Number 230. Reports of Brigadier General James H. Wilson, U. S. Army, commanding Third Division, of operations June 17 – July 30

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 80)

No. 230. Reports of Brigadier General James H. Wilson, U. S. Army, commanding Third Division, of operations June 17 – July 30.1

GRAVELLY SPRINGS, ALA., February 18, 1865.+

At 5 a.m. June 17 the division began crossing the [James] river, the entire army, except trains, having already crossed. The same evening bivouacked about two miles beyond Prince George

Court-House, and the next day went into camp, at Mount Sinai Church, on the Blackwater. The services required of my command during this movement were trying in the extreme upon the endurance of the men and horses. For the intelligent and zealous performance of the duties assigned them Colonels McIntosh and Chapman were recommended for and subsequently received their promotion.

On the 20th I received instructions from General Meade to prepare my command for an expedition against the South Side and Danville railroads.

On the 21st Brigadier-General Kautz reported to me with his division of four regiments. I was ordered to strike the railroad as close as practicable to Petersburg and destroy it in the direction of Burkeville and the Roanoke River. The High Bridge on the South Side road and Roanoke bridge on the Danville road were especially to be aimed at. Having broken up these roads as far as possible, I was authorized to cross into North Carolina and make my way either to the coast or to General Sherman in North Georgia. If I could not cross the Roanoke River I was left to my own judgment what route to purpose in returning to the Army of the Potomac or the James River. Foreseeing the probability of having to return northward, I wrote to General Meade the evening before starting the I anticipated no serious difficulty in executing his orders, but unless General Sheridan was required to keep Hampton’s cavalry engaged, and our infantry to prevent Lee from making detachments, we should probably experience great difficulty in rejoining the army. In reply to this note General Humphreys, chief of staff, informed me it was intended that the Army of the Potomac should cover the Weldon road the next day, the South Side road the day after, and that Hampton having followed Sheridan toward Gordonsville I need not fear any trouble from him.

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+For portion of report (here omitted) covering operations from April 7 to June 16, 1864, see Vol. XXXVI, Part I, p.875

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Having made all necessary arrangements and left two regiments (the Eighteenth Pennsylvania and Third New Jersey Cavalry) to picket on the left of the army, at 3 a.m. of the 22nd the expedition, consisting of about 5,500 cavalry and twelve guns, began the march by the way of Reams’ Station and Dinwiddie Court-House. The troops were supplied with five days’ light rations, and about 100 rounds of ammunition in wagons. At 2 p.m. the advance, under Colonel Spear, of Kautz’s division, struck the South Side road at the Sixteen-Mile Turnout. At Reams Station Chapman’s brigade, covering the rear of the column, was attacked by the enemy’s cavalry pursuing; sharp skirmishing was kept up till the by the enemy’s cavalry pursuing; sharp skirmishing was kept up till the rear arrived at the South Side road. But the Advance, encountering no opposition, pushed on rapidly to Ford’s Station, where it captured two trains of cars with locomotives, burned the depot, water-tanks, and wood piles. The First Brigade of my division was kept employed from the time it reached the road till late at night in tearing up and burning railroad track, and details from the entire command were kept at the work of destructions till a late hour at night.

At 2 a.m. the next day I ordered Kautz’s division to push on with the utmost rapidity for Burkeville Junction, and followed with the balance of the command as rapidly as it could march and destroy the road. At Blacks and Whites, following the trail of Kautz’s division, we were misled and marched several miles on the direct road to Burkeville. I soon discovered the error and returned to the main road, but the rebel cavalry in pursuit, having kept straight forward, were met at the crossing of the railroad track near Nottoway Court-House. Chapman’s brigade, in advance, attacked them with spirit and drove them back some distance. The rebels were

re-enforced and in return compelled Chapman to fall back to the railroad. They attacked with great vigor, but were repulsed. Chapman was then re-enforced by the Fifth New York, but it being by that time quite dark, and the troops fatigued by their labor and marching, I determined not to renew the engagement till I could hear from General Kautz. The rebels having been severely handled by Chapman’s brigade remained quiet during the evening and night.

