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1864 November 19: Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road

November 24, 2014

The following reports on the Battle of Fair Oaks and Darbytown Road come from the November 19, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  The battle was fought October 27-28, 1864, as part of the Siege of Petersburg.  You will also see it referred to as the Second Battle of Fair Oaks. Union General Benjamin F. Butler attacked the Richmond defenses along the Darbytown Road with the X Corps.  The XVIII Corps marched north to Fair Oaks where it was soundly repulsed by a division under Confederate General Charles W. Field.  The Confederate forces took some 600 prisoners.  The Richmond defenses remained intact and the Siege of Peterburg continued. For some basic information on many of the soldiers mentioned here, see footnote 1.

ARMY CORRESPONDENCE.

From the Nineteenth Regiment—How it fought and lost at Chapin’s Farm. 

NEAR RICHMOND, Va., Oct. 28, 1864.

EDS. STATE JOURNAL :—On the arrival of the veterans of the 19th at Point Comfort, Va., they were, by request, ordered to the front.  The three years men were held in Norfolk, Va., to do provost duty, except very few, such as officers and sergeants, who were needed with their companies, and a few patriots banished to the front semi occasionally because of their love of whiskey or some other darling weakness.

The veterans, their commanding officers and the banished patriots, continued on the lines on the west of Chapin’s Farm till the 26th, when we were relieved by a part of the 3d division, 18th army corps.

Our division (2d) rested for the night and on the morning of the 27th we started for the right of our lines, where we arrived about 12 M.  We rested about half an hour, then advanced about one mile beyond the Fair Oaks Battle field, deployed to the left of the highway and advanced through a pine copse where we engaged the enemies skirmish line.  We then advanced in good order, in battle line, on the double quick, driving the enemy across a ploughed field on an ascending plane, till we came within one-eighth of a mile of a rebel fort.  The ground then descended, and on went the 2d brigade, 2d division, till close on to the walls of the fort, where we were met with an enfilading fire from right and left as well as a direct fire from the fort.—Our brigade numbered about 600 souls, in an open field, exhausted by an advance of three quarters of a mile, through a shower of rebel bullets, on the run, now encountered two ditches and the fort all manned by about 1500 rebels ;  just imagine, 600 in the field, exhausted from 12 miles march, the last three quarters of a mile on the run, led against 1500 rebels, well covered by breastworks, fronted by deep ditches, and protected by an abuttis.  Yes on went our brave fellows, cheering amidst the death rattle of their comrade and the encouraging hurrah, or bravo boys, of their commanding officers, every one of whom endeared himself to the men of the 19th.  More noble and patriotically amongst them stood Capt. Patrick Bennett, who to the moment of his death, shouted “give it to them, boys,” as he led waving his hat high above his head.  I have always doubted the manhood of large men, but our Adjutant, Chipman A. Holley, 6 feet 6 inches, towered on to the enemies breastworks, every inch a man ;  and so died the burly, but noble hearted Lieut. Wright, but sir, not a man nor officer faltered till the very air seemed be turned from its course by rebel bullets, then we lay down and hugged the earth close, fighting as best we could for three long hours, vainly looking for reinforcements.

About 5 p. m., Col. Fairchild [Lucius Fairchild], acting General in charge of our brigade, composed of the 148th and 89th New York and the 19th Wisconsin, gave orders to retreat ;  but alas, it was too late, many rose to their feet but to fall dead or wounded, others seeing they could fight on their face and hands, but never retreat with any show of life, continued the battle till we fell back, while the rebels advanced and took those who remained prisoners.

Capt. Martin Scherff, Co. F, Capt. H. Wentworth, Co. K, and Adjt. C. Hollery, are all prisoners at Libby Prison, Richmond.  From Col. Strong we only know he was wounded through the knee and left on the field.  He asked some men and an officer to help him off, all of whom, for some patriotic reason, declined retarding their own progress in such undertaking.

Lieut. Lowery went in like a man at the head of his division, and was last seen on the hill close to the fortifications.

