Report of Col. O. B. Willcox, First Michigan Infantry, Commanding Second Brigade, Third Division
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp. 408-410
DETROIT, MICH., September 3, 1862
GENERAL: My brigade, the Second, of Heintzelman’s division, marching in rear of Franklin’s brigade, arrived at the Sudley Ford at about 12.30 p.m., July 21, 1861. The brigade now consisted of the First Michigan, Eleventh New York (Fire Zouaves), Thirty-eighth New York, and Arnold’s battery. The Fourth Michigan had been left at Fairfax Station and Fairfax Court-House by the order of General McDowell. Halting for rest and water, I obeyed the general’s orders to post Arnold’s battery on a hill commanding the ford, with the First Michigan for support, and at 1 o’clock pushed forward with my two remaining regiments up the Sudley and Brentsville road. We marched about two miles, and came upon the left of what I supposed to have been Franklin’s line, near the junction of the Warrenton and Sudley roads. The troops on our left were engaged in a desultory fire with the enemy, posted in the thicket and ravine across the Warrenton road, not far from the Robinson house. The Thirty-eighth New York was quickly formed in order of battle, and the zouaves were hastening into line, when I received an order to detach a regiment for the support of Ricketts’ battery (of Franklin’s brigade), posted on a hill a quarter of a mile to our right and front, near Dogan’s house. I led up the zouaves for this important service, leaving the Thirty-eighth under its gallant and experienced colonel, Hobart Ward. Ricketts was soon ordered to take a new position near the Robinson house. The zouaves followed in support, and finally formed line on the right flank of the battery, with two companies in reserve.
Up to this time the enemy had fallen back, but now he formed the remains of his brigades engaged with Hunter in the morning, viz, Bee’s, Barton’s, and Evans’, in a new line, upon Jackson’s brigade of fresh troops, making altogether 6,500 infantry, 13 pieces of artillery, and Stuart’s Cavalry, according to General Beauregard’s report. This force was posted in the belt of woods which skirted the plateau southwardly, and lying in the angle formed in that direction, between the Warrenton and Sudley roads, about a mile from the Warrenton road, and with its left resting on the Brentsville and Sudley road.
Ricketts’ battery had crossed the Sudley road from its post near Dogan’s house, and was within musket-range of the woods, which stretched from that road around from his right towards his front, and forming a pocket, which almost enveloped the battery, with its support.
The enemy were first discovered by Colonel Heintzelman lining the woods in our front. He ordered up the zouaves, commanded by Colonel Farnham. The ground was slightly rising before us, and the enemy opened a heavy but not destructive fire as we reached the crest. The zouaves returned the fire, but immediately fell back, bewildered and broken. Stuart’s Cavalry charged upon them from the woods on the right, but were scattered by a fire from the two reserve companies, with a loss (ascertained from the Southern papers) of twenty-nine killed and wounded. Meantime Ricketts’ cannoneers were being picked off. With Colonel Heintzelman’s approval, and a promise of re-enforcements, I collected some one hundred zouaves, and, with Captain Downey and others of their officers, made a dash into the woods on our right, and killed, wounded, and captured about thirty of the enemy. Returning in a few minutes, I found the field cleared of both friends and foe, except the killed and wounded. The horses, men, and two officers of Ricketts’ battery lay stretched upon the ground, but the enemy had not yet seized it. Recrossing the Sudley road, I met the First Michigan, Major Bidwell commanding, and, marching back with this regiment, we found the enemy now drawn up in a thin line across the field and in possession of the battery. Advancing to the fence on the roadside, the First Michigan opened fire. The right wing fell back to reload, owing to a blundering order, but the left stood firm, expelled the enemy, and retook the battery. The troops here opposed to us I believe to have been the Seventh Georgia. Colonel Heintzelman now came up, and ordered us promptly forward, and, with the promise of another regiment, it was my design to turn the enemy’s left. The left wing of the First Michigan recrossed the field, struck into the woods beyond the zouaves, succeeded in destroying and capturing a small number of the enemy, and pushing back his extreme left out of that part or point of the woods adjacent to the Sudley road.
Meantime the right wing of the First Michigan reformed, and advanced in good order. I met it, and we pushed on towards the next point of woods. From this point I found the enemy’s left discovered us by our fire, and we became engaged with their rear rank, their front being occupied by the advancing troops of Franklin’s or Sherman’s brigade. The officers and men of the First Michigan stood up bravely at this critical moment, holding on anxiously for re-enforcements. But, from all I can learn, the Thirty-eighth, which was ordered up to me, was directed to the left of the Robinson house (instead of to the right and along the Sudley road), came in contact with the enemy’s center, and never reached me.
It was now 4 o’clock. General Beauregard had been gathering new re-enforcements. General Kirby Smith had joined him with a portion of Johnston’s army. Our scattered troops were contending in fractions against the enemy’s army, in position and massed on the plateau, with his artillery sweeping every approach. General Johnston was brining fresh troops to turn our own right. The Twenty-eighth Virginia attacked my own handful from the rear in the woods, and I had the ill-fortune to be wounded, and a few moments afterwards captured. But I was spared witnessing the disaster which further pursued our arms.
In this report I have only endeavored to supply partly the information that was not known or found in any other report, in consequence of my capture. Permit me to add, further, that the Thirty-eighth New York was distinguished for its steadiness in ranks, and for gallantly repelling a charge made upon it by the New Orleans Tigers. The zouaves, though broken as a regiment, did good service, under my own eyes, in the woods, and detachments of them joined other regiments in the fight. The First Michigan deserves the credit of advancing farther into the enemy’s lines than any other of our troops, as their dead bodies proved after the battle.
I only regret that, from the fact of my separation from Arnold’s battery, I cannot add any testimony of my own to the well-known gallantry with which he and his command conducted themselves.
I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, yours,
O. B. WILLCOX,
Brigadier-General, late Colonel First Michigan Infantry
Brig. Gen. L. Thomas,
Adjutant-General U. S. Army
WASHINGTON, D.C., July 21, 1865
This report is respectfully forwarded. It gives some details not in previous reports. The Thirty-eighth New York, Colonel Ward, was in the rear and little to the right of the Robinson house, and did not get up as far as the house. After the zouaves, I led up the First Minnesota and then the First Michigan, and both were repulsed. They, however, rallied and passed to the right into the woods, and the First Michigan, on the extreme right, held the most advanced position we occupied that disastrous day. My division, when I marched from Alexandria, had an aggregate of 9,463 men, but from detachments made by the commanding general at different times, I went into action with less than 5,000 men. The Third Brigade, Colonel Howard, did not arrive on the field until late in the day, about the time the panic commenced. He was detached soon after we crossed Cub Run, early in the day, by General McDowell. I did not see the brigade until some half hour after I was wounded and after the Brooklyn Fourteenth gave way.
In consequence of the wounding and capture of Captain Ricketts, I have no report of his battery. His first lieutenant, Douglas Ramsay, I saw late in the day doing his duty faithfully and well. A few moments later he was shot dead, and soon after we lost the battery.
The accompanying report from Fairfax Station, dated July 17, 1861, properly belongs to this report.
S. P. HEINTZELMAN,