Just before daylight of the 24th, having heard of Kautz’s success at Burkeville through Captain Whitaker, of my staff, whom I sent to communicate with him, I withdrew from the position near Nottoway Court-House, and by a rapid march through Hungarytown struck the Danville railroad near Meherrin Station. Kautz having burned the depot and stores at the Junction, and destroyed the tracks for several miles in all directions, had just passed Prices’ Station when I arrived there. I sent an order to him to halt his division and tear up the railroad track till the command could be united. After working with great perseverance the whole command bivouacked that night in the vicinity of Keysville.

Early the next morning the march was resumed, heavy details engaged in destroying the railroad. About 2 p.m. the advance arrived at Roanoke Station, near the Roanoke or Staunton River. The bridge was found well defended – 500 or 600 men and a battery of six guns strongly posted in earth-works on the south side of the river. The day was very hot, and the approach to the head of the brigade through a bottom field of growing grain. I posted the batteries on the hills, nearly three-quarters of a mile from the brigade, and directed General Kautz to dismount his division and endeavor to push close enough to the end of the bridge to set fire to it. After a most gallant and exhausting effort he was compelled to give up the task. Many of the men fainted from exhaustion, thirst, and heat. They had been hard at

work from daybreak in the heat of the sun, made more hot by the burning railroads and buildings, and were in no condition to overcome the natural defenses of the bridge, under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry. But while General Kautz’s men were doing their utmost to reach the bridge, the rebel cavalry unsuccessfully attacked Chapman’s brigade, near the crossing of Little Roanoke. He had been directed to look out for the rear, in anticipation that they would endeavor to strike us while operating against the bridge. Having found, from careful inquiry, there were no means of crossing the river without allowing the rebels on the north side to cross by the railroad bridge, and thus unite all the forces in that section, and having convinced myself by personal inspection of the great difficulty and loss was should necessarily experience in again endeavoring to carry the brigade, I determined to withdraw to the eastward and march back to the James River. The objects of the expedition had in the main been accomplished. Every railroad station, depot, water-tank, wood pile, bridge, trestle-work,

tool-house, and saw-mill, from fifteen miles of Petersburg to the Roanoke River, had been burned. Most of the track of the South Side road north of Burkeville and all of the Danville road from the Junction to the Roanoke bridge were destroyed. The temporary interposition of Lee’s division of cavalry between different parts of our column prevented General Kautz from moving against the High Bridge near Farmville, on the upper Appomattox. The Danville road from Burkeville to the Roanoke having been constructed by laving flat iron rails upon tramway of pitch pine, was completely destroyed, with great ease, by piling fence-rails along both sides of the track and setting them on fire.

Having thus completed the work assigned me, under cover of the night I withdrew my command to Wylliesburg and halted about daylight, fed, and rested. The enemy no longer pressing upon us, the column returned to the northeast by easy marches; passing through Christianville and Greensborough, crossed the Meherrin at Saffold’s Bridge, and thence through Smoky Ordinary and Poplar Hill, to the Nottoway at the Double Bridges on the direct road to Prince George Court-House. The whole command arrived at this place by the middle of the afternoon of June 28. From all the information I could gather I was led to believe that Hampton’s cavalry had not yet made its appearance in that vicinity, and that the only force barring the march of my command was a battalion of infantry and a remnant of W. H. Lee’s division of cavalry, stationed at Stony Creek Depot, in all not to exceed 1,000 men. The road to Prince George Court-House passed two miles and a half to the west of the depot, and a picket of fifty men was reported to be stationed at Sappony Church, where the main road crossed the road from the depot to Dinwiddie Court-House. I determined, therefore, to lose no time, but push on with rapidity to that place, drive the pickets back to the Stony Creek Depot, and under cover of darkness march the whole command as rapidly as possible toward Prince George Court-House. The advance guard, under the direction of Captain Whitaker, of my staff, found the picket posted as I expected at the church, and by a spirited dash drove it toward the depot. This success had scarcely been reported before the enemy received re-enforcements and in turn drove back the advance guard to the head of the column. Colonel McIntosh hastily dismounted his brigade and attacked the rebels with great spirit, driving them rapidly back to Sappony Church, where they had constructed a rail breast-works. A few prisoners were captured, from whom I learned that Hampton’s and Fitzhugh Lee’s divisions of cavalry had just arrived. Knowing from the character of

