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5th North Carolina State Troops - Living History & Research

Colonel McRae's (5th NCI) Report - May 10th, 1862

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No. 76.

Report of Col. D. K. McRae, Fifth North Carolina Infantry, commanding brigade.

HEADQUARTERS EARLY'S BRIGADE, May 10, 1862.

GENERAL: I have the honor to report, under your order, the casualties in the Fifth North Carolina, commanded by me on the 5th in the battle near Williamsburg:

About 3 p. m. my brigade was formed in line of battle, composed of the Fifth North Carolina, on the right; Twenty-third North Carolina(Colonel Hoke) next; the Thirty-eighth Virginia (Lieutenant-Colonel Whittle) next, and Twenty-fourth Virginia (Colonel Terry) on the extreme left, with orders from General Early to ascertain the position and charge a battery of the enemy supposed to be stationed in the woods in our front. After the formation of the line we were moved forward by the direction of Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill, with instructions to approach the enemy close with trailed arms, without firing, until close upon him.

The line passed down into a marshy ravine and my regiment found itself in a dense undergrowth composed chiefly of pines, which made the advance in line difficult. On the verge of the field beyond I halted and reformed the line and examined for the enemy's battery. Not seeing any indications of his presence, I advanced the line about 100 yards into the field, and as soon as I did so a battery, situated at a distance of 700 to 900 yards on the left opened upon us with shell. I immediately changed the direction of the line so as to face toward this point, and found that this battery was posted in a skirt of woods near a redoubt, around and in which there appeared to be at least a brigade of the enemy. As soon as I made this movement I found that the line was broken, and I could neither see Colonel Hoke with the Twenty-third North Carolina, nor Lieutenant-Colonel Whittle, with the Thirty-eighth Virginia. The approach to the battery was through an openfield of soft earth, without any cover for my troops, and feeling great anxiety, I dispatched my adjutant (Lieutenant McRae) and Maj. P. J. Sinclair to General Hill, with a request to be informed what battery I was to charge. Major Sinclair returned with an answer that I was to charge the battery which opened on us, and to do it quickly. I immediately put the line in motion, and the men sprang off at a rapid pace.

About this time a regiment, which I found afterward to be the Twenty-fourth Virginia, Colonel Terry, engaged the enemy at some 300 yards to my left, in front, and drove him out of some houses toward his redoubt. Finding the Twenty-third and Thirty-eighth still absent, I saw the necessity of connecting my line with this regiment to support it, and at the same time get the cover of the houses referred to. I ordered my line to advance, obliquing to the left, and when I found my men advancing too rapidly and sufficiently obliquing, I ordered a halt, passed to the front of the line, and urged my men to move less rapidly and to press more sensibly to the left, and, to compose them ,I ordered them to lie down. The enemy had now commenced to fire upon us with rifles, which began to be fatal, and this moment I observed Captain Early, General Early's aide, some distance on my left waving me on. I then pushed on. My color-bearer was first struck down, when his comrade seized the flag, who fell immediately. A third took it and shared the same fate; then Capt. Benjamin Robinson, of Company A, who carried it until the staff was shivered to pieces in his hands. Under this fire of grape from the battery and volleys from the infantry the regiment continued to advance until I found a slight shelter of a low fence within 100 yards of the redoubt. The fire was terrific; my men and officers were falling on every side. The Twenty-fourth Virginia, on my left, was suffering in like proportion. I had delivered my first fire at the distance of about 150 yards, and my men were now firing with effect upon a body of the enemy who were retreating into the redoubt.

At this time Colonel Terry fell upon my left; Lieutenant-Colonel Hairston also, and the horse of Major Sinclair had been killed under him. Lieutenant-Colonel Badham fell upon my right, and I found that Major Maury, of the Twenty-fourth Virginia, and myself were the only field officers remaining mounted. I had previously sent my adjutant to General Hill, announcing my loss and the danger of my position, and earnestly begging re-enforcements; but finding my force too small, and the position fatally destructive, I did not wait his return, but ordered my command to fall off down to the cover of the fence, and immediately after I received the order to retreat. The charge upon the battery was not attended by success. I have no doubt it would have been had the Twenty-third North Carolina and the Thirty-eighth Virginia, as originally designated, participated in the assault, for the enemy were so much disconcerted at the persistent advance of the troops that he drew off one or more of his pieces, and his infantry, under the severe fire of the two regiments, hastily sought shelter in and behind the redoubt. How heroically my men and officers endeavored to execute the charge intrusted to them the list of casualties hereto appended will exhibit; and it is a matter of pride to the survivors, as it was to all engaged, to know that their whole conduct was under the direction and immediate observation of their major and brigadier generals, the latter who fell while bravely leading the attack.

All of my officers and men behaved with equal courage, and no discrimination can be made among them. My regiment is now so reduced as to be inefficient. I beg that it may be speedily supplied, and I ask you, general, in calling to the attention of the Department this request, to suggest that my first lieutenants, who are now with me, may be assigned to the companies which have lost their captains by death, wounds, and imprisonment, except in the case of Capt. H. C. Jones, who was wounded, but who escaped, and who, I hope, will soon resume his command.

My adjutant, who was with me throughout the fight, rendered me valuable assistance, and his good conduct did not, I am sure, fail to attract your attention.

I beg to bring, to your notice another instance of patriotic action which merits remark; Mr. Nicholson C. Washington, a young gentleman of Saint Louis, who volunteered as a private in my ranks and on this occasion accompanied me as my orderly on the field. He maintained his position by my side and delivered my orders along the line with coolness and precision. I ask your favourable consideration to his claims for a commission.

I was unable to bring off more than 40 of the wounded.

I have the honor to accompany this with a list of casualties in this and other regiments of this brigade.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

D. K. McRAE,

Colonel Fifth North Carolina Regiment, Commanding Brigade.

(O.R., S.I. Vol. XI, pt. 1, pp.610-611)

Sources

Weymouth, J. (1973). North Carolina Troops 1861-1865 A Roster Vol. IV Infantry. Office of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.

http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/moa/ browse.monographs/waro.html

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