NP: July 29, 1864 Richmond Examiner: The Capture of The Rockbridge Artillery’s Parrotts, July 27, 1864

   

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in July 1864

THE WAR NEWS

New Market1, the point at which our troops on the north side [of the James River north of Deep Bottom] are, is only twelve miles from Richmond and for that reason it would appear to be very difficult to receive any authentick accounts of military operations from thence in less than twenty-four hours.  If it was distant seventy five miles we should hear in twelve hours satisfactorily of everything of importance that transpired.

We had several reports from New Market yesterday but no official or absolutely authentick advices.  Some cannon were heard in that direction yesterday morning [July 28, 1864], and there was, we are inclined to believe, some heavy infantry skirmishing.  A soldier, who says he left there at three o’clock, P. M., yesterday [July 28, 1864], reports that up to the time of his departure three of our infantry brigades had been engaged and had driven the enemy about two miles.  We think we hardly drove them so far, unless they drove us much further this way on Wednesday [July 27, 1864] than we had been taught to believe.2

THE CAPTURE OF THOSE PARROTT GUNS.

The capture of the four twenty pounder Parrott guns of the Rockbridge [VA] battery, on Wednesday morning [July 27, 1864], was one of the most singular affairs of this war.3  It seems that our line of battle was drawn up along the New Market road, which runs from Richmond in a southeasterly direction, a small portion of our infantry line extending east of the battery, guns of which were in pits on the side of the road.  The guns were pointed south, that is towards the river, which is not more than a mile distant from their position.  In front of their position, and between them and the river at Deep Bottom was the Yankee forces behind intrenchments.4  This was the situation early Wednesday morning [July 27, 1864].

Under cover of the fire of a battery behind their intrenchments, a Yankee infantry force5 advanced directly towards our guns, while another force bearing east struck the New Market road some distance below our position and then advanced up the road towards our left flank.  To meet this movement our infantry on the left of the battery swung around and turned their faces southeast, and the guns of the battery were drawn from the pits, and being pointed down the road, opened upon the enemy with cannister.  The swing of the infantry was so badly performed as to partake very much of the nature of a retreat.  When they got into line to meet the flanking party who were coming up the road, their right, instead of resting on the battery, was from twenty to fifty yards to the rear of it.

Both bodies of the Yankees had now gotten within a hundred yards of the battery, one body between it and the river, the other on the road.—Just then our infantry received orders to fall back, which movement was executed promptly and without firing a musket, leaving our artillerists to fight their guns until the enemy were within fifty yards of them, entirely unsupported.  The artillerists then saved themselves.  To have remained longer with their guns would have been folly.

From all we can learn our infantry did not behave unbecomingly, having only throughout executed the orders they received.

We give below parts of a letter from a member of the Rockbridge battery, describing the affair in which we lost the guns:

“NEW MARKET, July 27th, 1864

“Our infantry was in line of battle along the Charles City road.  They extended about one mile along the road, from the ‘Sweeny’ House to what is known as ‘Tilghman’s Gate.’  On the night of 26th [of July 1864], our battery was taken down from New Market Hill and placed in position on this line, in pits previously excavated by the company, supported by _______on the left and by_______on the right.  The same position was occupied by our battery when it shelled Foster’s camp6, and compelled Grant to ride off on a foundered horse, as reported by late Yankee papers.

“About eight o’clock this morning [July 27, 1864] the report came that the enemy were flanking us on the left.  Half an hour later our infantry formed in line at right angles to our formed line, we having drawn our guns out of the pits.  As the enemy moved round on our left______’s brigade swung round, uncovering our battery by the act making our fourth gun instead of our first the vertex of their angle.

“Very soon our infantry line was fifty yards in rear of the battery.  The men stood by their pieces and fired canister at the enemies’ skirmishers as they advanced on our then front, we having changed front with the infantry when we moved our guns out of the pits.  We checked their skirmishers, they waiting until their line of skirmishers came up on our flank.  We had no skirmishers out on our flank, although a colonel in ______’s brigade repeatedly asked for them.  The enemy only advanced with a skirmish line on our right, and were not troubled.  We turned one piece on them, but they were protected from our fire by the rise in the ground.  I know that if we had thrown out a line of skirmishers, we could have held them in check on our right long enough to have gotten the battery off by hand.  They advanced within one hundred yards of the battery and fired into us.  The infantry fell back, holding on well to the right, enabling us to get off all our men, and, owing to Captain Graham’s good management, ALL OUR HORSES, but losing four 20-pounder Parrott guns, captured from the enemy at Harper’s Ferry.  While I am stating facts it is but justice to say that, from the first the officers and men of Lieutenant-Colonel Hardaway’s battalion have openly and avowedly protested against placing this splendid battery in such a trap to fight gunboats.7

Captain [Archibald] Graham asked for muskets that his men might rally around him and retake the guns and work them, but it was refused.  All our men acted with their usual gallantry, our Lieutenant-Colonel and Adjutant both being present, and cheering us by their presence and coolness.

“The friends of the battery will be glad to learn that all the men escaped, not one killed or wounded, and not a horse lost.”8

SOPO Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.

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18640729RichmondExaminerP2C1TheWarNews

Source/Notes:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: New Market Heights is just north of Deep Bottom on the James River.  The Confederates held the high ground along New Market Heights during the first half of the siege.  They were stationed there in July and August 1864 during Grant’s Third and Fourth Offensives, respectively. In this case, the Examiner is looking for news from New Market Heights because it was the scene of the First Battle of Deep Bottom, fought July 27-29, 1864.
  2. SOPO editor’s Note: The Examiner is describing day one and day two of the First Battle of Deep Bottom.  On day 1, July 27, 1864, the Union had the better of things, capturing four 20 lb. Parrott Rifles along New Market Heights.  On day 2, July 28, 1864, four understrength Confederate infantry brigades under Lane, McGowan, Wofford, and Conner attacked the Union Cavalry divisions of Torbert and Gregg on the right of the Union line, but the Union cavalry were armed mainly with repeaters, and they held after being driven back a short way, ultimately driving the Confederate infantry back in turn.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: The rest of this article contains a detailed account of the loss of Captain Archibald’s four 20 lb Parrott Rifles, and includes a letter from an artilleryman in the unit.  The capture of these four guns by a reinforced Union skirmish line did not reflect well on the Confederate units defending the guns, and their capture is the most famous event of the entire First Battle of Deep Bottom. For even more on this event, check out Dan O’Connell’s detailed article on the battle.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: The Union soldiers facing the Rockbridge Artillery and its supporting infantry were members of Miles’ First Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac.
  5. SOPO Editor’s Note: This was a skirmish line consisting of the 28th Massachusetts, 26th Michigan, and 183rd Pennsylvania.
  6. SOPO Editor’s Note: Foster’s command held the entrenched bridgehead at Deep Bottom, south of the Confederate position.
  7. SOPO Editor’s Note: The reason Graham’s Rockbridge Artillery was placed where it was in the first place was because the 20 lb. Parrott Rifles could reach Union vessels, military and civilian, on the James River at Deep Bottom.  Based on this letter, it sounds like the Rockbridge Artillery and her sister batteries in Hardaway’s Battalion didn’t think too highly of the duty.
  8. “The War News.” Richmond Examiner. July 29, 1864, p. 2 col. 1

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