At the time of the attack, which was made by Jackson without an advance of skirmishers, Devens’s reserve regiments were ordered up to support von Gilsa. There appears to have been something like a stand attempted; but the left wing of the Confederate line speedily enveloped von Gilsa’s front, and showed in rear of his right flank, when his regiments melted away.
Devens states in his report that a new line might have been formed on Gen. Schurz’s division, if the latter had maintained his ground, but acknowledges that the falling-back of his own troops “must undoubtedly have added to the difficulties encountered by the command of that officer.”
Schurz’s report is very clear and good. This is partly attributable to the avalanche of abuse precipitated upon his division by the press, which called forth his detailed explanation, and an official request for permission to publish his report. There existed a general understanding that Schurz held the extreme right; and the newspapermen, to all appearance, took pleasure in holding a German responsible, in their early letters, for the origin of the panic. This error, together with the fact of his having discussed the situation during the day with Gen. Howard, and of his having remained of the opinion that an attack on our right was probable, accounts for the care exhibited in his statements. That he did harbor such fears is proved by his having, of his own motion, after the attack of three o’clock, placed the Fifty-Eighth New York, Eighty-Second Ohio, and Twenty-Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, near Hawkins’s farm, in the north part of the Dowdall clearing, and facing west. Still Schurz’s report is only a careful summary of facts otherwise substantiated. He deals no more in his own opinions than a division commander has a right to do.
Schurz states that he strongly advised that the entire corps should take up the Buschbeck line, not considering the woods a reliable point d’appui. For they were thick enough to screen the manoeuvring of the enemy, but not, as the event showed, to prevent his marching through them to the attack.
When the onset came, it was impossible quickly to change front. Schurz’s regiments were all hemmed in between the rifle-pits before them and the woods in their rear. Still, more than half of the regiments of this division appear to have maintained their credit, and the testimony would tend to show that the men burned from five to thirty rounds each. But without avail. They were telescoped. Their defences were rendered useless. The enemy was on both sides of and perpendicular to them. It is an open question whether, at that time, any two divisions of the army could have changed front and made a good defence under these circumstances. Later in the war our soldiers were more habituated, particularly in the West, to fighting on either side of their breastworks. But these were raw troops. And this was not the first, nor was it the last, panic in the Army of the Potomac. But the corps had, as ill-luck willed it, nothing in its rear to repair or conceal its discomfiture.