Report of Colonel Benjamin F. Scribner, 38th Indiana Infantry, commanding First Brigade.

 

HDQRS. FIRST BRIG.. FIRST DIV., 14TH ARMY CORPS,
In the Field, near Chattanooga, Tenn., September 25, 1863.

Union Colonel Benjamin ScribnerCapt. B. H. POLK,
Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division.


CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part my command took in the battles of the 19th and 20th instant:
On the evening of the 18th instant we marched from Bird's Mill, on the Cove road, and passing headquarters at Crawfish Spring we arrived at daylight at the intersection of the La Fayette and Chattanooga roads, about 10 miles from the latter place. We took position in the center of the division, on the left and at right angles with the road, the Second Brigade on the other side with its right thrown forward, the First Michigan Battery, Lieutenant Van Pelt, near the road between the two brigades.
I formed in two lines; the Thirty-third Ohio, Colonel Moore, Second Ohio, Lieutenant-Colonel Maxwell, in the first line; the Tenth Wisconsin, Lieutenant-Colonel Ely, and the Ninety-fourth Ohio, Maj. R. P. Hutchins, the second line. The Thirty-eighth Indiana, Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin, was sent farther up the road to protect our rear from surprise. Skirmishers from the whole division were thrown forward, and Major Beatty, Second Ohio, was placed in charge. While thus disposed General Brannan's division arrived and passed up the road and into the woods on our left. It was rumored that a part of General Granger's forces on our left had cut off a brigade of the enemy and that General Brannan was going in to capture them. Sharp firing was soon heard in that direction, and soon after I was ordered to change the direction of my lines, with my rear on the road, and advance, conforming as much as possible with the direction of the regular brigade on my left. I left the second brigade in its position on the road; also my battery, supported by Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin, Thirty-eighth Indiana. When the nature of the movement became more developed, and a position for the battery discovered, I sent for instructions as to the disposition of the battery, and was ordered to let it follow in my rear; also that General Palmer was on my right, and was cautioned not to fire into his skirmishers. About this time my line became sharply engaged, and the enemy receding, we closely pressed them. The woods impeding the progress of the battery, Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin hurried forward and took position on the right of the Thirty-third Ohio, having left two companies with the battery. Success appeared to have followed the movement of our left, who were pressing forward with cheers. This state of things extended along my line also. Passing over the enemy's killed and wounded, overtaking and capturing prisoners attended our progress until we arrived at a corn-field in our front, over which we had driven the enemy. Here their battery essayed to get into position, but their horses and men were shot down as often as attempted. Here I was cautioned not to fire into Palmer on my right; that we had passed over a part of his skirmishers, and the exact spot was pointed out on an elevation on my right where they were lying down.
The advance on my left having ceased, I halted in front of the field and placed the battery in position, bearing to my left and the point where the enemy attempted to place a battery. About this time I was informed by my skirmishers that the enemy was passing to our right. I immediately sent a staff officer to notify General Palmer, who, after proceeding a short distance in the supposed direction of General Palmer's line, found himself within 20 paces and confronting a strong skirmish line of the enemy. After adroitly making his escape, and being unable to find my intermediate commander, [he] reported in person the presence of the enemy on the right to Major-General Thomas, who immediately directed him to order any forces that could be found in the woods to meet the enemy in his new position. Three separate commands were thus notified. I was immediately after informed that my right was being turned. Dr. Miller, my brigade surgeon, coming up, reported the enemy in my rear; that he had been in their hands. As information like this came in I dispatched the same to the general commanding division, and threw a company of skirmishers to my right and rear. Scarcely had their deployment been completed when the enemy opened upon them a destructive fire. To form a front to the right by causing the Thirty-eighth Indiana to change their front to the rear and to change the Tenth Wisconsin to the right of the Thirty-eighth Indiana and limber the battery to the rear, between the two regiments, employed but a few moments; this, too, under a heavy fire. The enemy charged down upon me along my whole line, pouring in canister and shell. I had now dispatched every staff officer and orderly with information of my position, asking for support, expressing my intention to hold my place with desperation until assistance arrived; for I felt that the safety of the forces on my left depended upon holding this position. I had observed a line of our forces in my rear passing to the left. I sent to the officer for assistance, but he had other orders. Thus, contending with an overwhelming force in my front and on my flank, was [fought] one of the most stubborn and heroic fights that ever fell to my lot to witness. The gallant Lieutenant Van Pelt was shot down at his guns, having fired 64 rounds into the midst of the enemy as they came charging down the hill, the two regiments on the right and left of the battery at the same time pouring in a well-directed fire. The enemy would hesitate but a moment, when they continued to press on. Their augmenting forces at length broke my lines, and forced me to fall back. The nature of my line, being in a right angle, the intricacies of the woods, overwhelming numbers, and the impetuosity of the charge rendered it impossible to withdraw in order, and not until they had reached a point near the road could order be restored. To show the impossibility of my brigade, unsupported, to hold the place, I would respectfully refer the general commanding to the fact that a force more than four times as strong as mine was only able, after many hours' hard fighting, to regain my position.
About 4 o'clock in the afternoon, together with the Second and Third Brigades of this division, we took another position on the left of General Brannan, and at about sundown advanced into the woods toward the left of the position I had occupied in the morning to the support of General Johnson. Here we got possession of many of our wounded, who had been left upon the field in the morning. General Johnson, on our right, was vigorously attacked, which soon passed over to our position, the enemy's shells bursting among us. My extreme left was also fiercely assaulted by the enemy, who, by accident or design, fell upon my flank, when, it being so dark that nothing but the flash of the guns could be seen, I ordered my left to fall back into the edge of a clear space in the woods. From this position we passed a short distance to the rear and right, where we remained during the night.
