SHS Papers: Volume 4: Defence of Batteries Gregg and Whitworth, and the Evacuation of Petersburg by C.M. Wilcox

   

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Defence of Batteries Gregg and Whitworth, and the Evacuation of Petersburg.1

By Maj.-Gen. C. M. WILCOX.

[We give from the pen of a gallant participant still another account of the heroic defence of Battery Gregg, together with other matters pertaining to those stirring scenes.]

The January and February numbers of the Southern Historical Society Papers contain accounts of the attack, defence and capture of Fort Gregg, April 2, 1865, called at the time Battery Gregg. The first mentioned number has the report of Brig.-Gen. James H. Lane, accompanied by several letters: one of his own addressed to myself, and one from each of the following named officers of his brigade, Lieut. Geo. H. Snow, Lieut. F. B. Craige, and Lieut. A. B. Howard, of the Thirty-third North Carolina, and one from Lieut. D. M. Rigler, Thirty-seventh North Carolina regiment; there is also a short extract from a letter of Col. R. V. Cowan, Thirty-third North Carolina, addressed to Gen. Lane, refer[r]ing, as do the other mentioned le[t]ters, to this fight.

In the February number, the editor refers to what is stated in the previous number, and “that all may be heard and with the view of getting at the truth,” publishes an account of this affair, from a “Soldier’s Story of the late war, by Napier Bartlett.” Many and conflicting statements of this Battery

Gregg fight, have at various times appeared in newspapers, periodicals and histories, all differing and more or less inaccurate, but none varying more widely from the truth than those of the two historians, Cooke and Swinton. The former, page 445 of his Life of Gen. Lee says: “The forts, especially Gregg, made a gallant resistance. This work was defended by 250 men of Harris’ Mississippi brigade, and they fought until their numbers were reduced to 30, killing or wounding 500 of the enemy. The forts were taken at last, and the Federals advanced towards the city. In this attack fell the eminent soldier, Gen. A. P. Hill, whose record had been so illustrious, and whose good fortune it was to thus terminate his life while the Southern flag still floated.” The errors of this writer are, 1st, there were not 250 men in Battery Gregg on the occasion referred to; 2d, they were not all of Harris’ Mississippi brigade; 3d, Gen. Hill did not fall at it, but several hours before, and beyond Pickerell’s house, on the Boydton plank road, and on west side of the road; 4th, the number of men in the battery was not reduced to thirty.

Swinton, page 603, Army of the Potomac says: “The attack was directed against Forts Gregg and Alexander,” the last mentioned was called Battery Whitworth, “two strong enclosed works;” he then repeats Cooke’s errors as to the composition of the command that held and defended Battery Gregg, but falls into one not found in Cooke; “the other, Fort Alexander,” meaning Whitworth, “found no such defenders and readily fell.” Battery Whitworth was held by just as true, brave, and devoted men as their comrades in Battery Gregg; it was not captured by the enemy, but evacuated by my orders when Gregg fell; the command in it, at least the infantry, were all of Harris’ brigade; these and the troops outside of and near Gregg fell back to the main line around Petersburg, near a mile in rear, and were not annoyed or pursued by the enemy. Among the troops that retired at this time were Cox’s North Carolina brigade, that had been thrown out from the main line, its right connecting with my left several hundred yards to the left of Gregg.

Inasmuch as I was present at the time, and gave the order to occupy both batteries, Gregg and Whitworth, and made such other disposition of the small number of men at my disposal as was believed would best answer the purpose in view, and finally, when this was accomplished, directed the withdrawal to the main line in rear, and as my official report has never been published, I will now give some of the facts connected with the defence of these two batteries. Before doing so, however, it would be well to refer briefly to our line that was exterior to the main or Petersburg line on this part of our very widely extended field, and to state in what manner they were held, going somewhat into the details of the military operations of the few days preceding April second.