Capt. Spain was the commander of the Division led in by Lowery (companies D, and C,) but the General this day detailed him as Brigadier officer of the Day, whose duty it then became to see that every man and officer remained with his regiment and did his duty on the field, and faithfully did he perform his duty.

The men in past times often accused their officers of cowardice, and Spain knew it, and on the field twice we came near having a panic. Acting General Fairchild, his Assistant Adjutant General Capt. Puhlman, of the 19th, and the rest of his staff, assisted by Capt. Spain and Col. Murry of the 148th “Division officer of the Day,” in vain tried to ally the men by prayers and threats, and impelling their way, when Spain shifted his place from the front of the men to their rear, thus getting between them and the rebel fire. He then yelled “now boasters run and leave your officers, here we stand between you and your enemy.” Whereupon the 19th said “no never, we’l [sic] stand by you,” and again we formed a line. Again the line was broken and could not be formed. Capt. Spain was then the only officer of the 19th with us, and he being a Captain was on the left of the other two Regiments. The line should be started on the right, but neither the 148th nor the 89th being able to start the line, Capt. Spain then jumped to the front, and says to the 19th Wisconsin, “forward and right oblique to the right, till we show our neighbors from New York how to form a line under an enemies fire,” and we did so. We then mustered 15 men and 5 Sergeants and the Captain.—An officer then jumped to the front of the swaying mass, composed of the remnants of the 148th and 89th and yelled “New York dare do what Wisconsin can,” and again our line was formed, and here we remained till the 9th Vermont was ordered to our front. Our whole brigade at this time would number perhaps, 60 men.

On our first attempt to stop the stampede, one of the General’s Aide, a Captain of the 2d Pennsylvania, had his ear split open with a musket ball.

After night, Major Vaughn [sic] got off the field and assumed command of the Regiment, and behaved throughout most nobly.

1st Serg’t. Howard of Co. I, was wounded in four places, and when his son, a private in the same company was helping him off the field, he got his scalp cut with a ball, that covered his head and face with blood, but did no serious harm ; the young fellow marched boldly off, and conveyed his parent clear off the field and to the hospital, where they both remained.

The names of the 15 men and 5 Sergeants who formed and took the right of the Brigade are

Co. A—1st Serg’t. C. A. Chandler, E. A. Burton, Wm. Swetland, James Curtis, Wm. Pitt and John Wearing. Co. D—Corp. Michael Kane, G. W. Norris and Thomas Brand. Co. E—Joshua Davis and George Chafee. Co. G—Serg’t. Wm. A. Hollenbeck, S. A. Lamphear and Cyrus Kidder. Co. H—1st Serg’t. T. Cherroin. Co. I—1st Serg’t. Wm. Taylor and his son A. Taylor, D. T. Watters and James Smith.

We lost our colors, and charge it to those who ordered us to charge and do an impossibility for our numbers. There were some 20 more of the boys conveying the wounded to the hospital.

X.

The Nineteenth Regiment—Letter from Major Vaughan.

Correspondence of the State Journal.

CHAPIN’S FARM, Va., Nov. 1, 1864.

MESSRS. EDITORS : On the morning of the 27th ult. the 19th Wisconsin was ordered to join a reconnoissance [sic] in force, consisting of a large portion of the 18th Army Corps. We left camp at 5 A. M., with three days’ cooked rations, proceeded in a northerly course, passing through a portion of White Oak Swamp, and arrived on the old battle-field of Fair Oaks about 2 P. M. same day. At this point our advance became sharply engaged with the enemy’s skirmishers, driving them back a distance of three-fourths of a mile into their works. Fairchild’s brigade, composed of the 89th and 148th New York and 19th Wisconsin, (only the veterans being with us,) was at once sent forward to charge a six-gun fort, and in doing so had to pass over an open plain three-fourths of a mile wide, subject to a withering cross-fire as well as a direct one from the works we were charging.  In crossing this plain or open field full one-half the brigade fell. The advance succeeded in reaching within one hundred yards, but could go no further, and, as a protection, laid down in this position and remained some two hours, expecting supports would come to our assistance. It was now about 5 P. M., and the “Johnnies” knowing they had us, charged out over their works and captured nearly the whole of the regiment. Some few escaped, choosing rather to run the fire of a storm of rebel bullets than be sent to the “Hotel de Libby” [Libby Prison] or Belle Isle [Belle Island Prison]. Among the fortunate was your humble servant.

