Lieut. Gen. Richard S. Ewell commanded the Second Army Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia which included the 5th Va. Inf. Ewell writes about an extended, bloody battle.
Col. W. H. TAYLOR, Assistant Adjutant-Gen.
March 20, 1865
When Gen. Grant crossed the Rapidan, R. D. Johnston's (North Carolina) brigade, of Rodes' division, was at Hanover Junction; the Twenty-first Georgia, of Doles' brigade, same division, and Hoke's (North Carolina) brigade, of Early's division, were in North Carolina. About 13,500 effective infantry and 2,000 artillery were present.
By order of Gen. Lee, his corps and division commanders met him on Monday, May 2, 1864, at the signal station on Clark's Mountain. He then gave it as his opinion that the enemy would cross by some of the fords below us, as Germanna or Ely's. They began to do so next day. About noon of the 4th we moved from our camps on the Rapidan toward Locust Grove, on the old turnpike from Orange Court-House to Fredericksburg. Johnson's division and Nelson's battalion of artillery bivouacked 2 miles south of Locust Grove, Rodes just behind them, and Early at Locust Grove. The artillery was close behind Early; Ramseur's brigade, of Rodes' division, with three regiments from each of the other divisions, was left on picket. Next morning I moved down the pike, sending the First North Carolina Cavalry, which I found in my front, on a road that turned to the left toward Germanna Ford. About 8 a.m. I sent Maj. Campbell Brown, of my staff, to Gen. Lee to report my position. In reply he instructed me to regulate my march by Gen. A. P. Hill, whose progress down the plank road I could tell by the firing at the head of his column, and informed me that he preferred not to bring on a general engagement before Gen. Longstreet came up.
Advancing slowly with John M. Jones' brigade, of Johnson's division, in advance, prepared for action, I came about 11 a.m. in sight of a column of the enemy crossing the pike from Germanna Ford toward the plank road. The Stonewall Brigade (Walker's) had been sent down a left-hand road, driving in the enemy's pickets within 1 1/2 miles of Germanna Ford. Being a good deal ahead of Gen. Hill, I halted and again reported through Lieut.-Col. Pendleton, of my staff, receiving substantially the same instructions as before. Just after they came the enemy demonstrated against Jones' brigade, and I placed Battle's brigade, of Rodes' division, to support it, with Doles' on Battle's right. They were instructed not to allow themselves to become involved, but to fall back slowly if pressed. Some artillery posted near the pike on Jones' front was withdrawn. Soon afterward the enemy fell suddenly upon Jones' right flank and front, broke his brigade, and drove it back upon Battle's, which it disordered. Daniel's brigade, of Rodes' division, and Gordon's, of Early's, were soon brought up and regained the lost ground, the latter capturing, by a dashing charge, several hundred prisoners and reliving Doles, who, though hard pressed, had held his ground. Gen. John M. Jones and his aide-de-camp, Capt. Robert D. Early, fell in a desperate effort to rally their brigade. I placed it in reserve to reorganize; Battle's brigade, which rallied in time to do good service, taking its place in the line which was now formed on the ground first occupied. The brigades were as follows: From right to left of my line, Daniel's, Doles', Battle's (Rodes' division); George H. Steuart's, The Stonewall (Walker's), Stafford's (Johnson's division); Pegram's, Hays', Gordon's (Early's division). Battle's left and Steuart's right rested on the pike.
Slight works were at once thrown up and several partial attacks of the enemy repulsed. In a counter attack by Steuart's and Battle's brigades two 24-pounder howitzers, brought up the pike within 800 yards of our works, were captured. The troops were brought back to the works after posting skirmishers to hold the captured pieces till dark, when they were brought off. Gen. Stafford was mortally wounded in a similar attack by his own and the Stonewall brigade late in the afternoon. The fighting closed at dusk with the repulse of a fierce attack on Pegram's brigade. Gen. Pegram was severely wounded, and Col. Hoffham (Thirty-first Virginia) succeeded to the command. This evening Gen. Ramseur came up with the picket regiments, which rejoined their brigades. Ramseur went to the extreme right of my line next morning.