the enemy’s resistance this information to be correct, I determined to hold the position with my own division till the balance of the command with the train could move by the left flank through the country to the road leading to Ream’s Station. I hoped to march entirely around the cavalry at Stony Creek, and reach the left of our infantry before Hampton could discover my intention. I therefore directed Chapman to support McIntosh, while Kautz should conduct the column in its new march. In the mean time the enemy, finding that my troops had ceased to advance, made his dispositions and attacked them with great fury, but were repulsed with heavy loss. It was then some time after dark. Fitzhugh’s battery was run to the front on the left of our line and posted by Colonel McIntosh so as to sweep with direct cross-fire all the ground. Maynadier’s battery was posted near the road. Sharp skirmishing continued throughout the night; the enemy attacked three times with spirit, but were met with determination equal to their own and each time repulsed with loss. By dawn everything had been withdrawn, except a part of Chapman’s brigade. The enemy, discovering the state of affairs, pushed in on Chapman’s left flank and broke through. Colonel Chapman gathered his command and marching rapidly on a large circuit rejoined the column near Reams’ Station.

At 7 a.m. June 29 General Kautz’s advance arrived in the neighborhood of that place, but instead of finding it int the possession of the infantry of the Army of the Potomac found Hoke’s division of rebel infantry strongly posted. He attacked them at once but after capturing about 60 prisoners was compelled to withdraw his troops. By 9 a.m. the entire command was untied. Having remained with McIntosh throughout the night I did not arrive until about 8 a.m. I had previously sent Captain Whitaker, of my staff, forward with instructions to make his way with the utmost rapidity to General Meade’s headquarters. After examining the ground and getting all the information I could from citizens in regard to the enemy’s position, I determined to mass the entire command on the road leading to Petersburg – artillery behind the cavalry, ambulance next to the artillery, ammunition wagons last – and make a bold push to break through the enemy; having done this, to cross the railroad three miles north of Reams’ Station and join the left of the army. But before the necessary dispositions could be made the enemy covered this road also with a strong force infantry. The scouts soon after reported a heavy body of cavalry moving around our left flank. In company with Colonel McIntosh I carefully reconnoitered the enemy’s line, but after examining it closely could see not reasonable hope of breaking through it our turning it. I therefore directed the troops to take all the ammunition required, and after leaving the ambulances and setting fire to the train, withdraw from their position by the Boydton road to the Double Bridges on the Nottoway – unless in the meantime something should be done by General Meade to relieve us. In confidently hoped that either the firing of our artillery or the message of Captain Whitaker would bring troops to our assistance. It was evident from the deliberate movements of the rebel infantry that they fully expected to capture my command. The situation was critical. Hampton with two divisions of cavalry at Stony Creek Depot, Hoke’s division of infantry at Reams’ Station, on our right flank, connecting with another large force formed in two lines of battle in our front, and W. H. F. Lee’s division of cavalry marching around our left flank, were clear enough indications of the rebel intentions. It was plain nothing but great celerity of motion could extricate the command. I therefore clearly indicated the route

to be pursued, and directed General Kautz and Colonels McIntosh and Chapman to withdraw their commands as soon as possible. All dispositions had been made and the movement fairly begun when the rebels, by passing to the left under cover of the woods, attacked the left and rear of the two regiments yet in line to cover the movement. Lieutenant Fitzhugh turned his battery upon them and compelled them to retire, but their presence in that locality caused him as well as the two regiments to withdraw to the rear by the right flank and march parallel to the road. Kautz did not attempt to reach the road again, but pushed through the woods with the larger part of his command, till finally, by bearing to the left, crossed the railroad, between Reams’ Station and Rowanty Creek, that night and bivouacked behind the army. I received no information, however, of his movements, except through stragglers from the regiments of his division, 300 or 400. They knew nothing of his movements, but represented the balance of the command captured. My own division was finally assembled in column with as little confusion as could be expected, and after passing Sappony Creek suffered but little annoyance from the enemy. The guns of Fitzhugh’s and Maynadier’s batteries as well as those attached to Kautz’s division fell into the hands of the enemy, but were not captured in the fight. Having been compelled by the movement on our flank to withdraw through the woods, the officers and men could not get them through the swamp of Hatcher’s Run and Rowanty Creek, and only abandoned them after every effort to extricate them had failed. Lieutenant Ward, of Maynadier’s battery, succeeded in getting two of his guns away, but his horses having become exhausted by the rapid and long continued march he was compelled to throw the guns in the Nottoway River.

