Number 5. Reports of Major General George G. Meade, U. S. Army, commanding Army of the Potomac

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 5. Reports of Major General George G. Meade, U. S. Army, commanding Army of the Potomac.1

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
November 1, 1864.

COLONEL: *

Early in August two divisions of cavalry, under Major-General Sheridan, were sent to Washington.

On the 14th of August Major-General hancock, commanding Second Corps, Gregg’s division of cavalry, and a detachment of troops of the Department of Virginia and North Carolina, under Major-General Birney, crossed the James River at Deep Bottom, attacking the enemy in position. Birney carried the lines in front of him, capturing 6 pieces of artillery, 4 colors, and many prisoners. Barlow’s attack with part of the Second Corps was not so successful.

On the 15th Hancock maneuvered to the right, to develop the enemy’s position and select a point of attack.

On the 16th an attack was again made with partial success, Gregg on the Charles City road driving the enemy’s cavalry as far as White’s Tavern, where he met a superior force of infantry, compelling him to retire to Deep Creek. In these engagements Generals Chambliss and Girardey, of the Confederate Army, were killed.

The 17th and 18th, and 19th were spent by Hancock in continual skirmishing, constantly threatening the enemy, but finding him too strongly posted to justify an attack.

On the 20th Hancock was withdrawn, having previously sent Mott’s division to Petersburg.

During these operations of Hancock on the north side of the James, advantage was taken of the weakening of the enemy’s line south of the Appomattox to effect a lodgment on the Weldon railroad. For this purpose the Fifth Corps, having been previously withdrawn from the lines, its place being supplied by an extension of the Ninth, Warren moved on the 18th, and by a detour to the rear, struck the Weldon railroad near the Globe Tavern without much opposition, except from a small force of the enemy’s cavalry. On advancing up the road, however, toward Petersburg, he was met by a considerable force of the enemy, who attacked him, but after a sharp fight were repulsed. In

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* For portions of report (here omitted), see Vol. XXXVI, Part I, p. 188, and Vol. XL, Part I, p. 167.

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this affair many prisoners fell into the hands of the enemy. During the night of the 18th Mott’s division, Second Corps, was sent to relieve a portion of the Ninth Corps, who on the 19th were sent to Warren. On this day Warren, whose position was over three miles from the left of our entrenched line on the Jerusalem plank road, was extending his pickets to connect, when, about 4 p. m., the enemy interposed in heavy masses, turning his right flank and appearing in his rear. Notwithstanding the confusion which this maneuver in a thickly wooded country produced, Warren changed front to meet the enemy, and in conjunction with the Ninth Corps, just arrived, particularly Willcox’s and White’s divisions, repulsed the enemy, inflicting on him severe losses, sustaining himself, however, heavy losses in prisoners, among them Brigadier-General Hayes. The 20th of August passed off quietly, but on the 21st the enemy renewed his desperate efforts to dislodge Warren by attacking him vigorously and in heavy force on his front and left flank. These attacks were all repulsed with heavy losses to the enemy, and comparatively slight on our part, Warren capturing four flags and over 400 prisoners. Brigadier-General Cutler was wounded and Colonel Dushane, a gallant officer, commanding a Maryland brigade, killed.

On the 22nd of August, Hancock having moved up to the vicinity of the Weldon railroad, Miles’ division, Second corps, and Gregg’s division of cavalry were sent to Reams’ Station with instructions to destroy the road. On the 23rd General Hancock, with Gibbon’s division, was sent to re-enforce Miles. The work of destruction was continued on the 24th; but on the 25th, the enemy appearing, Hancock concentrated his force at Reams’ Station, where, late in the afternoon, he was heavily attacked by a superior force of cavalry and infantry and pressed with so much vigor that a part of his line was broken, and five pieces of artillery fell into the hands of the enemy. Upon learning the condition of affairs Willcox’s division, Ninth corps, was sent to support Hancock, but did not reach the ground till the action was over. At night Hancock withdrew, the enemy leaving the ground at the same time. This terminated the efforts of the enemy to dislodge us from the Weldon railroad. A line was at once formed connecting the Jerusalem plank road with our new position and the necessary defensive works laid out and constructed.

