Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Jackie Martin.
IMPORTANT FROM THE ARMY OF THE JAMES.
DETAILS OF THE REBEL ASSAULT.1
The Loss of Artillery—Behavior of the Cavalry—Particulars of the Repulse of the Rebels The Retreat and Pursuit—The Casualties—Narrow Escape of General Kautz—Gen. S. P. Spear Slightly Wounded.
SPECIAL REPORT FROM MR. E. T. PETERS.
HEAD-QUARTERS ARMY OF THE JAMES, Oct. 7,
Via Washington by Telegraph, Oct. 9, 1864.
A vigorous assault by the enemy, with the object of turning our right flank and thus forcing us from our position, was this morning successfully repulsed. Successfully in this, that the primary object of our assailants was entirely defeated.
The Forces Engaged.
The troops engaged on our side were General KAUTZ’ Division of Cavalry, which held the extreme right, and a portion of the Tenth Corps (Gen. [Alfred] TERRY’S Division), which formed the right of our infantry line. The latter, as is most generally known by this time, extends from near the James River on the left, across the New Market road, its right resting between this and the Darbytown or Central road.
To the right of the infantry, and extending across the road last mentioned, to the distance of about a mile beyond it, was posted Colonel WEST’S Brigade of KAUTZ’ Cavalry. A brigade (Colonel SPEAR’S) was holding a road which enters the Darbytown road at right angles, somewhat over a mile below the point where the latter was crossed by Colonel WEST’S lines. This, which is known as the White’s Tavern road, extends across to the Charles City road, and it was to guard against an enemy coming down it from the latter, that Colonel SPEAR’S Brigade had been posted as described.
Advance of the Enemy.
It was down the Charles City road that the enemy first came, and moving across the country towards the Darbytown road, which is a little more than two miles distant, attacked SPEAR’S Brigade, front and west, on the right flank, a little before daylight.
Commencement of the Battle.
The part of the latter brigade first struck was a squadron of the Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, occupying a small earthwork near the Gerhart house, and about a mile to the right of the Darbytown road.
A Position Taken.
On this information of the direction of the attack, Colonel WEST quickly changed front, and formed his brigade in line along the road, where a slight ridge of earth, on which had formerly stood a stone fence, was turned to account as a breastwork, and afforded some little protection.
Strength of the Enemy.
Of course, our men fought dismounted; they resisted as stubbornly and as long as possible, but the enemy were in overwhelming force. Ten battle flags were counted as they came up. Our men had no advantages of position to offset the great disparity of numbers, and the attack soon became so irresistible that they had no alternative left but to retreat or be cut to pieces or captured. Even to retreat was now a matter of some difficulty. The enemy, overlapping our right flank, had got into the Darbytown road, below us, and the only line of retreat left was straight across the country to the New Market road, a narrow and little used road, through the woods being the only route by which the wagons and ambulances could be brought off.
Loss of Artillery.
Owing to the difficult character of the ground to be passed over, and the haste with which it was necessary to retire, it was impossible to bring away the artillery. The Fourth Wisconsin Battery, and Battery B, of the First United States Artillery, which were with the division, fell into the hands of the enemy.
Our Losses In Men.
Our losses in killed and wounded were not large, and there is no reason to believe that the loss in prisoners is at all heavy. The latter is not fairly represented by the number now missing, as many of these will yet report themselves. The only regiments from which reports have been sent in this afternoon were the Eleventh Pennsylvania [Cavalry] and First District of Columbia [Cavalry], the former of which had one killed, six wounded and eighty-six missing, and the latter one killed, three wounded and ten missing. These regiments were as hotly engaged as any, and probably lost as heavily.
Lieutenant-Colonel STRATTON, of the Eleventh Pennsylvania, received a slight sabre cut in the wrist; Lieutenant Ginns(?), Third New York Cavalry, of Col. WEST’S Staff, was wounded in the leg, and Lieutenant F GULLIE, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General of Colonel SPEAR’S Brigade, in the back. Captain ASH First New Jersey Cavalry Acting Adjutant-General of KAUTZ’S Division; Lieutenant BEERS, Eleventh Pennsylvania, Acting Aid-de-Camp, and (illegible) of the Eleventh Pennsylvania are among the missing.
Narrow Escape of General Kautz.
The former had been with General KAUTZ but a moment before he was missing, and the General himself must have escaped capture very narrowly.
Col Spear Wounded.