After withdrawing from the vicinity of Reams’ Station, the march was continued without intermission, by the Double Bridges to Jarratt’s Station, on the Weldon railroad, where the command arrived about daylight of the 30th. A small picket of the enemy was dispersed and the march continued eastward directly toward Peters’ Bridge, on the Nottoway, and forded the river at that place. Thence bearing to the northward it marched as rapidly as possible toward Blunt’s Bridge, on the Blackwater, arriving there at midnight. The bridge had been previously destroyed, but after an hour’s hard labor was rebuilt. The entire command crossed by daylight, and after burning the bridge marched to the vicinity of Cabin Point, on the James River. The entire command arrived at 2 p.m. of the 31st [July 1] and encamped till the next day.

During this expedition the command marched 335 miles, 135 between 3 a.m. of the 28th and 2 p.m. of the 31st of June [July 1]. During this interval of eighty-one hours the command rested from marching and fighting not to exceed six hours. The loss sustained by the entire command was about 900 men, killed, wounded, and missing. Twelve field guns, 4 mountain howitzers, and 30 wagons and ambulances were abandoned and fell into the enemy’s hands.

From the 1st to the 28th of July my division remained in camp at Jordan’s (or Light-House) Point, on the James Rive, resting, refitting, and recuperating.

On the 29th of July, in pursuance of orders, it marched to the Westbrook house, near the Jerusalem plank road, and from that place picketed the left and rear of the army. The next day I received a note from General Humphreys, chief of staff, informing me the explosion of the mine and assault following had been successful and directing me to

attack the rebels in my front, reach the Weldon railroad if practicable, and drive the enemy into their fortifications at the lead-works. I had carefully examined the grounds and made all necessary arrangements to advance, when my movements was countermanded.*

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. H. WILSON,

Brevet Major-General, U. S. Volunteers.

Lieutenant Colonel J. W. FORSYTH, Chief of Staff, Middle Mil. Div.

HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY EXPEDITION, Light-House Point, Va., July 3, 1864.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of operations of the troops under my command during the recent expedition against the South Side and Danville railroads.

On the 21st of June I received instructions from Major-General Meade, through his chief of staff, to move with my division and four regiments of General Kautz’s, against the above-mentioned railroads for the purpose of destroying them, and to continue my operations till driven from them by a force of the enemy so strong that I could no longer contend with it successfully. Having accomplished the object of the expedition I was directed to return to the Army of the Potomac. In pursuance of these instructions the forces under my command marched from their camp in the vicinity of Prince George Court-House at 2 a.m. on the 22nd of June, General Kautz’s division in advance. They pursued an intricate route to Reams’ Station on the Weldon railroad, and thence through Dinwiddie Court-House to a point on the South road about fourteen miles from Petersburg. The enemy’s cavalry pickets were met at first on the Jerusalem plank road, but no resistance was made to the march. Just as the rear of the column was passing Reams’ Station it was attacked by a considerable force of cavalry, afterward ascertained to be the division of W. H. F. Lee. Kautz’s advance reached Ford’s Station about 4 p.m., capturing 2 locomotive engines and 16 cars, all in good order, burning the depot buildings, water-tanks, ties, wood, and destroying the railroad completely for several miles. The Third Division, moving more slowly, took ample time to destroy the track all the way from the Sixteen-Mile Turnout to Ford’s, and burnt a large saw-mill used in preparing lumber for the road. The men of the whole command were kept diligently at work in the vicinity of that place till midnight. About 6 p.m. Chapman’s brigade, constituting the rear guard, was attacked again by rebel cavalry, but after a sharp fight drove the enemy off.

