Number 335. Petersburg Campaign Reports of Brigadier General August V. Kautz, U. S. Army, commanding Cavalry Division, of operations September 16-17, October 7, and December 10

   

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in Part 1 (Serial Number 87)

No. 335. Reports of Brigadier General August V. Kautz, U. S. Army, commanding Cavalry Division, of operations September 16-17, October 7, and December 10.1

HEADQUARTERS KAUTZ’S CAVALRY DIVISION,
September 19, 1864.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit herewith my report of the attack on the left of my line on the 16th instant, the subsequent pursuit, together with a list of casualties, and the reports of the brigade and regimental commanders:

On the morning of the 16th, about daylight, General Hampton made a general attack on the left of my line. He attacked simultaneously at points extending from right to left a distance of six miles. His force consisted of three divisions of two brigades each, each brigade consisting of three regiments, according to statements of prisoners. General W. H. F. Lee came up the Lawyer’s road, intersecting the Powhatan stage road near Rollins’ house. General Hampton, with Rosser’s division, came up the road leading south from Sycamore Church and

attacked the main reserve of the First District of Columbia Cavalry, at the church, whilst General Butler, with his division, came in on the extreme left at Cocke’s Mill. The only defense of note was made by Major Baker, at Sycamore Church, which, according to prisoners’ statements, was very gallant and inflicted considerable loss upon the enemy. The force, however, was overpowering, and not to be resisted by so small a force, so much exposed as the line held rendered unavoidable. Lee’s advance penetrated to Prince George Court-House, where the Third New York Cavalry had been fortunately placed in reserve. This regiment drove the enemy back to the vicinity of Green’s house, where they opened on Colonel Jacobs with two pieces of artillery. At this point the enemy threw up an intrenchment, near 1,000 yards in length, of earth and trees newly felled. About 9 o’clock the enemy retreated, having evidently accomplished the object of their expedition, which seems to have been the capture of the cattle herd. The corral for this herd, said to number about 2,400, seems unfortunately to have been placed very near the church, and visible for some distance from prominent points beyond the picket-line. According to Captain Speers’ statement, no effort was made by the cattle guard to let the cattle out or to stampede them, which would have materially interfered with their capture by the enemy, and there seemed to have been quite time nought to have done so. It was 10 o’clock before I could get force sufficient together to pursue the enemy and try to annoy their rear, as directed by the general commanding the cavalry. The enemy retreated on several roads, but united at Cook’s Bridges on the Blackwater. I followed on the road leading south from Sycamore Church. At Cook’s Bridges, which were burned some time since, I was delayed, replacing the corduroy which the enemy had torn up after crossing. Here a small rear guard of the enemy was driven away. About 10 p.m. we came upon the enemy near the Jerusalem plank road, near Hawkinsville. After skirmishing for some time and finding the enemy in force I fell back a short distance and waited for daylight.

At daylight I sent a party to the plank road and ascertained that the enemy had left, and also that General Gregg’s forces, which had been on the road above, had fallen back in the night toward Petersburg. The command, having been hastily turned out to repel an attack, was not prepared for so long a march, and I thought it prudent to return, as my command consisted only of detachments of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry and the Third New York, and did not exceed in all over 500 men, and about half the number were without carbines. I returned by Gee’s house and Baxter’s Mills, being a more direct route. I sent a small force by the route we came to pick up any stray cattle or stragglers of the enemy. Of the latter we picked up several on the day previous.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jacobs, who had the advance with the Third New York Cavalry, managed his regiment well, and claims that he inflicted some loss on the enemy in the night without any loss on his part. No written report has yet been received from Captain Speers, the present commander of the First District of Columbia Cavalry.

The greater portion of the officers of the regiment was captured, together with their company papers, which will render the transfer of the officers and men of this regiment to the First Maine, as ordered by the War Department, somewhat troublesome.

The following is a summary of the losses, viz:

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

AUGUST V. KAUTZ,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.

Captain H. C. WEIR,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Second Cavalry Division.

HDQRS. CAVALRY DIVISION, ARMY OF THE JAMES,
October 13, 1864.

COLONEL: I have the honor to transmit herewith my report of the enemy’s assault on the 7th instant:

My division of about 1,700 men, including two batteries, in an exposed position, partially intrenched, held the Darby, or Central, road at the rebel intrenchments at Doctor Johnson’s farm. The pickets extended up the Central road about a mile, and to the Charles City road at Jordan’s and White’s Tavern. Before daylight the pickets on the Charles City road were attacked. They were immediately re-enforced by Colonel Spear, who personally attended to delaying the enemy. The advance of the enemy was delayed until about 7 a.m. About this time the enemy were quiet for about half an hour, and, as no great force had been reported, it was uncertain whether a serious attack was contemplated or only a reconnaissance similar to others on one or two previous occasions. The information received from refugees the night before indicated a reconnaissance in some force, but from all I had heard up to this time I believed the division would be able to hold its position. About 8 o’clock, however, the enemy appeared in overpowering force. The situation was such that it was necessary to send the horses to the rear, for the horses would all have been killed by the time the dismounted men should be driven from their intrenchments. The command was thus depleted one-fourth by the absence of the horse-holders.