Colonel SPEAR was struck on the ribs, but the bullet glancing from some obstacle contented itself (?) with tearing his clothes and taking off a button from his vest, and then passed on, leaving the Colonel bruised slightly on the side, but not seriously injured.
Lieutenant [Robert M.] HALL, commanding one of the captured batteries, was near experiencing the fate that befell his guns, viz., getting mired first and captured afterwards. He reached our lines, after much difficulty, so completely covered with mud that his most familiar acquaintances could hardly have recognized him.
Rebel Colonel Killed.
In this fight the enemy lost Colonel [Alexander C.] HASKELL, of the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry (illegible, but probably reporting him killed). Papers were taken from his body by some of our men which clearly identified him.2
Attack on the Tenth Corps.
Having driven our cavalry, the enemy now pushed rapidly across towards the New Market road, to attack the Tenth Corps, now in position.
Their force is known to have comprised FIELD’S Division of ANDERSON’S Corps, LAW’S Brigade of Alabama troops, GREGG’S Brigade of Texans and GEARY’S [sic, Martin W. Gary’s] Brigade of Cavalry.3 Their taste of success on the first encounter had inspired them with increased courage, and they swept forward to the main assault with great spirit and confidence. They did not find us unprepared however.
Gen. Birney Prepared.
[Tenth Corps commander] General [David B.] BIRNEY, apprised of their approach, had pushed General [Alfred] TERRY’S division of his corps to the right, and by the time the enemy came up they found this division in position in front of the New Market road, and at right angles with our main line. Disappointed in their plan of taking us in flank, they were, however, nothing daunted, but charged impetuously against us.
Attack on Our Lines.
The attack at this point was opened shortly after eight A. M., the enemy having lost not a moment’s time on the way. General TERRY’S Division [2/X/AotJ] was formed with the first brigade, Colonel POND on the left; the second, Colonel ABBOTT, in the centre, and the third, Colonel PLAISTED, on the right. Colonel CURTIS’ Brigade, of FOSTER’S Division, was ordered to support General TERRY on the right, but did not become engaged. The furious onset of the Rebels was sustained by the men of TERRY’S Division with the firmness of a stone wall. The centre brigade (ABBOTT’S) and the right and left respectively of POND’S and PLAISTED’S sustained the principal shock, and right nobly did they bear up against it.
Fierce Onset of the Enemy.
In vain the Rebel artillery thundered and shells screeched around them; and of no more avail was the steady courage with which the serried lines of Rebel infantry advanced upon them. They were immovable, and with volley after volley, fired with deadly precision, they laterally mowed down the advancing columns of the foe. The latter bore up under the terrible fire with a firmness worthy of admiration.
They came on until within one hundred yards of our lines, and at some points even nearer, but at length their fortitude gave way, their ranks were literally crushed by the storm of bullets rained upon them, and, breaking into complete disorder, they fled wildly back, while the merciless storm of lead still pelted them and accelerated their retreat. From other portions of our line not engaged, their retreat was visible, and could be quietly watched. Men flew pell-mell in all directions; colors rose and fell; one was seen to fall six times, indicating that as many bearers had been shot. In short it was a most complete and to the enemy disastrous repulse.
The foe was driven, and the fight was over by ten A. M.
Our Loss During the Assault.
Our loss in this part of the day’s operations was insignificant, that of the enemy must have been extremely severe.
Rebel General Gregg Killed.
The Rebel General [John] GREGG is reported killed.4
Several feints were made by the enemy for a few hours after the termination of the fight, one of massing against the right of the Eighteenth Corps, another of massing for another attack on General TERRY, but nothing further was attempted by them.
At 8 P. M. General TERRY moved out with his command towards the Darbytown road, and penetrated about two miles without encountering any opposition. The enemy appeared to have come to the conclusion that any further attack would be useless and quietly retired. Our infantry line remains as it was before the attack. Whether our cavalry will resume its old position will depend upon strategic considerations. We captured during the day about two hundred prisoners. To-night all is quiet.5
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was the Battle of Darbytown and New Market Roads. ↩
- Alexander C. Haskell of the 7th SC Cavalry, though severely wounded (he would lose his left eye), managed to survive his horrible wound. He lived into the Twentieth Century. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: Robert Hoke’s division was also present, but did not figure in the final assault against the Union infantry. ↩
- SOPO Editor’s Note: This was true. Gregg was killed in this phase of the battle. ↩
- “Important from the Army of the James.” Philadelphia Inquirer. October 10, 1864, p. 1 col. 1-3 ↩
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