further movement of consequence, beyond reconnaissances, was made until September 30, when orders were received from the lieutenant-general commanding to make a demonstration on the left, with a view of preventing detachments to the north side of the James, where operations were being carried on. For this purpose Major-General Warren, with two divisions of the Ninth, moved from the left toward Poplar Spring church and Peebles’ farm. Gregg’s division of cavalry at the same time moved farther to the left and rear. Griffin found the enemy entrenched on Peebles’ farm, and attacking carried a redoubt and line of rifle-pits, taking 1 gun and about 100 prisoners. At the same time Ayres carried a small work on the Squirrel Level road. In the afternoon Parke, moving on Warren’s left toward the Boydton road, was fiercely attacked by the enemy and for a time compelled to fall back, but Griffin coming to his support the enemy was checked and repulsed. Early in the day, October 1, Gregg met the enemy’s cavalry and forced them back, reporting his disappearance in the afternoon.

On October 1 Mott’s division, second Corps, was withdrawn from the lines and sent to re-enforce Parke, but could not reach the ground in time for operations. On this day Gregg was heavily attacked on

the Duncan road, where he was guarding the left and rear; but repulsed the enemy, inflicting heavy losses on him and killing Brigadier-General Dunovant.

On the 2nd of October the whole force advanced, but found the enemy had withdrawn to his main entrenched line. A position was then taken up and the necessary works laid out to extend our entrenched line to the position gained.

On October 27 part, of the Ninth, Fifth,, and Second Corps, together with Gregg’s division of cavalry, moved from the left in reconnaissance. The enemy was found in a line strongly entrenched, extending in front of the boydton plank road down nearly to Armstrong’s Mill. Wherever he was confronted by the Ninth and Fifth Corps his position was deemed too strong to attack. The Second Corps and Gregg’s division, under Major-General Hancock, succeeded in crossing Hatcher’s Run on the Vaughan road, and reaching the Boydton plank near Burgess’ Tavern, encountering only slight opposition from the enemy’s cavalry. About 4 p. m., however, the enemy attacked Hancock and Gregg with great force, but was in every instance repulsed. Crawfor’d division, Fifth Corps, had been crossed at Armstrong’s Mill and had moved up Hatchrer’s Run, with a view of connecting with Hancock, but the serpentine nature of this stream, and the dense thicket through which Crawford had to move, prevented the junction being made. No object being attainable by remaining in the positions gained, the troops were on the 28th, withdrawn to the lines of entrenchments.

The foregoing is a brief synopsis of the principal movements of this army. It is proper I should add that they always originated in direct orders from the lieutenant-general commanding, and that almost always the exceptions being rare, the details received his sanction before the movements were executed.

I transmit herewith a return of casualties during the campaign, showing the number of killed, wounded, and missing; a statement of the captures of guns, colors, and prisoners,* together with a map+ illustrating the several movements of the army. These papers are honorable records of the sacrifices and achievements of this army. That its efforts have not resulted in more decided success in due to the policy adopted by the enemy of acting strictly on the defensive; to the topographical features of the country, admirably adapted for defense; to the accurate and familiar knowledge of the topography possessed by the enemy, and our ignorance of the same; to the superior mobility of the enemy, arising from his better knowledge of the country, and his having shorter lines to traverse; all of which causes combined to frustrate the efforts to bring him to battle in an open field, but enabled him, at each successive move, to interpose his army in a strong position till he was finally driven to the long-prepared defenses of his capital.

This army has done its duty nobly. The thanks of the country are due to all branches of the service. The artillery and engineers are deserving of special commendation for their incessant and arduous labors since occupying the lines before Petersburg. The limits of this report will not justify my enumerating individual instances of gallantry and distinguished services. To the corps and subordinate commanders, to the chiefs and officers of the several staff departments, and to my personal staff, I have been indebted from the commencement of the campaign for zealous co-operation and faithful discharge of their

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* See Vol. XXXVI, Part I, pp. 195 and 196.

