Tuesday, May 6, 2014

May 6, 1864: Report of Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw, C.S. Army


The report of South Carolinia Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw on the actions of his division in the Battle of the Wilderness.
Numbers 279. Report of Brigadier General Joseph B. Kershaw, C. S. Army, commanding division, of operations May 4.-6.

On May 4, 1864, in camp near Gordonsville, Va., I received orders from the lieutenant-general commanding to put my division in motion to join the First and Third Corps between Orange Court-House and Fredericksburg. On arriving within 10 miles of the scene of action at the Wilderness we bivouacked on the Catharpin road on the afternoon of the 5th.

At 1 p.m. of the 6th put the command in motion and reached General Lee's position on the Orange plank road with the head of the column, and reported to Lieutenant-General Longstreet, who directed me to relieve the division of Major-General Wilcox, in our front. Proceeding with a staff officer or General Wilcox, in our to indicate the position, I moved the column down the road by a flank, preceding them by some 400 yards. During this movement the enemy attacked in our front on the plank road, and before I reached the scene of action our entire line in front of me fell back in confusion. Returning immediately to the head of my column, which had then arrive about opposite the position occupied by the commanding general, I directed Colonel J. W. Henagan, commanding Kershaw's brigade, to file to the right and form line of battle with his left resting upon the plank road. Before this movement could be completely executed the retreating masses of Heth's and Wilcox's divisions broke through my ranks and delayed Colonel Henagan until they had passed to the rear. Almost immediately the enemy were upon us. Ordering Colonel Henagan forward to meet them with the right of his command, I threw forward the Second South Carolina Regiment on the left of the road and deployed and pushed forward Brigadier-General Humphreys with his brigade, also, on the right of the road, with his right resting on it, General Henagan having passed sufficiently to the right to admit of the deployment of General Humphreys to his left. This formation was made successfully and in good order under the fire of the enemy, who had so far penetrated into the interval between Henagan and the road as to almost enfilade the Second Carolina, which was holding the left of the road, and some batteries which were there stationed. Humphreys was pushed forward as soon as he got into position and made for a time steady progress.

In the mean time General Bryan's brigade coming up, was ordered into position to Henagan's right. That officer, in obedience to orders, had pushed forward and driven the enemy in his front for some distance through the dense thicket which covered the country to the right of the plank road; but they being heavily re-enforced, forced him back to the line which Humphreys had by this time reached. Here the enemy held my three brigades so obstinately that I endeavored to bring up General Wofford's brigade to extend my right, but that officer not having arrived-marching as rear guard to the wagon train, and urged forward by the lieutenant-general commanding-I placed myself at the head of the troops and led in person a charge of the whole command, which drove the enemy to and beyond their original line and occupied their temporary field-works some half mile or more in advance. The lines being rectified, and Field's division and Wofford's brigade, of my own, having arrived, upon the suggestion of Brigadier-General Wofford a movement was organized, under the orders of the lieutenant-general commanding, to attack the enemy in flank from the line of the Orange Railroad, on our right, with the brigades of General Anderson, of Field's division, and Brigadier-General Wofford's, of my own, supported by Mahone's brigade, while we continued to hold the enemy in front, who was at intervals bearing down upon our lines, but always without any success. This movement, concealed from view by the dense wood, was eminently successful, and the enemy was routed and driven pell-mell as far as the Brock road, and pursued by General Wofford to some distance across the plank road where, he halted within a few hundred yards of the Germanna road. Returning with General Wofford up the plank road, and learning the condition of things in front, we met the lieutenant-general commanding coming to the front almost within musket range of the Brock road. Exchanging hasty congratulations upon the success of the morning, the lieutenant-general rapidly planned and directed an attack to be made by Brigadier-General Jenkins and myself upon the position of the enemy upon the Brock road before he could recover from his disaster. The order to me was to break their line and push all to the right of the road toward Fredericksburg. Jenkins' brigade w as put in motion by a flank in the plank road, my division in the woods to the right. I rode with General Jenkins at the head of his command, arranging with him the details of our combined attack. We had not advanced as far as the position still held by Wofford's brigade when two or three shots were fired on the left of the road, and some stragglers came running in from that direction, and immediately a volley was poured into the head of our column from the woods on our right, occupied by Mahone's brigade. By this volley General Longstreet was prostrated by a fearful wound; Brigadier-General Jenkins, Captain Alfred E. Doby, my aide-de-camp, and Orderly Marcus Baum were instantly killed.

As an instance of the promptness and ready presence of mind of our troops I will mention that the leading files of Jenkins' brigade on this occasion instantly faced the firing, and were about to return it; but when I dashed my horse into their ranks, crying, "They are friends," they as instantaneously realized the position of things and fell on their faces where they stood. This fatal casualty arrested the projected movement. The commanding general soon came in person to the front, and ordered me to take position with my right resting on the Orange railroad. Though an advance was made later in the day, my troops became no more engaged, except General Wofford, who moved against the enemy in the afternoon on the left of the plank road, and met with some success in that quarter and suffered some loss.

I have not the particulars of casualties at hand, except those in Kershaw's brigade, which were 57 killed, 239 wounded, and 26 missing. Among the losses of that brigade were 2 of the most gallant and accomplished field officers of the command-Colonel James D. Nance, commanding Third South Carolina Regiment, and Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Gaillard-both gentlemen of education, position, and usefulness in civil life and highly distinguished in the field. Captain Doby had served with me as aide-de-camp from the commencement of the war. He distinguished himself upon every battle-field, and always rendered me the most intelligent and valuable assistance in the most trying hour. Orderly Baum was on detached service and was not called to the front by his necessary duties; but during the entire day he head attached himself to the staff, and continued actively discharging the duties of orderly, although remonstrated with for the unnecessary exposure, until he lost his life. It is most pleasing to re call the fact that, going into this action as they did under the most trying circumstances that soldiers could be placed in, every officer and man bore himself with a devoted firmness, steadiness, and gallantry, worthy of all possible commendation.

J. B. KERSHAW,

Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.

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