both from the enemy’s and our own batteries. My regiment being in the advance in the brigade, followed by the Second Maine, Colonel Roberts, I was directed by the general commanding to form in close column of companies right in front, and move forward to the right of the road just in rear of our batteries. Here we halted for a considerable time, our batteries exchanging shots occasionally with the enemy.
It was now about 12.30 o’clock. After remaining here for a short time I received orders from General Martindale to move across and to the left of the road, and, following him to a point near a house and barn, halted, and directed the men to take off their knapsacks, but to retain their haversacks and canteens, filling the latter with water from a stream near by. Forming again my regiment in close column of companies I moved to the left, leaving the house to the right and rear, to the Warwick road, where I found the Sixty-second Pennsylvania, Colonel Black, deployed and concealed from the view of the enemy by timber to the left. Passing his left I crossed the road and moved some 200 yards to the front, and changing by direction to the left moved directly toward the enemy’s works, and halted when within about 1,500 yards. The Second Maine, in column of companies, was directly in my rear. I was directed by the general commanding to throw out a company of skirmishers to the right and feel the enemy in that direction. I ordered Captain Sampson, Company A, to deploy his company, and Captain Thompson, Company F, to support him, sending Lieutenant- Colonel Griswold with the latter to dispose of the line as he should find necessary after an examination of the ground.
Pending this movement the enemy’s batteries threw two shells over us, while two struck directly in front in an abatis made of felled timber. I was directed to move my regiment under cover of the woods to the left across the Warwick road, throw out skirmishers into the woods, and occupy a line directly in front of the enemy. I immediately deployed Company B, Captain Wardwell, and advanced some 600 yards through the woods, with my right in the edge of the timber and my left resting on the Warwick road, which runs to the left and diagonally to the front of the woods.
From the edge of the woods where the center lay is an unobstructed field, and within 1,100 yards were the enemy’s fortifications, which consisted of four works, mounting at this time nine field artillery guns, but capable of mounting many more. I was immediately followed by the remainder of my regiment, which I advanced through a dense wood and swampy bottom to within 100 yards of the front of the woods, and so disposed as to support the batteries that went down the Warwick road and out into the opening of the timber and those to my right near our first position. As soon as the artillery was in position to my left and rear the enemy opened upon it with a heavy fire, which was vigorously replied to by our own batteries. Cannonading was kept up [p.296] between the batteries during the afternoon, and up to 5.30 p. m. no casualties occurred in my regiment, although my left was exposed to the fire of the enemy’s batteries. Between my line and the enemy’s, and about half way, was a ridge of land running parallel with the works, which obstructed a view of what was immediately in their front.
As I had already received orders to bivouac for the night in my present position, and having applied for and obtained permission to reconnoiter their works, I advanced with Company B, Captain Wardwell, deployed as skirmishers, under a heavy fire, some 500 yards, to near the crest of the ridge. I ordered the skirmishers to lie down, while I advanced, under cover of a clump of trees and boughs, along a road leading to the left of their work, to a position within 600 yards, where with my glass I thoroughly examined their whole line of works. Having completed my observations, I directed the line to return. As soon as we came in sight, they opened a most terrific fire of shot and shell, having the range completely. By careful observations we were enabled to avoid a great deal, by ordering the men to lie down just before their shells exploded and then rise up and move rapidly forward. But for such precautions our casualties would have been much greater. The officers and men behaved under these trying circumstances with great coolness, preserving their intervals and bringing off the field their wounded companions. Many shells were thrown into the woods in the midst of the remainder of the regiment, mortally wounding one man and some others slightly. The whole command behaved with commendable bravery under this their first exposure to the enemy’s fire. Assistant Surgeon Prince was at his post with stretchers, and carried the men to the rear, where Surgeon Warren took them in charge and promptly sent them to the division hospital. Annexed is a list of the wounded. (Nominal list omitted reports 1 officer and 8 men wounded)
The result of my observations while to the front were immediately but informally reported to the general commanding brigade. I now reiterate in substance the facts embraced therein:
From the point of observation to the front of their works was not more than 600 yards. The road leads directly to the left of their works, and above and to the right of the road the stream is dammed, so to flow all the timber land to their left and our right, where Lieutenant-Colonel Griswold, with Companies A and F, were deployed, so as to render it impassable in that immediate vicinity. To my right, under the skirt of the woods, was an earthwork, seen earlier in the day, apparently deserted. In front of their entire line was the Warwick River, of considerable width, with steep banks, forming an admirable ditch to their entire line. A considerable stockade work connects the left and middle works, while to their left and rear is a square work of considerable strength, and apparently well constructed for defense. This commands the road to the right and left, but only one gun was fired from here during the day.
It appeared as though the works were constructed with a view to great strength and powers of resistance, following to that end, in the erection of their works, the meanderings of the stream.
Near the dam and in front of their main work a gun is mounted, which commands the dam, road, and entire front. From this we received the shots earlier in the day, upon our first arrival.
An earthwork could be thrown up in the edge of the woods under cover of night within 1,100 or 1,200 yards, and the same could be [p.297] advanced to within 600 yards, to the crest reached by the skirmishers, and with a suitable earthwork silence their guns.
A large body of infantry was observed in their works, apparently at evening parade, their band playing “Dixie”. The sound of musket balls was distinctly discernible amid the crash of shot and shell, quite reaching us in our retirement. As soon as we got under cover they ceased firing. I remained in the woods until Sunday morning, about 10 o’clock, when, pursuant to orders, I withdrew my regiment and encamped near the house. At night I furnished a picket of 500 men, under the command of Major Tilton, who were stationed to the front and on the left of the Yorktown road, relieving the Forty-fourth New York, under command of Major Chapin.
On Thursday, the 10th instant, moved with the brigade to the right of the road and in rear of Wormley’s Creek.
On Friday morning furnished 300 men for picket, under Lieutenant- Colonel Griswold, and stationed to the front and right of the Yorktown road.
JESSE A. GOVE,
Capt. CHARLES J. POWERS, A. A. G.,
Hdqrs. 1st Brig., Porter’s Div., in Camp before Yorktown, Va.
Official Records of the Rebellion: Volume Eleven, Chapter 23, Part 1: Peninsular Campaign: Reports, pp.294-297
web page Rickard, J (12 January 2007), http://www.historyofwar.org/sources/acw/officialrecords/vol011chap023part1/02007_01.html