Pat Hirtle’s Board of Inquiry AAR, Part 3

Pat Hirtle was the winner of TOCWOC’s recent After Action Report contest. His winning entry has been featured in this series of blog entries over the last few weeks. This is the third and final entry. If you missed them, read Part 1 and Part 2.


Colonel Nathanial Benson, duly sworn.

S. Colonel Benson, you command the 65th Regiment of Ohio Volunteers?

B. That is correct.

S. And you commanded the regiment on July 18th last, in the battle at Brewer’s farm?

B. I did.

S. After the 18th Michigan came under fire from the cornfield, did General Waters order you to advance through the woods here [gestures at map] to support them?

B. He did not.

S. He did not so order you?

B. He did not. When we heard that volley, the General was up ahead with the battery commander. I went forward and asked him what his orders were. The General did not respond. He was staring in the direction of the cornfield, where there was a good deal of smoke and confusion, and you could see the boys from the 18th falling back already. I asked the General if I hadn’t better take my regiment at a run to catch the Johnnies in the flank before their own supports come up, but the General still didn’t answer. So I returned to my regiment and gave the order myself.

S. Are you saying you ordered your regiment forward on your own initiative?

B. Well, I didn’t see much use in us standing there on the road while the Michigan boys got shot up.

S. And did your regiment attack?

B. No, sir. I deployed them from column to line on the road and had them fix bayonets, because I reckoned they’d never manage it on the other side of the woods, what with enemy to their front and more coming up. My boys were but a month from the plow, and none of them had seen the elephant. Nor me neither, for that matter, but I done what I figured was best in the situation. We reached the far edge of the woods and we wasn’t in much of a line any more, on account of the underbrush and we were going a good trot, and that’s when the 20th Michigan broke and ran, and I think it was that more than anything that caused my boys to turn tail.

S. Did your regiment not come under fire?

B. There was a few Reb skirmishers along the fence to our front, and I reckon they fired a few rounds, but I don’t think anyone got hit.

S. And where was General Waters during all this?

B. I couldn’t say, sir, except that he wasn’t with us. I met the general back on the road ? the Haygood Road, that is ? after the company officers and I had rallied the men and gotten them settled down some. But that was when the 44th came tumbling back into us, and then the whole lot was gone, running back up the pike toward Moscow.

General Howell: Colonel, I must say I appreciate your frankness, if not the performance of your men.

B. Can’t really blame the boys, General. And that’s what most of them are, just boys, first time away from the farm for most of them. They weren’t prepared was all. If they was drilled a few weeks more, and if they had of known they was heading into a fight, I reckon they’d have had more stomach for it. But we was told it was a route march and nothing more, and then all of a sudden we’re fixing bayonets and charging through thick woods. Wouldn’t have taken more than a snapping twig to set them running, and that’s pretty much what happened. It was foolish of me to expect otherwise. It wouldn’t be that way today though.

H. Yes, I understand your men acquitted themselves quite well in last month’s engagement. I cast no aspersions on your regiment, Colonel. Bull Run and Shiloh have shown that raw troops are likely than not to ‘turn tail’. I must point out, however, that your testimony directly contradicts certain points of General Waters’ account.

B. I can’t speak to General Waters’ testimony, sir, but I stand by own. There was a lot of confusion that day. With respect, I think perhaps the general lost his composure in the shock of coming under fire, and perhaps his recollection of events is colored by that.

[Witness excused]

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Hermann, duly sworn.

S. You are the commander of the 18th Michigan?

H. Yes, sir.

S. And you took command of the regiment upon the death in action of Colonel Stevens on July 18th?

H. Yes, sir.

S. Could you please describe, briefly, the engagement in which Colonel Stevens lost his life.

H. Yes, sir. The regiment, along with the 20th Michigan, was marching in column along a road leading to Brewer’s farm. We were to rendezvous with the rest of our brigade at the farm. As we approached the farm, however, a line of enemy infantry rose out of the cornfield directly to our front and laid a volley into us when we were just a few paces away.