Early in October, 1864, Heth’s division and two brigades, Lane’s and McGowan’s, of my division, were placed in position with orders to entrench, the line being east of the Boydton plank road, which ran to Dinwiddie Courthouse. The left of the line was near where this road crossed Old Town creek, and some two hundred yards east of the road, and little less than a mile from the lines around Petersburg; the right rested on Hatcher’s run, a mile below Burgess’ mill, this being at the crossing of the run by the Dinwiddie Courthouse road. This new line guarded the road—Boydton plank road—over which we received supplies from Hicksford, on the Weldon railroad, in rear or south of the point where the Federal line crossed this road.

March 27th, General Grant withdrew all save a small force from the north side of James river, and on the 29th moved the bulk of his army towards the extreme right of our lines, then resting below Burgess’ mill. General Lee shifted to his extreme right Pickett’s division and part of that of Bushrod Johnson’s, March 29th; then took position beyond Burgess’ mill and to the right of the road and nearly parallel with the White Oak road. 10 P. M., McCrae’s brigade, of Heth’s division, and McGowan’s bri[g]ade, of my division, were moved from the line covering the Boydton plank road to the vicinity

of Burgess’ mill, halting on the north side of Hatcher’s run. These brigades had moved under direction of General Heth. The march was toilsome and fatiguing, the night excessively dark, and the road muddy from heavy rain then falling in torrents. Artillery was heard in direction of Petersburg, at times intermingled with small arms. On the lines at various points the dark clouds were made visible occasionally by rockets sent up from the two lines. Early the next morning—30th—these brigades were moved across the run and placed in line to the right of the road and at right angles to it, along a line partially entrenched. Skirmishers that had covered their front, whence they had moved, remained; they were thus weakened by about 150 men each. McCrae’s brigade to the left of McGowan’s, and Bushrod Jo[hn]son’s divis[i]on, or a part of it, on his (McGowan’s) right. In this new position the line of skirmishers became involved in a brisk fire as soon as posted. Scale’s brigade, of my division, was moved from the right of the Petersburg lines to Burgess’ mill, and occupied a line on both sides of the road. General Lee was early in the morning present on this part of the lines. These troops, save Scale’s, were moved or extended farther to the right, their line being nearly parallel with the general direction of Hatcher’s run. It rained very hard all day and most of the night. Late in the afternoon the Thirteenth and Thirty-eighth North Carolina regiments, of Scale’s brigade, under command of Colonel Ashford, of the latter, were ordered forward to dislodge the enemy from a piece of woods close in front. This involved a sharp fight. The enemy were driven out with a loss of quite a number of prisoners. The Hon. Thomas Conley,(1) member of the English Parliament, and my guest at the time, was present with General Lee.

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(1) This genial and warm-hearted stranger was in our midst during the last days of the defence of Richmond and Petersburg. I had met him in Raleigh, North Carolina, a few weeks before, and on the eve of returning to the army. Gov. Vance introduced us, and requested me to look after him. He had run the blockade on the Owl, destined for Wilmington. On coming within easy range of Fort Fisher, the Confederate flag was not seen, but in its place waved the stars and stripes. It had been captured a few days before. The Owl made its escape, and landed Mr. Conley and two other passengers a short distance below, from which place Raleigh was reached without difficulty. On board the Owl was a full set of horse equipments, saddle, bridle, &c., for Gen. Lee and each member of his staff, presents from Mr. Conley. They were never received. We reached Richmond together. He was kindly received, and seemed much gratified at it. He made me three visits in my winter quarters near Petersburg, called to see Gen. Lee, dined with him, and secured one of his photographs. He was greatly delighted when I asked him to ride with me along my skirmish line. On much of the line the Federal skirmishers were in sight. On his last visit, he witnessed the collision between Col. Ashford, commanding two North Carolina regiments, and a small force of the enemy. This pleased him so much that he offered his services to me for the coming campaign, and said if I would permit him he would remain with me until its close. I accepted his tender of service, and told him I would make him one of my volunteer aids. He thanked me, and asked if I would let him go under fire. I replied that it would hardly be possible for him to escape being under fire. He said he would return to Richmond, get his baggage and report to me early Monday morning. He left me Saturday evening. Our lines were broken next morning, and the army retired towards Appomattox Courthouse, 8 P. M. I was in New York ten days after the surrender, on my way to Texas, a paroled prisoner; met Conley the first night. He gave an amusing account of his leaving Richmond in the night and his difficulties in reaching the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. He urged me to go to Ireland with him, and supposing I wanted money, offered me his purse freely. He was eccentric in the dress he wore on the streets and about camp. He had all the vivacity, and much of the wit and humor peculiar to his race. I was much pained when I heard of his death a few years since.

