MHSM Papers V5: Some Observations Concerning the Opposing Forces at Petersburg on June 15, 1864 by Frank E. Peabody

   

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in Volume 5

VII

SOME OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THE OPPOSING FORCES AT PETERSBURG ON JUNE 15, 18641

BY

FRANK E. PEABODY, ESQ.

Read before the Society November 11,1896

SOME OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THE OPPOSING FORCES AT PETERSBURG ON JUNE 15,1864

Confederate Forces.

General G. T. Beauregard’s letter to General Bragg, June 21, 1864 (81 W. R. 675), states: —

” My forces for the immediate defence of Petersburg consisted of Wise’s Brigade, some artillery, two regiments of Darling’s Cavalry, and a few militia.”

And on June 23, in a despatch to General Bragg: —

” Our total force was 2200.” (81 W. R. 683.)

General Beauregard wrote a letter in 1874 to General Wilcox, which may be found in the unpublished records of this Society (ante, p. 117), which goes more into particulars. He states (p. 119) ” 2200 men, infantry and artillery; ” and (p. 120) that he sent over to Petersburg the ” remainder of Bearing’s half brigade of cavalry;” and (p. 120) ” Dearing’s Cavalry less than 1000 strong.”

We must therefore take General Beauregard’s later statement of his force at Petersburg to be 2200 infantry and artillery, and less than 1000 cavalry, on the afternoon of the 15th of June.

I think these figures, however, will bear further examination. On May 21 he had reported the strength of Wise’s Brigade 2200. (69 W. R. 819.)

Captain W. Gordon McCabe, C. S. A., in a letter to this Society (unpublished records, vol. i, p. 38), gives the number of the militia as 75; also, two companies home guards (numbers not mentioned) and four light batteries.

Dearing’s Brigade of Cavalry had, according to the return

of June 10 (69 W. R. 891), 1932 present for duty. I cannot find why General Beauregard speaks of it as a ” half brigade.” At least two regiments were at Petersburg on the morning of the 15th, and General Beauregard states that the remainder were sent over in the afternoon. Its total by the return above mentioned was four regiments and one battalion.

The same return gives General Wise’s whole command, the First Military District, on June 10, 3013 effectives; of which four regiments and two battalions were south of the Appomattox and Swift Creek, and one regiment and two battalions were guarding railroads at various places.

I think it pretty certain, from the above, that General Beauregard’s force, available at Petersburg on the afternoon of the 15th of June, numbered about as follows: —

Infantry and artillery, about 2209
Dearing’s Cavalry, ” 1932

about 4000 men in all.

General B. R. Johnson’s Division formed a part of General Beauregard’s command, and occupied the intrenchments across Bermuda Hundred Neck, about three miles long, opposed to the line occupied by the 10th Corps of General Butler’s command.

General Beauregard’s letter, above quoted (ante, p. 119), gives its strength as 4500 ; but its return of June 10th shows 5124 present for duty. (69 W. R. 891.)

It was not present at Petersburg on June 15, but after General Smith’s capture of a portion of the main line of fortifications it was ordered over, abandoning the Bermuda Hundred lines altogether, and arrived in Petersburg on the 16th.

The division of General R. F. Hoke had been with General Lee’s army at Cold Harbor. It numbered, by the return of May 21 (69 W. R. 817), 7125 present for duty. This is its

latest prior return, and it had undoubtedly suffered some subsequent loss; but I imagine General Beauregard’s statement of about 4000 (ante, p. 120), is an underestimate. On June 30 it returned 5309 present for duty. (81 W. R. 707.)

The division had been sent by General Lee on the afternoon of June 14, to the vicinity of Drury’s Bluff, with a view to reenforce General Beauregard, if necessary.

It does not appear that it was placed under General Beauregard’s orders, however, at the time.

There has been some controversy as to the time of its arrival in Petersburg, which is worth while to examine at length, as it is the only important force that reenforced the Petersburg lines before the morning of June 16.

General W. F. Smith, in Chattanooga to Petersburg, says (p. 97): “At 11.30 A. M., June 15, General Hoke sends the following despatch to General Bragg: ‘I have just received orders to cross the river and report to General Beauregard. My troops are on the march.’ This implies that the troops under the orders of the previous day had marched to a point near the Appomattox, and had only to cross over to be in Petersburg. I had probably heard them when in my despatch of 1.30 p. M., I asked if reinforcements had arrived.”

