Number 80. Report of Chaplain Lorenzo Barber, Second U. S. Sharpshooters, of operations December 7-12

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

Numbers 80. Report of Chaplain Lorenzo Barber, Second U. S. Sharpshooters, of operations December 7-12.1

HEADQUARTERS THIRD DIVISION, SECOND CORPS, Near Petersburg, Va., December 16, 1864.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Third Division of the Second Corps in the late movement on and destruction of a portion of the Weldon railroad:

The division marched at daylight on the morning of the 7th instant and joined the Fifth Corps outside the works, near the Gurley house. After a short halt the command proceeded to the Jerusalem plank road and marched rapidly south till it reached a cross-road at Hawkins’ Tavern, about eighteenth miles from Petersburg, where it arrived about 4 p. m. Here it halted and made coffee, it being the first halt of more than a few minutes after leaving camp in the morning. As soon as the roads were cleared the march was resumed on this cross-road, going to the right of the plank road. About a mile from the plank road the Nottoway River was reached and crossed on a pontoon bridge, the common bridge having been destroyed. The division went into-camp for the night about half a mile from the crossing. Great caution was used to prevent a surprise, all the roads being well guarded. Though it rained in the early part of the day, and a severe storm seemed about to burst upon us, it cleared off before night and the rain proved a decided benefit to the movement, saving annoyance from dust, improving the roads, and preventing the enemy from learning our movements of strength. It is to be regretted that, considering the good roads and weather, there was an unpardonable amount of straggling from the division, though much less than from the Fifth Corps.

Thursday, the 8th, the command was ready to march at daylight, but being assigned to the rear of the column it was obliged to wait for the crossing of stragglers and cattle and the removal of the pontoon bridge. These accomplished, the march commenced about 9 a. m. Stragglers who were not across the river before this time were marched back to army headquarters under a cavalry guard. Sussex Court-House was passed during the a. m. and the division went into camp for the night near Jarratt’s Station, on the Weldon railroad, before dark, while a part of the Fifth Corps proceeded at once to the work of destroying the road. The cavalry had passed down the track toward Belfield. Many fine residences were passed during the day, among them one belonging to the relatives of the rebel Brigadier-General Chambliss, who was killed at Deep Bottom in July [August] last. Most of the residents asked for a guard to protect their property, and their request was invariably granted by the general commanding. The weather during the day was warm and pleasant.

Friday, the 9th, the division marched at daylight to the railroad, past Jarratt’s Station. The buildings were nearly all burned, during a cavalry raid, from Suffolk, in May last. Marching past that portion of the Fifth Corps already engaged in the destruction of the road, the division was drawn up in line, facing the road, and stacked arms on its bank. The rails were so bolted together at the ends as to make a continuous rail, rendering the destruction of the track very difficult. Each brigade, under the immediate supervision of the brigade commander, took hold of the rails and ties on one side, and the entire track-a whole brigade front at once-was turned up on the ends of the ties on the

side opposite, as if by magic. While held in this position, the ties were knocked off and piled up on the bed of the road, making a narrow top, the rails broken apart and laid across the stack of ties, the center of the rail resting on the apex of the pile. The pile was then set on fire. A fence of dry rails, on each side of the track, greatly facilitated the burning. The heat of the burning ties, with the weight of the ends of the rails, caused them to bend into nearly the shape of a semicircle, and rendered them unfit for further use. The brigade commanders facetiously called the portion of road assigned them to destroy “their contract.” As soon as the track in front of each brigade was destroyed, the division marched on to repeat the operation in a new place. Each brigade thus destroyed three such patches during the day. The First and Second Brigades marched four miles and destroyed such a piece of the road as described after dark. The Second Brigade marched farther south than any other infantry, and the last piece of road they destroyed, was the last destroyed by the infantry, the cavalry meeting them in the work of destruction on their return. While the First and Second Brigades were thus engaged, the Third Brigade destroyed nearly a division front in extent, it being their third “contract” for the day. Though the work was very laborious and fatiguing, officers and men labored with the greatest zest till a late hour at night. The sight presented by the burning road, bridges, piles of wood, and fences, was sad and grand in the extreme-a terrible comment on the waste and ravages of war. The troops encamped along the road near where their work had been done. Headquarters were established at the house of Reverend Mr. Bailey, a Baptist minister. Some thirty bales of his cotton had been burned, with the building in which it was stored. He estimated his losses, from our brief visit, at $75,000 or $100,000, rebel currency. During the evening, Major-General Warren, commanding the expedition, issued a general order, stating the object of the movement had been accomplished; that the return march would commence at daylight on the following morning, and battle be accepted if offered by the enemy. About fifteen miles of one of the most important railroads in the so-called Confederacy had been thoroughly destroyed.

Saturday, the 10th, the division commenced to march at 8 a. m. Rain had fallen during most of the night, and frozen as it fell. Every tree, twig, and shrub was heavily loaded with ice. The ground was slippery and the mud as deep and abundant as that in which Napoleon fought the battle of Waterloo. Such were the difficulties of marching that the progress was necessarily slow. The division went into camp for the might within about four miles of Sussex Court-House. The distance marched was sixteen miles. Considerable numbers of colored people joined the column during the day, one company numbering nineteen and embracing every period of life, from infancy to old age. Several of our men were found along the road who had been murdered, stripped, and mutilated by guerrillas. A number of buildings were burned in the vicinity where they were killed. The weather was rainy and cold.

Sunday, the 11th, the division started from camp soon after daylight, and, passing Sussex Court-House, reached the ground on which we camped the first night of the expedition about 2 p. m. Here the command halted, made coffee, and waited for General Crawford’s division, which had marched in the rear, to pass. A number more of our murdered and wounded men were found along the way of march. Until these outrages were discovered but little destruction of private property had occurred, but now the burning of buildings commenced,

in retaliation, and nearly every building, including the Sussex court-house, for miles, was given to the flames. The division was the last of the command to cross the river, its artillery with infantry supports holding the position, and firing a few shells in the direction in which small bodies of rebels were hanging on our rear and left flank. The whole division crossed before dark and its battery held the position on the opposite bank while the pontoon bridge was being removed. The division went into camp for the night about two miles from the Hawkins Tavern, on the Jerusalem plank road, toward Petersburg, late in the evening. The weather became cold and windy in the evening.

Monday, the 12th, the division marched about daylight, and reached the vicinity of its former camp about 3 p. m.

The provost-marshal’s, commissary, and quartermaster’s departments were conducted during the whole movement with their usual vigor and promptness.

Officers and men of the division exerted themselves to the utmost to secure the success of the movement, and the grand old Third Division added new luster to the glory of its well-earned laurels.

Thus ended one of the most extensive, important, and successful infantry raids of the war, and one that must be very damaging to the enemy. The affair reflects great credit on all who participated in it, of which a full share certainly belongs to the Third Division of the Secould Corps. When the adventures of “this cruel war” shall be talked over, after peace shall have again blessed our land, the great raid on the Weldon railroad in the frost and snow of winter and in the very face of the most powerful army of the rebellion will very justly receive a prominent place in the narration.

I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

L. BARBER,

Chaplain Second U. S. Sharpshooters.

Brevet Major-General MOTT,

Commanding Third Division, Second Corps.

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 355-357

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