At 2 a.m. the 23rd General Kautz’s division proceeded rapidly to the Burkeville Junction, where it arrived in the afternoon, meeting but slight resistance. The men were at once put to work burning the depots, tanks, track, trestle-work, and wood in all directions. The Third Division, Colonel McIntosh commanding, was ordered to march more slowly, and destroy the railroad completely. The men worked cheerfully, and by piling fence rails over the railroad iron lengthwise with the road and burning them the rails warped by expansion and ties so destroyed as to compel the entire reconstruction of that part of the road between the Sixteen-Mile Turnout and Blacks and Whites Station. At the latter place the advance of Kautz’s division was misled and thereby caused the Third Division to leave the direct road and lose

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*For continuation of report, see Vol. XLIII, Part I.

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three or four miles by passing to the southeast and crossing the Nottoway River. By the time its advance had regained the road the enemy’s cavalry, by pursuing a direct road from near Ford’s, and succeeded in reaching it near Nottoway Station and interposing themselves between the two division of my command. Chapman’s brigade was at once deployed and pushed the enemy for some distance, getting possession of his battery, but in turn was driven back a part of the distance over which it had advanced. From 1 p.m. until nearly 9 the contest was continued with considerable intensity, the enemy making several determined efforts to drive us from the railroad. The First Brigade was held on the road to Hungarytown, in order that when Kautz’s position became known exactly I might have choice of roads and the certainly of forming a junction with him. Captain Whitaker, of my staff, was detached with a squadron to communicate with him. He carried orders for Kautz to join by the road from the railroad junction to Lewiston in case he found it necessary to leave the railroad. Late in the evening, finding that the enemy did not seen disposed to trouble the First Brigade, two regiments were detached to support Colonel Chapman. This was one of the most determined cavalry engagements in which this division has participated, and resulted in serious injury to the enemy. Prisoners captured reported the force of the rebels as two brigade of H. W. F. Lee’s division. Our loss was about 75 killed, wounded, and missing, among the latter Captain Sayles, of the Eighth New York Cavalry, a most gallant and accomplished young officer. He is supposed to have been wounded in the leg during the first advance of his regiment.

At 5 a.m. on the 24th, having heard of Kautz’s success at Burkeville, and that he proposed to move to Meherrin Station, on the Danville road, the Third Division was directed to march by the road through Hungarytown to the same point. Instructions were sent to General Kautz to hold on at that point, destroying the track up and down the road till the whole command could be reunited and the work assigned it prosecuted with system. He was also instructed to detach one regiment to proceed at once to the Roanoke or Staunton bridge, but moved toward Keysville, lower down the road, before my order reached him. The Third Division reached the Danville road, two miles north of Meherrin Station, at 2 p.m., and continued the destruction of the track from that place to Keysville, arriving at the latter place about night. The whole command continued work till all the track in the vicinity of its camps had been completely destroyed. The Danville road, having been laid with flat iron on wooden side rails notched into large ties, was easily and effectively destroyed by using the fence rails, as previously indicated in this report.

On the morning of the 25th the forces proceeded along the railroad toward the Staunton River, burning the track effectually and destroying the depots at Drake’s and Mossing Ford, as well as all the saw-mills along the line; a very large one at Mossing Ford, owned by the railroad company, and used for sawing the string pieces for the railway, was burnt, with the view of delaying the preparation of lumber to reconstruct the road. Every depot,

turn-bake, water-tank, and trestle-work between the Sixteen-Mile Turnout on the South Side Railroad to the Roanoke bridge on the Danville road was destroyed. At 6 p.m. on the 25th, the advance having arrived at Roanoke Station, General Kautz’s division made an attack upon the bridge across the Staunton River, hoping to reach the northern end and hold it long enough to burn it, but the enemy having six guns in position in works on the south side of the river and four lines of rifle-trench between them and the river-bank,

