Reports of Wilderness & Spotsylvania

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Numbers 287. Report of Brigadier General John B. Gordon, C. S. Army,
commanding Gordon's brigade and Early's division, of operations May 5-14.


July 5, 1864.

MAJOR: I beg to submit the following report of the operations of my brigade from May 5 to 14, 1864:

On the morning of May 5,  I was ordered by Major-General Early to move along the old stone pike from Locust Grove in the direction of the Wilderness Tavern. When within 3 or 4 miles of the latter point I discovered the enemy in my front, rapidly retreating, and was informed by Major-General Early and Lieutenant-General Ewell that the enemy was driving back our line in confusion, and received orders to form my brigade at once on the right of the pike, for the purpose of checking the enemy's advanced and saving the artillery, which at that time was moving back along the pike under the enemy's fire. I moved my brigade by the right flank and formed at right angles to the road with as much expedition as the nature of the ground and the fire from the enemy's artillery and advancing infantry would admit. Some of my men were killed and wounded before the first regiment was placed in position. As soon as the formation was completed I ordered the brigade forward. The advance was made with such spirit that the enemy was broken and scattered along the front of my brigade, but still held his ground or continued his advance on my right and left. For the protection and relief of my flanks I left a thin line (Thirty-first and Thirty-eighth Georgia Regiments) to protect my front, and changed front to the right with moved directly upon the flank of the line on my right, capturing several hundred prisoners, among them one entire regiment, with its officers and colors. At the same time I caused the regiment on the left (Twenty-sixth Georgia) to make a similar movement to the left, which was also successful. By this time portions of Battle's brigade rallied, and with other troops of Rhodes' division came forward and assisted in driving the enemy back and establishing the line which was afterward held. On the night of the 5th I was ordered by Major-General Early to move by the flank and take position on the extreme left of the Confederate line.

Early on the morning of the 6th I reconnoitered the enemy's position and ascertained that his right flank, resting in a dense woodland, was left unprotected, and that his whole force on this art of his line was apparently occupied in repeated assaults upon the front of Johnson's division. Scouting parties were sent 2 or more miles to the rear of the enemy's right, and reported that no support could be found, and that the only precautionary measure taken by the enemy was the posting of vedettes. At a distance of 400 yards from this flank of the enemy lay an open field, affording a most advantageous position for forming a line out of view and at right angles to the general direction of his battle line. These facts were reported and permission asked to move with my own brigade, properly supported, upon this exposed flank. Late in the afternoon of May 6 I received orders from Major-General Early to form my brigade in this open field, and with one brigade as a support (Johnston's North Carolina) to make the attack. As soon as these brigades could be gotten into position I deployed skirmishers in front and began the movement. A line of skirmishers covering this flank of the enemy readily gave way, and surprised by the sudden and vigorous attack the troops on his right deserted their trenches and fled. Repeated efforts were made by brigade commanders to change front and check our advance. These commands were rapidly broken and scattered. The advance of my brigade was steady and uninterrupted until the approach of darkness in the dense woodland created confusion in my two right regiments. This, however, was soon remedied, and my personal observation satisfied me that one hour more of daylight now would have insured the capture of a considerable portion of the Sixth Army Corps. Of the entire force which my brigade encountered not an organized regiment was left. The rout was complete. Large numbers left their arms at the works or threw them away, with knapsacks, &c., in their fight. The enemy's killed, according to the count kept by the officer commanding pioneer corps, amounted to nearly 400, among them one brigade commander. Several hundred prisoners were captured, among these two brigade commanders-Generals Seymour and Shaler. Besides these, many hundreds were passed to the rear and made their escape in the darkness.

I must be permitted in this connection to express the opinion that had the movement been made at an earlier hour and properly supported, each brigade being brought into action as its front was cleared, it would have resulted in a decided disaster to the whole right wing of General Grant's army, if not in its entire disorganization. The loss in my brigade amounted to about 50.


The march to Spotsylvania Court-House was begun by my brigade, with Early's division, on the night of the 7th. On the morning of the 8th I was placed in command of this division, consisting of three brigades-Pegram's (Virginia), Johnston's (North Carolina), and Gordon's (Georgia)-and on the afternoon of the same day reached Spotsylvania Court-House. On the afternoon of the 10th I received orders to move my division rapidly from the left of our lines to the support of Rhodes' division, now being heavily assaulted by the enemy. When my division reached this position the enemy had carried the portion of work held by Doles' brigade, Rhodes' division, and had reached a point more than 100 yards in rear of the line. My leading brigade (Johnston's North Carolina) was immediately formed, by direction of Lieutenant-General Ewell, across the head of the enemy's column and ordered to charge. In the mean time Gordon's brigade was also formed and ordered forward. The enemy was driven back with considerable loss, and our lines re-established. The loss in these two brigades was light.


Orders from Lieutenant-General Ewell directed that I should use my division as a support to either Johnson's or Rodes' division, or to both, as circumstances should require. I had, therefore, placed my largest brigade (Gordon's, now Evans') in rear of Rhodes' right and Johnson's left, and directly in front of the McCool house. The other two brigades were held in reserve near the Harris house. During the night of the 11th I received information from Major-General Johnson that the enemy was massing in his front, and under the general instructions I had received from corps headquarters I sent another brigade (Pegram's)to report to him. At the earliest dawn I heard musketry in the direction of the Salient, held by Jones' brigade, of Johnson's division, and at once ordered my other brigade (Johnston's) to move toward the firing. The situation at this time was as follows; Evans' brigade was in position immediately in rear of the left of Johnson's division and Rhodes' right. Pegram's brigade was placed by General Johnson in the trenches near his left and to the left of the Salient, and Johnston's brigade was moving from the Harris house toward the Salient. The check given by Jones' brigade to the enemy's assaulting column was so slight that no time was afforded for bringing into position the supporting force. No information was brought to me of the success of the enemy, and in the early dawn and dense fog I was unable to learn anything of the situation until Johnston's brigade met in the woodland between the McCool house and the Salient with the head of the enemy's column.

Brigadier-General Johnston was wounded, and his brigade was soon overpowered and driven back. I at once discovered that the situation was critical, and ordered Colonel Evans to move his brigade at a double-quick from its position near the trenches to the McCool house, and sent a staff officer to ascertain the position of Pegram's brigade, and, if possible, to withdraw it to the same point. This was promptly done. The fog was so dense that I could not ascertain the progress of the enemy, except by the sound of his musketry and the direction from which his balls came. At this point (the McCook house) I ordered Colonel Evans to send in three of his regiments to ascertain the enemy's position and check his advance until the other troops could be gotten into line. The attacking column, it was ascertained had advanced considerably to the right of this point, and the temporary check given by these regiments afforded only time enough for moving the remainder of Evans' and Pegram's brigade farther around to the right. A line was soon formed near the Harris house, and these two brigades ordered to attack. They charged with the greatest spirit, driving the enemy with heavy loss from nearly the whole of the captured works from the left of Wilcox's division to the Salient on General Johnson's line, and fully one-fourth of a mile beyond. Several of the lost guns were recaptured by the Thirteenth Virginia Regiment, of Pegram's brigade, and brought back to the branch near the McCool house. Unfortunately, the artillery officer to whom these guns were reported failed to find them and bring them off. The enemy still held a portion of the line to the left of the Salient, and during the night of the 12th the troops were withdrawn to a new line in rear of the Harris house. The loss in these two brigades was not heavy.

I regret that a report of the casualties in these engagements has not been furnished me by the brigade commanders. Two of these brigades are not now under my command.

I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,



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