S. Was Colonel Stevens killed in this initial volley?

H. No sir, but he was hit in the head in second volley, which followed almost immediately. There was really no engagement insofar as our regiment was concerned. It was more a bushwhacking.

S. Your regiment took heavy losses in this fire, and retreated back up the road?

H. Yes. I attempted to form them into line and to return the fire, but there was no hope at all. Our position was completely untenable and a good many of the officers were down. The 20th did manage to form line behind us and got off a volley or two, but they soon routed as well, and we all fell back a mile or more before we could bring the men into any sort of order.

S. Did you see, or receive any orders from, General Waters after the enemy opened fired?

H. No, sir. The enemy was between us and the rest of the brigade, and we had no contact with the brigade until we arrived back at Moscow.

[Witness excused]

[Colonel Ingalls, of the 20th Michigan, was duly sworn and gave substantially the same evidence as Lt, Col. Hermann.]

Colonel Hiram Cadwallader, duly sworn.

S. Colonel, you commanded the 44th Ohio in the engagement at Brewer’s farm July last?

C. I did.

S. And your regiment was deployed between Hewlitt’s battery and the Haygood Road?

C. That is so.

S. Can you please describe the engagement as you witnessed it?

C. We were deployed facing a line of Rebel infantry across a wide field, outside effective rifle range but well within the range of Hewlitt’s rifled guns. As the Johnnies had no guns up themselves, they were getting the worst of it. We were waiting for the Michigan boys to come down the farm road from the north and take the Johnnies in the flank, but then an awful racket rose up from Brewer’s cornfield, and I knew the Rebs must have had a regiment there. From where I was I could see the 18th Michigan taking a very heavy fire, and I knew they couldn’t stand. Shortly after I saw the 65th Ohio move into the woods to my right.

S. Did you see General Waters at this time?

C. Briefly, yes. He was with the 65th when I saw him last, riding into the woods.

S. You say he was leading the 65th?

C. Yes.

S. Did you also see Colonel Benson at this time?

C. I do not recollect seeing Colonel Benson at any time during the fight, though I was much distracted at the time.

S. Please continue.

C. Well, there was an enemy column advancing on the road towards us, a battery of 12-pounders up front and infantry behind, though I couldn’t tell how many exactly.

S. And how many infantry were already deployed to your front?

C. I suppose eight or nine hundred. I saw two regimental flags, but there may have been more. I couldn’t tell if there was a second line in support.

S. And what happened next?

C. The battery moved up until it was just over two hundred yards or so to our right front, and proceeded to unlimber behind the rail fence along the Haygood Road. As this made our position untenable, I ordered the regiment to make a half turn to the right and charge. I led that charge myself, on foot, and we swept that battery. Three of their guns got off a single round apiece, and the fourth didn’t even get one off before we were among them.

S. You made this charge at the order of General Waters?

C. No sir. The general was not there. I gave that order on my own accord.

S. And you did so appreciating the fact that it would leave Captain Hewlitt’s battery unsupported?

C. With respect, Captain Hewlitt wouldn’t have much of a battery left once the Rebs opened fire. They were enfilading our entire line. Also, I expected Colonel Dawes to arrive presently on Hewlitt’s right [sic]. My intention was to take the battery and then resume our previous position, or to form line there in the road if the situation warranted it.

S. But in fact your regiment was driven back?

C. Yes. The enemy infantry came up much faster than I’d anticipated, and I could not get the men to reform before we began taking heavy fire from our front. I attempted an orderly withdrawal up the road, but the regiment fell into disorder.

S. In fact, it was routed from the field, was it not?

C. They were green troops, Colonel.

[Witness was excused]

Colonel William Dawes, duly sworn.