defended by the militia of eight counties and a small force from Danville, our forces were not able to get closer then seventy or eighty yards to the bridge. After a determined effort, lasting till after dark, the attack was terminated and the troops directed to hold an advanced position, covering the road crossing at Roanoke Station. Simultaneously with Kautz’s attack of the bride Lee’s cavalry attacked our rear, under Chapman, but as usual was held in check without any serious difficulty or loss. Finding that the bridge could not be carried without severe loss, if at all, the enemy being again close upon our rear, the Staunton too deep for fording and unprovided with bridges or steam ferries, I determined to push no farther south, but to endeavor to reach the army by returning toward Petersburg. Our position, from the peculiar topography of the side, was rather dangerous, and in order to extricate the command it became necessary to move it by night by a road crossing the railroad running to the southeast along the foot of the bluff and within 500 or 600 yards of the enemy’s guns. The march was therefore begun about midnight, McIntosh in advance, followed by the trains and Chapman’s brigade, Kautz’s division covering the movement. The following sketch will show the details of this as well as of the position and defenses of Roanoke bridge.*

The advance reached Wylliesburg by daylight on the morning of the 26th and halted. Two hours were allowed for the men to make coffee, and the march resumed through Christianville and Greensborough to the Buckhorn Creek, in Mecklenburg County, and camped for the night, or rather for four or five hours. Early the next morning the march was resumed, the column crossing the Meherrin at Saffold’s Bridge and going thence east to Great Creek on the Boydton plank road. From this place it moved to Poplar Mountain, in Greensville Country, crossing the Nottoway at the Double Bridges near the mouth of Hardwood Creek. I arrived there about noon on the 28th, where I learned that the enemy had a small force of infantry at Stony Creek Depot, on the Weldon road, and two small detachments of cavalry which had been cut off from Lee’s division when we marched southward. The most diligent inquiry from the negroes and captured pickets gave no information of any other force. This, together with the fact the road from Double Bridges to Prince George Court-House passes two miles to the westward of Stony Creek Depot, induced me to take that route, and accordingly the advance was pushed forward with the utmost rapidity with orders to drive in the reserve picket at the crossing of the road just mentioned, and the one from Stony Creek Depot to Dinwiddie Court-House, and clear the road for the main column. This order was handsomely executed under the directions of Captain Whitaker, of my staff, and state of affairs found to be nearly as represented. Shortly after the rebel picket had been driven in our advance was attacked by a strong force of dismounted cavalry and driven back. Colonel McIntosh immediately deployed the First Brigade, Third Division, and in turn pressed the enemy back to the position near an old church. In accomplishing this a few prisoners were taken, from whom we learned that the advance of a part of Hampton’s cavalry had just arrived from Richmond. Although it was then night a fierce fight ensued, lasting to nearly 10 o’clock, the enemy making several determined attacks but gaining no ground. It was at once apparent that the prospect of penetrating their line at this place was by no means flattering and that a new route must be chosen. Directing Colonel McIntosh, with the Third Division to cover the road upon which he was, I ordered Kautz, with his division

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*See p.631.

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and the train, to take a road to the westward leading to the old stage road to Petersburg and running close to the north side of the Sappony Creek. This movement began at 10 p.m., but the road was difficult to follow, having been but little traveled.