We took into the fight about one hundred and eighty men and nine officers. Our loss is one hundred and forty men and eight officers. Among those known to be killed are Capt. Patrick Bennett, of Co. E, from Racine county, and Lieut. John Wright, of Co. H, residence Milwaukee. Capt. Martin Scherff, of Co. F, Capt. Harmon Wentworth, of Co. K, and Adjutant C. A. Holley are prisoners in Libby. Lieut. Wm. Spiegleberg was wounded and brought off the field. Lieut. Col. R. M. Strong (known to be wounded) was last seen on the field. Fears are entertained that he died upon the field, as nothing can be heard of him. Lieut. James G. Lowery and Orderly Sergeant A. E. Christie, of Co. D, are wounded and prisoners in hospital in Richmond. Very few of the wounded succeeded in getting off the field.

I am unable to inform you further at this time. Very respectfully, S. K. VAUGHAN, Major Com’dg.

From the Nineteenth Regiment—Losses in the Recent Movement.

PROVOST MARSHAL’S OFFICE, } Head Quarters, District of Eastern Virginia. } NORFOLK, Va., Nov. 1, 1864. }

Editors State Journal :—The following is a copy of a letter just received from the front :

CHAPIN’S FARM, Oct. 30, 1864.

CAPT. TABOR [sic] :—You of course retain a lively interest in your Company, (Co. A) and there never was a time when active sympathy was more needed than now. John has written you, undoubtedly, most of the particulars of the fight of last Thursday. He was not in the charge, and of course could not see all that I saw. Captain if you had been there, and lived to get out, you would have been proud of your old company. The whole regiment and brigade went in like heroes, but it was sheer madness to attempt to carry those works with a single line. Our regiment was on the extreme left of the assaulting line, and was exposed to a murderous cross-fire, as well as to a direct fire from the front. Col. Strong fell during the advance, shouting “Go in, boys, I’m hit !” He is said to have received a ball in the leg, and could not be got off the field, but is probably a prisoner, as the rebels charged out and killed or captured all that were left. Major Vaughn [sic] showed great pluck, and was one of the very last to leave the field. He came off unhurt amid a shower of bullets, only a single ball passing through his coat. Poor John Fuller fell short through the breast, while carrying the colors. Carpenter caught them up and he too fell. Our flag was lost, but with it was lost most of the regiment.

Captains Scherff and Wentworth and Adjutant Holley are in Libby Prison, as we learn from a rebel paper. Captain Bennett was brought off the field dead. Lieut. Lowry [sic] and Sergt. Major Earthman are missing. Only two Orderly Sergeants came off unhurt—Charroin and myself. Howard, of Co. I, was severely wounded. Nolan was hit twice and is supposed to have been killed. The rest are missing. The casualties in Company A were as follows : Sergt. Dwinelle, wounded in both legs, hand and head—all slight ; Corp. Fuller, killed ; Corp. Rathbun, wounded in hip ; — Grote, in head ; Dick Thorne, in hand ; Sergt. Palmer, Corporals Apker and Hobby, Bingman, Cooper, O. H. Dwinnelle, Enser, Fordick, Gahrigen, Hollinshead, Livingston, Mallow, Miner, N. H. Pitte, Pietzsch, Sanborn and Winchester are missing.

The Regiment now consists of 84 men, organized as one company, of which I am Orderly Sergeant, Charroin Sergeant Major and Adjutant, and Spain Captain.

C. A. CHANDLER.

I learn that of Company B only three are left. Their names are as follows :—Charles Kribbs, Frederick Munzer and Jacob Grether.