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Colonel Ashford was wounded, and on his return was complimented by the Commanding-General. This spirited affair enabled us to advance our skirmish line considerably. The Fifth and Sixth corps, of the Union army, bivouaced the night of the 30th facing Hatcher’s run; one of Warren’s—Fifth corps—divisions on the west side of the Boydton plank road. Early the following morning—31st—Warren moved farther to his left—west—approached quite near the White Oak road, and was assailed with such spirit by Gen. McGowan, in command of his own and Gracie’s brigades, of Johnson’s division, soon reinforced by Hunton’s brigade, of Pickett’s division, that he was driven back a mile, when, being reinforced by a division of the Second corps, which attacked the Confederates

in flank, while he fought them in front, he forced them back to their original lines, the most of the day being consumed in the battle. The attack was made about 10.30 A. M. Late in the afternoon Sheridan, who had advanced to the immediate vicinity of Five Forks, was driven back by Pickett to Dinwiddie Courthouse.

During most of the day, while the fighting was severe farther to the right, there was a very heavy skirmish going on about Burgess’ mill, and on Cooke’s brigade, near where the line intersected Hatcher’s run, below the mill, and on Lane’s brigade, to the left of Cooke. It was so heavy and threatening about the mill that Gen. Heth sent to me for a brigade, I being in charge of the lines from the run back to near Petersburg; but the firing increasing on my own front, and being probably heard and properly appreciated by him, he sent me the note below:

“HEADQUARTERS, &c.,

“March 31, 1865.

“Gen. WILCOX, Commanding, &c.:

“Maj.-Gen. Heth directs me to say that you must not compromise your line. He wants the brigade sent for by Maj. Starke, but you must be the judge as to whether or not you can spare it.

“Respectfully,

“W. H. PALMER,

Assist. Adjutant- General.

This left me free to choose between two evils, each equally dangerous; we, Gen. Heth and myself, were too weak to support the one, the other, or to maintain our own line if attacked with force and spirit. The brigade was not sent. At this time I was holding a line three or four miles long, with Cooke’s, Davis’, and McComb’s brigades of Heth’s division, and Lane’s and Thomas’ of my division; on parts of my line the men were in one thin line ten feet apart, and no where was it held by men in double ranks. Col. Richardson, of the artillery,

was wounded seriously to-day on the line held by Davis’ brigade; and near the same place and time my horse was wounded twice.(1)

The effect of the spirited fighting of McGowan, that forced Warren back upon Gravelly run, and the driving of Sheridan back to Dinwiddie Courthouse by Picket[t], was the cause, according to Mr. Swinton, of such anxiety at headquarters of the Army of the Potomac as to lead to the determination to withdraw the Second and Fifth corps, in order to hold, if possible, the line of the Boydton plank road and Gravelly run—Ord and Humphreys to hold the run. This was abandoned, according to Swinton, at the suggestion of Gen. Warren, who proposed to move towards Dinwiddie Courthouse and make a combined attack with Sheridan the following morning.

Sheridan having been forced back to Dinwiddie Courthouse, after dark Pickett withdrew, and retired upon Five Forks, several miles to the right of our lines, extending from Burgess’ mill. The following morning, April 1st, our cavalry pickets confronting Sheridan were driven in. The Federal cavalry following towards Five Forks, was joined by Warren—Fifth corps—before 8 A. M. The cavalry delayed Sheridan a good deal, but he reached the vicinity of the Forks by 2:30

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(1) This note was from a lady, a refugee, at the time living in Petersburg; her home was on the south side of James river, below City Point some distance. It was in the Federal line, and had been despoiled by the soldiers. She sought safety in Petersburg. Knowing the excitement that prevailed in Petersburg during our final operations about it, I sent couriers with short notes, giving the exact condition of affairs. This was in reply to one of such notes:

“PETERSBURG, April 1, 1865.

