August 9, 1864: The 1st District of Columbia Cavalry Attempts to Rescue Its Quartermaster
One hundred and fifty years ago today, on August 9, 1864, the 1st District of Columbia Cavalry attempted to save its quartermaster from Confederate guerrillas near Sycamore Church, Virginia. Volume 2 of the “Cyclopedia of Battles” sums up the running fight thusly:
Sycamore Church, Va., Aug. 9, 1864. 1st District of Columbia Cavalry. A little before 8 a. m. the quartermaster of the regiment with 2 teams and wagons was captured by a band of Confederate soldiers and citizens on the stage road near one of the outposts. Maj. J. S. Baker ordered out the regiment and followed in the direction of Sycamore church, picketing the roads as he went to cut off the return of the captors. The pursuit was continued until 1o o’clock that night and 8 of the gang were captured. The rest, with their booty, made their escape.
Fortunately, Major J. Stannard Baker of the 1st District of Columbia Cavalry filed a report on this action and was even kind enough to attach a map:
COLONEL: I beg leave to make the following report in regard to the capture by the enemy of certain men and quartermaster’s stores, made on yesterday, the 9th instant, beyond my outposts: About 8 o’clock in the morning the officer in command of the picket-line (Lieutenant Wilkins) came in and informed me that the quartermaster-sergeant of my regiment, with two teams and drivers, had been captured only a few minutes before on the stage road, from half to a third of a mile beyond his outpost on the right. I ordered Lieutenant Wilkins to take what men he happened to have with him and follow the gang that made the capture as rapidly as possible. I then took my entire available force and moved down the road leading south from Sycamore Church, leaving a strong picket guard along the road as I advanced. In two hours after the capture was made I had a strong chain of pickets extending from the point marked A (vide rough pencil map inclosed with this) to the point B, and from thence to D, connecting at D with the pickets of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry. I thus cut off their return, and partially surrounded them. I then communicated with Major Stratton, informing him of what had been done and requesting that he would co-operate with me in the attempt to capture the gang. I then took that portion of my command which was not already employed, and scoured through the country which I had surrounded. At about 10 o’clock at night, my men being much exhausted, and failing to receive any aid from the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry, I drew in my pickets and returned to camp, after having captured eight of the gang. The casualties of my command were two men wounded. I ascertained during the day the following facts: The entire gang consisted of from twenty to thirty men, some mounted and some dismounted, some of whom were soldiers, and some citizens; that they were aided and co-operated with by several of the citizens living in that neighborhood. In regard to the amount or kind of public property captured by the gang in the morning I know nothing definite. Neither myself nor my quartermaster was accountable for any of it.1
I was also able to locate the location of Sycamore Church in relation to some of the more recognizable points in the area. It’s slightly north of east from Petersburg, just north of east from Prince George Courthouse, just east of south from City Point, and northeast of Lee’s Mill. The 1st District of Columbia Cavalry was picketing this area in early August 1864 at the time of the capture of their quartermaster. I’ve circled the locations of Sycamore Church and the Stage Road on the map below.
If you have any further details on this small affair from the Confederate side, please comment below.