The 6th of May was occupied in partial assaults on my line (now greatly strengthened) and in efforts to find my flank, which were promptly checked. About 9 a.m. I got word from Gen. Gordon, through Gen. Early in person, that his scouts reported the enemy's right exposed, and he urged turning it, but his views were opposed by Gen. Early, who thought the attempt unsafe. This necessitated a personal examination, which was made as soon as other duties permitted, but in consequence of this delay and other unavoidable causes the movement was not begun until nearly sunset. After examination I ordered the attack, and placed Robert D. Johnston's brigade, of Rodes' division (that morning arrived from Hanover Junction), to support Gordon. Each brigade as its front was cleared was to unite in the attack. Hays was partly moved out of his works to connect with Gordon. The latter attacked vehemently, and when checked by the darkness had captured, with slight loss, a mile of the works held by the Sixth Corps, 600 prisoners, and 2 brigadier-generals-Seymour and Shaler. Of the force encountered not an organized regiment remained and nearly all had thrown away their arms. They made no attempt to recover the lost ground, but threw back their line, so as to give up Germanna Ford entirely. Maj. Daniel, of Gen. Early's staff, joined in Gordon's attack and was desperately wounded and maimed for life while gallantly assisting in this brilliant movement. On May 7 no fighting took place except that in extending to join Gen. Hill's left, Gen. Ramseur came upon a division of the Ninth Corps entrenching. This he put to flight by a sudden attack of his skirmishers, capturing several hundred piled knapsacks and occupying the ground. On the night of the 7th the general commanding sent me word to extend to the right, in conformity to the movements of the troops there, and if at daylight I found no large force in my front to follow Gen. Anderson toward Spotsylvania Court-House. This was done. On the march orders were received placing Gen. Early in command of Hill's corps, transferring Hays' brigade to Johnson's division, and consolidating both Louisiana brigades, under Gen. Hays, and assigning R. D. Johnston's brigade to Early's division, of which Gen. Gordon came in command. After a very distressing march through intense heat and thick dust and smoke from burning woods, my troops reached Spotsylvania Court-House about 5 p.m., just in time for Rodes to repel an attempt to turn Anderson's right, which rested on the----road. Rodes advanced nearly half a mile, when his left, coming upon strong works, was checked and he was forced to halt. Johnson's division formed on his right. Gordon remained in reserve. On the 9th the lines were defined and entrenched. There were two salient-one at Rodes' right brigade (Gen. Doles'), the other at Johnson's center, where I occupied a high open point-which if held by the enemy would enable their artillery to command our line. Johnson's right was connected by skirmishers with Hill's (Early's) left. A second line from Rodes' left center to Hill's left, cutting off the salient, was laid out by the chief engineer and built and occupied by Gordon's division. Heavy skirmishing took place. Gen. Hays was severely wounded. May 10, the enemy's batteries getting an enfilade and reverse fire on Gordon's line, he was withdrawn and placed in rear of Rodes' left and Anderson's right (Kershaw's division), where an attack was expected. About 4 p.m. I learned that Gen. Doles' skirmishers were driven into his works. He was ordered to regain his skirmish line at any cost, but while preparing to do so his lines were attacked and broken, he losing 300 prisoners. The right of Daniel's brigade was exposed and fell back to the second line already mentioned. Battle's brigade and Gordon's division were rapidly brought up, and the former thrown across the head of the enemy's column, while the leading brigade (R. D. Johnston's) of the latter, with them remnants of Doles' and the right of Daniel's brigades, struck them on one flank, and the Stonewall (Walker's), of Johnson's division, on the other. In a short time the enemy was driven from our works, leaving 100 dead within them and a large number in front.
Our loss, as near as I can tell, was 650, of whom 350 were prisoners. Capt. Thomas T. Turner, my aide-de-camp, was very efficient in rallying the fugitives, and was severely wounded while assisting in recapturing several pieces of artillery of which the enemy had got temporary possession.
Wednesday, May 11, it rained hard all day and no fighting took place. Toward night the enemy were reported withdrawing from Anderson's front and were heard moving to our right. Scouts stated them to be retiring to Fredericksburg. I received orders to withdraw the artillery, which was done along Johnson's front. Soon after midnight Maj.-Gen. Johnson reported the enemy massing before him, and Gen. Long was directed to return the artillery to the entrenchments, and Gen. Gordon ordered to be ready to support Johnson. Different artillery was sent back, and owing to the darkness and to ignorance of the location it only reached the lines in time to be taken. The enemy attacked in heavy force at earliest dawn, and though gallantly resisted, their numbers and the want of artillery enabled them to break through our lines, capturing Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson, Brig. Gen. G. H. Steuart, about 2,000 men and 20 pieces of artillery. The smoke of the guns and the mist kept the air dark until a comparatively late hour, thereby assisting the enemy, as he was enabled to mass his troops as he chose. They poured through our lines in immense numbers, taking possession to the right and left of the Salient and keeping up a constant fire of artillery and musketry for twenty-four hours.