“Your ‘bulletin’ was more than usually interesting and acceptable. We had heard nothing reliable to-day, and every body is looking a little sad. We are very sorry to hear your horse was wounded. Don’t let them get the Southside railroad. They are too near us now. I am sure if all will do their duty the enemy can be kept off. At this time no one should know such a word as fail. Hoping for brighter intelligence, and cordial wishes for your safety and success, in which all unite,

“I am truly yours,

“M. I. W.”

***

P. M. About 4 P. M. a combined and simultaneous attack was made, the infantry moving against Pickett’s left and rear, whilst dismounted cavalry assailed him in front. The attack succeeded. The position was carried with the loss of valuable lives, many prisoners and all of the artillery. Our extreme right was crushed. The extent of the disaster was not generally known till late the next day.

All during the night of April 1st the enemy’s batteries around Petersburg kept up an almost incessant cannonade, solid shot and shell whizzing through the air and bursting in every direction, at times equal in brilliancy to a vivid meteoric display.(1)

The infantry pickets were also wide awake and kept up much more than their usual firing. About day-light it was

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(1) This note is from the same lady:

“APRIL 2d, 1865, 12 o’clock M.

“The greatest excitement prevails every where and with every body this morning. No one but the young people slept at all last night. The shelling was very severe from 11 P. M. till 6 1/2 o’clock. About breakfast time they fired the warehouses and tobacco. Since then they have been shelling very horribly. The shells are whistling around us every few minutes one has just struck nearly opposite to us. I am so sorry the enemy has gained any advantage. Every kind of rumor in circulation; people are flying in every direction; we all try and keep composed. The enemy came under the bank of the river and surprised and took a portion of two companies of the Thirteenth Virginia infantry they were retaken with slight loss on our side this morning. General Gordon sent word about an hour ago that he can hold his lines. General Walker has sent one of his brigades to the support of General Grimes. They hold a salient of ours at or near the Wilcox house. I hear that General Harris has come over and been sent to retake it. “We have just heard General Hill is quite seriously wounded. Mrs. H. is very much excited, much more than any of us. I trust Colonel Pegram has not been killed, as reported.

“The ambulance committee have reached here from Richmond. E., M., and S. unite in kindest regards for you, and say you must take good care of yourself.

“With kindest, &c., your sincere friend,

“M. I. W.

“General WILCOX.

“Please let us know if they will evacuate Petersburg to-night.”

Written in reply to one from myself reporting that our lines had been broken, and telling of the disaster at Five Forks.

***

heard, and of such volume as to make the impression that it was not a mere skirmish-line engagement. I started for the lines, and on reaching the vicinity of Battery Gregg met a few of my men coming to the rear. They reported that our lines had been broken. Portions of Thomas’ and Lane’s brigades were in and near Batteries Gregg and Whitworth. I learned that the lines had been pierced on Lane’s front near Boisseau’s house and at a point to his right. Most of the enemy had turned to their left, sweeping up every thing as far as Hatcher’s run; part had filed to their right and had driven our thin line back; not, however, without suffering seriously. Gen. Wright, commanding the Sixth corps, informed me subsequently that he lost 1,200 men in getting over the line. The enemy had reached the plank road in small numbers. One of Lane’s regiments was forced back to the Southside road. The enemy were seen along our captured lines and on the plank road. Lane’s and Thomas’ men were reformed in all about 600 moved forward in good spirits, and recaptured the lines to the vicinity of Boisseau’s house, together with the artillery in the different batteries along it. This was reported to Gen. Lee.

Col. Venable, aide-de-camp to Gen. Lee, soon joined me with a message that Harris’ brigade would report in a few minutes; it numbers little over 500 muskets. Heavy masses of the enemy were soon seen moving toward from their entrenched lines in a direction that crossed ours near the Games’ house. It was useless to attempt engaging them with the force I had; Harris was, therefore, ordered fo[r]ward a little beyond the Bank’s house, advanced skirmishers, but with orders not to become engaged with his line of battle. It was the purpose to delay the forward movement of the enemy as much as possible, in order that troops from the north side of the James river might arrive and fill the gap between the right of our main Petersburg lines and the Appomattox.(1)

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(1) The enemy had withdrawn from the north side of the James river all but a small force on the 27th ult., but General Longstreet had not learned of it in time to render any assistance up to this date.