The superior force of the enemy made it necessary to put every available man in the rifle-pits, which were, owing to the scarcity of entrenching tools, but partially completed. Four guns of the Fourth Wisconsin Battery, supported by the First Brigade, held the left. The Second Brigade held an unfinished rifle-pit on the right, and Battery B, First U. S. Artillery, under Lieutenant Hall, was thrown to the rear on commanding ground and partially intrenched. The right, commanded by Colonel Samuel P. Spear, gave way first. He could not have had more than 400 men, and was assaulted by a line of infantry bearing four battle-flags. This necessitated the falling back of the left, which was simultaneously assaulted, also, by a line with four battle-

flags. The artillery was well served and to the last moment, and the firing of the dismounted men was rapid and heavy. Unused to foot service the dismounted men fell back in some confusion, and it was impossible to rally them. On the right was a swamp that united with another in the rear. The road across these swamps, although it had been repaired, was badly cut up again by the supply trains. The leading piece of artillery mired. A regiment of rebel cavalry had succeeded in turning our right and getting in our rear, attacked the retreating men, shot the artillery horses, and the men and officers were obliged to abandon the guns and caissons. In falling back I met a number of the enemy conducting a wagon captured from the First New York to the rear. I ordered the few men with me to attack and recover the wagon, which was promptly done, and it was here that Colonel Haskell, Seventh South Carolina Cavalry, was wounded. His regiment was a few yards farther on in line of battle near Cox’s house, which we avoided by keeping in the woods, and soon reached the New Market road, where I succeeded in rallying my command under cover of the infantry, which was just moving out. The Tenth Corps soon met the enemy, and after about one hour’s heavy firing the noise of battle died away and the enemy retired. After the repulse of my command in the morning it was not further engaged.

The loss of my command is shown in the summary below. The loss of the two batteries (eight guns and caissons) is serious; but I do not attach any blame to the officers and men. It was the natural result to be anticipated from a spirited attack in superior force, and to the defect of position, which was unavoidable, as the necessary tools to make a road and to finish the entrenching could not be had. The real defect consisted in the advanced position of the cavalry with nothing to rest upon, and a serious obstacle in rear, with avenue of approach from every other direction. This defect was of course fully known to the rebel commander, as he took every possible advantage of it. Had there been any surprise about the attack the entire command must have been sacrificed. Captain M. J. Asch, First New Jersey Cavalry, acting assistant adjutant-general of the division, and Lieutenant Beers, Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, acting aide-de-camp on my staff, I regret to say were captured. The latter was captured whilst returning from carrying a message to the commander of the Tenth Army Corps. I was assisted with the greatest zeal by all the members of my staff and I have no one to reproach except myself, and only for the reason that I did not retire earlier, and that I did not have the foresight to anticipate the seriousness of the attack. I have, however, the satisfaction of feeling that the loss of my division, and the resistance it opposed to the enemy, gave time to the Tenth Army Corps to deploy and prepare for the attack.

The attention of the commanding general is called to the statement of Colonels West and Jacobs, in their reports, that a rebel regiment attempted to desert. I am still at a loss to understand whether this was a ruse or a bona fide intention to desert their cause.

My loss is considerably less than first reported, and is not so serious as was at first supposed. By far the largest is in prisoners, which is due to the fact that the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry (Colonel Haskell) succeeded in turning our right and getting in our rear.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

AUGUST V. KAUTZ,
Brigadier-General, Chief of Cavalry.

Lieutenant Colonel E. W. SMITH,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Army of the James.

HDQRS. CAVALRY DIVISION, ARMY OF THE JAMES,
December 13, 1864.

GENERAL: I have the honor to submit my report of the operations of the Cavalry Division on the 10th instant, with the report of the brigade commanders.

Early on the morning of the 10th instant the pickets of the Third Brigade, Colonel Evans, First Maryland Cavalry, commanding, were driven in from the Darbytown road, at Johnson’s farm, directly in front of the enemy’s intrenchments. The pickets were not followed, but they reported that the enemy were in force on the road and were moving heavy columns down the road toward out right. Soon after, the report from the First Brigade, commanded by Colonel West, Fifth Pennsylvania Cavalry, indicated that the enemy was advancing in force down that road. Colonel West had previously been instructed, in case of the enemy’s advance, to use all his available men for the purpose of holding the intrenched position in front of Signal Hill and detain the enemy as long as possible. Lieutenant-Colonel Stratton, Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, commanding the Second Brigade temporarily, was directed to support his picket-line with all his command, numbering about 500 men. His line extended from near Fussell’s Mill to the extreme right, and were not disturbed except one or two posts near the mill; he, however, engaged the enemy’s skirmishers during the day in front of Fort Holly. Colonel Evans was directed to watch his opportunity and replace his picket-line as soon as he could. There was now, after these dispositions, nothing more to do, so far as my command was concerned, except to wait the development of the enemy’s designs. General Terry, who had the command early in the day, was personally cognizant of all these arrangements. The enemy were compelled to advance slowly, owing to the bad weather, the nature of the ground, and the resistance with which they were met, and they did not get sight of our intrenchments until afternoon. Colonel West’s position was one chosen

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*But see revised statement, pp. 145, 146.

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by himself in front of Spring Hill, distant about 1,000 yards, and which he had intrenched at his own discretion, with a view to furnish a rallying point for his picket line. The enemy showed some evidence at one time of assaulting this intrenchment, but deemed it prudent to withdraw to long range, where they remained until after night. Early in the night the enemy commenced withdrawing, and the picket-line was re-established as they retired. Prisoners and deserters taken at the time and since show the movement to have been a reconnaissance in force of Field’s and Hoke’s divisions, supported by Kershaw’s, the latter taking the ground previously held by Hoke, the design being, perhaps, to ascertain whether troops could be spared from their front, for which reason Kershaw was placed in a convenient position to move south on the return of Hoke to his lines.

The command behaved well throughout, and much credit is due Colonel West and his command for the part they took in detaining the enemy’s advance.

The losses were small on our side, and are probably not much greater on the part of the enemy. The following summary show the losses in the several brigades:

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

AUGUST V. KAUTZ,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.

Brigadier General JOHN W. TURNER,
Chief of Staff, Army of the James.

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 821-826

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