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+Not found.

respective duties. To the gallant soldiers in the rank and file, who for six months have been unwearied in their labors by night as well as by day, the country owes a debt of gratitude it will be difficult to repay; and when the record in detail shall be made for the period indicated, I feel satisfied the remark I made in the commencement of this report will be fully verified, and impartial judges will pronounce that, for the number and severity of the battles, the length of the marches, the continuous and never intermitted labors in the trenches and on fatigue duties, for the sad list of casualties, and for the result attained, this campaign stands unparalleled in the annals of war, whether ancient or modern.

Very respectfully, your obedient serv.

GEO. G. MEADE,

Major-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant Colonel T. S. BOWERS,

Assistant Adjutant-General.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
September 17, 1864-2 p. m.

GENERAL: I send you the reports of Generals Davies and Kautz, in command of the cavalry sent in pursuit of the enemy, by which you will find the enemy was prepared for any attempt on our part to recapture the cattle.* The distance to be marched-over fifteen miles in Davies’ case and thirty in Kautz’s-would have prevented any infantry force from reaching the scene of action in time. This consideration, together with the undeveloped movements of the enemy toward his right and my left, prevented me from detaching any considerable force of infantry to aid in the attempt to recover the cattle. These movements have been previously reported, being the moving of a considerable body of infantry and artillery on the Boydton plank road on the 15the instant, the return of which is as yet unknown. In addition, deserters, particularly one from the north side of the James River, state it was reported by their officers that Lee was making a great flank movement, and to-day Colonel Sharpe sends information (dispatch transmitted) that the Government employes in Richmond had been ordered to Petersburg. Yesterday, I informed you, signal officer north of the Appomattox reported the movement into Petersburg of troops on the Richmond road, and a deserter stated he had about the same time seen troops marching through Petersburg, said to be a part of Early’s force, who it was stated had sent back 6,000 troops. There may be nothing in all this, but so many reports from different sources would lead to the conclusion that some movement is on foot; whether it be offensive, or whether it is seeing in our journals the reports of large accessions daily received by this army, Lee is merely preparing for an anticipated extension of our lines, I am unable to say, but the existence of these reports and the movements known have combined to produce caution on my part during your absence. I deem it proper to call your attention to the small force of cavalry under my command. For ordinary purposes and were the enemy without cavalry it would be ample, but in the presence of the enemy’s superior forces this arm of the service is unable to accomplish anything. In

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* See Part II, pp. 891, 896.

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yesterday’s operations the lowest estimate of the enemy’s force made by prisoners and deserters is 6,000, and called suddenly, as our troops were, without time to draw in pickets and detachments, I question whether the combined command that went in pursuit amounted to 3,000. With this superiority and a knowledge of the country and preparations made to stop pursuit, it is hardly fair to expect much more than what was accomplished, though I hoped the difficulty of driving the cattle and the chances of war might be more favorable to us. There is nothing else to report up to this hour. General Birney has just telegraphed that a scout in this morning reports Hoke’s division withdrawn from his front and that it has gone to General Lee at Reams’ Station. This may mean General W. H. F. Lee, commanding cavalry, and to cover the withdrawal of the cavalry, or it may be part of an offensive movement.

GEO. G. MEADE,

Major-General.

Lieutenant-General GRANT.

[Inclosure.]

CITY POINT, September 17, 1864-1 p. m.

Major-General HUMPHREYS:

Yesterday evening the battalion of Government employes in Richmond were ordered to assemble this morning with the understanding that they would be sent to Petersburg. Reports will shortly be sent you.

SHARPE,

Colonel.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
September 19, 1864.

