Pat Hirtle’s Board of Inquiry AAR, Part 2

Pat Hirtle was the winner of TOCWOC’s recent After Action Report contest. His winning entry will be featured in this series of blog entries over the next few weeks. If you missed Part 1, check it out.


Brigadier General John Waters, U.S.V., duly sworn.

Col. Smythe: General Waters, you were commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers, and appointed to command of a brigade of infantry at Fort Mayer, near Nashville, on June 25th of this year?

Gen. Waters: That is correct.

S. Can you describe the composition of this command?

W. The brigade was comprised of the 18th and 20th Michigan, and the 44th, 65th and 62nd Ohio. The brigade strength was some 2600 men.

S. And what was the state of this brigade upon your appointment?

W. I’m not certain I comprehend your question.

S. What was the condition of the men’s training and equipment?

W. The regiments were properly armed and equipped. However, they had not been brigaded prior to my appointment, and the Ohio regiments were only recently raised. There were no brigade headquarters or transport, but these were provided before our departure from Camp Mayer. I also noted a shortage of shoes, cartouches and sundry other items among the Ohio troops, but this was soon put to right. On the whole I felt the condition of the brigade was quite good.

S. And what of the training of the men?

W. As I stated, the Ohio regiments were only recently recruited, and had drilled at Fort Mayer for about four weeks prior to my arrival. The Michigan men had all seen a year or more of service, and those in the 18th had seen combat at Donelson and Shiloh.

S. Would be fair to say that the brigade as a whole was green?

W. To a large extent, yes.

S. And what of the officers?

W. Green alike, at least in the Ohio regiments. The company officers had all been elected, and none had any military experience that I’m aware of. Colonel Stevens led the 18th Michigan at Shiloh, and Colonel Ingalls commanded a company in that battle, but the other colonels were all newly appointed. I understand that at least some of the non-commissioned officers in the Ohio regiments were veterans transferred from more seasoned units to assist in training.

S. And you yourself had only been commissioned at the end of June?

W. As I said.

S. After your appointment you reported to Fort Mayer, and subsequently marched your command to join the Army of West Tennessee, as it was then known?

W. Yes, that was on July 12th. I was ordered by General Grant to report to the Fifth Division, and I reported to the division’s assistant adjutant general, Captain Hammond, on July 14th. The division was then located at Moscow. We were ordered to encamp north of the town, about a mile from General Sherman’s headquarters.

S. And did you meet with General Sherman during this time?

W. Briefly. He informed me that my attachment to his division was a temporary one, and that he expected General Grant to reassign the brigade after the movement to Memphis was completed.

S. On the morning of July 18, you marched your brigade along the Haygood Road to the vicinity of Brewer’s farm. Would you please describe the engagement that followed.

W. Only three of my regiments and Hewlitt’s battery took the Haygood Road. The Michigan regiments took a farm road that intersects with the Haygood Road at Brewer’s farm, and —

S. I’m sorry, your orders make no mention of this. Why was your command split in this way?

W. It was simply a convenience. The farm road ran through the camp of the 18th Michigan, and Colonel Stevens, who knew the area, suggested that his regiment and the 20th Michigan, which was camped nearby, could shorten their march by two or three miles by taking this route, rather than counter-marching to the Haygood Road. As this far road led directly to Brewer’s farm, I saw no reason to reject this suggestion.

S. Did you inform division headquarters of this change in the order of march?

W. I did not. I saw no reason to. Our orders were simply to guard the bridge over the Apollochie until Gregg’s cavalry came up. We were in the rear of the army’s advance and no enemy was reported anywhere near. I must stress that. General Sherman certainly made it clear to me that our assignment was neither important nor urgent.

S. How is that?

W. He told me direct. If I may be blunt, he said my presence was a d—-d nuisance, that he had no need for a raw brigade led by a d—-d politician, and that I would be an encumbrance on the line of march. Then he told Hammond to write up orders for the brigade to guard the crossing at the Apollochie, where he said we could do no harm and perhaps learn to march, or words to that effect.

General Howell: I don’t see how these alleged remarks bear on the matter at hand. I don’t believe anyone here would argue that assigning a brigade to guard this bridge was not a valid exercise of General Sherman’s authority, nor was such an order contrary to good military practice. Colonel Smythe, please limit yourself to the engagement itself.

S. Sir. General Waters, if I may refer you to this map, could you indicate the movements of your brigade up to the point that you made contact with the enemy?

W. Yes. On the Haygood Road, Hewlitt’s battery was in the lead, followed by 44th, 65th and 62nd Ohio, in that order. I myself was riding with Colonel Benson. On the farm road, the 18th Michigan was in the lead, followed by the 20th. As we were descending the hill leading to Brewer’s farm, a courier from Captain Hewlitt rode back with a message that a strong force of Rebel infantry was in line behind a fence running west from the road opposite the farm, and that there appeared to be more rebel infantry approaching in column along the road about a mile distant.