Before daylight on the morning of the 20th we took up a position on the left of General Johnson, the Second Brigade of our division on my right and the regular brigade on my left. I formed in two lines on the crest of a wooded slope. Between my front and the woods was a clear space, averaging 75 yards. This space was enfiladed by two guns of the Fourth Indiana Battery. Here we built temporary breastworks in front of both lines, and got all things arranged, when the enemy advanced upon us in strong force, driving in our skirmishers and approaching to the edge of the clearing with their battle-flag (a large white ball in a blue field). My men were cautioned to hold their fire. The second line closed up to the first, and at the opportune moment the first line fired; then the second, which caused the enemy to fall back in haste and disorder, leaving the ground strewn with their dead and wounded. Three times in succession the enemy made similar attempts to drive us from our position, but were as often repulsed. Sometimes they would swing to the right in front of the Second Brigade, then to the left on the regulars, but without success. In the afternoon several bodies of troops passed into the woods beyond and in rear of our left, who soon became hotly engaged, and after some hours were forced to fall back. They were seen coming out of the woods on our left and rear. This having been observed by General Baird, commanding division, he promptly ordered me to form my second line, faced to the rear in an acute angle, and successively formed the troops as they emerged from the woods upon the prolongation of this line. Wherever a regiment or party of men could be found, they were persuaded to extend or support this line, so that when the enemy, flushed with success, came charging from the woods into the corn-field in our rear, they met with a deadly fire from this line, which soon compelled them to fall back, being closely pressed by the troops who had just been driven off. General Baird then apprehending that they would swing round upon us, our first line was put upon its guard, while the Second Ohio and Tenth Wisconsin, of my second line, and the regulars, together with some other detached forces, proceeded to strengthen our left, hastily throwing up barricades of logs.
These preparations had scarcely been made before the enemy came upon our left flank. Having been repulsed, they stubbornly persisted, and only after being repelled several times did they abandon their design. Thus the day was spent. During the intervals of the heavy attacks, constant skirmishing was kept up by the sharpshooters. About 5 o'clock in the afternoon the enemy, with great zeal and force, seemed to attack simultaneously our whole line. They had got a battery in position, and rained upon us shot and shell. Everything assumed a discouraging aspect. Our ammunition was almost gone; staff officers and details who had been sent for it returned without it. About this time I observed a column of our forces from our right passing to our left and rear. Then not knowing that the army was falling back, I encouraged my men to believe that re-enforcements were going around our left to turn the enemy's right, and urged them to economize the few rounds of ammunition they had left, and hold out until this maneuver could be accomplished. About this time an officer of the regular brigade notified me that the general ordered my command to retire. He not having been announced on the general's staff, I was unwilling to obey, and called his attention to the supposed re-enforcements and the fact that hitherto we had driven them off. Soon after this I observed the troops who were passing to my left were not in such good order, and that the two guns on my right were retiring, and that the Second Brigade was falling back. At this juncture, Captain Cary, of the general's staff, came up and delivered General Baird's order to fall back, firing. This order I promptly gave. We moved to the rear into the woods, across the Chattanooga road, my design being to join the forces who had been fighting there all the afternoon. Here we halted and reformed our lines as best we could in the dark, when I was ordered to move to Rossville.
At noon on the 21st we took position in the gaps on the left of General Negley, forming breastworks, but met with no enemy save their skirmishers and sharpshooters, and a few shots from the enemy's shells. In this position I only had one man wounded.
In the night the army fell back upon Chattanooga. My command was designated as rear guard, and, according to instructions, at 4 o'clock in the morning followed the army to this place.
Before closing this report, already made too long, I would respectfully call the attention of the general commanding to the good conduct of the officers and men of my command. I have had but few stragglers; my missing are mostly in the hands of the enemy or cut off. The service and the country lost heavily when Major Ellis, Thirty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and Lieutenant Van Pelt, commanding battery, were killed. Lieutenant-Colonel Maxwell, commanding Second Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in the absence of Colonel McCook, who is absent on special duty, was dangerously wounded by two shots on the first day, after [performing] many praiseworthy acts. He was succeeded by Major Beatty, who filled his place with credit; he, also, was wounded late on the second day, and is supposed to be a prisoner. Lieutenant-Colonel Ely and Major McKercher, of the Tenth Wisconsin, are prisoners, with all of the command they took into the fight, with the exception of 2 officers and 32 men. The noble conduct of these officers and regiments greatly augments the loss. I feel greatly indebted to all of my regimental commanders for their gallant bearing, and the hearty support they have rendered me during these days of trial. Colonel Moore, commanding Thirty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin, commanding Thirty-eighth Indiana, are worthy of especial praise. I would also commend the gentlemen of my staff for the faithful performance of their arduous duties. Lieut. George Devol, acting assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenant Kelso, acting commissary of subsistence; and Lieutenant Bird, acting assistant quartermaster, are worthy of especial praise. Lieutenant Hollister, aide-de-camp, was thrown from his horse and seriously disabled early in action in the faithful performance of his duties.
I went into action on the morning of the 19th instant with 120 officers and 1,759 men, and came out with 70 officers and 872 men; a loss of 50 officers and 887 men in killed, wounded, and prisoners.(*) For their names and for further particulars I would respectfully refer to the accompanying papers.


B. F. SCRIBNER,
Colonel Thirty-eighth Indiana, Commanding First Brigade

 

 

 

 

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