It was broad daylight on the morning of the 29th, before the troops confronting the rebel position could be withdrawn, and by that time the enemy, who had been busy all night in strengthening his line and in attacking ours, was ready to make an advance in force. Colonels McIntosh and Chapman exerted themselves to the utmost to hold the enemy in check, and the troops held on with great tenacity. The first line was withdrawn difficulty, but the second was taken in flank by the enemy and driven to the rear on the road to the Double Bridges. Some of the troops succeeded in joining the main column by the county road, but the main body, under the guidance of Colonel Chapman, were compelled to move through the woods and did not join till later the day. These operations will be understood by reference to the following sketch.* By 7 a.m. of the 29th General Kautz’s advance reached Reams’ Station and drove in the enemy’s infantry pickets, unexpectedly found there, and was in turn driven back and thrown into some confusion. Rallying his line and re-enforcing it, a new advance was made, driving the enemy back and capturing between 50 and 60 prisoners from Finegan’s brigade, of Mahone’s division of infantry. Shortly after this I arrived with the balance of the force and found General Kautz’s command in position on the road leading from the stage road to the station. The general informed me of the situation of his command and gave me some information in regard to the enemy’s movements. McIntosh was ordered to advance his command along the road toward Petersburg and prepare for an attempt to break through the enemy’s line between Reams’ and the Six-Mile House. For the first time I then learned that, contrary to my expectations, no part of the Weldon railroad was in possession of the infantry investing Petersburg, and that instead of my command being in the immediate vicinity of our lines the enemy held the road and interposed a strong force to prevent our junction. From information obtained from negroes and others I was led to believe that the enemy had most of his force in my front in the neighborhood of the station, and that the interval between there and the Six-Mile House was almost unguarded. Presuming this to be reliable I determined to mass my whole force, with ambulances and wagons in rear, and make a vigorous attempt to break through. I had ordered the dispositions of the troops accordingly, when a large force of infantry in line of battle, covered by a heavy skirmish line, was reported advancing down the main road from Petersburg with a heavy line of skirmishers deployed across the fields through which I proposed passing. Colonel McIntosh, my staff officers, and I, reconnoitered the road and found not less than a brigade of infantry, with guns in position. To render our position more perilous, my scouts soon reported the movement of troops toward our extreme left flank. In the mean time, anticipating difficulty of a serious nature, I endeavored to open communication with the infantry in front of Petersburg, and finally detached Captain E. W. Whitaker, First Connecticut Cavalry, of my staff, with about forty men of the veteran Third New York Cavalry. I have since learned he succeeded in reaching army headquarters about 10 a.m. On his way he gallantly rode through the enemy’s cavalry and infantry columns in motion, escaping with twenty men. Seeing no possible chance of getting through to our lines by this route or of receiving succor in time to

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*See p.632.

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benefit us any, and fearing the loss of my entire command without the utmost promptitude and rapidity of movement, I ordered the issue of all the ammunition the troops could carry, the immediate destruction of the wagons and caissons, and that as soon as these dispositions could be made, the whole force should move by the stage road and the Double Bridges to the south side of the Nottoway again. Shortly after 12 m. the movement began, but the enemy having perfected his arrangements advanced simultaneously, and by the strength of an overwhelming force of infantry swept away our covering force, breaking in between McIntosh and Kautz, and taking McIntosh’s line in reserve and left flank, threw the whole rear into confusion. Fitzhugh’s battery, having an advantageous position, swung to the left in echelon and drove the enemy back into the woods, but the check was only temporary. The Second Ohio and Fifth New York swung around toward Kautz’s division, followed by Fitzhugh’s battery; these force were not able to get back to the main road and moved off when closely pressed through the woods. The artillery succeeded in getting off the field, but had finally to be abandoned because it could not penetrate the woods. Lieutenant Fitzhugh, finding himself isolated and pressed on all sides by the enemy, spiked his guns, and with about fifty of his gunners, armed with carbines and pistols picked up from the field, turned back and rode gallantly through the lines of the enemy, crossed the railroad, and reached our infantry. Lieutenants Fuger and Leahy also succeeded in getting through with a few men. Lieutenant Ward, of Maynadier’s battery, took off one gun but was compelled to abandon it during the night march which ensued. It was thrown into a stream. Lieutenants Maynadier and Egan are missing. The officers of artillery behaved themselves in the handsomest manner.

General Kautz’s division marched parallel to this (Third) for some time, but did not succeed in joining the main column. Shortly after I had crossed the Rowanty I received a message from General Kautz,

