Number 4. Report of Captain Nathaniel A. Richardson, Commissary of Subsistence, U. S. Army, of operations September 16

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 4. Report of Captain Nathaniel A. Richardson, Commissary of Subsistence, U. S. Army, of operations September 16.1

CAMP NEAR CITY POINT, VA.,

September 20, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to transmit to you the following report of the leading facts and circumstances connected with the capture of the cattle herd under my charge near Coggin’s Point, Va., on the morning of the 16th instant:

In compliance with instructions given to me by you, I moved the herd to Coggins’ Point, on the James River, opposite Harrison’s Landing and distant from City Point ten miles, August 29, 1864. The

grazing was abundant and good until the 15th of the present month, at which time I had 2,486 head of cattle on hand. On the morning of this day I moved the herd to the Harrison farms, two miles from the river and one mile nearer City Point, having previously notified you of the proposed change. The cattle were grazed, watered, and corralled before sunset, with the usual night watch on guard. At midnight the watch was changed. The cattle were quiet during the night and in the morning mostly lying down. I had with me one chief herder, five assistant, and sixty herders. Captain Henry H. Gregg, with a detachment of the Thirteenth Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry, was with me acting as cattle guard in the daytime and watching and picketing at night. Captain James M. Bell and Captain Messimer (now absent on leave) were acting under Captain Gregg. At Twenty minutes before 5 o’clock Friday morning I was awake; light was just beginning to glimmer in the east, when an orderly reported to me from Captain Gregg, saying that the picket-line had been attacked at three points. He further stated that Captain Gregg would again report to me, if it was necessary to move off the cattle. I arose and instantly called upon the chief herder to get up, informing him that the picket-line had been attacked. I then went through a large portion of the camp ordering the men to get up and saddle their horses. I then gave orders to saddle my horse, and in ten minutes from the time of receiving word from Captain Gregg was at the corral. I ordered the watch to leave the corral and saddle their horses. I came back to the camp, distant thirty rods, and heard shouting and sharp firing. I forthwith ordered the fence pulled down and the cattle driven out. I then turned to go to the corral again when I heard the yell of a charge, looked around and saw many hundred mounted men charging up to my camp and upon the men who were just leaving it. The enemy came up shouting and firing with great vehemence, and driving before them numbers of the First District of Columbia Cavalry and the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. By the time the fence was pulled down and twenty cattle out, mules and dismounted horses, mingled with retreating cavalrymen and herders, were fleeing from the enemy. The enemy were nearly around the whole herd. I saw that all was lost. With the chief herder and several remaining men I now joined in the retreat, the enemy firing at us and following closely. In half a mile we struck the middle Prince George Court-House road; I then started for General Meade’s headquarters. By going to the left I had passed most of the retreating force who followed close in my rear, a few in advance. Within a mile we met another strong force of the enemy charging up to us and firing upon us. I wheeled my horse and came back a quarter of a mile; the enemy pressing up, I turned into the woods. A few of the men who had followed me turned back, while others ran into the ranks of the enemy. At this time those who had turned back with me, but who did not go into the woods, met the enemy coming out from the cattle corral and were caught between their two advances. Beyond this point half a mile, in the latter part of the night, the enemy had thrown up a strong and long line of breast-works, composed of earth, surmounted with two tiers of logs, commanding an open field through which the road runs coming direct from Prince George Court-House and not more than four miles distant from the Court-House. The enemy was commanded by Generals Hampton and Fitzhugh Lee. Their force was large. With it was a regiment called the Home Guard, raised in this country; also eight pieces of artillery, together with mounted infantry. They numbered in all about 6,000. With the enemy was a large number of hounds and herding

dogs that attacked the cattle furiously and hurried them off. I did not wait for the second report from Captain Gregg. Had I done so my entire force would have been captured, for his camp was in the possession of the enemy by the time the orderly reached it on his return-not over fifteen minutes from the time I received word that the lines had been attacked, until my camp, with the cattle, were in possession of the enemy. Some of my men had not time to saddle their horses before they were prisoners. They enemy charged in wide and deep column upon the camp and herd, surrounding them on all sides. Outside of and independent of this line of attack, it held the telegraph road running to Fort Powhatan by the James River. The middle road running from the telegraph road to the stage road and the stage road leading back to the telegraph road. This line is ten miles around, and all of it inside the picket-lines. Outside of the picket-line in many places the enemy had protected its advance and retreat with breast-works, fence rails, fallen trees, abatis, &c. At 6 a. m. the enemy were in full retreat toward the Blackwater, but a considerable force still remained to check any attack upon the rear. This reserve force by 9 a. m. was all gone.

The enemy exhibited their usual barbarity by shooting down the unarmed herders, stabbing them after they lay helpless on the ground, stripping and robbing them. I find that 15 will cover the killed and missing herders. Of the cattle guard, Captain Henry H. Gregg was taken prisoner; Captain James M. Bell shot in the shoulder; Lieutenant McDonald hurt by the falling of his horse; Sergeant Kenyon shot through the neck for refusing to surrender to a flag of truce sent forward a little in advance, while the enemy were all the time moving up for a charge. Twenty-seven will cover the loss of the detachment of Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry,

The enemy were evidently conducted by one Robert Blane, born and bred near where the herd was. He belongs to the Price George County cavalry. He is an officer, and, with a number of the enemy, was at a house owned by his brother, near by, at 4 o’clock on the morning of the attack.

I have been constantly watching for any evidence of the enemy being in the vicinity of the herd, in small numbers, for spies, or any inter-course of the few remaining citizens with any one coming from outside of the lines, but have seen and learned nothing of that nature.

The cattle here were two miles inside of the picket-line across the country, and nearly four by a public road. The attack seems to have been made on the whole line and reserve picket-post at the same time, and unless led by some one very familiar with the topography of the country and the different roads could not have so suddenly and successfully been executed.

I had no personal knowledge of the strength of the picket-line, but was told by Major Baker, in command of the picket force, that it was safe for the herd and would continue to be so, in his judgment, as the First Maine Cavalry had been ordered to join him some time before and he was then expecting them daily. He told me the herd would be safer at the Harrison farms than where I was then grazing it-lower down on the James River. Of this I am now convinced, for had not the herd been removed the day before the attack not a man of my command and that of Captain Gregg could have escaped, for the old camp was completely surrounded, it being near the river with no outlet but an open one, from the telegaph road, and that held by the enemy, one mile nearer City Point than the camp.

I know you were solicitous about the herd instructing me to look well to its safety, which I endeavored to do. The cattle were thriving and healthy, and, as I thought, safe up to the hour of their complete capture by the enemy.

I remain, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

N. A. RICHARDSON,

Captain, Volunteer Commissary of Subsistence.

Captain J. H. WOODWARD,

Commissary of Subsistence, in Charge General Cattle Herd, Armies operating Against Richmond.

Source:

  1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Volume XLII, Part 1 (Serial Number 87), pages 27-30

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