Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is taken from pages 85–89 of History of the One hundred and eighty-ninth regiment of New-York volunteers by Rev. Wm. H. Rogers, A. M., Chaplain. New York: John A. Gray & Green, Printers. 1865. The excerpt describes a skirmish on January 11, 1865 which occurred between elements of the Second Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac and unidentified Confederates, probably guerrillas, about a mile from the Jerusalem Plank Road near Warwick Swamp southeast of Petersburg. Acting Brigade Inspector-General Captain Burrage Rice, leading the expedition, was wounded, left alone in the confusion, and apparently executed by the Confederate guerrillas.
Several foraging expeditions by our brigade terminated profitably. Not so the one a brief account of which I am about to relate. On Wednesday morning, January eleventh , a detail of two hundred and forty men from the Second Brigade [First Division, Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac], including companies H and K, of the One Hundred and Eighty-Ninth [New York], was sent out, with nine wagons, each drawn by a team of six mules, to gather in some forage. Captain Burrage Rice was placed in command. Proceeding two miles down the Jerusalem Plank-Road, they turned away from it in the direction of the forsaken plantation whereon a supply of valuable forage had been discovered. It was about eight miles from camp and six and a half outside our lines. Reaching this, Captain Rice bid the teamsters load and stationed picket-guards around sufficiently distant. While thus engaged he was apprised by a loyal resident of the near proximity of a band of rebels. Soon he was twice fired at. Rallying the reserve guard, he found no enemy. The train having been loaded as quickly as possible, commenced to return. By order of Captain Rice, Company H, under command of Lieutenant H. F. Scofield, had the advance both going out and coming in, throwing out skirmishers on each side of the road, under Lieutenant J. G. Rutherford. About a mile from the Jerusalem Plank-Road, amid dense woods, a swamp swollen full by the recent rains compelled the flankers on the left of the train to come into the road to pass. The enemy secreted as near the road as possible, by this swamp, fired upon the middle and rear of the train as it was passing. Instantly riding back from the front of the train, Captain Rice ordered it forward as rapidly as possible, and the men to halt and form in line of battle. The firing of the enemy, the stampeding of our men, and the hurry of the teams and wagons, now made every thing confusion. The two companies of the One Hundred and Eighty-Ninth were the only ones that stood firmly in line of battle and deliberately returned the enemy’s fire. There Captain Rice fell from his horse mortally wounded. Enough officers and men gathered around him. Discovering the firing had ceased, evidently thinking the enemy’s intention was to flank us before we could reach the Plank-Road, to the commanders whose unflinching troops had silenced the enemy with great emphasis he immediately said “Move forward your men to protect the train. You can not assist me. Move forward. Save the train!” They obeyed. The fallen leader should have been borne to the train by those around him, and promptly succeeded in command by the Captain next in rank. But, shamefully, both of these duties were neglected for which neglects unjust blame was attributed to the whole expedition instead of those whose duties they were. Instantly upon the assault being commenced. Captain Rice, with the coolness of a veteran, dispatched an orderly to General Gregory for reinforcements. It was not long before the long-roll was beating in the camp of the One Hundred and Eighty-Ninth, and Lieutenant-Colonel Townsand quickly led his other eight companies, under command of General Gregory, to the rescue. Meeting at our picket-lines the train, the General ordered it to camp and all its guard to “About face!” and with the rest confront the foe, if necessary, and bring in Captain Rice’s body.
When within half a mile of the place of the attack all were halted, and Company A, with a detachment of Company H, under Lieutenant Rutherford, sent forward. It was now dark. They had proceeded about half a mile when Sergeant Vose, of Captain Stocum’s Company, called out he had found a body. Captain S. identified it as Captain Rice’s, but received command to proceed cautiously half a mile further and wait for orders. No enemy was found in front, but while halted he heard firing in the rear. This was the rebels attacking a company searching in vain for the body. Captain S. thereupon received orders to report to his regiment on double-quick. Which being done, General Gregory, having posted two companies as flankers on both sides of the road, ordered Captain S. to “go in and bring out the body.” Advancing his line of skirmishers a few roads beyond the body, he halted them and directed Sergeant A. Van Wie, George Blakesly, Warren Halbert, and Stephen Sayles to be the bearers. While doing this they were fired on, but promptly returning the fire, and charging through the woods, quickly routed the ambushed murderers, and brought in the body. It had been stripped naked and shot once through the waist and twice through the head. On the thirteenth, it was embalmed at City Point and sent home in charge of Lieutenant Dwight Warren. The following communication was published by his deeply afflicted fellow-officers relative to his death :
“Headquarters Second Brigade, First Division, Fifth A. C., January 12, 1865,
“The sacrifice of precious lives — the noblest and the best — continues daily upon our country’s altar.
” Yesterday, Captain Burrage Rice, Acting Inspector-General of this brigade, from Company C, One Hundred and Eighty-Ninth New-York Volunteers, while ably commanding a foraging expedition and returning, was killed in a sudden attack on his command by guerrillas, as he was bravely protecting his train.
“His last words were: ‘Boys, tell my dear family I am killed. I send my cordial love to them. Take this sword to my wife.’
“At a meeting of his regimental and brigade fellow officers, called to-day by Brigadier Edgar M. Gregory, of which Joseph G. Townsend, Major commanding the One Hundred and Eighty-Ninth Regiment, was chosen Chairman, and A. M. Beman, Captain of Company E, Secretary, the following preamble and resolutions, reported by a committee appointed for that purpose, were unanimously adopted :
“Whereas, In the righteous providence of God, our noble and accomplished fellow-officer Burrage Rice, Captain and Inspector-General, has lost his life, while courageously engaged in the discharge of his duty; therefore,
“Resolved, That we feel the great loss which his regiment, brigade, and the whole country have suffered in his death.
“Resolved, That the superior attributes of his gentlemanly, soldierly, and upright character, had endeared him to the hearts of the officers and men of this entire command, and we mourn his loss, as of a brother.
“Resolved, That we kindly tender the sentiments of our deepest sympathy to his bereaved wife, children, and friends, and earnestly recommend them to the Saviour, to sustain them in this great affliction.
“Resolved, That a copy of these proceedings be sent to his family, and to the papers interested, for publication.
E. M. Gregory,
William H. Rogers,
Chaplain 189th New- York Volunteers,
Captain Company A.
At eleven o’clock of the following Sabbath, January fifteenth. General Gregory called the brigade together at his headquarters, for the funeral services of Captain Rice and private Henry G. Bull, of his company, who died suddenly in camp on the thirteenth. The sermon was preached from Eccl. 8:8. 1
- Rogers, William H. History of the One hundred and eighty-ninth regiment of New-York volunteers (New York: John A. Gray & Green, Printers. 1865.), pp. 85–89 ↩