S. Colonel, you commanded the 62nd Ohio in the engagement at Brewer’s Farm?

D. I did.

S. Could you describe what transpired after you became aware of the presence of the enemy on the field.

D. My regiment was at the rear of the column, which halted perhaps a quarter-mile from the farm. I did not know why we had stopped, so I rode forward to see what was afoot. I met General Waters conferring with Colonel Cadwallader of the 44th Ohio and Captain Hewlitt, the battery commander. I could see a long line of Rebel infantry in the field to our front, lining a rail fence. General Waters said that if we could keep them there for a time, the Michigan boys would arrive by and by and take them in the flank. He ordered Hewlitt to unlimber his guns behind the fence, with the 44th on his right and my regiment on his left. As I was returning to my regiment to carry out this order, I heard fire coming from behind me.

S. And did you return to determine the cause?

D. No, sir. I assumed the Michiganers [sic] had fallen on the enemy’s flank, and I continued back to my regiment to get them deployed. On my way I encountered Colonel Benson, who was riding forward.

S. Did you confer with him?

D. No. He did not stop. He looked quite distressed and he yelled something as he passed, but I could not catch his words.

S. Did you in fact deploy your regiment as ordered?

D. No sir. It proved to be impossible I took my men into those woods, but the ground was so broken, and the underbrush so thick, that we found it very hard going. The woods were much thicker than this map suggests. It was also difficult to find our way, as there were no tracks or paths of any kind, and we had only the noise to guide us. There was a great racket to our right, and we could clearly hear Captain Hewlitt’s guns as they laid into the enemy. However, this fire slackened before we emerged from the woods, and I discovered that we had moved a good way further to the left than I had intended. I could also see that the enemy was advancing very rapidly on our guns, and that Cadwallader’s regiment was out of position. There was a great deal of smoke, which hindered my view, but it was clear to me that the situation had not developed as General Waters envisioned.

S. And what did you do then?

D. I ordered a halt and put the regiment in line, facing the farm, which seemed to be in enemy hands. Then I saw Hewlitt’s men abandon their guns, after that the only troops I could see were enemy. So I took my men back through the woods to the Haygood road, some ways to the rear of where we entered.

S. So the 62nd was never engaged at all?

D. No sir; we never had the opportunity. I attempted to follow my orders, but the terrain and the turn of events prevented it.

[Witness excused]

Captain Daniel Hewlitt, duly sworn.

S. You commanded Battery B of the 3rd Ohio Artillery during the engagement of July 18th?

H. Yes, sir.

S. Would you please describe the events which led to the loss of your battery?

H. Yes. The battery was at the front of the column as it marched to Brewer’s farm to secure the bridge over the Apollochie. As we approached the farm, I could see a long line of Rebel infantry in line in an open field to our front right, and in the distance I could see an enemy column approaching on the road from the other side of the creek. I ordered the battery to halt, and General Waters rode up presently.

S. And what was the substance of your conversation with him?

H. The general ordered me to deploy my guns to the left of the road and keep the Rebel infantry under fire, and he indicated that the 62nd and 44th Ohio would form line on my left and right to provide support.

S. And did this in fact occur?

H. Well, I moved the guns as directed, unlimbered them and began firing on the enemy infantry opposite me. The 44th formed on my right, but the 62nd never appeared, leaving us unsupported on our left. After I time I noted a great commotion to our right. There was heavy firing from the farm, and it seemed a fight was developing there. At the same time an enemy battery of four 12 pounders advanced down the road at a gallop, and unlimbered close enough to the 44th to open on them with cannister.

S. Did you attempt to interfere with this battery unlimbering so close to you?

H. No, sir. The ground was such that they were in our line of fire only momentarily. Once they began to unlimber, I would have had to redeploy my guns by prolonge in order to bring the enemy guns under fire. This I planned to do, but the 44th wheeled and charged the enemy battery at the oblique, putting their gunners to flight and taking the guns.

