Battle of the Opequan

After Action Report

(Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 43, pages 387-389)

Tenth West Virginia Volunteer Infantry Regiment,
3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division

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Report of Col. Thomas M. Harris, Tenth West Virginia Infantry, commanding Third Brigade, of operations September 19, 1864.

LIEUTENANT: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Third Brigade of the First Division, Army of West Virginia, in the battle near Winchester, on the 19th instant:

My brigade consisted of five regiments, viz, the Tenth, Eleventh and Fifteenth West Virginia, Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania, and Twenty-third Illinois, commanded respectively by Major H.H. Withers, Lieut. Col. Van H. Bukey, Maj. J.W. Holliday, Lieut. Col. J.P. Linton, and Capt. S.A. Simison, and numbered 1,841 officers and enlisted men for duty. I formed it in line of battle, under the supertendence of the commanding general, in the open field in rear of a wood into which the First Brigade had just been sent forward, and in which it was then resting. Having formed my line, I threw it forward into the woods, under the direction of the colonel commanding the division, being aided very materially by different members of the colonel’s staff as well as by my own, the thickness of the woods and unevenness of the ground rendering it very difficult to preserve a good line in advancing. Having advanced to near the open ground on the opposite side of the woods, I found my command immediately in the rear of the First Brigade, which had halted and was resting. My command did the same, and upon a short reconnaissance I found that the First Brigade had been advanced so as to form a continuation of the line formed by the Nineteenth Corps, and that it thus occupied at that time the right of our line, the left of the First Brigade being a little to the rear and overlapping somewhat the right of the Nineteenth Corps. The Third Brigade now occupied a position parallel to the First and a few paces in its rear. Whilst resting here I received an order from the colonel commanding to throw my two right regiments to the rear in a line perpendicular to the line of battle, for the protection of our flank, and to have them throw forward skirmishers as far as the edge of a small creek or slough that bounded our right flank, and was at the same time informed that Colonel Wells, of the Thirty-four Massachusetts, commanding the First Brigade, had been ordered to throw a regiment to the rear in like manner on his right, with which my two regiments would connect and form a continuous line. Colonel Duval, of the Ninth West Virginia. Commanding the Second Brigade, who had formed his command in two lines in my rear at my first formation in the field, I now found had thrown his command across the slough above referred to, and by deployment of his command formed a continuation of our lines on our right on the opposite side. The First Division was now ordered to charge, and at once both the First and Third Brigades moved forward in fine style, clearing the woods and emerging with hearty cheers into the open field in front of the enemy, who, on this part of the field, occupied a stone wall some 300 yards distant in our immediate front and a wood on our left flank. Our lines pressed forward with irresistible impetuosity, dislodged the enemy and occupied the wall and the woods. I had sent my aide-de-camp, Lieut. W.H.H. King, of the Eleven West Virginia, on receiving the first order to charge, to the right of my command to bring up the two regiments that had been bent to the rear into line, and then bring them forward, as soon as I saw that that portion of my line fronting the enemy (consisting of the Tenth West Virginia, Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania, and Fifteenth West Virginia) were going forward gallantly in the open ground I went to the right to aid Lieutenant King in bringing up my right regiments that had been left thus in the rear, and found that, in addition to the Eleventh West Virginia and Twenty-third Illinois, a portion of the Fifteenth was still in the woods, and that the First Brigade had also left the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts behind in a similar manner. These regiments and part of a regiment were still in the woods, which, at this part of my line, ran forward between the field and creek or slough above referred to, to a distance of half a mile. Feeling the importance of keeping up a connection between my right and Colonel Duval’s left, I now threw this portion of my command forward, through the woods, my right sweeping the edge of the slough. The woods being brushy and the ground difficult I had some difficulty in getting my subordinate officers to understand the movement which I desired them to make, as well as in advancing this portion of my line after my wishes were understood. And I cannot omit to mention the valuable assistance which I received in this portion of my task from Lieutentants Hornbrook and Ballard of the division staff, as also from my aide-de-camp, Lieutentant King. I here found that in the