One hundred and fifty years ago today a small cavalry skirmish occurred at Lee’s Mill, where the Sussex Road crosses the Blackwater, or Warwick, Swamp. On July 30, 1864, as the Battle of the Crater raged to the northwest, the Union Cavalry of Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division, Army of the Potomac were charged with protecting the Union left flank. They had crossed the Appomattox River fresh (or maybe not so fresh) from their role in the First Deep Bottom Campaign. Shifting from the Union army’s right flank to its left, elements of this division, including the 10th New York Cavalry, the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, the 6th Ohio Cavalry, and the 1st New Jersey Cavalry, tried to move across the Blackwater at Lee’s Mill, while elements of Butler’s Confederate Cavalry Division, including the 4th South Carolina Cavalry, impeded their progress. The location of Lee’s Mill in relation to Petersburg is shown in the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records, Plate 093, Map 1: Preliminary Map of a Part of the South Side of the James River, VA, below:
So far, I’ve found only a little on this small fight. First is the following excerpt from Noble D. Preston’s History of the Tenth Regiment of Cavalry New York State Volunteers, on page 223:
At sunrise on [July] 30 the command crossed at Point of Rocks [on the Appomattox River], and, marching past General Meade’s headquarters, arrived at Lee’s Mills, on the Blackwater, at 3 p. m., the Tenth [New York Cavalry] in advance. Lieutenant Hinckley, of Company C, attacked the enemy at the bridge, and in a few moments the entire Regiment was engaged. The First Massachusetts Cavalry got on the enemy’s flank, while the Second Pennsylvania [Cavalry], the 6th Ohio [Cavalry], and [the] Tenth [New York Cavalry] charged dismounted, capturing the bridge and taking some prisoners. After repairing the bridge the First New Jersey [Cavalry] charged across, mounted, and took more prisoners.
The below excerpted portion of Nathaniel Michler’s map of Petersburg and Five Forks, first published in 1867, shows the location of this fight in a little more detail:
In the morning [of July 30, 1864] the famous mine was exploded, the assault [i.e. the Battle of the Crater], so well designed and admirably masked, failed, and the whole series of manoeuvres had therefore resulted in nothing but unavailing fatigue and bloodshed. The Second Division, however, was not yet allowed a rest. It was pushed on to its old ground at Lee’s Mills, where the rebels during our absence, had established a picket post. The narrow bridge across the mill-dam had been destroyed by the enemy, who thus had secure a strong position. Through the swampy ground below, however, a dismounted force of the First Massachusetts [Cavalry], with the third battalion of the [First New] Jersey [Cavalry], pushed along around the rebel right flank, while the Tenth New York [Cavalry] skirmished in their front. Under cover of the artillery the Second Pennsylvania [Cavalry] prepared to charge across the mill-dam, while the First New Jersey [Cavalry] mounted was ready to charge as soon as plank could be laid upon the bridge. The fire of the [Tenth] New York men passing over the heads of the enemy, forced our men who had gotten in their rear to be very cautious; but at length, simultaneously, the Pennsylvanians charged in front, and the Massachusetts with our third battalion on the flank of the enemy, forcing them to run at full speed into the woods, abandoning their blankets and provisions. As those of them who had reached their horses started off at full speed, the [First New] Jersey [Cavalry] came upon them driving over the bridge and dashed after them at a charge. The movement was splendidly executed, but the rebels did not wait for its performance. As the regiment went over and through their barricades, the horses breasting the fence-rails and crashing among the trees, the enemy was seen in full gallop beyond them. After a tremendous race in which a few prisoners were captured, the regiment returned, and the ground was held by an improved line of pickets. The brigade, changing from one dusty camp to another, was able to get some sleep at night but very little rest during the day, the duty being heavy upon so small a force.
Thanks to Bryce Suderow, I was also alerted to the existence of Saddle Soldiers: The Civil War Correspondence of General William Stokes of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry, which contains a good account of the fight. Unfortunately, I have not yet received the book, and so am unable to post the Southern perspective of this little skirmish for now. To the men who were killed and wounded here, though, this fight was every bit as major as the infinitely more famous Battle of the Crater.
If you have any other leads as to where I can find even more information on the July 30, 1864 Skirmish at Lee’s Mill, please use the comments section below and point me in the right direction.