Report of Col. Hiram Berdan,
First U.S. Sharpshooters, commanding Third Brigade, on the
Battle of Chancellorsville
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA., May 7, 1863.
Capt. HENRY R. DALTON,
CAPTAIN.: I have the honor to report that my command was not engaged with the enemy during the recent movement until Saturday, May 2.
On Friday evening, May 1, my brigade was formed in two lines in front of the division, on the right of the brick house used by General Hooker as his headquarters. We remained there until about midnight, when we returned to our previous place of halting, on the road to the United States Ford, and bivouacked for the night.
At an early hour on Saturday morning, we were formed in two lines, with regimental front on the left of the road, in the woods, at the rear of the opening behind the brick house before mentioned. At about noon, I received orders to report with my command to General Birney for a reconnaissance. I received general instructions from General Birney, which were to skirmish through the woods, keeping in the direction of a smoke which was rising from the woods on the southeast of our position. I deployed my First Regiment in the woods, using the Second Regiment as a reserve, and ordered them to advance and drive the rebels from the woods. My skirmishers soon engaged the enemy's skirmishers, consisting of a portion of the Twenty-third Georgia, and drove them steadily from the woods, where they rallied at a large building, apparently used as a foundry. I then advanced my right and left, with flankers from the Second Regiment, and kept up so accurate and rapid a fire that the enemy dared not leave the cover of the building. I then ordered my men to cease firing, and called upon the rebels to surrender, upon which they came in, after throwing down their arms and showing a white rag. The support of their skirmishers, with those who were able to escape, fell back along the road and rallied in a lane, covering in their retreat a wagon train, which was visible moving down the read. After sending the prisoners to the rear, I caused my left to gradually advance, keeping the attention of the enemy by desultory firing while I rapidly pushed forward my right in the woods until I had outflanked them and opened fire. They then attempted to come out of the railroad cut, in which they had taken shelter, and to retreat to the rear, but on meeting our fire they returned again to their cover, and very soon threw down their arms and surrendered. The whole number of prisoners taken was 365, including 19 officers, among whom was the major of the regiment. Our loss was trifling. Four regiments of infantry were brought up to our support, and I established a line of pickets along the road as far as I thought it safe to do so. About sunset we were ordered to withdraw, which we did, bringing all of our men who had not been killed. The guns, which were Springfield muskets, we were compelled to destroy. The whole affair was very successful, and had we been promptly supported, I am confident we could have taken the battery and a portion of the enemy's train.
At night we bivouacked with our division, and on Sunday morning I was relieved from duty with General Birney, and reported to General Whipple. I posted my First Regiment in the woods on the right of the Plank road, deploying two divisions as skirmishers, and ordering them to advance, firing. They drove back a heavy line of the enemy's skirmishers with a rapid fire from their breech-loading rifles, and took of those who passed by them, behind trees, and of the portion of the enemy's line which extended farther to the right than my line, as nearly as I can judge from the reports of my officers, from 318 to 325 prisoners, besides killing a great many of the enemy. They advanced until they met the double lines of the enemy; when they retired, firing, to their supports. I held my Second Regiment as reserve, and afterward posted it farther to the right. Our loss here was considerable.
On Sunday afternoon, a detachment of about 120 men was posted near the building occupied as a hospital, under the command of Captain Wilson, and at the request of General Barnes, of the First Division, Fifth Corps, it drove the enemy from the woods and established a picket line for a portion of the Fifth Corps. He was afterward ordered by General Sickles to move to the left and establish the line in front of the Third Corps. which was done. He was relieved on Monday morning by my Second Regiment, and the remainder of my command was stationed behind slight works, thrown up by themselves, like the rest of the forces in the vicinity, one regiment relieving the other on picket, on which they lost several men, and were continually engaged in a scattering fire, and occasionally taking a prisoner.
On Monday morning, a detail was called for to go out and endeavor to silence the rebel sharpshooters, who had occasioned considerable loss in our lines by shooting over into them. I called for 10 volunteers, and went with them to the line of skirmishers, which I ordered to advance, firing, and we drove the advanced skirmishers to their rifle-pits, and held the ground gained, so that no more casualties occurred from the enemy's fire.
On Monday evening, the Eleventh New Jersey, which was acting as our support, was alarmed by firing on our right, and it opened fire upon my Second Regiment, which was deployed in its front, wounding 5 of my men. My regiment maintained its ground until the Eleventh New Jersey had retreated under fire of the rebel battery to its rifle-pits, and then retired in good order. After the firing had ceased, it returned and established its original line. At the request of General Sickles, we retired across the river with the remainder of the corps, and arrived in camp about 5 p.m.
I cannot close my report without mentioning that my command, with a few exceptions, both officers and men, behaved splendidly. The results achieved by it are sufficient evidence that it was not, remiss. 1 would make special mention of Major Stoughton, commanding my Second Regiment; Captains Nash, Baker, Wilson, and Marble, and Lieutenant Brewer, of my First Regiment. They all rendered valuable service, not only in encouraging the men to do their duty, but exhibited excellent judgment and great coolness and daring in handling their men.
Lieutenant Brewer, who has twice before been wounded, received his fatal shot, and was the only officer in my command who was killed. Captains Rowell and Chase, of the Second Regiment, as well as Lieutenant Norton, the adjutant of the regiment, also deserve great praise. Chaplain [Lorenzo] Barber, of the Second Regiment, took a rifle, and went in with the skirmishers with his usual bravery. My first surgeons, Drs. [George M.] Brennan and [A. C.] Williams, deserve special credit for the coolness displayed in going wherever the discharge of their duties, which often called them to the extreme front, demanded their presence. Dr. Williams, surgeon of my Second Regiment, was wounded by a ball passing through his arm, bet he did not leave his duties for a moment. I extremely regret the temporary loss of the services of Lieutenant [William H.] Horton, one of my aides, who was wounded on Monday morning.
I herewith inclose a detailed report of the killed, wounded, and missing, which, considering the circumstances, is comparatively small. The command, though somewhat fatigued, is in excellent condition and ready for service. The following is a recapitulation of the result of our action: The number of prisoners taken by the command, 683. The number of rounds of ammunition fired was at least 60 per man. We 1ost--killed, 11; wounded, 61; missing, 12.
I have the honor, captain, to remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel (U. S. Sharpshooters), Comdg. Third Brigade.