S. You say that Captain Hewlitt notified you as to the presence of the enemy?

W. Yes, he was at the head of the column.

S. Had you no skirmishers deployed ahead of your column?

W. I saw no need for skirmishers, as we were told we had no enemy to our front.

S. You are aware that your orders specifically stated that skirmishers and flankers were to be deployed?

W. I most certainly am not aware of that. Neither General Sherman nor Captain Hammond made any mention to me of anything other than marching my brigade to the bridge and sitting there until relieved.

S. General, you have read Order No. 51? [hands order to W.]

W. [examines order] This is the first time I have seen this document. My orders on the 17th were conveyed to me by Captain Hammond, and he did so verbally.

S. Are you saying you never received a copy of the written order?

W. I have just said that.

S. Major Hammond has testified this morning that all brigade commanders in the division were sent their orders in writing. He specifically states that he discussed your orders with you, in addition to dispatching them in writing by courier.

W. Then the major is mistaken. I have never seen that order before today, and I was never told to deploy skirmishers on a march through our own rear.

S. Very well then. After receiving Captain Hewlitt’s message that there were enemy ahead, what orders did you give?

W. I immediately ordered the column to halt while I rode forward to apprise the situation. Upon meeting Captain Hewlitt at the head of the column, I confirmed his observation and estimated that I was facing, at the least, a full brigade of Rebel infantry arrayed south of the road so as to block our passage to the bridge. I could also see in the distance, marching toward us on the road, another enemy force that included cavalry and guns. In my judgement this force was far superior to my own. However, knowing that the 18th and 20th Michigan would at any moment be marching south down the farm road on a path that would take the enemy in flank, I determined to seize the opportunity presented and deploy my force opposite the Rebels so as to pin them in place and occupy them until Stevens and Ingalls could fall on their flank. In fact, Colonel Stevens’ column came into view even as I conversed with Captain Hewlitt, so I ordered the guns unlimbered without delay.

S. On the road?

W. No, in the field here [gesturing at map], with the 44th Ohio supporting them on their right. The 62nd Ohio, which was bringing up the rear, I ordered through the woods here, to form up on the battery’s left. The 65th was still in column on the road when the 18th Michigan came under fire as it approached the farm.

S. Fire from what quarter?

W. From the corn fields that lay astride the road. A Rebel regiment lay concealed at the edge of the field, unbeknownst to us,

and rose and fired a volley when the 18th Michigan was but a few paces away.

We had had no indication that the farm was occupied, nor any reason, from the enemy’s dispositions, to suppose it was so. The volley did severe damage to the 18th, and I regret to say that Colonel Stevens was mortally wounded, though I did not know this at the time.

S. Please continue.

W. Well, when I realized the danger of our situation, I immediately ordered the 65th Ohio through the woods toward the farm, to take the enemy there from the rear.

S. But that did not happen.

W. It… no… it was a very confused situation. There was more firing to our front, and my view was obscured by the smoke. I ordered the men to fix bayonets and charge —

S. In the woods?

W. Yes. No. I think perhaps it was before we entered the wood. It was a most confused situation, and the smoke and noise were continuous. Captain Hewlitt had started a hot fire against the enemy line opposite him, and the enemy were deploying on the Haygood Road ahead, and I took the 65th through the woods, and there was another volley and then the men were streaming back in disorder–

S. What men?

W. The 65th.

S. The 65th? Had they been fired upon?

W. And I think perhaps some of the Michigan men as well. It was very confused, and there was much smoke. I attempted to rally the men, but they fell back out of the wood, and I could not find Colonel Benson, and we fell back along the road for a distance before the men reformed.

S. General, I will repeat the question: was the 65th Ohio fired upon before fleeing the woods?

W. I do not know for certain. They must have taken fire. I believe a panic started, and in the absence of their regimental commander, it spread though the ranks.

S. And where was Colonel Benson?

W. I have no idea. I did not see him until after we had fallen back to the Haygood Road. He should have been at the head of his regiment, and I cannot imagine why he failed to keep his men in good order.

S. Could you describe the situation after you reformed the men?

W. Of the Michigan regiments I could see nothing, and I assumed that they had retreated up the farm road whence they came. This was in fact the case, and they later rejoined the brigade at Moscow. A second enemy regiment had taken up position in Brewer’s cornfield, only facing east, and an enemy battery of four guns had unlimbered on the road on this regiment’s right, and quite close to the 44th Ohio. I immediately sent word to Colonel Cadwallader to wheel his men in line and charge the guns, and this he did most smartly. The enemy gunners got off only one round before the guns were taken.