COLONEL: About 7 a. m., on the 16th instant, Brigadier-General Kautz reported that at daylight that morning his pickets, extending from the Blackwater to the James, had been attacked and driven in, and that the enemy in force had advanced on the Powhatan road, cutting off the First District of Columbia Cavalry, stationed at Sycamore Church. General Kautz was not apprised of the character of the enemy’s forces beyond the presence of cavalry and artillery, nor of the object of the movement. About the time these dispatches were received one of the cattle herders from the camp near Coggins’ Point reported to Colonel Wilson, chief commissary of subsistence, Army of the Potomac, that at daylight the camp had been attacked; that he had managed to escape; but before making his escape, he had seen the enemy busily employed seizing and driving off the herd. I likewise heard that the herd, instead of being at Coggins’ Point, was two miles beyond it, in the vicinity of Sycamore Church, and about two miles only inside the picket-line. This information convinced me the enemy’s object was the seizure of this herd by a coup de amain, which had evidently been successful; and being satisfied they would retire as rapidly as possible, there was nothing to be done but to make an effort to cut off their retreat, attack at all hazard, and perhaps a portion of the herd might be recovered. As this was a question of time, orders were sent to General Kautz to pursue with every available mounted man he could collect,

and a brigade of infantry, with a battery of artillery, was sent to Prince George Court-House to report to him. At the same time orders were dispatched to Brigadier-General Davies, commanding Second Cavalry Division, to move down the Jerusalem plank road with all his available force without waiting to draw in detachments or pickets, and to attack the enemy as soon as met. I forward herewith the report of General Davies,* giving in detail the movements of his own command, and that of General Kautz,* and the result of their efforts to recover the cattle, which, I regret to say, amounted to the securing only 50 head of the 2,480 lost. I desire to call attention to the fact reported by Brigadier-General Davies that in this emergency he was enabled to collect for this operation only 2,100 men of his own division and 700 of Kautz’s, whereas the enemy had for the covering of the withdrawal of the herd not less than three brigades of cavalry, estimated at 6,000 men, and undoubtedly supported, when near the Nottoway River and the Weldon railroad, by infantry. Brigadier-Generals Davies and Kautz were prompt in their movements, but the inferiority of their forces, and the facility for rapidly withdrawing afforded the enemy by the location of the herd, gave the latter advantages which it was impossible for these officers to overcome.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

GEO. G. MEADE,

Major-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant Colonel T. S. BOWERS,

Assistant Adjutant-General.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
October 28, 1864.

COLONEL: In accordance with the orders of the lieutenant-general commanding, such portions of this army not required to hold the entrenched lines, moved yesterday morning before daylight with the intention of extending their lines, if practicable, to the South Side Railroad. The forces move din three columns-the Ninth Corps on the road to Hawk’s; the Second Corps down the Vaughan road to hatcher’s Run, and the Fifth Corps on aline intermediate between the other two, parts of which had to be opened. Major-General parke was instructed to move on the presumed position of the enemy’s works, and, if practicable, to carry them. In case of his inability to do this, and he was directed not to attack if the works were found strong and well manned, he was to threaten and confront the enemy, and Major-General Warren, who was to support Parke in the first operation, was instructed, in case Parke did not attack, to cross Hatcher’s Run and endeavor to get possession of the brigade by which the Boydton plank road crosses that stream. Major-General Hancock, with parts of the Second Corps and Gregg’s division of cavalry, was ordered to cross Hatcher’s Run by the Vaughan road, then to turn to the northward and endeavor to seize the bridge where the Caliborne road crosses it. This project was based upon information which led to the belief that the enemy’s line only extended to the crossing of Hatcher’s Run by the Boydton plank road, and that it was not completed this far, and was weakly manned. The movement was promptly made as directed, but instead of finding the enemy’s line as expected, it was found to extend down the run nearly

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* See pp. 614, 821.

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to Armstrong’s Mill; was fully completed and very strongly fortified by slashing and abatis. The consequence was that Major-General Parke, after driving in the enemy’s skirmishers, did not attempt to attack; but Major-General Warren, in developing the enemy’s position, made us unsuccessful effort with Gregory’s brigade, of Griffin’s division, to penetrate the line.