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The enemy moving by the flank, crossed the Boydton plank road near the Pickerell house, north of it; then continuing the march across an open field of six or eight hundred yards halted, faced to the right, and preparatory to their advance, fired a few rounds from a battery. Several pieces of artillery were placed in rear of Harris, and opened fire on the enemy over a mile distant; they moved forward unchecked, and but little annoyed by this fire.

The fragments of Thomas’ and Lane’s brigades were withdrawn; a portion placed in the plank road, here deeply worn, and extending to the left, connected at Old Town creek with the right of Brig-Gen. Cox’s North Carolina brigade; this was partially entrenched.(1) A second detachment from these brigades was posted on the lines beyond or east of the Boydton plank road, and about 200 yards from Battery Gregg, this part of the line being along the bank of Old Town creek. The enemy had placed a battery supported with infantry near a house in a field seven or eight hundred yards beyond the creek. It had been posted so as to have Gregg and Whitworth in the same line, and shots that passed over the former could and did strike the latter, four or five hundred yards beyond.

The lines of battle of the enemy, imposing from their numbers and strength, advanced. Slowly but steadily our artillery that in rear of Harris’ brigade was withdrawn, and the brigade, after a slight skirmish, retired.

***

(1) The following note from General Cox will show how weak we were. I had written to him to request that he have his skirmish line connect with mine:

“BATTERY 45, HD. QRS. BRIGADE,

“April 2d, 1865.

“GENERAL: Your note was received; I will have my skirmish line connected with yours. The enemy are massing heavily on my left. My men are now deployed at 20 feet. I will, therefore, be compelled to move to my left, and wish that you would extend your line to this battery, in order to keep up a proper connection. As you are aware, it is of vital importance that this line should be held.

“I am, respectfully,

“W. M. Cox,

“Brigadier-General.”

***

It was now that a little detachment was ordered to occupy Battery Gregg. It was made up of two pieces of artillery,(1) and in all about 200 men, the infantry being composed of detachments from Thomas’, Lane’s and Harris’ brigades; the number from Thomas’ brigade, as now remembered, being less than that from either of the other two. The most of Harris’ brigade was ordered to Battery Whitworth. In this were three pieces of artillery. Gen. Harris was in command at Whitworth. At the time the detachments were placed in Gregg I did not know who was the ranking officer; did not regard it of much consequence, as I had determined to remain either in it or near it. I was in Gregg about 10 minutes.  Saw that it had as many men as could fire conveniently. Extra ammunition was supplied, and the little detachments ordered to hold these two batteries to the last. Battery Gregg was a detached lunette, with a ditch eight or ten feet deep, about the same width, and the parapet of corresponding height and thickness. The guns were in barbette, its gorge was closed with palisades, and these with loop-holes, I believe. It was the intention to have connected these two batteries with a rifle trench, and earth had been excavated for a distance of thirty yards, commencing at the right end of the palisading of Gregg. The connection was never made; but it was by means of the parapet of this short, unfinished trench, that the enemy reached the crest of Battery Gregg. As the enemy’s attacking forces advanced, a few guns on the main lines at Battery 45, the two guns in Gregg, and the three in Whitworth delivered a rapid fire. The enemy’s battery in the open field beyond Old Town creek was in the meantime directing a brisk and well-directed fire upon Gregg and Whitworth. The enemy’s front line coming within good range, the musketry from the two little garrisons began, and with decided effect, to be easily seen. This inspired with increased courage our men, greatly diminished in numbers. The enemy drew nearer, but close in front of Whitworth were the cabins of a bri-

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(1) Washington Artillery I believe; of what battery do not remember.