S. But this charge in turn left your battery without support?

H. Yes sir, and the enemy opposite charged us almost immediately.

S. What was their strength, in your estimation?

H. I counted three regiments, but General Waters said later it was four. There was at least a thousand of them coming straight at my guns at a dead run. There were more on the road, and the 44th was falling back in disorder, so the enemy on the road actually flanked my battery on he right.

S. You did not attempt to limber and withdraw?

H. There was not time enough for that. We fired as fast as we could load, with double-shotted cannister at the end, and we inflicted great losses on the enemy. They wavered just short of the guns, and I believed for a moment they might break, but then a Rebel officer appeared on horseback and rallied their line, and they came on with bayonets fixed and yelling like the devil.

S. Did you give the order to abandon the guns?

H. No, sir. My men took upon themselves to withdraw. I would have spiked the guns otherwise.

S. Apart from the six guns, what losses did your battery suffer?

H. Eighteen killed and about the same number wounded, and twenty missing.

Colonel Perarce: Can you describe General Waters’ composure at the time he issued your orders?

H. His composure, sir?

P. Did he appear calm, and in full control of his faculties?

H. Yes, sir. Certainly he was in control of his faculties. He was a bit excited, or perhaps disconcerted. We were not expecting an engagement.

P. And after the firing commenced at the farm, did you see the general at any time?

H. No, sir, not until the brigade reformed at Moscow.

[Witness excused]

Colonel R.T. Gregg, duly sworn

S. Colonel, you command the 27th Wisconsin Cavalry, Army of the Tennessee?

G. Yes, sir.

S. Can you tell this Board what your orders were for the 18th of July last?

G. We were foraging and reconnoitering to the southeast of the army, pursuant to orders received some days earlier. On the morning of the 19th I received new orders via courier, to take my regiment to Brewer’s farm and screen the crossing there over the Apollochie.

S. Was there any mention in your orders of Waters’ brigade?

G. Yes, the orders mentioned that I was to relieve General Waters, who was currently holding a line on the eastern bank of the creek.

S. When did you arrive at Brewer’s farm, and what did you find there?

G. We arrived in the late afternoon of the 19th, after an all day march. There was no sign of General Waters’ brigade or any other friendly force,or any enemy for that matter. It was apparent that an engagement had been fought, however. There were arms and accoutrements laying about, many fences were down, the fields were trampled and there was an abandoned gun laying in the road next to Brewer’s farm.

S. Were there also bodies on the field?

G. We saw only a very few, but there were fresh graves dug. The enemy had buried our dead and their own before retiring.

S. What did you do at this point?

G. I sent a courier to General Sherman to report what I had found, and another back down the Haywood Road to search for General Waters. The rest of the regiment I took over the
Apollochie to reconnoitre.

S. And did you encounter any enemy forces?

G. We did, yes, about twelve miles southwest of Brewer’s farm and marching hard southward.

S. Were you able to identify this force, or to determine its strength?

G. We did not venture close enough to identify the particular regiments. I did count nine guns, and I estimated about fifteen hundred infantry, all told. There was no enemy cavalry in evidence. I took this force to be a rear guard, and assumed their orders had probably been similar to our own: to guard the bridge over the Apollochie to prevent a flanking movement by the enemy. The armies now being in motion toward Memphis, they had likely been ordered to rejoin their main body.

General Howell: In other words, Colonel, the engagement at Brewer’s farm was a mere happenstance?

G. I could not say that for certain, sir, but it would not surprise me if it were so.

[Witness excused]


General Howell: This Board has heard testimony from all relevant witnesses to the Battle of Brewer’s farm, and we must now determine who, if anyone, should be held liable for what in fairness can only be described as an ignominious defeat. We are cognisant of the fact that General Waters and most of his brigade were untried at the time of this engagement, and that an encounter with the enemy was not anticipated. However, once the enemy was met on the field, it was incumbent upon General Waters, and upon his subordinate officers, to conduct themselves in a professional and competent matter.

The Board shall now adjourn to discuss the evidence before it, and shall render its conclusions in due course.


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