Finding this condition of affairs, and Hancock having effected the passage of the run and moved a s ordered, I directed Major-General Warren to cross Crawford’s division at Armstrong’s Mill, with instructions to support Hancock; but instead of following the Second Corps, I directed Crawford should move up the right bank of the run, and endeavor to recross and assault the enemy’s line in rear, while Griffin assaulted in front. This, it was hoped, would enable Warren to cross near the Boydton plank road and secure the connection between the Second and Ninth Corps.

About this time, 11.30 a. m., in company with the lieutenant-general commanding, I proceeded to join Major-General Hancock’s column, crossing the run at Armstrong’s Mill. Major-General Hancock was overtaken at Burgess’ Tavern, on the Boydton plank road, some four miles from Armstrong’s Mill. He had driven the enemy’s cavalry from the run, and up to the Boydton plank road bridge, capturing some prisoners, wagons, cattle, and tents. The enemy, however, disputed his passage of the brigade, and had opened batteries on home from the opposite side, besides threatening his left flank with artillery. It was very evident soon after joining Hancock that unless the enemy was driven from the left bank of the run, where the Boydton road crossed, that our lines could not be advanced sufficiently to make a connection with the present entrenched line. Major-General hancock was accordingly authorized to make the attempt to carry the brigade; was advised of Crawford’s movement and the object of it, and informed by the lieutenant-general commanding that if those operations were not successfully executed during the day he would be withdrawn on the following day. Having given these orders, in company with the lieutenant-general commanding I proceeded to Armstrong’s Mill, from which point the lieutenant-general returned to City Point. Soon after my return, Major-General Warren reported that General Crawford, after great exertions, owing to the dense thicket he had to operate in, had moved up the right bank of the run past the terminus of the enemy’s line; had driven across the run the enemy’s skirmishers, and was endeavoring to find a practicable place to cross and assault, but found the run in rear of the enemy’s line fortified by the felling of timber, the opposite bank being held in force. Griffin, after feeling and examining the whole line in his front, found it so strong as to preclude the expectation of carrying it by assault. About this time, 5 p.m., whilst Major-General hancock was just about to attempt carrying the bridge in his front, the enemy debouched from the woods to his right and rear and attacked him vigorously, at the same time advancing on his left and attacking Gregg in the rear.

Nortwith standing these several attacks and the necessary change of front of several commands, Major-General Hancock repulsed all the enemy’s efforts, inflicting on him severe losses and firmly maintaining his ground till dark, capturing over 700 prisoners and several colors, and suffering no losses beyond killed and wounded, of whom he had white a number. The fight was in an open field and is represented to have been for the time very sharp and severe, the enemy being baffled by Major-General Hancock in all his attempts to flank or turn his position.

This decided success is due to the personal exertions of General Hancock, and, in a great measure, to the conspicuous gallantry of Brigadier-General Egan, temporarily commanding a division in the Second Corps. The lateness of the hour at which this attack was made, and at which the information reached me, prevented General Crawford being sent of re-enforce General Hancock. Indeed, the distance and difficulty of moving through the dense thicket, together with the fact that Crawford was engaged with the enemy, induced me to put Ayres’ division in motion, but it was dark before he could be crossed over the run at Armstrong’s Mill. The position of the enemy being such, holding as it were, a ridge formed by his entrenched line in front of the run, and the run in rear, and forcing a separation of my flanks of over six miles, when he had only tow miles to move, deterred me from keeping Hancock in position and re-enforcing him with another corps, as it would leave only one corps to meet the attack of the enemy, if he should choose to move over. I therefore directed the withdrawal of Hancock and Crawford, who both recrossed the run by 7 a. m. to-day. About 12 ., having withdrawn all the impedimenta of the army, the several corps were, in accordance with the lieutenant-general’s orders, withdrawn, and acre now moving into their former positions in the entrenched lines. In addition to the 7000 prisoners taken by the Second Corps, there were nearly 200 taken by Crawford. No prisoners are reported as lost by us, except the stragglers, whom it is always difficult to collect when withdrawing. No return of the casualties has yet been made. In the Second Corps the losses, owing to the severe fighting, are believed to be heavy. I regret to report that, owing to the want of transportation and the character of the cases, some of the most severely wounded were left in charge of surgeons in some houses on the field.