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gade that had passed the winter there. Our men set these on fire, and the enemy attacking this part of the line, halted near by. Against Gregg, however, they continued to advance, nearer and nearer, till they were within less than sixty yards. The two guns in it ceased firing; those on the main line also. The three in Whitworth were withdrawn without any authority from myself, and the enemy’s battery beyond Old Town creek was forced to desist, their own troops being between it and Gregg. The latter was now nearly surrounded. The heroism displayed by the defenders of Battery Gregg has not been exaggerated by those attempting to describe it. A mere handful of men, they beat back repeatedly the overwhelming numbers assailing them on all sides. After they were surrounded the contest continued. The enemy finally gained the parapet, and were enabled to hold it, it being reached by means of the parapet of the unfinished trench previously referred to. As they appeared at this point, they were either shot or th[ru]st off with the bayonet. Again and again was this done. At length numbers prevailed, and the parapet of the little work was thickly covered with men, six flags being seen on it at the same time; and from this dense mass a close, and of necessity destructive fire, was poured down upon the devoted little band within. To prevent further sacrifice, and the object believed to have been accomplished, the troops in Whitworth were ordered to retire, as well as those that were near Gregg in the road, extending down Old Town creek, and Cox’s brigade on their left. These were all reformed in the Petersburg lines, the men being in one thin line, with from 6 to 10 feet interval. The fight continued at Gregg fifteen or twenty minutes after the Confederates were driven from the banquette.

It was Gen. Gibbon’s command that captured Battery Gregg; and if I remember correctly, he informed me at Appomattox Courthouse, that sixty-seven of our men were killed, and among the wounded was Lieut.-Col. Duncan, of Harris’ Mississippi brigade, the senior officer. Gen. Gibbon, also, according to present recollection, told me that he lost over 800 men

before it and Whitworth; at the latter place but few. The enemy remained at Gregg; advanced no nearer to Petersburg from that direction; but a corps (6th) approached on the Cox road; were confronted by Field’s division; did not attack; artillery only was placed in position, and shelled at intervals for several hours without inflicting loss.

Much has been said and written about the Battery Gregg fight, it being witnessed by many standing on the Petersburg breastworks; among this number was Gen. Lee himself; and while all the praise that has been awarded the little Spartan band that held it against such comparatively vast odds is justly due, there was yet another collision later on the same day, not often referred to, but in which the Confederates displayed, as usual, that courage known to be common to the rank and file of the Army of Northern Virginia. This contest, and the last between any of the fragments of our little army and the enemy near Petersburg, took place at Sutherland’s depot, on the South side railroad. When the lines were broken a little after day-light, the greater portion of the attacking force turned to their left, and made a clean sweep of the lines to Hatcher’s run. Those of our men that escaped being captured were either driven or retreated to Burgess’ mill, crossed the run and filed to the right. From this part of the lines the troops were withdrawn, and successfully, by Gen. Heth, moving to the rear by the right flank, and then marching to the depot. There were four brigades that retired from this point: Cook’s and McCrae’s, of Heth’s division, and McGowan’s and Scale’s, of my division.

While the troops were being withdrawn from Burgess’ mill, Scale’s brigade, commanded by Col. Hyman, Thirteenth North Carolina, held the bridge, not quitting it till the enemy were close upon his rear, left flank, and in his front. McGowan’s brigade being formed in line, preparatory to moving, the enemy rushed fo[r]ward and opened fire upon it, but our men were not unprepared, and returned instantly a prompt and effective fire, breaking their line at once, leaving the brigade

to follow the movement to the rear. The enemy followed closely, firing an occasional shot from a battery; this was responded to by some of our guns. The depot was reached and line of battle selected, nearly parallel to the railroad; its left being nearer to it; the right rested close to a house to the left of the road over which our troops had marched, the left near a church. It ran along an open ridge sloping to the front to a small stream six or eight hundred yards; beyond the stream was a similar ridge, save that it was covered with trees. Our men sought slight protection from piling up rails taken from neighboring fences. The enemy soon occupied the wooded ridge, the intervening space being about a half mile; they lost no time, but rushed forward in a disjointed manner, yelling furiously. Our artillery opened fire upon them, but without effect. They came up against the right still yelling. When at a convenient distance they received a cool, well-directed and destructive fire, that thinned their ranks, arrested the advance, and soon sent them to the rear in great disorder. The Confederates now gave vent to a wild and derisive yell. A second advance was soon made, and with better order and a more creditable exhibition of courage. They assailed this time our left, drove in the skirmishers, and came up at a sweeping charge cheering vociferously, but were again repulsed, driven clear off from the field, and this time followed by a line of skirmishers.

