NP: June 29, 1864 Philadelphia Inquirer: Gregg’s Cavalry Division at Samaria Church, June 24, 1864

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in June 1864

The Siege of Petersburg.

—–

No Stirring News—Gregg’s Cavalry Engage the Enemy—They Guard a Wagon Train and are Attacked—A Desperate Fight—The Rebel Cavalry Driven Off.

Special Correspondence of the Inquirer.

BERMUDA HUNDRED, June 25, 1864.

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The 1st Maine Cavalry and the rest of David McM. Gregg’s Cavalry Division faced an onslaught of five Confederate brigades under the command of Wade Hampton at Samaria Church on June 24, 1864. (Harpers Weekly)

At the close of a day marked by heat of the most intense and oppressive character, and which is calculated to paralyze exertions of any description, whether mental or physical, and while everything and everybody in this latitude presents an appearance of almost suspended animation, I proceed to furnish the readers of THE INQUIRER with such information in the shape of war news as has transpired since yesterday [June 24, 1864].

With regard to the movements of the army proper, that is the infantry and artillery composing the commands of Generals GRANT and BUTLER1, nothing new has transpired since the last news forwarded to THE INQUIRER, with the exception that considerable firing was heard this morning, about eleven o’clock, in the direction of Petersburg, and apparently very near that doomed but, as yet, uncaptured city.

GREGG’s Division of SHERIDAN’s Cavalry [2/Cav/AotP] have had their hands full of work since Thursday morning last [June 18, 1864] on the Peninsula, and which work culminated yesterday afternoon [June 24, 1864] in an engagement marked by fighting of the fiercest character2, and during which, owing to the immensely superior numbers of the enemy, our cavalry were pretty severely handled.

From a participant in the engagement, belonging to the 1st Maine Cavalry, and with whom I had a short interview, I gleaned the following points connected with the affair:—

General GRANT had made arrangements for a wagon train, with necessary supplies, to be at the White House in order to furnish provender, &c., to the cavalry who were engaged in the recent expedition in the direction of Gordonsville, on the return of said expedition.3 After WILSON’s [3/Cav/AotP] and TORBERT’s [1/Cav/AotP] divisions had received what they required from the same wagon train, they proceeded on their way to the James river, while a portion, or, if I mistake not, the whole of GREGG’s division [2/Cav/AotP], were left to guard the said wagon train in its passage to the James river.

The train, with its escort, left the White House on Thursday [June 23, 1864] on which day considerable skirmishing ensued, with small losses on our side. Fighting was resumed on Friday [June 24, 1864] at different points of the line guarding the wagon train, until when within about two miles of Charles City Court House, about ten miles from the James River, at Harrison’s Landing, a general attack was made by the Rebel cavalry in great force, and with the evident intention of capturing the entire train.

This attack took place about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and continued until dark, during which time our cavalry, although greatly outnumbered, by dint of the most determined resistance, succeeded in saving the train from capture and bringing it intact to the James River, where at the present time it lies under the friendly cover of the gun-boats of [Acting Rear] Admiral [Samuel P.] LEE.4

It is thought the losses on both sides during the fighting on Friday [June 24, 1864] was considerable.

The most of the fighting in the early part of the day was done by our men dismounted. When the principal attack was made the opposing lines were in such close contact that in several instances sabres and carbines clashed with one another, the Rebels charging with drawn sabres, and our boys receiving them with their carbines.5

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Source/Notes:

  1. SOPO Editor’s Note: This is a perfect example of how newspapers slighted General Meade until at least October 1864, when Sylvanus Cadwallader of the New York Herald instructed his reporters to start mentioning Meade’s name again.  In early June 1864, Meade had Edward Cropsey, a newspaper correspondent from this very paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, kicked out of his lines.  Prior to the ejection, the correspondent was forced to ride a mule facing rearward and wear a board calling him a “libeler of the press.” Newspaper reporters agreed not to mention Meade going forward, except in connection with failures.  They did so until Cadwallader’s directive to his men, and some carried it forward even after that.  The truth is that Butler and Meade commanded armies, and Grant commanded all forces present.
  2. SOPO Editor’s Note: This is the Battle of Samaria Church, so often incorrectly called St. Mary’s Church by Union sources.
  3. SOPO Editor’s Note: This expedition had been planned to distract the Confederates from Grant’s crossing of the James River and to potentially cut the Virginia Central Railroad.  Sheridan had been turned back at the Battle of Trevilian’s Station on June 11-12, 1864, and the battle of Samaria Church on June 24 was the last of many such fights in a lengthy running battle between Trevilian’s Station and safety south of the James River.
  4. SOPO Editor’s Note: Ultimately, the wagon train crossed the James on June 26, a day after this report was written, and the rest of Sheridan’s cavalry followed on June 27-28, 1864.
  5. “Gen. Butler’s Department.” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PA). June 29, 1864, p. 1 col. 2-3

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Fulton January 28, 2021 at 9:21 am

Brett,

Here is an excerpt from Pvt. Spann Jeffers’ letter written on 25 June 1864. The two Jeffers brothers were in the 7th SC Cavalry; Henry also wrote an account of the day, but unfortunately that letter was lost.

From Spann Jeffers to his sister:

“Camp of 7th Regt SCC
Near Smiths Store
June 25th 1864

. . . . During the past ten days our Regiment has been continually moving, our stay at each camp being short and uncertain and affording poor opportunities for writing.

On the 23rd inst we were stationed near “Deep Bottom” to watch the enemy who were landing at that place. During the night about 12 o’clock we were ordered to report to Gen Hampton at Salem Church, which is twenty-five (25) miles from Richmond on a road connecting the “River Road” from Richmond to Charles City CH with another running farther north between the same places. We arrived at Salem at daylight and were sent from there to Nance’s Shop. (I have marked out the relative positions of the roads & churches which may enable you to find them on the map which Henry sent.) We halted at Smiths Store about 4 o’clock. Skirmishing began midway between Nance’s S. & Samaria Church.

The enemy were soon driven back to the latter place when our Regt was ordered in. We were posted in a piece of woods in rear of our line of battle, to which it was intended our advanced line should fall back so that Hampton could have a better opportunity of flanking them by coming up the road from Salem Church. Our men however did not fall back but drove the enemy steadily before them, and Hampton coming up on their flank they commenced a precipitate retreat. The “7th” was then ordered forward to support the artillery which went in pursuit. We marched on foot about five miles pouring the grape & canister into them at every opportunity untill night came on, and we returned to our horses and came to this camp. We were not under fire during the day and cannot claim any share in the achievement of the victory. Our pursuit however was very tiresome and when we returned to the horses I entertained the same feelings for “Betsy” which Henry had for “Dobbins” at the Pocotaligo Battle.

It was entirely a cavalry fight. The Yankees have heretofore declared that they did not fear our cavalry and yesterday said they were fighting against infantry. They had one division engaged. It is reported that we killed three hundred. I counted eighteen immediately on the road and they [were] more numerous in other portions of the Battle field, where the principle fighting was done. Three hundred however may overreach the number. . . .”

It is interesting that in both accounts the cavalry are said to be dismounted. Was that common in fights on the wooded banks of the James?

Brett Schulte January 28, 2021 at 12:03 pm

Lisa,

Thanks again for the detailed letter! By 1864, cavalry often fought dismounted, especially in these larger cavalry fights.

Brett

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