Very respectfully, &c.,

GEO. G. MEADE,

Major-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant-Colonel BOWERS.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
December 14, 1864.

Although Warren was called upon last evening on receipt of your telegram, and again this morning, I am yet without any further details than those transmitted in his dispatch of the 11th.* In the absence of a report from Warren, I have made a resume of the operations from my personal knowledge, which I send for your consideration.

As soon as Warren’s report is received it will be transmitted.

GEO. G. MEADE,

Major-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant-General GRANT.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
December 14, 1864.

On the 7th instant Major-General Warren, commanding the Fifth Corps, Mott’s division, Second Corps, and Gregg’s division of cavalry,

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* See p. 25.

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with four batteries of artillery, rationed for six days, was sent to destroy the Weldon railroad and interrupt the enemy’s communications. By night-fall of the 7th Major-General Warren reached Sussex Court-House, having crossed the Nottoway at Freman’s Ford. On the 8th General Warren moved on the railroad, striking it at the crossing of the Nottoway, where he destroyed the bridge, 100 yards in length. Keeping his command well in hand, General Warren then moved down the road, effectually and completely destroying it as far as Belfield, on the Meherrin River, a distance of over sixteen miles. At Hicksfors, opposite Belfield, where General Warren arrived on the 10th, he found the enemy strongly posted, with artillery in position, prepared to defend the bridge over the Meherrin, and dispute the passage of the river. His supplies not justifying any delay, General Warren made no attempt to dislodge the enemy, but returned to camp through Sussex Court-House, arriving here on the 12th, sending his cavalry on his left up the railroad as far as Jarratt’s Station. These movements of General Warren were unopposed by the enemy, except by his cavalry, which hovered around Warren’s command, and with whom Gregg had several skirmishes. The day after General Warren moved, on the 8th, I dispatched a small command of cavalry down the Vaughan road to endeavor to ascertain the movements of the enemy. On arriving at Hatcher’s Run the crossing was found obstructed and strongly guarded. On the 9th a division of infantry, under General Miles, was sent to Hatcher’s Run, who succeeded by noon in forcing the passage and permitting the cavalry to cross; who were then thrown forward as far as the intersection of the Vaughan and Quaker roads. From prisoners and the contents of a mail captured on its way from Stony Creek it was satisfactorily ascertained that the enemy’s cavalry had followed warren, and that on the 7th Hill’s corps had moved to Dinwiddie Court-House. On the 10th the cavalry on the left reported hearing continuous artillery firing in the direction of Warren, and on the presumption of his being engaged Brevet Major-General Potter, commanding division, Ninth Corps, was sent in the direction of Sussex Court-House to communicate with and be in support of Warren. General Potter reached the Nottoway at Freeman’s Ford by daylight on the 11th, and soon afterward, receiving intelligence of the return on Warren’s column, returned to camp. During the progress of these operations the weather was extremely unfavorable. A violent hail storm occurring on the 9th, and the weather being extremely cold, caused much suffering to the men, and necessarily interrupted the progress of the expedition. The march of General Potter-s command during the night of the 10th, and in a heavy rain, was conducted in a most creditable manner. The march of General Potter’s command in almost creditable manner. The result of the expedition was the complete destruction of sixteen miles of the railroad, preventing its use beyond Hickford, which, unless the damages are repaired, is in effect depriving the enemy from using it beyond Weldon. The whole expedition was well managed, and reflects credit on Major-General Warren and his command.

GEO. G. MEADE,

Major-General, Commanding.

Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT.

ADDENDA.

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 30-41

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