There was a respite of an hour or more, save a desultory artillery fire, during which the enemy could be seen massing in front of our left. Once more they came against the left flank, attacking us simultaneously in front, which they were enabled to do from their preponderating numbers. Our left was driven in. The front attack at the same time being vigorously pressed, our ranks were thrown into great confusion, the men nevertheless displaying their usual individual courage, though now unavailing. “With ranks disorganized, many killed, wounded and captured, they were forced from the field, and with no friendly fortified line close in rear to receive them,

but the Appomattox, turbid and swollen from recent rains to such an extent as to make fording impossible. After seeking in vain for bridges, they finally reached the north bank by means of an indifferent ferry; but many threw away their arms from necessity, and crossed by swimming.

Such information as has been given of the collision at Sutherland’s depot was derived from reports of two of my brigade commanders.(1)

C. M. WILCOX.

—–

In the afternoon, about 3 o’clock P. M., General Lee, in the presence of General Longstreet, General Heth and myself, sitting on the portico of Captain McQuaine’s house, to the left and near the Cox road, a half or three-fourths of a mile from Petersburg, dictated the following order to his Adjutant-General, Col. W. H. Taylor:

“HD. QRS. A. N. Va.

April 2d, 1865.

“Gens. Longstreet and Hill’s corps will cross the pontoon bridge at Battesea factory and take the River road, north side of Appomattox, to Bevel’s bridge, to-night. Gen. Gordon’s corps will cross at Pocahontas and Railroad bridges, his troops

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(1)

“PETERSBURG, 4 P. M.

“I am so much obliged to you for letting us hear from you. Of course we feel the greatest solicitude about our friends at this critical period, but trust all will be well for us.

“Firm trust in a merciful God and in the judgment of our great and good Lee will, I feel confident, in the end insure success. I hope you will be able to keep up, and by your presence encourage your brave men.

“E. and the young ladies unite in the kindest regards. Let us hear from you whenever you can.

“With prayers for your success and safety, believe me,

               “Very sincerely,

“M. I. W.”

This was in reply to a note written to inform her that Petersburg would be evacuated at 8 P. M. It shows what was the faith in the justice of our cause, and confidence in our Commanding-General that prevailed very generally up to this date.

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taking Hickory road, following Gen. Longstreet to Bevel’s bridge, and his wagons taking the Woodpecker road to Old Colville, endeavoring not to interfere with Mahone’s troops from Chesterfield Courthouse, who will take the same road. Gen. Mahone’s division will take the road to Chesterfield Court-house, thence by Old Colville, to Goode’s bridge. Mahone’s wagons will precede him on the same road, or take some road to his right. Gen. Ewell’s command will cross the James river at and below Richmond, taking the road to Branch church, via Gregory’s, to Genito road, via Genito bridge, to Amelia Courthouse. The wagons from Richmond will take the Manchester pike and Buckingham road, via Meadville, to Amelia Courthouse.

“The movement of all troops will commence at 8 o’clock. The artillery moving out quietly first, infantry following, except the pickets, who will be withdrawn at 3 o’clock. The artillery not required with the troops will be moved by the roads prescribed for the wagons, or such other as may be most convenient.

“Every officer is expected to give his unremitting attention to cause the movement to be made successfully.

“By order of General Lee:

“W. H. TAYLOR,

“Assistant Adjutant- General.

“After all the infantry and artillery have crossed, Pocahontas’and Campbell’s bridges will be destroyed by the engineers. The pontoon bridge at Battesea factory and the railroad bridges will be reserved for the pickets.”

Source:

  1. Wilcox, C. M. “Defence of Batteries Gregg and Whitworth, and the Evacuation of Petersburg.” Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 4, pp. 18-33

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