Gen. Gordon was heavily engaged-one brigade broken, and its commander (Robert D. Johnston) wounded, but he held his ground, drove out the enemy in his immediate front by a strong effort, and regained a portion of our works to the right of the Salient. Their main effort was evidently against Rodes' position to the left of the Angle, and here the fighting was of the most desperate character. Gen. Rodes moved Daniel's brigade from its works to meet the enemy. Gen. Kershaw extended so as to allow Ramseur to be withdrawn, and as Daniel's right was unprotected Ramseur was sent in there. He retook the works to Daniel's right along his whole brigade front by a charge of unsurpassed gallantry, but the Salient was still held by the enemy, and a most deadly fire poured on his right flank. Accordingly Harris' (Mississippi) brigade, which came to my assistance about 9 a.m., was sent to Ramseur's right, but as it still failed to fill the trenches, McGowan's (South Carolina) brigade, which arrived an hour later, was ordered to the same point. Only part of this brigade succeeded in reaching the trenches and joining Harris' brigade. Spite of the terrible flank fire to which they were yet exposed, the brave troops of these three brigades held their ground till 3 a.m. of May 13, when ordered back to the new line. Gen. Daniel was killed and Gen. Ramseur severely wounded early in the day, but the latter refused to leave the field.
The nature of the struggle will be apparent from the fact that after the loss of Johnson's division (before sunrise) my force barely numbered 8,000, the re-enforcements about 1,500 more. Gen. Edward Johnson estimated the enemy's force at this part of the field at over 40,000, and I have every reason to believe this a moderate calculation. The engagement was spoken of in Northern papers as a general attack by their army. It was met only by my corps and three brigades sent to my aid, and after lasting with unintermitted vigor from 4.30 a.m. till 4 p.m. of May 12, ceased by degrees, leaving us in possession of two-thirds of the works first taken from us and of four of the captured guns, which the enemy had been unable to haul off. These guns were withdrawn by hand to the McCool house, and Gen. Long was directed to send after them at night. Maj. Page, whom he instructed to get them, left the duty to an ordnance sergeant, who failed to find them, and they were again allowed to fall into the enemy's hands.
As it was unadvisable to continue efforts to retake the Salient with the force at my command, a new line was laid out during the day by Gen. Lee's chief engineer some 800 yards in rear of the first and constructed at night. After midnight my forces were quietly withdrawn to it and artillery placed in position; but his efforts and losses on the 12th seemed to have exhausted the enemy, and all was quiet till May 18, when a strong force advanced past the McCool house toward our new line. When well within range Gen. Long opened upon them with thirty pieces of artillery, which, with the fire of our skirmishers, broke and drove them back with severe loss. We afterward learned that they were two fresh divisions, nearly 10,000 strong just come up from the rear.
On May 19 Gen. Lee directed me to demonstrate against the enemy in my front, as he believed they were moving to his right and wished to ascertain. As they were strongly entrenched in front I obtained leave to move round their right. After a detour of several miles through roads impassable for my artillery I came on the enemy prepared to receive me. My force was about 6,000, his much larger. His position being developed and my object attained, I was about to retire, when he attacked me. Part of my line was shaken, but Pegram's brigade, of Early's division (Col. Hoffman commanding), and Ramseur's, of Rodes', held their ground so firmly that I maintained my position till night-fall, then withdrew unmolested. My loss was about 900 killed, wounded, and missing.
Next day Gen. Early returned to his division and Gen. Gordon was put in command of one composed of his own brigade and the remnants of Johnson's division. Hoke's brigade (Col. Lewis commanding) returned to Early's division, and the Twenty-first Georgia Regt. to Doles' brigade. We moved to Hanover Junction, where my corps took the right of the line. After some days' skirmishing we marched toward the Totopotomoy. When we moved I reported to the commanding general that in consequence of a severe attack of diarrhea I would leave Gen. Early in command while the troops were on the march, and on Friday I rode in an ambulance to Mechanicsville, remaining in my tent Saturday and Sunday, May 28 and 29.
