6 - Battle of Fort Stevens (Series I, Volume 37)

No 44: Report of Brig. Gen Frank Wheaton, U.S. Army, commanding Second Brigade. September 1, 1864 [Excerpt]

Major: In this connection, I desire to report the part taken by my command and the Third Brigade, of this division, in the operations around Fort Stevens, Washington, D.C., July 11 and 12, and of which no report has been called for:

Upon arrival at Washington, July 11 at 12 pm., I was directed by General Wright to move toward Chain Bridge. While marching up Pennsylvania avenue, in compliance with the instructions of the corps commander, I was halted by Colonel Taylor, chief of staff, Department of Washington, and informed by him that the enemy was driving in our picket-line and seriously threatening Fort Stevens on Seventh street, and received through him General Augur's instructions to march at once in that direction instead of Chain Bridge, as first ordered. I turned my brigade up Eleventh street, and while on the march to Fort Stevens was passed by General Wright, commanding the corps, and received his verbal instructions to mass near Crystal Spring, in the neighborhood of Fort Stevens, where we arrived at 4 o'clock in the p.m.

At 5 p.m the force outside of Fort Stevens, consisting of a portion of the Veterans Reserve Corps, War Department clerks and citizen volunteers, were driven in toward the fort by a portion of the enemy's forces under Early. At the same time I was ordered to move 500 men of my brigade out to recover the line held in the afternoon. This was successfully accomplished before 7 by the Ninety-eighth Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Col. J.F. Ballier; One hundred and second Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Maj. Thomas McLaughlin, and One hundred and thirty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Capt. James McGregor, which deployed as skirmishers, drove the enemy's advance back to their main lines. The position was strengthened at dark by the Ninety-third Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers, Lieut. Col. J.S. Long, and Sixty-second Ney York Veteran Volunteers, Lieut. Col. T.B. Hamilton, and extended from a point opposite the center of the line between Forts Stevens and Reno to the west, and a point opposite Fort Slocum to the east, a distance of about two miles. Skirmishing continued through the night and following day.

At 5 p.m. of the 12th, while in charge of the division during the temporary absence of its permanent commander, General Getty, I was ordered to drive in the enemy's skirmish line and to occupy, if successful, two strong wooded hills in our front, the possession of which gave the enemy great advantage of position near our intrenched line. I ordered Colonel Bidwell, Forty-ninth New York Volunteers, commanding Third Brigade, to move his command outside of the fort and, under cover of a ravine and woods, at trail arms, and every precaution taken to prevent the enemy discovering the movement, form in two lines in rear of my brigade (which was all deployed as skirmishers), and about 300 yards on the right of the Rockville pike, the position being entirely covered by scrub timber and underbrush. Colonel Bidwell was then directed to select three of his very best regiments at an indicated point a few paces in rear of our skirmish line and fronting the strong wooded position held by the enemy. The attack was ordered to be made by the whole skirmish line of the First (my own) brigade, and these three regiments from the Third Brigade were to assault and carry the strong position referred to, the remainder of the Third Brigade to be held ready to support the general movement. The Seventh Maine, Forty-third New York, Lieut. Col. J.D. Visscher, and Forty-ninth New York, Lieut. Col. G.W. Johnson, were very skillfully placed in position near the skirmish line under the direction of Colonel Bidwell without the enemy discovering the movement. A preconcerted signal was made by a staff officer when these regiments were in position, at which time the batteries from Forts Stevens and Slocum opened fire upon certain indicated points strongly held by the enemy. As had been previously arranged, after the thirty-sixth shot from Fort Stevens had been fired, a signal was made from the parapet of that work and the commander of the skirmish line and three assaulting regiments dashed forward, surprising and hotly engaging the enemy, who was found to be much stronger than had been supposed. It became necessary to deploy immediately the three remaining regiments-Seventy seventh New York, Lieut. Col. W.B. French; One hundred and twenty-second New York, Lieut. Col. Dwight, and Sixty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Bidwell's brigade, on the right of those he had already in action, and the picket reserve of 150 men from the One hundred and second Pennsylvania Volunteers, and a detachment of eighty men from the Vermont brigade to support the skirmish line immediately on the right and left of the Rockville pike. The enemy's stubborn resistance showed that a farther advance than already made would require more troops, and two regiments were sent for. Before their arrival, however (the Thirty-seventh Massachusetts Volunteers, Lieut. Colonel Montague, and Second Rhode Island, Capt. E. H. Rhodes), an aide-de-camp from General Wright directed me not to attempt more than the holding of the position I had gained, as the object of the attack had been accomplished, and the important points captured and held.

This whole attack was as gallant as it was successful, and the troops never evinced more energy and determination. The losses were very severe, the brave Colonel Bidwell losing many of his most valuable regimental commanders…

The last shot was fired about 10 o'clock and the remainder of the night was occupied in strengthening the position, burying the dead, and caring for the wounded, and relieving the skirmish line, which had been two days in front constantly under fire, by troops of the Second (Vermont) Brigade. This was accomplished at 4 a.m. of the 13th.

On the morning of the same day the enemy was reported moving away from our front in the direction of Rockville, Md. And in the afternoon the command joined in the march on the new campaign, which culminated in the brilliant victories of the Valley of the Shenandoah…

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.

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