If General Beauregard’s headquarters had been in Petersburg, or if General Hoke had reason to think them there, the above supposition might be warranted ; but the greater part of General Beauregard’s forces (that is, Johnson’s Division, 5100 men) were not in Petersburg, but were upon the line of the Bermuda Hundred intrenchments, and General Beauregard’s despatches of June 14 and 15 I find dated as follows (81 W. R. 652) :

Swift Creek. June 14, 7 A. M. (Swift Creek is about 3 miles north of Petersburg.)

Swift Creek. June 14, 7:15 A. M.

Swift Creek. June 14, 10.00 A. M.

Swift Creek, June 14, 3.15 P. M.

Swift Creek, June 14, 8.10 P. M.

Dunlap’s House, June 15, 7 A. M. (D.’s house is at R. R. crossing of Swift Creek.)

Swift Creek, June 15, 9.00 A. M.

Swift Creek, June 15, 9.30 A. M.

Swift Creek, June 15, 10.00 A. M.

Swift Creek, June 15, 11.45 A. M.

Swift Creek, June 15, 1.00 P. M.

Swift Creek, June 15, 1.45 P. M.

Petersburg, June 15, 9.11 P. M.

Therefore, if Hoke’s Division had arrived at a point near the Appomattox and had only to cross the river to be in Petersburg, they would have passed General Beauregard’s headquarters on the way; and Hoke’s expression, “cross the river and report to General Beauregard,” would be unnatural, to say the least.

Also, at 12 M., June 15, Bragg in Richmond sent a despatch to Beauregard as follows (81 W. R. 677): “Hoke’s Division was ordered to you early this morning, in time to be near at hand now, though his telegram of 11.30 says he had just received orders and was marching.”

This evidence, from despatches in the war records, indicates that when Hoke sent his 11.30 despatch his troops were east of the James, and not as General Smith supposes.

Next, evidence as to the actual movement of Hoke’s Division. (Despatches, 81 W. R. 652 et seq.)

Page 653. Bragg (in Richmond) to Beauregard: ” June 14, 9.10 P. M. General Lee reports … he has sent Hoke’s Division to Drury’s Bluff with a view to reenforce you in case Petersburg is threatened.”

Page 654. Hoke to Bragg: ” June 14. My troops are on the march. Will camp half a mile from Drury’s Bluff on the river road.”

Pages 676 and 654. (Some time after 9.10 P. M. See p. 676.) June 14. J. M. Otey, A. A. G., Headquarters Department, North Carolina and South Virginia. ” To General R. F. Hoke, Drury’s Bluff. General: The commanding general directs you to move at once, as rapidly as possible, with your division, to Petersburg, leaving one brigade at Walthall Junction.”

Page 658. Hoke to Bragg: “June 15, 11.30 A.M. I have just received orders to cross the river and report to General Beauregard. My troops are on the march.”

Page 677. Bragg to Beauregard : ” June 15,12 M. Hoke’s Division was ordered to you early this morning, in time to be near at hand now, though his telegram of 11.30 said he had just received his orders and was marching.”

Page 657. Beauregard’s order: ” June 15, 10.20 P. M. Clingman’s Brigade will take a R. R. train at Port Walthall Junction. As soon as practicable to follow Martin’s Brigade.” (These brigades both belonged to Hoke’s Division.)

Page 656. Beauregard to Bragg: “Petersburg, 9.11 P. M. June 15. Reinforcements not having arrived in time, enemy penetrated lines from Battery 5 to 8 inclusive. I shall order Johnson to this point with all his forces.”

I find no report from General Hoke.

From report of General Hagood, commanding brigade, Hoke’s Division, I extract the following relative to the point at issue (80 W. R. 801) : —

” On the evening of the 15th, about dark, my brigades arrived at Petersburg by the R. & P. R. R., and I was at General Beauregard’s headquarters reporting for orders, when a courier announced that the enemy had carried the defences from No. 3 to No. 7 inclusive, and that our troops were retreating. I was ordered to move out immediately upon the City Point Road and take a position to cover that approach.