saying that he would endeavor to follow me,but failing would try to find his way into the lines of the infantry by some other route. The enemy continued to press heavily upon Colonel McIntosh, who made the most determined efforts to rally his men and cover the retreat. His exertions soon resulted in the establishment of a strong rear guard, consisting of the Second New York, Fifth New York, and the First Connecticut. At Stony Creek the enemy made a vigorous push with dismounted cavalry, but the command having been reformed and all of the First Brigade added to the rear guard they were held until everything had crossed. The brigade being had and the creek unfordable, at one time the situation was critical in the extreme. The enemy opened with artillery before our men were all across, throwing the rear into some confusion. The negroes who had joined our columns in large numbers in all parts of the route added greatly to the embarrassment. It is reported that those who were unable to get across the bridge or to keep up with the column in its rapid movements were sabered or shot by the rebels. About 500 of Kautz’s men succeeded in joining my command and came in with it. Regarding it of the greatest importance that no time should be lost, I pushed with the utmost rapidity to the Nottoway, crossed at the Double Bridges between 10 and 11 p.m. and took the road to Jarratt’s Station. The head of the column reached a point within two miles of Jarratt’s by 2 a.m., and while waiting for a guide the column rested on the road nearly two hours. At dawn on the 30th of June it pushed on by the station, meeting no resistance except from a picket of the rebels. Taking a country road the column marched

rapidly to the east, crossing the Nottoway again at Peters’ Ford, near Littleton, about 1 p.m. As soon as the river was crossed the troops were allowed to rest, and resumed their march again at 6.30 p.m. for Blunt’s Bridge, on the Blackwater. During the night the flankers of Chapman’s brigade met the enemy’s scouting parties and brought in prisoners who said that Chambliss’ brigade had left Stony Creek that morning at 9 o’clock to intercept us on the Jerusalem road. This caused my column to expedite its movements. Its advance reached the Blackwater to find the bridge gone and the stream utterly unfordable. I immediately began the repair of the bridge, and, with the assistance of the advanced guard, soon had it fit for crossing by file, but the materials having been partly burned gave way. With the assistance of Colonel Chapman it was promptly repaired, but after crossing a few more men again failed. New string pieces were cut from the woods, and by 3 a.m. it was again covered with rails and ready for use. The whole command was over by 6,15 a.m., and the bridge destroyed. Shortly afterward a small force of the enemy made its appearance on the opposite side of the river. The command rested a few hours and then moved through Cabin Point to Chipoak Creek, where it camped.

Yesterday at 3 p.m. it arrived in camp at this place, having been gone ten days and a half and marched something over 300 miles, destroyed 60 miles of railroad and engaged in four combats. At no place did the troops rest longer than six hours, and during the last four days at no time stopped longer than four hours. The artillery, ammunition wagons, and ambulances were kept supplied with fresh horses and mules by parties under charge of Captain G. I. Taggart, division commissary of subsistence, acting chief quartermaster of the expedition. The work on the railroad was pushed during night and day, mostly by fire. The implements with which the expedition was to have been furnished had not arrived when the expedition started. The greatest credit is due to officers and men for the endurance, sleepless exertion, and gallantry. General Kautz, Colonels McIntosh, Chapman, Spear, and West did all in their power to make the expedition successful. Colonel Hammond, of the Fifth New York; Lieutenant-Colonel Purington, Second Ohio; Lieutenant-Colonel Brinton, Eighteenth Pennsylvania; Major Wells, First Vermont; Major Pope, Eighth New York; Major Bacon, Fifth New York; Major Moore, Eighth New York; Major Patton, Third Indiana; Major McIrvin, Second New York, the last two wounded, and many other officers are specially worthy of commendation for their gallantry and uniform good conduct. My own staff – particularly Captain Whitaker, First Connecticut Volunteers; Captain J. N. Andrews, Eighth [U. S.] Infantry, and Captain E. B. Beaumont – did their duty with great intelligence and unceasing industry. The reports of division and brigade commanders will give more detailed accounts of the operations of different parts of the command. A full list of casualties will be furnished in a few days. The missing cannot yet be fully estimated, though it will be much less than I feared at first.

The country through which we passed seemed well supplied with supplied of wheat, ripening oats, and cattle; but scarcely an ablebodied man out of the army was seen during the whole march. The negroes everywhere showed the liveliest desire to follow us.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. H. WILSON,

Brigadier-General.

Brigadier General S. WILLIAMS,

Assistant Adjutant-General, Hdqrs. Army of the Potomac.

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Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XL, Part 1 (Serial Number 80), pages 620-633

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