On Sunday I reported that I would be ready for duty in two days more, and sent a certificate of Staff Surgeon McGuire to the same effect. The commanding general relieved me on Sunday, placing Gen. Early in temporary command of my corps. I reported for duty on Tuesday, four days after my at tack, and remainder over a week with the army, wishing to place the question of health beyond a doubt, but the change of commanders was made permanent, and on June 14 I was placed in command of the Defenses of Richmond. The losses of my corps from May 4 to 27 were, it will be seen, very heavy, and including prisoners amounted to over one-half. Of the 14 generals who began the campaign under me, Gen.'s John M. Jones, L. A. Stafford, and Junius Daniel were killed; Gen.'s John Pegram, Harry T. Hays, James A. Walker, and Robert D. Johnston wounded; Gen.'s Edward Johnson and George H. Steuart, taken prisoners and Gen. Early most of the time detached. Gen. Jones had been twice wounded-at Gettysburg and at Mine Run. I considered his loss an irreparable one to his brigade. Gen. Edward Johnson once said of Gen. Stafford that he was the bravest man he ever saw. Such a compliment from one himself brave almost to a fault and habitually sparing of praise needs no remark. Gen. Daniel's services at Gettysburg, as well as on the bloody field where he fell, were of the most distinguished character. Gen. Walker was wounded in an attempt to stem the attack on his division early on May 12.
My staff during this campaign consisted of Lieut. Col. A. S. Pendleton and Maj. Campbell Brown, assistant adjutant-general; Col. A. Smead (colonel of artillery), assistant inspector-general; Maj. B. H. Greene, engineer; Lieut. Thomas T. Turner, aide-de-camp; Lieut. Col. William Allan, chief of ordnance; Surg. Hunter McGuire, medical director; Majs. John D. Roges and A. M. Garber, quartermasters (Maj. Harman having been transferred just before the campaign opened); Maj. W. J. Hawks and Capt. J. J. Lock, commissaries of subsistence. All except Maj.'s Brown, Greene, and Rogers and Lieut. Turner, had been of the staff of Lieut.-Gen. Jackson. That officer should be held hardly more remarkable for his brilliant campaigns than for the judgment he almost invariably showed in his sections of men. It would be difficult, without personal knowledge, to appreciate Col. Pendleton's great gallantry; his coolness and clearness of judgment under every trial; his soldier-like and cheerful performance of every duty. On one occasion I expressed a wish to recommend him to a vacant brigade, but he declined, thinking his services more valuable on the staff. Maj. Hawks deserves the highest praise I can give him for his ability and zeal, so impressing me that I have often wished he could have a command in the line if it were possible to fill his place on the staff. It is but simple justice to say that the quiet and efficient manner in which Surgeon McGuire performed the duties of his important department left nothing to be desired, while Col. Allan's abilities were recognized at headquarters by both compliments, and promotion. Maj. Brown had been with me from the first battle of Manassas, and on nearly every field had been intrusted with important duties. On no occasion did I have reason to regret my confidence in his coolness, judgment, and discretion. I also wished to recommend him for promotion to a Tennessee brigade, but he declined. Probably no officer had more distinguished himself by repeated acts of personal bravery and dash than Lieut. T. T. Turner, or with so slight personal advancement. Up to the time when he was wounded at Spotsylvania Court-House, he had constantly been foremost wherever opportunities presented themselves. Lieuts. Harper Carroll and John Taliaferro, acting aides-de-camp, had horses shot under them on May 12, and displayed much personal gallantry.
My total loss at the Wilderness was 1,250 killed and wounded. The burial parties from two divisions reported interring over 1,100 of the enemy. The third and largest made no report. When we moved probably one-third or more were still unburied of those who were within reach of our lines. At Spotsylvania, though the enemy held the ground for a week, we found on regaining it many of their dead still unburied, while the numerous graves showed their loss to have been immense. It just have exceeded ours in the proportion of at least 6 to 1, taking all the engagements together.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. S. EWELL, Lieut.-Gen.
Bibliographic Information : Letter Reproduced from The War of The Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I., Volume 36. part I, Reports, Serial No. 67, , Broadfoot Publishing Company, Wilmington, NC, 1997.