” Halted at junction of City Point and Prince George Roads. Determined upon line of the creek which empties into

the Appomattox in the rear of No. 1, the West Fork of which crosses the line near No. 15, and established my command upon it.  Colquitt’s Brigade and the other brigades arriving shortly after were established in succession upon this line.”

I find no despatches or reports from Generals Colquitt, Martin, or Clingman, who commanded the other brigades of Hoke’s Division.

Colonel Duncan, commanding one of Hincks’s Brigades which captured Battery 10, said in his report written June 25, 1864 (107 W. R. 268):-

“This position [Battery 10] taken, the enemy immediately abandoned Battery 11, although from the statements of prisoners it appeared that the 42d North Carolina Regiment was close at hand to reenforce the work.”  (The 42d North Carolina Regiment belonged to Martin’s Brigade, Hoke’s Division.)

This apparently conflicts with Beauregard’s order of 10.20 P. M. quoted above; though not necessarily so, as the regiment may have arrived at a time different from the rest of the brigade.

Captain Charles G. Elliott, A. A. G., Martin’s Brigade, in a paper published by the Southern Historical Society, vol. xxiii, p. 195, states: “Our division crossed the James on a pontoon bridge bear Drury’s Bluff; and my brigade took the shortest cut through fields and dusty roads, and reaching the Appomattox, crossed the bridge after midnight and moved out on the City Point Road.”

From the above I think that the weight of evidence is that no part of Martin’s Brigade, or the others of Hoke’s Division, were opposed to General Smith’s assault or in position against him.

Humphreys (Va. Camp. ’64 and ’65, p. 209) says of this division’s movements:-

“He (Lee) directed Hoke’s Division to return to Beauregard.  It left Drury’s Bluff early in the morning of the 15th,

having 18 miles to march to the Petersburg intrenchments where threatened.  General Beauregard says that the leading brigade arrived by rail about sunset and was placed on Wise’s left, his (Hagood’s) left extending to the Appomattox.  The rest of Hoke’s Division arrived during the night.”

I think General Humphreys is mistaken as to the time of leaving Drury’s Bluff.  He does not state his authority.

It appears, therefore, that General Beauregard had in the Petersburg lines, June 15, about 2200 infantry and artillery, and about 1900 cavalry; that during the night he was reenforced by General Hoke’s Division, 5000 or 6000 strong; and that on the next day he had also General Johnson’s Division, 5000 effectives.

The line he had to defend on the 15th of June was over two miles long,–a long line for 2200 infantry and artillery to defend.

——

Union Forces.

General W. F. Smith (Chattanooga to Petersburg, p. 92) states that he “started on the morning of June 15 with only about 10,000 infantry.”

I have found no reason to doubt the accuracy of this statement of the infantry.  It included Brooks’s and Martindale’s Divisions of the 18th Corps and Hincks’s Colored Division.

A return of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, dated May 31, gives the 18th Corps 8537 effectives.  I am inclined to believe it is erroneous.  It is not an official return, but a compilation in the War Department of subordinate returns.

General Ames’s Division was not with the corps on June 15, being retained at Bermuda Hundred by General Butler.  Its place was supplied by General Hincks’s detailed report.  (80 W. R. 721.)

General Kautz’s return, May, 1864, gives 2936 effectives, the number of his cavalry.  His report (80 W. R. 728) states five regiments, or portions of regiments, and a section of artillery; in all about 2500 men.

I think, accordingly, that General W. F. Smith’s force for the capture of Petersburg was about 10,000 infantry and artillery, and 2900 cavalry.

At about 6.30 o’clock, June 15, the head of General Hancock’s Corps (Birney’s Division) arrived at the Bryant house, about a mile in the rear of General Smith’s left.  The corps was something over 20,000 strong.  The return of May 31, 1864 (69 W. R. 426), gives its strength as 26, 980, subsequent to which the battle of Cold Harbor was fought.  General Grant stated it as 28,000; but others think it less than that.  There is no return of near date except the compilation just spoken of.

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ABBREVIATIONS USED IN REFERENCES IN VOLUME 5 OF THE PAPERS OF THE MILITARY HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF MASSACHUSETTS

Source:

  1. Papers of the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, Volume 5, pages 147-156

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