I had hoped that Colonel Cadwallader would continue on into the cornfield, as he now lay on the enemy’s flank, but his ranks were badly disordered by the charge and another Rebel regiment was coming up, and he was forced to draw back a bit to re-form.

S. Did you not move to support him with the 65th Ohio?

W. The 65th was still unsteady, and I was reluctant to test them in such a way. However, Colonel Benson having finally reappeared, I handed the regiment over to him with orders to bring it up as soon as he deemed them steady enough.

S. And what of the 62nd Ohio?

W. They had been sent to support Hewlitt’s battery on the left, as I mentioned. The ground to their front being heavily wooded, I had no sight of them, and they had not formed on Hewlitt’s left when the enemy line charged.

S. You are referring to the charge that took Hewlitt’s guns?

W. Yes.

S. Please continue.

W. As Cadwallader’s regiment was reforming, the enemy infantry in Brewer’s cornfield, and a fresh regiment that had formed up on the road, gave them a volley that had a terrible effect and put the men to flight. As their retreat took them right through the 65th, who were still much shaken, the rout became general. It was then that the enemy in the field across from Hewlitt’s battery, a brigade at least, advanced at a run. The 62nd could have easily driven them off had they supported Hewlitt as ordered, but they were nowhere in sight. Captain Hewlitt gave the enemy three volleys, the last double-shotted canister which did awful work among their ranks, before the crews were forced to retreat. They fell back in good order to the road, though the guns themselves could not be recovered.

S. And this ended the engagement?

W. Yes. The enemy halted at the fence line, and I have no doubt were much shaken and disordered by their losses. I led the brigade southeast along the Haygood Road, until we had passed the crest of the hill overlooking the farm and the enemy was no longer in sight. I then paused and had the men reform their ranks, and we returned to Moscow in good order.

S. And what of Colonel Dawes and the 62nd Ohio?

W. They appeared eventually, about a mile or more to our rear, and finally rejoined us in Moscow.

S. And did Colonel Dawes offer any explanation for his failure to form up on Hewlitt’s left?

Colonel Talbert: I think that question might be better put to Colonel Dawes, who will give his testimony presently.

General Howell: Brigadier Waters, if I may summarize your testimony: You were ordered to march to and secure the bridge over the Apollochie, this order being conveyed to you verbally by General Sherman and by Adjutant Hammond. You did not receive a written copy of these orders. Your command approached the bridge by two converging roads, but came under heavy and unexpected enemy fire before it could reform. This fire caused heavy losses and great confusion among your regiments, which then retreated, leaving the field and six guns in the possession of the enemy. Are these facts correct as I’ve related them?

W. Yes, sir.

H. I have here a report from your own brigade adjutant, Lieutenant O’Hare, listing the losses suffered by each of your regiments:

18th Michigan: 160 killed, 87 wounded, 200 missing.
20th Michigan: 26 killed, 18 wounded, 85 missing.
44th Ohio: 30 killed, 14 wounded, 112 missing
62nd Ohio: 3 missing
65th Ohio: 4 wounded, 45 missing.
Brigade total: 216 killed, 123 wounded, 450 missing
Are these figures correct, to your knowledge?

W. They are, yes.

H. And this from a total strength of 2600?

W. About 2500 all told. We had over 100 sick in camp back at Moscow.

H. And we may suppose that most of the 450 missing men are in fact prisoners?

W. I cannot say for certain, sir, but I must suppose a good many of them are.

H. And can you estimate the strength of the enemy force that you encountered?

W. It was certainly a strong division of three brigades or more, and well supported with artillery and cavalry. I would guess the enemy’s strength to be 5,000 or more.

H. There was enemy cavalry on the field?

W. Yes, sir, I believe I saw at least one regiment, in the distance. They did not engage us directly.

H. I see. General Waters, is there anything you wish to add to your testimony?

W. Only this, sir: It is my confident belief that the enemy’s losses were far greater than our own. In particular, the carnage wrought by our guns was considerable. Also, I was never properly appraised of the situation or given adequate orders. My brigade fell victim to an ambush, which I could not reasonably foresee, and by a much stronger enemy force. Despite heavy losses, I brought my brigade off the field in good order, all told. The loss of the guns was most regrettable, but this could not be helped. And finally: had Colonel Benson maintained proper control of his regiment, and had Colonel Dawes followed my orders, it is my belief that I would have carried the day. I was in command of the brigade, and I do not shirk my responsibility; but I must in all honesty profess my innocence of any negligence or failure of command. I was failed by both my superiors and my subordinates. I say this not to cast aspersions, but only in my own defense. And I trust that this Board of Enquiry will come to a just conclusion.

[General Waters was excused.]




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