Col. Sanders is still very low, but hopes are entertained of his recovery.

A. C. B.

1.  Men mentioned in this post:

  • Patrick Bennett — captain of Company E, from Waterford; killed at “Fair Oaks” (October 27, 1864)
  • Charles A. Chandler — 2nd lieutenant of Company A, from Reedsburg; promoted to captain in June 1865 but not mustered
  • Theophilus Charroin — at this time was 1st lieutenant of Company H, from Milwaukee; he died in Richmond on April 30, 1865
  • Adam E. Christie — 1st sergeant Company D, from Fordham; wounded and taken prisoner at Fair Oaks; promoted 2nd lieutenant in June 1865 but not mustered
  • Eugene A. and Osgood H. Dwinnell, from Reedsburg; Eugene was wounded at “Fair Oaks” and Osgood was taken prisoner
  • Albert Earthman — sergeant major, from Racine; originally from Company K; taken prisoner at Fair Oaks
  • Chipman A. Holley — the adjutant, from Avoca, originally 1st lieutenant of Company I; prisoner at Fair Oaks
  • James G. Lowery — at this time was the 2nd lieutenant of Company D, from Portage City; was wounded and taken prisoner at Fair Oaks; became captain of the Company in May 1865
  • Otto Puhlman — captain of Company G, from Plymouth; originally sergeant in Company C, 4th Wisconsin Infantry
  • Colonel Sanders — Horace F. Sanders, from Racine
  • Martin Scherff — captain of Company F, from Oshkosh; taken prisoner October 27, 1864
  • William H. Spain — captain of Company D, from Fordham; originally the 1st lieutenant and became captain when Vaughan was promoted to major
  • Wilhelm Spriegelberg — 1st lieutenant of Company F, from Bloomfield; wounded at Fair Oaks; resigned October 26, 1864
  • Colonel Strong — Lieutenant Colonel Rollin M. Strong, from Reedsburg, originally captain of Company A, then major; discharged April 1865 with a disability
  • Henry A. Tator — followed Strong as captain of Company A; from Reedsburg
  • Samuel K. Vaughan — currently the regiment’s major, but will become lieutenant colonel in April 1865 when Strong is discharged; was originally captain of Company D, then major, was named colonel in August of 1865 but never mustered, instead was brevetted colonel and then brigadier general of U.S. Volunteers; from Portage City
  • Hannon Wentworth — captain of Company K, from Kenosha; taken prisoner at Fair Oaks.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2017 7:47 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this information, I certainly appreciated reading it. I was particularly pleased to find a mention of my Great-Great Grandfather, Captain William Henry Spain, Company D, 19th Infantry Regiment, Wisconsin Volunteers. Are there any other bits of information you might have come across pertaining to him or his unit…? Thank you again!

  2. May 22, 2017 10:54 am

    We don’t have anything else here in River Falls, but try the Wisconsin Historical Society. I did a search of their Civil War database for “William Spain” and got 18 hits: http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/search/collection/quiner/searchterm/William%20Spain/field/all/mode/all/conn/and/cosuppress/0. These are all things you can look at online.

    Have you found his Find A Grave entry: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=11423365&ref=acom.

    Looks like he lived in Adams County before the War and Columbia County after the War. For more information on him in Adams County, contact the Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (archives@uwsp.edu). The Wisconsin Historical Society is the Area Research Center for Columbia County and their email is askarchives@wisconsinhistory.org.

    • May 23, 2017 7:17 am

      I had a fair amount of information already, particularly concerning his (short) post-war life – was just trying to gain additional granularity as to potential conflicts/duties in which he and his unit may have been involved.

  3. May 23, 2017 9:31 am

    One of those 18 items that WHS has online will be the official printed history of the 19th. That will have dates and battles taken from the hand-written reports sent in at the time. The official rosters also include battles and dates that each individual soldier participated in. We have microfilm copies of those rosters and for $5 could look up Capt. Spain and send you either printed or digital copies. You can also get that same information from WHS, plus they may have even more information as they have those hand-written reports.

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