slough, which some little distance to my front bent round to my right in front of Colonel Duval, so that it had to be crossed by him, was nearly impassable, and that large portions of his command were returning along its side, looking for a place at which they could cross, which they found in the vicinity of where I was then advancing, and having recrossed, they at once formed line and came up in my rear. Having extricated my command from the woods, and finding nothing in my immediate front, supposing it had been swept over by Colonel Duval with that portion of his command which had succeeded in effecting a crossing on my right, I made a left wheel, and quickly came up on to the plain in front of the enemy’s left, finding nothing supporting me on my right, in continuation of my line, but groups of soldiers scattered over the field, advancing as they could from one cover to another these all being in advance of me. I now found that the First Brigade, with the exception before mentioned, of the Thirty-four Massachusetts, which was with me, and that portion of the Third that advanced through the field on the first order to charge, were occupying positions on my left, and in advance, and that the effect of our combined movements had resulted in a deployment which placed that portion of my command, and of others, which I had brought from the woods, on the right of the First Brigade. I was now fairly in front of the enemy’s left, from whom I received a terrible storm of shot and shell; nevertheless, I was able to advance my command in tolerable order to a position about 150 paces to the rear of a prolongation of our lines in advance, which now enjoyed the cover of the woods, and in the open ground of a stone wall. The wall, however, stopped short of my immediate front, and my men could get no cover except that afforded by the inequities of the ground and by scattering rocks and trees. The enemy’s artillery had now gotten my exact range and was throwing shells rapidly and with terrible effect. I was at the same time exposed to a terrible fire of musketry at good range. My command was compelled to seek shelter wherever it could be found, but nobly maintained its ground. I was here joined by Lieut. O.P. Boughner, my acting assistant adjutant-general, who had accompanied my left through all its various changes, and from him received very valuable assistance in holding my position. I was also joined here by Colonel Duval, whose presence and counsel assured both myself and my command very greatly. With the aid of Colonel Duval and Lieutenants Boughner, Hornbrook, and Ballard, and other officers, the men were encouraged to go forward singly and in squads, from one cover to another, acting as sharpshooters. This had a marked effect in slackening the enemy’s fire, particularly that of his artillery. The colonel commanding now made his appearance on this part of the field, and superintended all subsequent operations. Here Colonel Duval and Lieutenant Boughner each received disabling wounds and were carried off the field. Lieutenant-Colonel Linton, commanding Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania, was severely wounded a little on my left, and had to retire. At this juncture our cavalry, which had occupied a commanding position on our right, made a most gallant charge, sweeping across the plain occupied by the enemy, dashing amongst them everywhere, routing and capturing as they went. In this charge, a large number of prisoners were brought out. The enemy again attempted to rally, especially around his guns, but our lines, having taken advantage of the confusion created by the charge of our cavalry, advanced rapidly and quickly had possession of his guns and put a stop to his last show of resistance. I now collected together what I could of my command and advanced in line, throwing forward skirmishers as far as the fort on the ridge north of town, when, under the direction of the general commanding, I changed my direction, swept the ridges on the western edge of the town, and advanced as far as Mill Creek, south of the town, where I bivouacked for the night.

My losses in this engagement were quite severe, as will appear from the accompanying list of casualties. They are also very unequally proportioned amongst the different regiments, the Tenth West Virginia having suffered very nearly one half of the casualties of the brigade. This was owing to the fact that it occupied the left of my line, and was exposed to a heavy enfilading fire at close range from a wood on my left as it advanced. Here Captain Ewing, commanding Company G of the Tenth, fell; also Lieutenant McCollum, acting adjutant of the same regiment.

I have only to say that the conduct of my command, both of officers and men, was eminently satisfactory.

I have the honor to subscribe myself, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

T.M. Harris
Colonel Tenth West Virginia, Commanding Brigade

Lieut. F.L. Ballard,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., First Div., Army of West Virginia.

Tenth West Virginia Infantry
Battle of Opequan
27 Killed, 77 Wounded, 0 Missing – Total Casualties 104

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Updated 28 March 2010